Love-in-a-mist: Nigella damascena

White nigella damascena flower
I love the splash of magenta at the centre of this white nigella flower.

There’s something very appealing about the name ‘love-in-a-mist’. It sounds old-fashioned and romantic,  which suits a flower that has been a cottage-garden favourite for a long time.

The flowers are intricately structured and appear to float above a light, frothy mass of finely-cut foliage. (The foliage looks very like that of fennel. So much so, that one of the names of the species Nigella sativa is ‘fennel flower’.)

The combination of the complex flower structure and the angular shapes of the foliage make it a very pleasing plant to photograph. (The seed-pods too. They are strikingly puffed-up globes that have spiky-looking little horns on top and a ruff of feathery foliage around the base.)

Nigella flowers come in blues, pinks and white. Those I like best are the flowers that are white, but veined with blue or green, as in the photo below. These have an especially elegant look, which demands that you get really close to the flower so that you can see it properly. For next year, I’d like to grow and photograph some of the cultivars that have dark centres – ‘Midnight’, ‘African Bride’ or ‘Delft Blue’.

Right now, though, I need to get out in the garden and collect some of the ripe brown seed-heads that are just waiting to sprinkle their seeds everywhere. Then I can sow them in among the bulkier plants in my newest border. They’ll provide an excellent contrast to the shapes of irises and large-leaved foliage plants, as well as the bolder flowers of dahlias and echinaceas. If I’m organised enough, I’ll try to sow them at intervals throughout the spring and summer, so that they give a longer season of foliage and flowers.

They may seem small and rather shy, as they hide in their cloud of foliage, but nigellas are a really pretty and useful garden plant. They do deserve to have their seeds sprinkled in any spare corner you may have!

Nigella damascena bud
A bud lives up to the name ‘Love-in-a-Mist’

Clematis: Squeezing Extra Colour into a Small Space

Clematis Hagley Hybrid 1476
This ‘Hagley Hybrid’ flower seems to be enjoying the evening sunshine.

Gardeners are always wishing for more room to grow plants. Inevitably there will be another flower, a shrub – even a tree – that we’d like to be able to find space for.

Since we don’t have gardens with elastic sides, we just have to squeeze things in as best we can. Or be extremely disciplined about the plants we buy. Nope, that’s not happening here! But then, I have the ‘excuse’ of needing new plants to photograph…

Clematis Arabella 2302
The mauve flowers of Clematis ‘Arabella’ are carried on short scrambling stems.

A sneaky way of cramming some extra flowers into the garden is to grow climbers. I have several clematis plants growing through shrubs where they take very little extra space. Roses and clematis are a classic combination, but I tend to use any shrub as a potential climbing frame.

I love clematis. I think it’s pretty much my favourite plant, so I face terrible temptation at my local nurseries. (One of them has usually got a good selection at very reasonable prices – very difficult to ignore!) So, as you may guess, I’m now trying to find extra spaces in the garden for more clematis…eventually I may run out of space for them too!

Clematis Mrs N Thompson
‘Mrs N Thompson’ is bright and bold.

It’s a moment of pure delight to see the first flowers on a young clematis. They’re always more beautiful in their richness of colour and the graceful way that they hold their flowers, than any picture on their label. Sometimes I forget where I have planted a clematis, and then have a happy surprise when I spot the colour peeping out here and there on the host shrub.

I must admit, I’ve lost a few clematis plants over the years. Some were planted in areas that were just too dry and others may have been struggling with too much heat at their roots. Now I try to pay a bit more attention to putting them in more suitable places, but it does take them a while to get established here. It’s worth a bit of care and patience though, because the flowers are simply lovely.

Next week’s blog post could be a bit late, or have fewer photos. That’s because my trusty old PC is dying, so I will have to move on from Photoshop CS3 at last. (I’ve been resisting that change for a long time.) We do have a new PC, but there will be a lot for me to learn in the way of photo-processing – argh! (Wish me luck!!)

Clematis Victoria 2398
‘Victoria’ has brought some delicate beauty to the variegated euonymus that it’s weaving through.

Bees’ Needs: Flowers!

Bee on a borage flower
A bee enjoys the last of the borage flowers.

This week has been ‘Bees’ Needs Week’ here in the UK. This is an annual campaign where a number of groups come together to increase awareness of the needs of bees and other pollinators and ways in which we can help them.

Suddenly there seems to be a lot more interest in the role of gardens in helping wild creatures, especially insects and birds, to survive.

