Frost Seed Heads: Wild Carrot

Back in September I wrote a post about the flowers and seed heads of wild carrot (Daucus carota). I was hoping that the seed heads would last long enough to be frosted when winter arrived. Luckily for me they did, so I had the chance to photograph them. (You can see my original post here: https://annmackay.blog/2021/09/19/going-to-seed-wild-carrot/ )

This wild carrot is a variety named ‘Dara’. It has white flowers that gradually turn a deep burgundy and are very lacy and delicate-looking. The seed heads are just as interesting as the flowers, especially when they curve inwards into a little ‘nest’ which protects the maturing seeds. By this time of the year most of the seeds have escaped (some with a fair bit of help from me) and may become the new plants for future years.

Meanwhile, the remains of the seed heads provide a great framework for frost. The top photograph was taken when the frost was particularly heavy, making it look as if the seed head had been dipped in sugar crystals.

This plant was in a position that is shaded from the early morning sun, so the frost lasts and allows time for photography. The cold lingers here, and the shade from the fence creates a bluish cast which makes it feel even chillier. (The bottom photograph is of a plant that is further from the fence, so frost there doesn’t last as long. It was also taken earlier in the winter, when there was a much lighter frost.)

I’m grateful for simple things like these frosted seed heads in winter, because they keep me supplied with something to photograph. They give me something to enjoy and to marvel at as I look at them closely…and something that is enough to get me outside on an icy winter morning!

Frosted seed head of Daucus carota

A Little Winter Colour

It always delights me that some flowers can tolerate rough weather to give us a bit of cheering colour at this time of year. Even if the frost eventually proves too much for the tiny flowers of this winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), there are lots of new buds which will soon open to continue the show.

These flowers are especially welcome when almost everything else seems dormant in the coldest days of winter. They encourage me to take a wander round the garden so that I can see them up close and enjoy their exuberant colour.

Unlike other jasmines, winter jasmine isn’t a twining plant. Instead it has very thin and floppy stems which can be easily trained against a fence or trellis. Or you can do what I’ve done – just allow it to weave its way through other shrubs for support. (That does get rather untidy!)

Although it’s said to be an excellent winter nectar-source, I haven’t yet seen bees on it. Perhaps there will be in early spring, as this shrub has a long flowering period. (From December or January right through into March.)

But whether the bees like it or not, I certainly do. These little flowers are brightening an otherwise dark area of the garden like a sprinkling of yellow stars. They bring some joyful colour to the garden as it waits for spring.

Winter jasmine flowers

Caught by the Frost: Frosted Flowers

The cold has returned and it feels more like winter after the very mild New Year. There has been more frost and the new pond has had a covering of ice. What a change from the previous days that were more like mid-autumn!

The frost has caught a few flowers in the garden. Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ (top photo) is a reliable flowerer for winter and often gets a little bit of icy decoration. The phildadelphus below is a summer-flowering shrub but somehow managed to produce the few flowers here. They make an unusual frosty image, but I wonder if the warming climate will make occasional winter flowers on this shrub more likely.

The unusually warm temperatures over the last few weeks must have been confusing for plants and for wildlife too. I’ve noticed the occasional bumblebee buzz past me while I’ve been working in the garden. It’s not unusual to see one or two out of hibernation on a sunny day. They seem to prefer the mahonia flowers to the viburnum, but maybe it depends on what the choice of flowers is, and what stage they’re at.

In any case, I think I should add some new plants to expand the choices for any bees active at this time of year. (Winter-flowering heathers, aconites, crocuses, hellebores and winter-flowering honeysuckle are all frequently recommended. As are willows, but I wouldn’t have room for one of those!) For now, I’m hoping that the bumblebees are safely tucked up and asleep – it’s cold out there!

Frosted Philadelphus flowers

A Christmassy Red for You

I hope that you are all enjoying a peaceful, healthy and very happy holiday, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. Covid has given us another difficult year but I hope that, despite it, you and yours have a time full of magic and joy.

I’d also like to thank you for reading my blog posts and for commenting and chatting here. Your company has brightened my days and the warmth of the blogging community has cheered me at a time when it is difficult to visit family and friends. It is a joy to interact with you!

The flowers here are Dipladenia ‘Rio’, a climber that I grow in our conservatory. The colour feels festive and Christmassy, so appropriate for this time of year. I hope that you are feeling festive too!

Dipladenia Rio

Going, Going, Gone 3: Long Gone

Almost all of the autumn flowers here are gone. One or two remain. The hesperantha and gaura (posted here two weeks ago) still have a few flowers, and the dark flowers of Scabious ‘Chile Black’ keep coming well into the winter frosts. Others have only just finished for the year.

Many other flowers are now a more distant memory. The yellow flowers of the rudbeckia (top photo) have been gone for a few weeks, but for a long time they were their own little splash of autumn sunshine.

The red dahlia below is a lovely plant that was grown and given to me by my friend Barbara. It’s Dahlia variabilis ‘Bishop’s Children’. From seed, it can be anything in a range of reds, pinks, oranges and yellows, with deep red/bronze foliage. This one has survived several winters in the garden in its well-drained and sheltered spot. But as soon as the slightest touch of frost gets to it, the flowers stop. So one day you can have several red flowers looking radiant, and the next they’ve gone.

