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!

Still Flowering

Things are really quietening down here and there’s a very autumnal feel as the first yellow leaves are starting to appear. But there are still a few flowers in the garden. The plant that really impresses me by still being in flower after months of continuous blooms is Geranium ‘Rozanne’.

There are not very many flowers left on the plant now. But it’s amazing that it has the vigour to keep producing them at all, considering that it has been in flower since early summer. (The earliest photograph of it that I can find in my files was taken on June 10th, but of course, it was probably in flower for a while before that.)

Flowers of Geranium 'Rozanne' with lavender.
‘Rozanne’ flowering alongside lavender in June.

The colour of ‘Rozanne’ can vary between looking very blue or much more violet. I think this may be related to the age of the flower. As you can see in the photo above, the fresh flower at the front is much more blue than the one at the back. The pinker tones seem to creep in as the flower ages and fades. I’ve read the suggestion that the flower colour also varies with the time in the season and temperature. It does make me wonder if bees use the colour change to be able to tell which flowers are newest.

This pretty geranium is one of my favourites in the garden. Like other hardy geraniums, it’s extremely easy to grow here and has managed to cope with the lack of rain well. (I did take care to water it in its first summer, but have rarely done so since.)

The flowers delight me. I love their colour, especially in combination with the pink veins on the petals. The pink is repeated on the filaments of the stamens, and the black of the anthers adds a touch of contrast to the flower. They’re very pleasing to photograph, so it’s fortunate that they are in the garden for such a long time every year!

A close-up shows the pink veining in the petals of this geranium.

Hints of Autumn

Recently I posted photographs of wild carrot (Daucus carota) flowers and seed-heads. A little while later they developed further and started changing to more autumnal colours. (You can see my earlier post here: https://annmackay.blog/2021/09/19/going-to-seed-wild-carrot/ )

The seeds had already begun to turn red when I took my first set of photos, but as time passed, the whole plant began to take on red tints. It has been one of the first plants to show the change to autumn reds here. (Actually, we don’t have many in the garden that do – most of our plants, shrubs and trees develop yellow tones in autumn.)

In the top photograph, you can see that the little sub-bracts (bracteoles) behind the seeds have now become mostly red, with touches of a brownish orange. The stems and lower leaves also turned red. That’s something I hadn’t noticed in the previous couple of years that I’ve grown wild carrot. Maybe it’s because it has been colder at night than usual. It was evidently enough to encourage the bracts and leaves to turn a brilliant colour, rather than just yellowing before they died.

The leaf below just happened to be lit so that the late-afternoon sun was shining through parts of it, making it glow and stand out against the dark background. It gave me an opportunity for a photograph that I hadn’t expected. It seems that my garden is always able to surprise me!

red daucus leaf
Wild carrot leaf with autumn colouring.

Warm Memories

We’ve had some lovely sunny and summery days here in September. There was even the chance to spend a day with friends out on a boat on the Norfolk Broads and another at a beach. After the caution of staying close to home for so long, these outings felt very good.

Now however, the weather has changed and summer is behind us. I can’t say I’m ready to welcome autumn yet, because our summer has been an odd one, with many more cold and grey days than you might expect. So I’m looking back at some images from past summers that might just bring a bit of warmth with them.

Helenium autumnale ‘Ranchera’ (Mariachi series)

The tithonia in the top picture (Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’) was photographed a couple of years ago, after a friend gave me some plants. They made a glorious display – the plants became tall and covered in the dazzling orange flowers and the bees loved them. It’s a plant I will certainly grow again.

The Ipomoea lobata (‘Spanish Flag’) shown below was given to me by the same friend and made a great companion for the tithonia. (I grew it up tripods of canes nearby.) I think I like the leaves of this plant just as much as the flowers – both are very striking shapes.

Left: Ipomoea lobata. Right: zinnia detail.

The red zinnia was from a batch I grew from a seed-packet of mixed colours. The results were a delightful range of pinks and oranges, with just a couple of red-flowered plants. I had a great time photographing these and wished I’d had time to grow them again this year. (Next year, maybe!)

Most of the photographs here were taken in previous years, except for the heleniums (second photo from top). It’s the second summer for this perennial but it has struggled a bit because it’s planted on a slight slope and the ground is a bit on the dry side for it. I’ll probably move it soon and give it a position that suits it better. It’s worth that bit of extra care just to see those delightfully twirly petals every year.

Below is the one photograph that wasn’t taken in my own garden. I’d love to be able to grow gorgeous dahlias like this one, but I know that the soil here needs a fair bit of improvement first. (And I’m glad to say that our main compost heap is at last able to be used for this. I never would have though creating compost would make me so happy!)

I hope these warm-toned flowers have brought back memories of summer warmth if you’re heading into autumn. And there should soon be some autumn reds around to make us smile.