(This week, the ‘Gardener’s World’ TV show was all about wild meadow flowers and ways that we can encourage some of the same plants into our own gardens. And the major garden shows – Chelsea and Hampton Court – have an increasing emphasis on planting for wildlife.)

In reality, the desire to help our bees and pollinators has been growing steadily over the last few years but now there is much more information about what gardeners can do. (And, I think, willingness in gardeners to do what they can to help.)

I’ll link to some of the best bee info websites that I’ve found at the bottom of this post.

A bee on a red scabious flower (Knautia macedonica).
Bees love this red scabious (Knautia macedonica).

In our garden here in Suffolk, I’ve tried to plant flowers that would be a good source of pollen and nectar over a long period. For early and late in the year, there is Mahonia and Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, but I really need to plant more early spring bulbs, especially crocuses, and flowers that will last well into autumn.

Among the most successful of the bee plants in the garden here are borage, red scabious, alliums, lavander and catmint.

At the moment there is a big patch of borage plants – they seem huge this year – and, although the flowers are almost over, the bees have been very busy here.

The red scabious  happily seeds itself all around the garden and you can usually find a few bees on its flowers. Verbena bonariensis does the same thing, cropping up all over the place and keeping not just bees, but hoverflies and butterflies happy too.

A beekeeper has caught a swarm of bees in a skep.
L: Checking that the bees are comfortably settled in their temporary home. R: Waiting for latecomers.

One year, I got a bit more than I bargained for when a swarm of bees decided to take up residence in the cherry tree in our front garden. Luckily a nearby beekeeper was happy to take them away to a nice new home. It was impressive to see how deftly he was able to shake them out of the tree into his straw skep. Once the queen and the majority of the swarm were safely settled in the skep, the rest of the bees gradually joined them by crawling in through a gap left for them. Frost fleece came in pretty handy as a way of discouraging escapees!

I hope to increase the number of bee-friendly plants in our garden and to encourage other wildlife too, probably by growing some wild plants in odd corners of the garden. The idea of having a small ‘meadow’ planting area appeals to me and may be a project for next year.

I’ll be writing more about bees and gardens soon. In the meantime, here are some helpful (UK-based) sites if you’d like more information about planting for bees:

  • The Pollinator Garden – site by Marc Carlton. This site has more information than anything else I’ve found so far. Great planting list with details of what kinds of bees the different plants attract. Comprehensive information, including how to build bee hotels, creating garden meadows etc.
  • Save Bees and Pollinators  – The Wildlife Trusts. Information about the importance of pollinators and the threats they face. Links to information about how you can use your own garden to help them.
  • RHS Plants for Pollinators  – Royal Horticultural Society. Has downloadable plant lists for garden plants, wild flowers and ‘plants of the world’.
  • The Bumblebee Conservation Trust – has lots of information about different bumblebee species and their needs. Their ‘Bee Kind’ tool allows you to find out how many bee-friendly plants are in your garden. (It’s massive and goes on for 34 pages but you can also use it to see just the best plants for bees by clicking on ‘Only Show Super Plants’ in the filter bar.)
A bee on Verbena bonariensis
Verbena bonariensis is popular with bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

Little Stars

The star-shaped flowers of Allium christophii.
The star-shaped flowers of Allium christophii.

The shape of flowers is one of the main elements that draws me to photograph them. If it is a plant with a distinctive shape, especially when it’s graceful, then (as I’m sure you’ll expect) I’m keen to create images of it.

Allium christophii is one of the more spectacular early-summer flowers, with it’s firework-burst head of delicate purple stars. Each little star reflects light, giving it the appearance of being metallic. They remind me of the rich colour and sheen of anodised aluminium.

Flowers of Ornithogalum nutans
Ornithogalum nutans has a spike of starry flowers.

While the allium has a very sculptural look, there is something softer and more subtle about Ornithogalum nutans (AKA ‘Nodding Star of Bethlehem’). I hadn’t seen it until a recent garden visit and I was immediately attracted by the elegant white flowers with their green markings. They would look lovely mixed in a border with ferns and and something with bold leaves – hostas, maybe. (I think they’d be a great choice for the rather more ‘natural’ pond-side border that I’m currently planning.)

Flowers of Scilla peruviana
The little stars of Scilla peruviana orbit the still-unopened flower buds

Scilla peruviana is another plant that I’d like to grow so that I can photograph it. The purple and blue stars look as if they’re in an orbit around the darker buds that are still waiting to open. There are lots of possibilities for interesting compositions here, but it helps if you have the plants in your own garden so that you can spend some time experimenting. (I’m always wishing I could spend longer with the interesting plants I find in the gardens I visit. The only solution is to do a bit of plant-shopping!)

