Too Hot!

Flowers with bright, hot colours feel particularly appropriate to post after the hottest week I’ve ever experienced. The temperatures have been hotter than I could ever have imagined in the UK, reaching over 40C in a number of places. (Here in Suffolk it was a couple of degrees cooler, but still very difficult to cope with.)

We were lucky. Using fans to keep ourselves and our two cats reasonably cool worked. (Although there were a couple of panicky moments when the electricity went off. Fortunately it came back on both times, after just a few minutes.)

Elsewhere in in England (mostly in the London area) there were those who were desperately unlucky. In several places people have been made homeless as houses and possessions were burned to nothing but ash by wildfires. And I’m sure we’ve all seen the news about the dreadful wildfires that have been causing huge destruction across Europe.

Surely there cannot be any doubt that our climate is changing massively from what we are used to. Now is the time to do everything we can to care for our environment, our world and all that lives upon it. The changes we individually make may be small, but they all count. Together they help.

Daylily (Hemerocallis)
This photo: Daylily (Hemerocallis) Top photo: Leopard Lily

For the Bees

Helping bees is the annual focus of ‘Bees’ Needs Week’ again, starting tomorrow. By helping bees to survive and thrive, we’re really helping ourselves. A large part of agriculture relies on bees (and other pollinators) to pollinate the crops that provide our own food.

It seems deeply ironic to me that while agriculture relies on wild pollinators to pollinate an estimated 85-95% of the UK crops that require it, that agriculture is also a main reason for their decline. The destruction of wild habitats by intensive farming and the use of pesticides and weedkillers is making the survival of insects more difficult. But we can all help to fight the decline in wild bees and other insects in our own gardens, on balconies, allotments, and on any patch of spare ground.

Bumblebee on Eryngium
Bumblebee on Eryngium

Plants with plenty of pollen and nectar are the most obvious thing we can provide. A wide variety of garden plants are attractive to bees, so there’s lots to choose from for the gardener. There is a list of some of the best plants for bumblebees here. And here is an excellent (and longer) list of good pollinator plants from bee expert Dave Goulson. (Scroll down his page for it.)

If you garden, you’ll soon notice which of your plants the bees prefer. I try to be aware of the most popular flowers in my own garden and grow a few more of them if I can squeeze them in. I keep an eye open for the plants that are being visited by bees in other people’s gardens too.

I was very pleased to see the bees on the alstroemeria in the photograph below because it’s one that I’d like to plant here. It looks to me as if the honeybee is impatiently waiting for the bumblebee to get out of that flower! (I wonder why that one – there were plenty of others to choose from.)

Bees on Alstroemeria
Honeybee and Bumblebee on Alstroemeria: ‘Hey wake up in there, it’s my turn!’

Water, obviously, is another essential to life for the bees and you can make their search for it easier and safer by providing some. (It’s easy for bees to drown in deep water.) The recommended method is simply to fill a shallow bowl with pebbles and top it up with water. Then the bees can land on a pebble and stand there safely while drinking. But do remember to change the water occasionally so that you don’t get any mosquitos breeding in there!

Planting for bees brings a lot of satisfaction to my own garden. In late spring the distinct buzzing of bees from our ceanothus bush makes me grin…they sound so busy there! And the catmint attracts not only our cats but lots of bees too. They also love our apple trees, the lavender, thyme, alliums, hardy geraniums, and daisies of all kinds. Best of all here are the different varieties of scabious (top photo), which flower for a long time and always seem to have a bee or other pollinator somewhere. (OK, that is an exaggeration, but they are very popular.)

I hope that this will give you some ideas about a plant or two to add to your own space for the bees. Happy (buzzing) Bees Needs Week!

Honeybee on Astrantia
Honeybee on Astrantia

Pond Progress

If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you may have noticed the occasional mention of a pond that I’ve been building in the garden. It has taken me a very long time to get it built – chipping away at rock-hard soil in summer and digging a bit faster in the wetter end of the year.

Now though, the pond is full of water and the edging is mostly built. I’m in the process of building a sloping ‘beach’ of pebbles to allow any visiting wildlife to get in and out safely. This beach area runs along one of the long sides of the pond and was dug in a very gradual slope. (Most of the pond is fairly shallow.)

There are a few plants already in the pond. The waterlily above was a piece given to me from a friend’s pond. I think it must be Nymphaea marliacea ‘Carnea’, which has flowers that become closer to white as they age. (It also can flower white in the first year, as this piece did last year. Somehow it survived being in a big box of water for a long time.) Spot the damselfly!

Veronica beccabunga
Veronica beccabunga

The other plants are much less spectacular but will help to oxygenate the pond and give somewhere for wildlife to live. The Veronica beccabunga is starting to spread and looks like it will provide some good lurking-places for small wildlife.