An orange and yellow dahlia flower.

Common Carder Bee: Bee I.D.

In the last few years, I’ve become fascinated by the bees and other insects that visit my garden. Sometimes I like to just sit and watch as they go about their business among the flowers. It feels very relaxing and deeply peaceful.

There are several different species of bee that use the garden. Honeybees come here frequently. There’s usually a good number of buff-tailed bumblebees too, and just occasionally, a red-tailed bumblebee. And there’s the bumblebee pictured above – the common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum).

Common carder bee
Common carder bee on Caryopteris x clandonensis

I’d noticed these bees back in spring, visiting the white deadnettle and other early flowers. They moved about too much for me to get a really good look at them, or a clear photograph that showed their markings. Recently, I saw a couple of them enjoying the freshly-opened flowers of a sedum on a sunny afternoon. It made a good opportunity to photograph them.

Having photographs of the bees made it easier to identify them by comparing them to images on websites about bees. Even then, it can be very hard to be sure about identification, because many bees look very similar.

Honeybee on Sedum
For comparison: honeybee on sedum

To make it easier to see the differences between the commonest bees in my garden, I’ve posted a couple of comparison photos. Above is the honeybee. (The western or European honeybee, Apis mellifera.)

You can see that the honeybee’s colouration is quite like that of the common carder bee. But the carder is much hairier and a stronger ginger colour. (The common carder is also a bit bigger than the honeybee.)

If you look at the tails of the two bees, you’ll notice that the tail of the common carder has hairy stripes in black and white. While the honeybee also has a stripey look to its tail, they are quite different. Here the black areas of the tail look smooth and slightly shiny, with just very short and sparse pale-coloured hairs.

Bumblebee on a blue scabious flower.
For comparison (2): Buff-tailed bumblebee (I think!)

The other comparison (above) is the very common buff-tailed bumblebee. (Which can be distinguished from the white-tailed bumblebee by that very narrow orangey stripe at the top of its tail.) It looks quite different from the common carder bee, having a mostly black thorax with an orangey-yellow stripe just below the head, and another on the abdomen, just below the waist. (Mostly hidden here by the wings.)

One of my reasons for wanting to know which bees use my garden is so that I can try to make sure I have a range of flowers to suit them.

The common carder bees have been busy at the caryopteris flowers, even though the shrub has almost finished flowering for the year. Like a lot of other bees, they’re keen on the flowers of sedums at the moment, as well as the last of the catnip flowers. (When there’s not a cat sleeping in it!)

Now I must go and read up on what other flowers they like and what sorts of habitats suit them. I’m hoping for lots more of them next year!

Common Carder Bee
Common Carder Bee – it has a hairy face!

Going to Seed: Wild Carrot

One of the plants I’ve grown specifically so that I can photograph it is the wild carrot (Daucus carota). This variety is ‘Dara’. It starts off white when the flowers first open, gradually becoming pink, before finally turning a lovely deep burgundy red as they mature.

Daucus carota is the wild form of the carrot we eat and gives an eye-catching display of delicate lacy flowers on the end of long stems. It creates a stunningly pretty effect in a border. The plant is a biennial and seeds itself around easily – so it will probably get everywhere here eventually. (It has stayed in the same area so far, so I may just give it a little help to spread.)

Wild carrot (Daucus carota)
Right back at the start: wild carrot (Daucus carota) flower buds about to open.

I love the flowers and seed heads but I find they can be tricky to photograph. As quite large flowers or heavy seed heads on the ends of long, delicate stems they move easily in the slightest breath of air. I should have taken some indoors to photograph them, but my little studio space is in a state of upheaval at the moment. (Very inconvenient!)

This year, I have at least managed to take photographs of the flowers at different stages. Next year I’ll try to catch the early stages of the flowers when they’re white or pink. (Somehow this year I got distracted by doing other things.)

My favourite time to photograph this flower is when it turns to seed. The seed heads are an extraordinary shape, with the individual stems of seeds curving inwards to make a little ‘nest’. And the seeds themselves look interesting – covered in tiny white spikes and either ridged with, or entirely red.

Wild carrot (Daucus carota) flower head.
First seeds forming in the centre of the flower head.

I haven’t finished photographing the wild carrot seed heads yet. They are one of the best plants to leave standing in the garden for winter. (I don’t tidy very much away anyway, because it’s useful to wildlife.) Having the seed heads there through winter means that there is the possibility of something exciting to photograph when they get frosted. (Especially if the breeze drops and they sit still for a little while!)

This winter I’ll be checking to see if there’s any frost in the mornings and rushing out with my camera if there is. These are shaded by a fence in the early morning, so any frost is protected from the rising sun. Wish me luck and a little frost!