The last plant is one that I do have in my own garden. You may have come across the edible blue flowers of borage (also appropriately known as ‘starflower’) as a pretty addition to summer salads or frozen in ice cubes for drinks. Here, I let it seed around an area of the garden so that the bees can enjoy it. Borage is also an excellent companion plant for anything growing around it because it adds trace elements to the soil. (So it’s not just a pretty face!) Pimms, anyone?

 

Flowers of borage (starflower)
Borage is also known as ‘starflower’, a very apt name!

Rhododendrons: Woodland Beauty

Orange rhododendron flowers
I loved the warm glow of these rhododendron flowers.

I was lucky enough to be able to get out and do some garden-visiting last weekend. It was incredibly hot, so I was happy to get out of the brilliant sunshine and into the garden’s wooded depths. Once there, I was delighted to find myself surrounded by the jewel-bright colours of rhododendrons in full flower.

It was difficult to get close to many of the flowers, but I was able to get near enough some of the prettiest to photograph them. (If you’re visiting a garden, that can be surprisingly difficult because it’s easy to get in the way of other visitors, especially if paths are narrow or you’re there at a busy time.)

White rhododendron flowers with red/orange markings.
Spectacular red and orange markings drew my eye to this white rhododendron.

Having got close enough to a flower that’s still in good condition, the next problem is coping with the light. On a day with dazzling sunshine and trees overhead, it’s difficult for the camera to capture detail in both the highlight and shadow areas. If I was taking the photograph at home, I’d use a diffuser (basically a fine fabric stretched over a rigid frame) to soften the light falling on the flower.

Alternatively, if I hadn’t been in too much of a rush that morning, I should have remembered to bring a small fold-up reflector (or even just a piece of white paper or card) that I could use to bounce some of the bright light back into the shadows. I won’t make the mistake of being so unprepared next time!

Hoping that I could still get a reasonable photograph, I tried to find flowers that were more shaded. However, that wasn’t possible for many, including the white flowers above. So I decided to take the photograph anyway, bracketing the exposure a bit so that I could choose the best one.

White rhododendron flowers tinted with pink
A slight pink blush to the white petals and deeper pink buds make these rhododendron flowers look especially delicate.

It’s at times like this, that shooting with the camera set to create RAW files really comes in useful. Once I was home, I was able to use the RAW development software to both darken the highlights, pulling back some of the detail into them, and lighten the shadows. There’s a limit to what software can do for you, but it shows that it’s always worth having a try at a photograph, even if the conditions aren’t ideal.

The photograph below was taken on a different day, when the light was more overcast. You can see that the effect is generally softer and that there are no harsh highlights or shadows to distract from the detail. A slightly grey day may not be what most day-trippers would wish for, but it certainly makes life easier for photographers!

Pink rhododendron flowers with dark red markings
The dark markings provide a bold contrast to the pretty pink of the petals.

Bud-Burst: Nectaroscordums

Nectaroscordum 3
A newly-opened head of nectaroscordum flowers, with some of the buds still pointing upwards.

As spring becomes summer, there are new flowers opening every day. I wander round my garden, eyeing up the fresh buds with great anticipation – just waiting for the first glimpse of colour as the petals begin to unfold and burst out of their casings.

Nectaroscordum siculum (Sicilian honey garlic) is one of the plants I like to watch develop from bud to flower. It starts off with its buds all wrapped up in a papery covering, which you can see in the photo below. The buds look almost like a bunch of miniature tulips in a florists’ wrap as they peep out from behind their thin cover.

Nectaroscordum Buds 2
Buds emerging from their paper-like covering.

Gradually the individual flower buds manage to wriggle free of their protection. They then begin to move from sitting upright to hanging downwards as the bell-shaped flowers get ready to open. It takes a little while for the buds to get from being upright to hanging down, so that the flower head goes through a stage of having some of its buds still sticking upwards – making it look a bit like it has an unruly hair-do! (Top photo.)

Nectaroscordum Buds 3
And they’re out! The first buds emerge.

Eventually, all the flowers hang down, in a graceful umbel at the top of a tall stem. (And it sways in the slightest breeze, making it a little tricky to photograph if the air isn’t still!) Later, after the flowers have been pollinated, the seed pods will all turn upright again. Those little flower stems are extraordinarily mobile!

