Stay Home Spring: Virtual Garden Tours

A dark red double hellebore.
A dark red double hellebore from my garden.

Normally I try to have something different to photograph every week, so that there’s plenty of variety in the images for this blog. But I think that’s going to be a bit difficult for a while. When there isn’t much to photograph in the garden I may buy a new plant or go on a garden visit – neither of which is possible at the moment.

However, although I cannot leave home to go visiting gardens for now, I can at least enjoy them through videos on the web. It seems a good time for me to share a quick fantasy tour of several gardens. I hope they will provide a little ‘escape’ if you’re stuck indoors.

I’ve enjoyed visiting  Kew Gardens, but a day spent there can be quite tiring it you want to see absolutely everything. Their short video tour lets you see the highlights of the gardens the easy way! It includes my favourites – the Treetop Walkway (an amazing experience) and the gorgeous waterlilies in their own special glasshouse. You can find more videos from Kew at their YouTube page and I’d suggest the ‘Wakehurst in Bloom‘ video as a lovely glimpse of spring in one of their subsidiary gardens.

For many years I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh on a very frequent basis. (I lived a little over 10 miles away.) So I’m pleased to be able to see spring there again and even visit their other regional gardens from the comfort of my own home.

From another botanical garden are the New York Botanical Garden’s videos. It was a treat to be able to see their fabulous orchid exhibition, which is too far away for me to be able to visit in ‘real life’. (Look out for the superbly elegant Darwin Star Orchid and the ‘predicted moth’.)

Most years I visit open garden events in the areas nearby. Sometimes the gardens are unusual or quirky and many surround interesting historic buildings. Of course, these have all been cancelled this year. I’ve been looking for videos instead and was happy to be able to explore gardens a bit further afield than usual when I found this video of gardens on the Isle of Man.  Watching the video felt just like many of the open garden days that I’ve been to.

Gardens that I would normally be planning to visit at this time of year include Beth Chatto’s beautiful garden, which I’ve written about in a past post. This is one of my favourite gardens to visit, so I’ll miss it, but the video does convey what a spring visit there feels like. (I preferred to watch it with the sound music turned off though!)

I hope that you enjoy a little look around these gardens while you’re staying home. Stay safe!

Winter Irises

Iris unguicularis
The texture of these iris petals sparkles in a bit of winter sunshine.

It’s particularly vile outside at the moment. Right now we have high winds and sideways rain and there was even some short-lived snow earlier in the week. So it’s comforting to know that the early flowers have survived, despite the weather’s attempts to shred them.

I photographed these irises a few days ago, in a dry and sunny gap in the stormy weather. (The weather forecast is my friend! I keep an eye on it to know when I must dash outside and photograph flowers before they are ruined.)

These fragile-looking flowers are iris unguicularis – had to check the spelling of that one – otherwise known as ‘Algerian winter iris’.

The plant was given to me by a generous neighbour and has slowly got itself established in a sunny border. It’s a plant that grows wild in Mediterranean countries and likes dry and sunny sites, so is well-suited to our hot and thirsty garden. (But the present heavy rain is unlikely to please it.)

There have been a good number of flowers this year, with a couple of buds still waiting to open. That is a good improvement over the previous years, when there were only three or four flowers and I thought the plant wasn’t too happy where it was. I’ve read that this iris flowers better as the clump gets older and more congested, so I’m looking forward to good displays in years to come…and a good reason to be outside on a wintry day with my camera.

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Iris unguicularis aka Algerian winter iris

Hellebores: A Favourite Flower

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I love to photograph hellebores!

It feels like a very special treat when the hellebores start to flower. I don’t have many in my own garden yet, so I enjoy seeing them in other people’s gardens and wherever they’re offered for sale .

Recently I treated myself to a couple of new hellebores. According to the labels, they are ‘Shooting Star’ and ‘Cinnamon Snow’, but they are so like each other that it’s hard to be sure if they are actually different. (Plant labels can easily get mixed up in garden centres!)

As far as I can tell, the ‘Shooting Star’ is very close to white, with a touch of pink and yellowy-green to the flower as it ages. In the photo above, these tints are more pronounced because the bright studio lights make the colours of the reverse of the flower show through its slightly translucent petals.

‘Cinnamon Snow’ is a little darker, with a peachy-pink blush to its creamy flowers. It’s interesting to watch the flowers darken and develop more of a green colouring as time passes.

The flowers on these plants are a bit more upright than most hellebores, which makes their pretty faces much easier to see in the garden. (Usually I find I have to turn the flowers of hellebores upwards to see what they look like, so their beauty can go unseen if there isn’t time to stop by them for a while.)

I’m looking forward to watching these plants settle into the garden and bring a little bit of sheer loveliness to late winter.

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A trio of hellebores.

