Spring Comes Closer : Irises and Crocuses

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It’s been a very blowy, wet, and sometimes stormy couple of weeks here. Everything outside has had quite a thrashing from the wind, so I’m grateful that the early flowers have somehow managed to survive.

Last autumn I planted a shallow pot with the yellow crocus ‘fuscotinctus’ and dwarf reticulata irises ‘Cantab’ (the paler blue) and ‘Harmony’. Their pot sits at the front door and gets a lot of sunshine and a little bit of shelter from the wind. It has been a delight to see the colour gradually appearing as these flowers opened.

Despite that bit of shelter, it was a challenge to take photographs without too much blur as the upper petals of the irises fluttered in the wind. Sometimes flower photography means that you just have to hope to be able to snatch a shot right when there’s a slight drop in the breeze!

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Every year I’ve said to myself that I must try to photograph all the flowers in the garden, starting with the early bulbs…and not managed it. Something would always get in the way – maybe something garden related, like sowing seeds and clearing weeds from borders, or a family responsibility that needed my time.

This blog has changed that and given some structure to my photography. It has created the need for me to take photographs every week and has put both my garden and my photography at the top of my ‘to do’ list (right along with writing my weekly blog post).

Now I can pay more attention to the gradual arrival of spring here and the changes it brings to the garden. That makes me very happy and full of anticipation of the gardening year ahead. It’s a bit of a luxury really, but these days my time is more my own and  I can spend it being the real me – obsessed gardener and photographer! (Happy days!)

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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

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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…)

Little Pretenders: Hoverflies

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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!

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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.

A Bright New Year

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Mahonia flowers glowing in the sunshine.

When everything outside is looking wintry and dreary, the mahonia bush right at the back of our garden boldly flaunts its gleaming yellow flowers. Give it a bit of sunshine, and those flowers are reminiscent of a yellow highlighter pen – practically fluorescent!

The mahonia provides a touch of brilliance and an attention-grabbing focal point to the garden at a time when it’s really needed. The little flowers are like a patch of concentrated sunshine. (I think it must be mahonia x media ‘Charity’.)

So I shall use these cheerful winter flowers to wish you a very bright and joyful New Year. May 2020 bring you health and happiness!

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A close-up of the tiny flowers of mahonia.

Natural Sparkle

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Agapanthus

Because it’s almost Christmas, I thought I’d post some slightly sparkly frost photographs. They go to show that nature can be festive when she likes!

Last Christmas, I woke up to a frosty morning and was able to get outside and spend a bit of time taking photographs of a softly shimmering world.

This year we had a cold period much earlier in the month and I took these photographs then. I don’t think I’ll be outside taking photos this year because the forecast is not promising any frost or snow. (I’ll have a lazy morning inside!)

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Fennel seed head

Seed heads are among the most promising of garden subjects to photograph when they are decorated with ice crystals. For this reason, I don’t cut plants back at the end of autumn. (And, more importantly, really, it gives a better habitat for wildlife and a supply of seeds as food for birds.)

There are several seed heads that I particularly want to stay intact until the frost arrives – agapanthus, fennel, allium and daucus (wild carrot) – because they have the most interesting structures and look at their best when frosted.

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Allium seed head

The arrival of frost is one of the times I most enjoy garden photography. With luck, there will be a moment when the sun comes out. Then the frost will glitter and shine, making the garden come alive with exciting new images to photograph. Plants that may have looked quite ordinary before (like the hydrangea below) suddenly acquire a radiance  that makes them irresistible to me and my camera.

I wish you a joyful Christmas, full of fun and sparkle!

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Climbing hydrangea

 

 

 

Frost-Magic

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A geranium leaf is lit up as the sun starts to creep over the garden fence.

The frost has been back again, giving us some chilly but sparkling mornings. I’ve been grateful to see it because we’ve reached the stage of the year when there are few flowers or plants left to photograph.

Stalking around the garden, camera in hand, I’m usually on the lookout for images that are only made possible because of the frost: veins on a leaf picked out in white, petal edges encrusted as if they’ve been dipped in sugar, or tiny crystals of ice building up on frozen plant surfaces.

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Tiny, frozen winter jasmine flowers with ice crystals building up on them.

The shady areas of the garden retain the most frost, and that shade can give a slightly blue tint to the white, which creates an even colder appearance. The lack of light makes it hard to get much depth of field in the photographs, even at fairly high ISO values. (I could use my tripod, but it’s much too cold to stand around for long and my feet feel warmer if I keep moving around.)