The flowers are a lovely sight, coloured with a soft blend of purply-pinks and cream that rather reminds me of mother-of-pearl.

Nectaroscordums are very easy to grow in a well-drained soil in sun and seem drought-tolerant in my garden. They multiply well too, though it will take a few years before the seedlings flower. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll end up with a sea of them – that would certainly keep me happily taking photographs!

Nectaroscordum Flower 1
The top buds are starting to point downwards before opening.

Oranges and Peaches (Colours, not fruit!)

The flowers of Geum 'Rijnstroom'
The semi-double flowers of Geum ‘Rijnstroom’

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK and that means that we have an extra day off for a bit of garden visiting or wandering around nurseries in search of whatever new plants might take our fancy. (Dangerous to the wallet – Hubby and I can always find something!)

Up until recently, I haven’t thought of planting many orange or peach/apricot-coloured flowers in the garden. That’s because there’s a lot of lilac-pink in the existing borders, which looks great with other blue-ish pinks, or crimson, purple or blue flowers, but really wouldn’t look good with the more yellowy pinks or oranges.

Now, though, I have a new opportunity to play with some different colours. For the past couple of months, I’ve been digging out a pond and clearing out the area around it. Previously, there had been massive conifers just on the other side of the fence in the neighbours’ garden and these had gradually starved almost anything I tried to plant along that side of the garden. So when the new neighbours came and promptly had these trees removed, it was time to plan a new border.

Viburnum plicatum flowers
I like the peachy-pink flowers and copper-coloured leaves of this viburnum.

Visiting other people’s gardens is always enjoyable and intriguing, but becomes even more fun when you’re on the hunt for ideas and inspiration. (And it makes the ‘plants to buy’ list a lot longer!)

I saw the geum in the top photo while on a garden visit and decided that I’d like to grow it so that I could photograph it. (The swirly shape of the petals and the mottled yellow and orange colouring makes it a really appealing subject.) At first I thought it might be ‘Totally Tangerine’, but that, it turns out, is a single-flowered plant, while this one is ‘Rijnstroom’ and has semi-double flowers. By a lucky chance, I came across it in a nursery that we visited for the first time. Plant hunting is fun…but can be addictive too!

Another plant that caught my eye while I was garden-visiting is the viburnum above. While it wouldn’t have suited the lilac-pink areas, it could look good in the new border. Hmm, well, sadly I don’t think I’ll have space for many shrubs around the pond, so I’ll have to give that one a miss.

But that doesn’t mean that we’ve missed out on orange here. The clivia in the photo below lives in our conservatory and has been making it feel quite tropical recently! Now that is what I call a bold colour, hehe!

Clivia miniata flowers
The vibrant orange of this clivia has brightened up my conservatory in recent weeks.

So Quickly Gone: Spring Blossom

Pink spring blossom
I think these flowers are probably from a crab apple tree.

I nearly wrote ‘Cherry Blossom’ in the title rather than ‘Spring Blossom’, but then I realised that I’m starting the post with flowers that aren’t cherry blossom. (Cherry tree flowers have a little slit at the tip of each petal, as you can see in the photograph below.)

What the blossom actually is, is something I can only make a guess at. Though I’m fairly sure I remember seeing tiny crab apples on the tree (which is on a green near my house). I do have a crab apple in my own garden, but it has far fewer and smaller flowers. The fruits that it produces look very attractive though – they’re a rich deep red and make up for the less impressive flowers.

Cherry blossom on tree
Early spring blossom – it flowered a couple of weeks ago and has gone now.

On the same green, which runs along the other side of the road just opposite us, there are several trees that blossom in the spring. I’m always happy to see the first flowers on the cherry trees there, and this year I made a point of photographing them. They flower earlier than the double-flowered cherry in my garden and they’re a joyful signal that spring has arrived. But they seem to disappear again so quickly! Now the trees that were covered in blossom just a few weeks ago have not a trace of blossom left.

Double-flowered cherry blossom
Candy-floss pink blossom from the tree in my garden.

While those trees have finished, others are just now in bloom. The cherry tree in my front garden flowers in the last week or two of April. When we moved into this house, the tree was in full flower and felt like a generous welcome to our new home. So seeing it back in flower every year is like a little celebration of the happy years we’ve lived here.