Early Growth

Honeysuckle leaves with water drops.
Melting frost coats these new honeysuckle leaves with drops of water.

It feels as if we aren’t yet having a proper winter here. The last few winters haven’t been as cold as we’d normally expect, but this may be the mildest since I moved here. We have had some cold weather this week and there’s been a bit of snow much further north, but it hasn’t lasted long.

As a result, plants are further on than they should be for this stage of the winter. At this time last year, the daffodils were just showing the tips of their leaves but this year they are in bud already. The yellow crocuses are open (didn’t expect them for another week or so) and many plants are showing signs of new growth. Leaf buds are beginning to open on some of the shrubs here, especially the roses. And the honeysuckle in the photo (taken a couple of weeks ago) has hardly had time for a rest before its new leaves appeared.

But winter certainly isn’t over and we may still have more frosty mornings to come. And we could even have a snowy ‘beast from the east’, like last year. I hope that the plants don’t get far enough ahead to be likely to be damaged if they freeze – they really need to slow down and take it easy for a while! (And it IS winter, so I’d like to slow down and take it easy too…)

Winter Jasmine

Yellow winter jasmine flowers.
The frost has thawed, leaving these winter jasmine flowers covered in water droplets.

In part of the drab mid-January garden, lots of little yellow flowers sparkle amongst the bare branches of the dormant shrubs.

They are the flowers of winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), whose lax stems make it seem more like a climber than a shrub. In my garden it blends well with other shrubs because the long, thin stems with tiny leaves take up little space. It fills the gaps between other plants and becomes almost invisible in summer, while the other shrubs are in full leaf.

But just you wait for winter! Then the yellow starry flowers shine out against their dark background and add a touch of exuberance to brighten a cold and gloomy day.

If you leave it unpruned, the winter jasmine can spread quickly, with its flexible stems sprouting roots wherever they touch the soil. It’s easy to control the plant by pruning it after the flowers have finished, and it can be trained onto trellis or kept cut back to form a shrub. Personally, I like to have it growing in its natural, spreading form and I’m going to gather up some of the rooted stems to start new plants in other parts of the garden.

The flower you see in the photograph had been frosted and was still covered in water drops from the thaw. Although the frost destroys the jasmine flowers that are open, there are plenty of undamaged buds to provide lots more flowers – I’ll be sure to take the time to enjoy them. (And to take some more photographs!)

Little Pretenders: Hoverflies

Hoverfly on red scabious
A marmalade hoverfly on red scabious. (The commonest hoverfly in the UK.)

This year I’d like to make my garden a bit more wildlife-friendly. (You can see my previous posts about gardening for bees – Bees’ Needs: Flowers! and Blue (and Violet and Purple) for Bees – by clicking on the links.)

Bees are not the only pollinators that I’d like to encourage in the garden. Hoverflies are important for pollination and their larvae have a valuable role as predators of aphids and other garden pests. (There are always plenty of greenfly around here, so there should be plenty to keep any hoverfly babies munching!)

It can be easy to confuse hoverflies with bees or wasps. (They don’t sting but they mimic stinging insects so that birds are less likely to try eating them.) If you look at the photo of the honeybee below, you can see that there are differences between the common ‘marmalade hoverfly’ and the bee.

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Not a hoverfly! This one is a honeybee (on a tithonia flower).

The bee here is generally a bit more furry-looking. (You can just see that there is a hairy patch on the front of the bee’s head and that its thorax is also hairy. Compare that to the thorax of the hoverfly, which is shiny and looks almost metallic in the sun.) The hoverfly has much shorter antennae and has just two wings, whereas the bee has four wings. (It’s hard to see that in the photo. You might just about be able to spot the separation at the back edge of the two wings on the nearest side of the bee.)

However, there are many other types of hoverfly (over 270 in the UK) and some look much more like bees than these. There is a difference that will help you tell which is which. Hoverflies have large eyes which cover the front and side (i.e.most) of their faces. A bee has eyes on the side of its face and they are much smaller and an oval shape.

It’s likely that some of the different ‘bees’ I thought I’d spotted in the garden were really hoverflies. Maybe I’ll learn to identify some of them… if I can move quick enough to photograph them!

Hoverfly on giant scabious
Hoverfly on Cephalaria gigantea (giant scabious).

It’s very worthwhile to grow flowers that will attract these useful little beasties. They have shorter tongues than bees, so aren’t attracted to some of the deeper, bell-shaped flowers (e.g. foxgloves and penstemons) that bees like. Instead they prefer more open flowers where the nectar and pollen is easy to get at. They really like the daisy types like the aster below and umbellifers such as the fennel and wild carrot that grow in the garden here. One of the flowers that I often find them on is the scabious – as you can see from the photos.

I like watching hoverflies dart around amongst the flowers. They are fast and very agile (even flying backwards) and they add to the feeling of life and energy in the garden. I hope to see lots more of them this year – and maybe a few new ones – even if they do fool me into thinking that they may be bees or wasps!