Dahlia 'Bishops Children'

Another splash of bright colour came from the New England aster in the photo below. (OK, I know I should call it Symphyotrichum, but ‘aster’ is so much easier!) I believe this one is ‘September Ruby’ (aka ‘Septemberrubin’). It’s a tall plant, covered in wonderfully pink daisies – usually about 4 ft. tall, but one year nearer 5ft. It’s glorious and one of the cheeriest sights of our garden in autumn.

These plants have finished for the year, but having their photographs gives me a reminder of warm late summer and autumn days. That’s something very welcome while it’s raining and the wind is stripping the leaves from the trees

Even now, though, there is a scattering of colour in the garden as the winter flowers start to appear. The winter jasmine is gleaming with delicate yellow stars and nearby a Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is showing its tiny pink flowers. A mahonia bush now has yellow buds promising to open soon. As we approach the darker days of winter, these will give little touches of colour to cheer our hearts.

Aster flowers (Symphyotrichum)

Going, Going, Gone 2: Going Soon

These flowers are likely to be pretty much gone by the time I post this. They’ve done well to last as long, but the next touch of frost will probably be enough to finish off the cosmos (below) and the osteospermum (bottom).

The penstemon (above) can usually flower a little longer than the others. Sometimes it’s still flowering when the heavier frosts arrive, which makes for some attractive photographs. I don’t think it will manage to keep going long enough this year because there are fewer flowers. None of our penstemons have had as many flowers as usual this year, but I don’t know why. They’re pretty drought-tolerant but I suppose it’s possible that they got a bit too wet in winter. Hopefully they’ll have stopped sulking by next year!

Cosmos 'Candy Stripe'
Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’ has a pretty colouration.

I was glad to get the photograph of the cosmos, even though I’d already taken several others back in August, because at last it had developed the colouring that I had been hoping for. That was my last chance to get a decent photograph too, because although there are still several flowers, they’re now smaller and starting to look a bit ragged as the weather gets rougher.

Next year I will probably plant cosmos again, but I’ll try to find a different cultivar so that I have something new to photograph. (That’s the pleasure of having some annuals in the garden – I must make time to grow more.)

We have several osteospermums tucked into sunny spots in the garden. They don’t usually survive the winter but a local nursery sells them quite cheaply, so we don’t mind buying some more. The flowers are looking a bit ragged as a result of the little bit of frost we’ve had and the rain more recently. However, there’s still a few buds, so maybe they’ll manage to open to give us a last few flowers. (Next summer, I must remember to photograph the pretty daisy-like osteospermum flowers when they’re at their best – not leave it ’til they’re getting roughed up by the weather!)

purple osteospermum flowers
Pink osteospermum flowers – not quite ready to open.

Going, Going, Gone: Still Going

It’s come to the time of year when the garden is starting to feel rather empty. The leaves are falling, there are gaps in the borders where plants have died down for the year, and there are few flowers left.

With the gradual disappearance of the flowers, I have a lot less to photograph. (There’s still the changing colour of the leaves, of course.) By the time the frosts come, I’ll be grateful for whatever photographic opportunities they bring. Meanwhile, the next couple of posts will be the last chance to capture these flowers before they’re gone for the year.

The top photo is of Hesperantha coccinea – the crimson flag lily or river lily. (It used to be called Schizostylis, but plant names are always being messed about with. At least the newer name is a bit easier to spell!) This plant is one of the latest to flower in my garden, usually not until late September, but the flowers will last through the first frosts. I’ve read that it should normally start flowering in August, so I wonder if ours is later because it is not well enough established yet, or whether it’s because it is a bit hot for it here at that time. It will be interesting to see if this changes as it develops.

The plant pictured above is Gaura lindheimeri. (Well, I thought it was – I’ve just discovered that it’s had a name change too. Now it’s Oenothera lindheimeri. Keeping up with plant names is tricky!) This is one that I love for the delicate flowers that sway on long stems. It’s one of those airy plants that (like Verbena bonariensis) take up little space in the garden, but whose flowers combine beautifully with many other plants.

Next year I’ll try the gaura alongside the lacy white and red flowers of wild carrot (Daucus carota) and probably the small dome-shaped flowers of a dark red scabious too. Gaura flowers for ages – right from summertime until the frosts stop it.

My last plant is Zauschneria californica ‘Glasnevin’ (California fuchsia). This was just planted last year, so is still settling in, but it does seem to be happy in its patch of hot dry soil. Its flowers won’t last much longer but it has kept flowering later than I expected it to. The plant is tiny now, but hopefully in future it will be a mass of little orange flowers to brighten dull autumn days.

Now I must get back out there with my camera and see what else I can find…

Zauschneria Glasnevin

Turning Point

Friday morning brought the first of this year’s frosts. Only the grass was frosted. It didn’t cover the flowers and plants in tiny frozen crystals – so no photographs this time. (The photograph above was taken last November.) Little as it may be, the first frost marks a turning point in my garden year.