As the sunlight gradually starts to seep into the garden, I look for places where the frost has begun to sparkle in the sun. There won’t be much time before the frost begins to disappear as it warms up. This means I have to work quickly to capture the images that have attracted my eye.

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This climbing hydrangea is in one of the coldest parts of the garden, shaded by the fence and a tree.

Eventually I’m either too cold to stay out any longer or the frost has started to melt and drip off the wet plants. So it’s time to head indoors, first wrapping my camera in a large plastic bag to protect it from getting covered in condensation in the warmer air. (Outside, it’s all to easy to let the viewfinder get steamed up by my own breath – a frustrating interruption to taking the photographs!)

Once indoors, it’s time for a well-earned mug of coffee and a chance to get warm again while looking to see what new photographs I have. Frosty mornings can be productive and very satisfying!

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The frost on this fig leaf will soon be gone, now that the sun has reached it.

Leaf-Fall and some Autumn Colour

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Frost enhances the orange-red leaves of a crab apple.

It doesn’t get very cold in this part of Suffolk in Autumn, so the leaves tend to get blown away before they have a chance to develop much colour. (Yet a few miles away, where it gets chillier, there have been great clouds of yellow leaves.)

However, in the last couple of weeks, the night-time temperature has got cold enough to encourage a bit of colour here and there. You have to look quite hard for it, but it can be found.

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Blackberry leaves become a mix of heat and frost.

Our recent frost helped to make the last of the leaves more interesting to photograph, providing a crisp, icy contrast to the warm tones of the leaves. It was a good time to be out early to take some pictures.

While I was wandering around with my camera, I noticed soft noises that at first sounded as if there were birds hopping around nearby.

But when I looked up, I realised that I was hearing the leaves falling in the neighbours’ garden. It gets the sun before ours does, and as the frost melted, the leaf-stalks were losing their last grip on the trees and shrubs and dropping softly to the ground. Somehow, the tiny sounds made the morning feel even more hushed and peaceful.

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The frost has melted, but being wet makes these geranium and cotoneaster leaves all the more red.

The leaves will soon be gone and everything will seem bare and wintry. But, just for this last little while, these few are rich and glowing with beautiful warm tones – a sight to seek out and enjoy.

By the time you read this, we will have had another frosty morning here. More of the leaves will have fallen and I will have been out taking more photographs.

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Autumn has slightly lightened and warmed the tones of these weigela leaves.

Frozen Flowers

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Frost made this echinacea flower an inviting subject to photograph.

On Monday we had the first frost of the year. Up until then, the weather had been mild and wet, so it felt as if it had come suddenly. There were still a few flowers in the garden, lasting much later than you might expect. And, of course, they were caught by the frost.

As you may imagine, this meant that I had a busy morning padding about the frozen garden with camera in hand.

Now that the plants are beginning to die back for winter, there’s not much left to photograph, so the intricate effects of frost give an opportunity that’s too good to miss. I took as many photographs as I could before the sun melted it all away. (And there will be more in later posts…)

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A passionflower bud, caught by the frost.

The echinacea flower (PowWow White) was frozen through, and this has enhanced the green tinge to the ends of the petals. The emerging flowers start off pale green, with a vivid green cone, gradually maturing to a white flower with a golden-yellow cone.

This colour-change makes for more photographic potential. The plant is a new addition to the garden and I’m looking forward to following its progress with my camera during the next year.

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Frosted penstemon ‘Raven’ – hope it can cope with the cold!

The passionflower is ‘Constance Elliot’, which I wrote about here. It was planted just last year and has flowered well during the late summer. The bud seems to have escaped any serious damage from the frost and the plant’s leaves are still firm and healthy-looking, so I reckon it hasn’t come to any harm. Even so, as it gets colder, I’ll protect the base of the plant with either mulch or frost-fleece.

If the winter gets really cold, I may also put fleece around the penstemons. I’ve lost a few of these in cold winters, but some varieties have gone on for years – especially ‘Garnet’, which seems to be hardier than most. (Pictured is ‘Raven’, which came through last year’s fairly mild winter easily. I hope it turns out to be thoroughly hardy too.)

The rose below is a tough old girl who doesn’t let anything bother her…’Zephirine Drouhin’, a rose that is both delightfully scented and thornless. This is probably my favourite plant in the whole garden. I’m glad that she doesn’t mind the frost!

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Rose ‘Zepherine Drouhin’, covered in frost now, but her flowers will perfume the air again next summer.