However, as soon as the tree has managed to come completely into flower, the wind is busy tearing the petals off. (Sometimes we’re lucky and the weather stays calm for longer.) This weekend has been a bit rough on the unfortunate little flowers with strong winds scattering their petals all over the grass. They look like giant pink snowflakes! I managed to bring some flowers inside to photograph before they got blown away but they won’t last long.

Perhaps its fragility and short-lived beauty is an important part of the attraction of spring blossom…I know I’ll enjoy seeing it again when it returns next year. And, as usual, I’ll try to photograph it before it escapes me!

Cherry blossom in a vase.
The flowers look lovely in a vase for a little while, but the petals will soon start to fall.

First Frost

A frosted geranium leaf.
A frosted geranium leaf.

It’s been quite mild here in Suffolk for the last few weeks but during the week we had the first frost of the season. Suddenly it feels like winter, although it was soon wet again.

While there’s a frost it’s great to be able to nip out into the garden and look to see what might be worth photographing.

If it’s sunny, the sparkle on the frost is wonderful but, of course, it means that the frost will soon disappear. That can make it can hard to decide what to photograph first. There’s never time to photograph all of the frosty subjects, no matter how fast you work.

Frost-covered penstemon flowers.
Frost covers these penstemon flowers.

I like to leave seed-heads on the plants in the garden here in the hope that they’ll get frosted. Sometimes there are a few flowers still. Penstemon ‘Garnet’ is especially good at continuing into the winter, although by this time there is only a sprinkling of flowers left.

Frosted heads of Stipa gigantea
Frosted heads of Stipa gigantea

Waiting for the frost to create opportunities for photography is a great reason for not being too tidy in the garden. Anything might look good with a coating of frost – flowers, seed-heads, leaves, grasses. It doesn’t matter if they’re dead or alive, so long as there’s an interesting shape or texture.

Frost is a kind friend to the garden photographer in winter – it makes interesting photographic subjects out of very little. (And you can leave tidying up the garden ’til springtime – well that’s my excuse anyway!)

Frosted fennel heads.
These fennel heads have just lasted long enough to get frosted.

 

 

Seed-heads: Textural Interest in the Garden

Pasque flower (Pulsatilla) seed-head
Pasque Flower seed-heads have a silky softness.

After flowers fade in the garden, there’s a certain feeling of loss, of knowing that they have disappeared for another year. But some plants have something more to give the garden – attractive seed-heads that add their own texture and interest to the planting.

For a photographer, seed-heads make a great subject. They can have very ‘architectural’, interesting shapes and their textures range from soft and fluffy to extremely prickly. There’s plenty of variety to inspire pictures with different moods. Could be something soft and gentle, or something bold and eye-catching, or perhaps an image with a more nostalgic feel.

Seed-heads have that inbuilt message that something is ending but also remind us that there will be something new – new life – in the future. And for a gardener, seed-heads can be a reason for hope, if there is a chance of new plants springing up – or dread if they’re weeds!

I love to see the Pasque flower seed-heads every year. (Top photo.) They are so soft that you want to stroke them but they can also really catch the light. The fine hairs reflect the sun and make them gleam on a sunny day. (They’re irresistible to my cats too, who find that the heads swaying on their long stems make a great toy to bat a paw at, especially those that can just about be reached through the slats of a nearby seat. Fun for all!)

prickly seed-head
I wouldn’t like to touch this seed-head!

Other seed-heads are not at all welcoming to the touch. But they do at least look interesting in a photograph. I’m happy to say that the plant above was in someone else’s garden. I don’t know what it is, but I really wouldn’t fancy brushing against it in a border. Ow!

I don’t know what the seed-head in the bottom photo is either. It might be a protea. The photograph was taken in a garden that had big glasshouses, so there were a fair number of  non-hardy plants. The combination of textures and shapes and the soft browns, yellows and creams of this seed-head appealed to me. It’s very different to the seed-heads that I would find in my own garden and, like the Pasque flower, makes me feel that I want to reach out and touch it.

At this time of year, when there are few flowers left and so many garden plants are dying back for winter, seed-heads can linger. I like to leave as many as possible in my garden, so that when the frosts arrive, there will be something to photograph. A coating of frost can make a dried-out seed-head turn into something wonderful – a delicate structure with grace and sparkle. So if you like to photograph plants, it’s a good idea not to be too tidy in your garden. Leave those seed-heads standing and wait to see what magic a touch of frost or snow can bring!

I love to read your comments! Do you have any plants that you like for their seed-heads?

Seed-head
Mystery seed-head – could it be a protea?