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Hoverflies like daisy flowers, like this aster.

Armchair Gardening: Planning a New Border

Sidalcea 'Party Girl'
Sidalcea ‘Party Girl’ has small flowers which look very like wild mallow.

The weather in the past week has been rainy, so not much good for gardening. But it has been ideal for a bit of ‘armchair gardening’. I’ve been thinking about the planting for a new area and imagining which plants might look good there.

Elsewhere in the garden there are a lot of deep or bright colours. I’d like to keep this new patch a bit softer and fairly informal. (Having lighter colours towards the back of the garden can give an effect of receding distance, making the garden look slightly bigger.)

White rose
This white rose has just the softest blush of pink.

Recently, I bought a white-flowered hibiscus, called ‘Red Heart’ because it has a bold red marking at the centre of its flowers. This was originally meant to go in the border alongside the new pond but, as I’ve been planting that area up, I’ve realised that there won’t be space for it.

Instead, I’m going to dig out a new border behind our main sitting-out area. (This is a tiny paved space with a wrought-iron arbour which is smothered by a grape vine at one end, and a more open seating place at the other.)

Left: Astrantia 'Florence' Right: Erigeron karvinskianus
Left: Astrantia ‘Florence’ Right: Erigeron karvinskianus

Because it’s an area for sitting around and taking it easy, I’d like to keep the planting looking relaxed and soothing. Somewhere that will help you to let all the stresses of the day ebb away. Whites, to pick up on the white hibiscus, and pale pinks are the most likely choices at the moment.

We already have a white-barked birch tree nearby, and I’m planning to move some pale pink Japanese anemones to another border behind the new area. (The anemones are beautiful thugs, so they’re getting a border of their own where they can run riot.)

Acanthus
This acanthus has delicately marked veins, but it looks rather spiky.

Sidalcea, astrantia and erigeron (Mexican fleabane) grow in the garden here, so it should be easy to introduce them to the new area too. And we have lots of dark red scabious – a few of those would help to emphasise the similarly-coloured red markings on the hibiscus.

Among the plants waiting to be found homes in the garden here are several white and pink rock roses (Cistus) and they would be likely to enjoy the sun in this border. So the planned area is beginning to look very pink and white, especially if I also add a pale rose like the one in the photo. (Don’t know its name.)

And maybe there should be some acanthus too – it has similar vein-markings to the astrantia and the ‘architectural’ form of the plant would be very striking. But that spiky look might not be so relaxing to look at! (Acanthus is a plant you need to be very sure about wanting, because it’s very hard to get rid of and can grow from little pieces of left-over root.)

Anthemis 'EC Buxton'
The sunny little daisies of Anthemis ‘EC Buxton’

The plan for this new area may be getting a little too pink, so some other pale colours could be added. I love the happy little daisies of the anthemis above. They’re like a sprawling splash of sunshine in the border and have a very informal look. Nigella also has that relaxed feel about it and would be delightful to see close-up. (The area behind the seating is a little higher, with a low retaining-wall because our garden is on a slight slope.)

Fantasy-gardening and planning new planting is a very pleasant way to spend wet days. But maybe the best thing about it is that it gets the enthusiasm going for starting the work. The rain is over for now and the forecast for the next week is mostly dry, so it looks like I have some digging to do…

Nigella damascena
Nigella is an easy filler in a border.

Geraniums: Easy and Reliable

 

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Geranium ‘Rozanne’ flowers over a very long period.

Hardy geraniums were one of the first flowers I grew. They really encouraged me in my early years of gardening because they are so easy to grow and have both pretty flowers and good-looking leaves.

Finding that they were easy to divide and propagate gave me a confidence boost as I learned about the basics of gardening, and I’ve loved having them in the garden ever since. They’re tough little survivors, and great to fill in spots that other plants would struggle in.

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‘Mrs Kendall Clark’ is a lovely blue geranium.

There are several blue or purple-blue geraniums in the garden. Some were here already when we bought the house. One is magnificum, which has striking dark veins on the petals (below, right). There are a couple of others that I don’t know the names of – one of the mysteries of inheriting plants!

I’ve added two of my favourite blue geraniums – Rozanne (top photo) and Mrs Kendall Clark (above). Rozanne’s flowers can be quite strongly blue, especially when the flower is newly opened but then can age to a more lilac shade. Mrs Kendall Clark is a paler blue and stands tall and elegant in the border. (And has attractive, finely-divided leaves – a definite bonus.)

Geraniums-2-up
Left – This white geranium appeared unexpectedly in the garden this year. Right – Geranium magnificum spreads easily.

There was a nice surprise this summer when the white geranium above simply arrived from nowhere. I can’t remember planting it – not in recent years anyway! (Though it may have been labelled as something else. It’s welcome anyway!)