Daucus carota (wild carrot) seed head
Tiny spiky seeds on the maturing seed head

A Splash of Red

The red echinacea I planted last year has done well this summer. (The orange and orangey-pink plants have been fine too, but not as luxuriant.) And it’s been great to have this vibrant scarlet blaze to brighten up what has been an unusually cloudy and grey few weeks.

These showy flowers demand attention. They could overshadow the plants around them, so I have some thinking to do before I plant up the rest of that area.

At the moment I’m planning to add some more hot colours. I have an orange hyssop (agastache) which I bought unlabelled from a local nursery. It would look good planted nearby but I’ll probably keep it in a pot for now because I don’t know if it’s hardy enough to spend the winter outside. (I don’t know how big it will get either, so this will also let me find out how much space it needs.)

Red echinacea flowers

Other plants for this area have a slightly ‘prairie’ feel. There are dainty yellow kniphofias, a red helenium and arching Mexican feather grass (stipa tenuissima). Scattered around the area are tall dark red scabious and yellow potentilla, both of which seed themselves everywhere. There’s a long way to go (and few weeds to remove) before this small part of the garden becomes a fully-fledged border. It is starting to look interesting, though, and it makes a change to experiment with plants that might not fit in elsewhere.

Finding more plants for this area may have to wait for next year. (We have been out to some of the nurseries around us, but have stayed quite close to home so far, so choice is limited.) Meanwhile, I’m delighted to see that the echinceas have produced a few seedlings – I wonder what colour their flowers will turn out to be? Given that there are plants with red, orange and a bright pink that has an orange blush to the petals, the possibilities are interesting. I’ll just have to wait and see – hope there’s some red amongst them!

Bee on red echinacea flower

Much Missed: White Passionflower

Occasionally I lose a plant that I really miss. There have been plants that haven’t survived after I’ve planted them. Usually because I’ve put them in the wrong place in the garden or because I’ve bought something that doesn’t suit our climate or soil.

It may be that the plant is short-lived anyway, or else that it isn’t very hardy and will be unlikely to survive a hard winter. That was the case with the lovely white passionflower ‘Constance Elliot’. This passionflower was growing alongside a grape vine on our arbour. It seemed fairly happy there as it wove its way through the vine leaves and produced a sprinkling of gleaming white flowers.

This year it failed to reappear in spring. I waited hopefully in case it was just late, but no, it was gone. I was lucky to get a few years from it as I knew it might not cope with a really hard frost. It was always going to be chancy whether it could survive in a fairly exposed area of our garden.

Passiflora Constance Elliot

I particularly loved this plant. The white flowers had a great freshness against their background of green leaves. They had a simpler, somehow more ‘natural’ look than the Passiflora caerulea has. I enjoy the flowers of caerulea with their lovely rings of blue filaments, but I feel that the plainer white flowers of Constance Elliot fit into our garden more easily. (Caerulea is great for the conservatory, where things can be a bit more exotic.)

Fortunately, I had taken the opportunity to photograph this passionflower both in the garden and in the studio. It makes an interesting change to photograph after caerulea (where the blue filaments tend to dominate the image). The mostly white colouration of the flowers means that there is more emphasis on the shapes of the flower as a whole and on the dark purple markings of the stigmas and the yellow pollen on the anthers.

Normally I would have just bought a replacement for the plant but I haven’t seen them around so much this year. (Actually, I think that’s just because I haven’t been out much. The plants are probably out there.) The garden centres and other stores often have them as small, very inexpensive plants that can be quickly grown on in a warm year, but I haven’t seen them there. It could be that Brexit has caused problems with some plant supplies – I don’t know. I do know that I will be on the lookout for another plant of ‘Constance Elliot’ next year!

Passiflora Constance Elliot

Getting There…

A couple of weeks ago I posted photographs of flowers of our Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’. They were showing very little of the bright pink markings on the edges of the petals that they’re grown for. While I enjoy having variety among the flowers that come up from seed, I was hoping that they would show some of the ‘expected’ markings.

As you can see from the top photo, the flowers are becoming much closer to having the pink edge all the way around each white petal. They are now much more like those illustrated on seed-packets and adverts. The flowers are very different to the others in our garden, most of which have solid-coloured petals.

I also hoped that there would be some of the darker flowers with pale pink petals surrounded by the darker pink edge. I’m delighted to be able to show you that yes, I now have those opening too.

Photographing these was a bit tricky because it’s been breezy here for a while. It’s a matter of trying to choose a moment when the wind dies down to press the shutter button…not easy, haha! So I should really pick some of these and photograph them indoors – much better for getting clear detail. That might not be soon, though, because there is so much to do in the garden right now. But it is lovely to be able to enjoy these flowers while I’m working. It makes life feel good!

You can read my previous post about cosmos here: https://annmackay.blog/2021/08/01/not-as-expected-variations/

Cosmos 'Candy Stripe'