Wild visitors have already started moving in and making themselves comfortable in the pond. Amongst the first visitors were a pair of mallards who briefly considered setting up home here until I made sure they saw one of my cats watching them.

Next a newt (or possibly two) arrived and apparently ate all the mosquito wrigglers – luckily! There’s a trio of frogs now, and sometimes I’ll find one watching me as I work on finishing the edging. Then there are the birds who enjoy a bath. That’s usually robins and blackbirds, but sometimes a woodpigeon. (A woodpigeon having a bath is an awkward and ungainly sight!) And there are all the tiny creatures in the water too. It’s getting quite busy in there. 🙂

Mallards check out the pond while I’m building it.

Days of Celebration

There have been two special days this week, both celebrating something dear to my heart. The first was the sixth international ‘Fascination of Plants Day’, coordinated by the European Plant Science Organisation on Wednesday (May 18th). The second was ‘World Bee Day’ on Friday (May 20th).

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know how crazy I am about plants. Flowers and plants have been a special love for me for many years now. That has gradually led me into a love of bees and other pollinators too. (As far as I’m concerned, you really can’t have one without the other.) It’s appropriate that both days fall within the same week.

The Fascination of Plants Day was organised to get as many people as possible interested in plants, and in plant science and conservation. It aimed to increase the appreciation of the role they play in providing us with food and products such as pharmaceuticals. Considering that we would not be able to survive without plants (for even the air we breathe), their study has to be one of the most important areas of research.

Many plants wouldn’t be able to survive without bees and other insects to pollinate them. In the UK, a project to create ‘Bee Lines’ to connect areas of habitat throughout the country has been set up by the conservation group ‘Buglife’. You can see the details of how this will make it easier for bees and others to find the food and breeding areas they need here.

Anyone with a garden, or even just a balcony with pots or some window boxes, can grow plants which will help to keep bees alive. You can read advice on how you can help bumblebees in your garden on this page by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. There is also a very informative plant list for bees written by Dave Goulson here.

This year I’ll be trying to add to the bee-friendly plants in the garden. I may even see a few species of bees that I hadn’t noticed before. (But I probably won’t be able to say what they are – I find bee identification very difficult!) It’s a joy to hear the garden buzzing with bees and to see them busy in the flowers.

Thank you to blogger Steven Schwartzman for kindly letting me know about Fascination for Plants Day.

Common Carder bee on Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Common Carder bee on Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’, syn. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (stonecrop)

Oh! You Pretty Things

The hellebores here were given to me from my neighbour’s garden. She knows that I photograph flowers, so she knew I would be delighted with them. A lovely gift, and one that kept me happy for a long while.

The top photograph is of a flower floating in a bowl of hellebores. I found that I preferred photographing the hellebore close-up, rather than trying to photograph the whole bowl of flowers. I think that’s partly due to the limitations of my bowl (not the most attractive) and partly because I find it much harder to create a pleasing composition from so many very varied flower heads.

It’s a lot more satisfying to me to arrange a smaller group of flower heads, especially if they are somehow related. That makes it easier to concentrate on the details of the flowers – even more so if I choose to photograph just a single flower.

I love seeing hellebores appear in early spring. They have a very exotic look which is not what I would really expect in a UK garden that is still shivering in chilly breezes. Both single and double flowers are utterly enchanting, but the doubles are just a bit more elaborate. I actually think the singles suit my garden better because of the fairly naturalistic planting here. However, I’m happy to create a slightly more formal looking area that should suit a few of the doubles – if I get a chance to buy some!

You may have noticed that I pinched my title from the David Bowie song. If you’d like to hear a very different version by Lisa Hannigan, it’s here. Enjoy!

White hellebore flowers

Hellebore Time!

This is a time of year that I really look forward to. The garden is beginning to waken from winter and the first flowers of the year are starting to open. These early flowers are an invitation to come outside and have a look around to see what new delights have appeared.

Amongst these, the hellebores are the flowers that demand attention first. After the tiny winter flowers of mahonia, Viburnum bodnantense and winter jasmine, their big, showy blooms bring an exotic feel to borders that have been starved of colour for a few months.

White and pink hellebore flowers

I find the variations in hellebore flowers fascinating. There are so many different flowers and new ones being bred all the time – all with beautiful colours and markings on the petals.

The flower forms can vary too. On this one the nectaries are very large and a deep red. (The nectaries are the tube-like shapes, arranged in a ring at the base of the petals. In fact, these nectaries are reckoned to have evolved from the hellebore’s original petals, while what we think of as the petals are actually sepals. The sepals last for far longer than petals can, meaning that hellebores have very long-lasting flowers.)

These are such pretty flowers (and good for early bees) that I would love to have lots more. Unfortunately, they can be quite expensive to buy, but occasionally I’m lucky enough to find one at a price that’s easier to afford. For the pleasure they give, they’re worth it!