I enjoy photographing the geraniums, especially those that have strongly marked veins on the petals. That’s a detail that adds a lot of interest to a flower portrait.

The geranium below appealed to me for a different reason – the wonderfully hairy stems! (Apparently they are sticky, but I didn’t touch them to find out for sure!) It was growing in a garden I visited and I hadn’t seen one before, so I was rather intrigued by it. However, I’m not likely to try growing it because it can’t withstand frost. Maybe I’ll get to see it in its native Madeira some day!

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Geranium madarense has unusually hairy, sticky stems.

Zingy Pinks

Bee on Zinnia 3030
Shhh! I think he’s asleep…

The colours you tend to associate with late summer and early autumn are mostly reds, oranges and yellows. But there have been some really brilliant pinks around too.

These pink flowers are not pale and delicate – instead they demand attention and can compete with any of the bright flowers around at the end of summer. (I love the softer pinks too, but they would get a bit lost at a time when so many of the other plants are shining so dazzlingly.)

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The rich colours of this alstroemeria add sparkle to garden borders.

Zinnias (top photo) are great to photograph – the colours are vivid and the central boss of the flower has plenty of intricate detail to add interest to the image. I’ve grown them when we lived in Scotland but not yet down here. (Here I’ve mostly planted perennials.) I really should plant some, because the garden gets lots of sun and they should be very happy in our well-drained soil.

Alstoemerias are a satisfying flower to photograph, with their striking markings and depth of colour. They’re not common in gardens here, but I’ve started to see more of them in garden centres. Next year I’ll be tempted to give them a try, especially now that there are some hardier varieties that have a good chance of making it through the winter here. (I’d like to plant a deep pink one, as in the photo above.)

Pink echinacea flower
A slight hint of orange in this echinacea’s pink petals makes them more vibrant.

The echinacea above is one of a group that I bought from a nearby nursery, all in different colours. I think that they are getting used to  me coming in to look for something new to photograph! The echinaceas were fun – big, bold daisies with a lot of presence and very attractive colours. This one has just the tiniest amount of orange in the pink of its petals and that makes the colour shimmer in the sun.

My last flower is probably opening up to be more orange than pink – it would have been interesting to see the fully-open dahlia. But I loved it at this stage, when it was still partly folded up on itself and showing the pink reverse of its petals. The pink and orange together have a great feeling of energy, a really lively sizzle of colour that would add excitement to any border.

This year I’ve been lucky  enough to see lots of lovely plants while I’ve been out visiting gardens. They’ve given me a lot of inspiration for what I’d like to grow here and inspiration for photographs too. There will certainly be room in the garden for some of the more intense pinks!

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A two-tone pink and orange dahlia flower gets ready to dazzle.

Rich With Colour: Dahlias

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One of my favourite dahlias, for both its flower shape and its colour.

This year I’ve been trying to extend the flowering season in my garden a little. So I’ve planted echinaceas, heleniums, rudbekias and asters, which helped to keep the garden going through the transition into autumn.

But I’ve been missing out on one of the best flowers for this time of year – the dahlia.

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These little dahlias are quite cute!

As a newcomer to dahlias, I find the choice of flowers quite bewildering. There are so many different types to get to know…cactus, semi-cactus, ball, pom-poms, anemone-flowered and more.

So far, I’ve decided that I like the peony-flowered and single dahlias the most because they have open centres (great for bees). The collarette dahlias are really interesting to photograph because they have two rings of petals – the large outer petals and a sweet little ring of twirly mini-petals around the central disc. (You can see one in the top-left corner of the photo-mosaic below.)

So far I’ve just planted two dahlias here. One is ‘Siberia’, a white, waterlily-flowered dahlia which you can also see in the mosaic below. The other is a seedling of ‘Bishop’s Children’ which has flowered in a rich bright red. That’s a small start, but next year I’ll be on the lookout for more.

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Some of the dahlias that I’ve photographed recently.

As usual, one of the biggest factors in my plant choices will be finding flowers that will make good photographs. Dahlias have a huge range of colours and shapes, so choosing will probably take some time.

For photography, I often look for flowers that have one colour with another blushed over them, or a different colour along the edges of petals, because it gives an interesting element to the photograph.

Shapes within the flower are important when photographing it too. Elegant curves, contrast of size and shape and interesting small details are all essential parts of a satisfying flower image.

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The brightest of reds.

I can foresee a slight snag with my new interest in dahlias. It’s going to be hard to restrict myself to the plants I actually have room for! Well, that will be a problem for next year. This year I must get on and improve the soil in the borders for them. And I’ll start working on my dahlia ‘to buy’ list, while dreaming about the wonderfully rich colours that they will bring to my garden…

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A dahlia that I’d love to grow.