Soon the last of the flowers will be gone from the garden. The light frost was already enough to finish off the remaining flowers on my one red dahlia. Other flowers may continue for a little while but I could see that many had that translucent look that they get after being touched by frost. The cosmos probably won’t last long now, but the white gaura and geranium ‘Rozanne’ are still looking quite robust. Their flowers seem more able to cope with the earliest frosts.

Tender plants have already been rescued from the garden and tucked up somewhere sheltered for the winter. Inevitably, there are some plants in the garden that may not make it through if the winter is a hard one. This is always a slightly anxious time when I wonder how much of a gamble I can take with those, and try to find ways of protecting them from the cold.

It’s starting to get chilly and the leaves have mostly turned yellow and begun to drop to the ground. Even so, we do still get some bright and sunny days. When those days come along, I’m happy to get all warmly wrapped up so that I can spend a bit of time working in the garden. (There’s always plenty to do!) And I’ll be keeping a lookout for more frosty mornings, in the hope of finding good opportunities for photography.

A Scary Monster!

It’s Halloween, so it’s time to post about my garden monster. It looks innocent enough and the daisy-like flowers are very attractive. But it’s huge and spreading, so likely to smother many of the plants around it.

I bought this some years ago as a small plant labelled only as a perennial sunflower, no other details. For the first years after planting, the sunflower didn’t grow much. It was in an unfavourable position, with very poor soil and several shrubs close by. It reached about 3 ft. tall, with narrow stems and leaves and carried pretty yellow flowers in the autumn.

Last year I decided to move a piece to an area that was intended to have a sort of prairie-style planting with coneflowers, grasses, kniphofias and verbena bonariensis. I waited to see if the plant would survive the move and got a shock – it’s growth habit had changed entirely!

The new position has much better soil and suddenly this plant was shooting up. And it was bulky too. The leaves were no longer narrow and dainty – they instead grew to about 7 or 8 inches long and were wide, more like the annual sunflowers. The stems kept growing, with no sign of flower buds for a long time. Eventually flower buds started to appear and the stems finished growing as they reached the impressive height of 8 ft.

Yikes! I’d made a big mistake. This was no longer the dainty-looking sunflower that had been struggling on the other side of the garden. The improved position had allowed my unnamed plant to reach it’s true size. It was now a massive monster that threatened to engulf the other plants.

Because the original plant was so much smaller than it was supposed to be, I hadn’t been able to identify the variety. Now I think that it is Helianthus tuberosus – the Jerusalem artichoke. Or it could possibly be a Maximilian sunflower, which is available as seed in the UK. Whatever it is, I am going to have to dig it all up before it can spread any further.

So that’s my scary tale for Halloween…but I’m happy to say that my other helianthus – ‘Lemon Queen’ (pictured below) is much better-behaved. It is just under 6 ft. tall and seems to stay in a large clump, rather than trying to spread itself everywhere. The bees seem to prefer this one too!

Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ is a much smaller and better-behaved perennial sunflower and is welcome here.

Reaching for the Sky: Hollyhocks

I have been waiting for this pink hollyhock to finish flowering and for its seeds to ripen. At last it has, and I’ve cut down the old stems and taken them away to a sunny, sheltered spot where I’m hoping it will seed itself around. (I need to clear the hollyhock’s space so that it can become part of a new bog garden.)

The plant was the offspring of a series of hollyhocks that have self-sown in the area for the last few years. Originally I had planted a few seedlings bought at a community plant sale. I can’t now remember what colour the flowers were. Possibly yellow, because I do remember some very pretty double yellow flowers and it seems likely that they would eventually revert to producing plants with single flowers.

This year there was only the one plant. That’s probably a result of all the disturbance of having the fence renewed last year. But this single plant was much bigger than any of the previous hollyhocks. When I cut the stems, I measured the longest and found that it had reached a height of 10 feet. (Hollyhocks do grow tall, but are more likely to be 6 to 8 ft.) It was lucky that it hasn’t been windy enough to blow the stems over!

There’s a lot of discussion about whether hollyhocks are biennial or perennial. (They don’t flower until their second year.) The RHS says that they are short-lived perennials, so I’m happy to go with that. But I haven’t tried to move the hollyhock to a new position because they have deep tap roots and don’t like to be disturbed.

A reddish-pink hollyhock flower

If there’s time next year, I may grow some new plants from seed. I’d love to have a range of colours, including pale yellow, the really dark purples, and strong pinks like the flower above. This one sadly wasn’t in my garden, but was photographed outside a pretty cottage a few years ago. (I’ve seen a wonderful range of colours outside some of the pretty medieval cottages in the villages around here…the tall flowers and quaint cottages seem to go so well together!)

Whatever colours I might fancy in hollyhocks, the bees seemed happy with this year’s pink. This plant has attracted many bees, so that would be a good reason for keeping some of the same shade – and a good reason for growing varieties with single flowers rather than the doubles. If I manage to grow hollyhocks in a number of different colours, I must take note of which they prefer – could be an interesting little project!