Winter Jasmine

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

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!

Hoverfly on aster 2468
Hoverflies like daisy flowers, like this aster.

Armchair Gardening: Planning a New Border

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

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.

Geranium-Mrs-KC-1505
‘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!

Geranium-pink-1244
Geranium madarense has unusually hairy, sticky stems.

Zingy Pinks

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.)

Pink Alstroememria-2913
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!

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

Rich With Colour: Dahlias

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.

Dahlias-8up-A
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.

Dahlia-red-3077
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…

Dahlias-pink-3104
A dahlia that I’d love to grow.

Tougher Than it Looks: Hibiscus Syriacus

Like many, the first time I saw hibiscus flowers was while on holiday in Spain. These were the red Hibiscus rosa-sinensis – flamboyant and very exotic-looking flowers that will always remind me of my parents’ garden there.

My parents had retired to Spain and spent over 20 years living there. On visits to them, I enjoyed looking after their little garden and visiting the nearby garden centre to buy plants for it. It was an exciting world of unfamiliar plants where I could have easily wandered for hours. (Nowadays those plants have become much more commonplace and are easily bought in UK garden centres.)

The Spanish garden centre was just a few minutes walk from my parents’ apartment, so a visit there became a frequent entertainment. (And it was a great place for buying gifts for my flower-loving mother.) My eye was often draw to the hibiscus plants there – both the usual red cultivar and the others that had flowers in a range of pinks, oranges and yellows.

White hibiscus flower
This white hibiscus is much less showy than those with the red markings and it seems to be shyly hiding under the leaf!

Living in Scotland at the time, I had no idea that it was possible to grow hibiscus in the UK. It was only when I moved to Suffolk that I came across the hardy hibiscus shrubs (Hibiscus syriacus) and fell in love with them.

‘Blue Bird’ was one of the first of the hardy hibiscus that I came across and it’s flower colour has made it my favourite. These flowers vary from a quite definite blue, to a softer, more lavender shade. This is can be due to the flower aging, but can also be dependent on whether the shrub was grown from seed (very variable) or from a cutting. (I’ve read that hibiscus seedlings can be a nuisance in parts of the USA, but that isn’t a problem in chilly old Britain!)

So far I have two hibiscus shrubs in the garden – Blue Bird, which has flowered abundantly this year, and a young plant of ‘Walburton’s Rose Moon’. This second hibiscus has massive flowers that open to a much flatter shape than the more cup-shaped blooms of Blue Bird.

A white hibiscus would look good in a new area that I’m planting up – probably ‘Red Heart’ which has showy red markings in the centre of its flowers. Another possibility would be the much more restrained plain white cultivar (above), seen in a nearby garden.

The hibiscus flowers are almost over for this year (there’s just one pink one left), but I’m already looking forward to being able to spend more time photographing them next year.

Hibiscus Rose Moon 2615
Hibiscus Walburton’s Rose Moon

Love-in-a-mist: Nigella damascena

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

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.

Blue (and Violet and Purple) for Bees

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that blues and purples are my favourite colours in the garden.

Some of the darker flowers have a lovely velvety look – petunias and the deep purple morning glory ‘Grandpa Otts’ spring to mind. They just ask you to stroke them! And at the lighter end of the range, soft violets and lilac-blues are delicately beautiful.

So I’m delighted to read that bees share my attraction to these colours and often prefer blue and violet flowers.

Scientists studying bees’ vision have discovered that, unlike us, bees can see ultraviolet light. This allows bees to see the ultraviolet patterns that flowers use to show them where to find nectar.

(There’s even a colour named ‘bee’s purple’, which is a mixture of yellow and ultraviolet light and is visible to bees but not to us.)

Blue Olearia-1064
This blue daisy bush (Olearia) looks like an aster but flowers in spring and early summer.

A German scientific study  of bumblebees also found that (in an area where violet flowers produced the most nectar), they preferred violet over blue. This allowed the bees to collect more nectar than bees that didn’t show a preference.

Apparently the world bees see is a mixture of mostly blue, green and ultraviolet, also yellow and some orange, but no red. Red just looks like a black to bees, but bees have an excellent sense of smell, so that flowers in the red colour range can attract them by scent.

There are already a number of bee-friendly plants in blues and purples in my garden.

Cerinthe (top photo) is a marvelous plant for pollinators because it is especially rich in nectar, giving it the common name of ‘Honeywort’. (This cerinthe was photographed in a garden I was visiting in the spring. The cooler temperatures at that time gave it a much darker colouring than my own plants had in the warmth of summer.)

Flowers of Geranium 'Rozanne' with lavender.
Flowers of Geranium ‘Rozanne’ with lavender – a combination sure to attract bees!

The geranium ‘Rozanne’ is now lazily flopping into the lavender bushes beside it, creating a partnership that pleases both me and the bees. This geranium flowers over a long period, so it really earns its place in a bee-border.

Another flower that is popular with bees and that self-sows around my garden is Centaurea montana – the perennial cornflower. It also attracts butterflies and moths, which means it works well as a pollinator magnet. The unusual flower shape and the combination of blue and magenta make it a lovely garden plant.

The daisy bush (Olearia) was photographed in a garden I visited in spring. Apparently it attracts both bees and butterflies – and I’m wondering if I can find a suitable space for one in my own garden…

As you might expect, I’m looking forward to checking out what violet, purple and blue flowers are best for bees. There will, of course, be plenty of other colours too. But, hey, I’m really pleased that my buzzy little friends share my colour preferences!

Flower of Centaurea montana
Centaurea montana is a very easy-to-grow plant that attracts bees, butterflies and moths.