White and pink hellebore flower

Unexpected Sparkle

The sparkling drops of melted frost on the seed head of Stipa gigantea (golden oats) above caught my attention one morning. I had gone outside knowing that any frost had already melted and expecting it too be too late to find any interesting photographs. When I saw this, however, I realised that I was wrong. There was still plenty to see and photograph.

You may have already seen several of the photographs from that morning in an earlier post: https://annmackay.blog/2022/01/30/after-the-frost/

Both of these photographs are of the Stipa gigantea. I was tempted to keep the more sparkly top one as a possible Christmas ‘nature’s decoration’ photo, but decided to hope for more frost before the end of next December. The need to find something to post right now was stronger!

The garden keeps me going even in the winter. It gives me new things to look at and to explore with my camera. It stops me from getting bored and helps me to look forward to the future. Sometimes it even brings a bit of sparkle into my life. Hope your life is a bit sparkly too!

Water drops on Stipa gigantea (golden oats)
Water drops on Stipa gigantea (golden oats)

After The Frost

As a slight change from my frosty photos, I thought I’d post a few pictures of the after-effects of these chilly nights.

After the frost melts, there is a great clarity and brilliance to the water drops that are left behind. While they are still very cold and not entirely melted, they can cling to plants for longer than raindrops would. If you look at them closely, you can see little bubbles trapped inside them.

The plant in the top photograph is Euphorbia mellifera. I’m intrigued by the way the tiniest of droplets gather in a line along the very edges of some of the leaves. This plant is placed where it gets the earliest sunshine, so any frost on it disappears quickly. The melted drops, however, stay, and add a brilliant sparkle to the vibrant green and red leaves.

Water drops on fennel seed head

There’s not much left of the fennel seedhead above. The seeds fell off it ages ago, and now the rest looks quite skeletal. I can imagine that big drop on the right being clutched in bony fingers. It has become something alien-looking, especially with the trail of tiny drops clinging to a stray grass stem that is entangled with it.

There’s even less left of the plant below. I think it’s the remains of the flowering stem of some catnip. Now though, the melted frost has become like little round beads that have managed to attach themselves to the plant – as if they’re some sort of weird plant/glass hybrid.

Drops of melted frost on seed head

The frost on the rose leaves below is still partly frozen and is even more textured with icy ripples and crinkles and lots of bubbles. There’s quite a difference between the irregular shapes of the colder, still icy drops and the more spherical drops that have completely thawed.

The morning I took these photographs I had missed any chance of frost. But I enjoyed having a close look at these drops of melted frost. They add texture and an interesting highlight to the winter garden as they gleam in the morning sun.

Melted frost on rose leaves

Wishing You a Happy New Year!

It’s New Year’s Eve as I’m typing this, and it has been a strangely warm day for the time of year. Not a trace of wintry weather. The frost that I photographed here happened a few days before Christmas, so is long gone.

I was lucky to get that one frosty morning so that I could take a few sparkly photos for my Christmas and New Year posts. It’s amazing how frost can make the most ordinary of things look special. (Top photo is the remains of an aster, bottom is a young fennel plant that has flopped over in the cold.)

2021 has been a year of enjoying small, simple things here. The garden has been an ever-increasing source of happiness and has given me a sense of purpose when life has been rather constricted. I hope that 2022 is a year that will bring us back to being able to live our lives safely and healthily.

For 2022, I wish you all a year of joy, health and peace. May it be a year that brings you delight in life. Happy New Year!

Frosted fennel plant

Frosty Christmas Decorations

As this is the last post here before Boxing Day, I reckoned it was time to post some natural ‘Christmas decorations’ created by the frost. These are from a couple of years ago – there hasn’t been enough frost for photography yet this year. (But there probably will be in January, as it’s usually colder then.)

I’m relieved that we haven’t had much frost yet because I have lots of plants sitting around in pots. They’re waiting for me to use them in a border renewal, but work has gone more slowly than I expected. The plants will probably be OK, because they’re in quite big pots and are mostly very hardy. Even so, I always feel a bit guilty about the possibility that they may freeze and worry about them making it ’til next spring.

The border I’m re-planting is an area that has partly been taken over by Japanese anemones. It stretches to the side of the new pond. (The pond is still a big black hole at the moment – I’m hoping that it will fill up with rain or snow over the winter.) It feels good to be able to keep going with this while the weather isn’t too cold.

Until it does get really wintry, I’ll keep pottering about in the garden. For Christmas though, I’ll take refuge in the warmth indoors. I’ll probably spend most of the time curled up on the sofa with hubby and the two cats, lots of good books, plenty of tasty food and (very likely) a generous amount of wine. (Maybe even something decent on the TV.) Whatever you’re doing this Christmas, I hope that it’s a good one, and that it brings you much happiness. I wish you and your families and friends good health and good cheer. 🙂