Pure Elegance

The white flowers of passionflower ‘Constance Elliot’ have been gradually appearing over recent weeks. There are never many at a time, but the sprinkling of delicate blooms feels like something very special to me.

This climber has only been in the garden for a couple of years, so it will no doubt spread and have a greater number of flowers in time. That’s if it can come through the cold of the winter!

There’s something about growing plants that are not really hardy or are only borderline hardy in your area that makes it all the more exciting and satisfying when they survive and flower.

Having lived most of my life in Scotland, it was a surprise to find that we could grow such things as passionflowers and grapevines here in Suffolk – and a tempting novelty! (Of course, there are things we could grow in Scotland that won’t grow here – rhododendrons particularly.)

Right now I’m trying to work faster in the garden to get as much as I can done before the weather turns wet and windy and winter arrives. Autumn can be a busy time, with plants to be split and moved, but this year there is plenty more to do on the new pond border. I’ll probably find myself working outside through the better weather of winter too – there’s so much to do! But for the moment, I must remember to take the time to enjoy the beautiful flowers that appear so briefly in the garden, especially these passionflowers.

Softer Colours

From my recent posts of zinnias, heleniums and echinaceas, you might be thinking that my garden is a blaze of bright colours at the moment.

But, in fact, it isn’t. There are areas of softer colours too, mainly because there are so many Japanese anemones. (They spread and get everywhere if they get the chance.) There are two pink ones – ‘September Charm’, which is the paler of the two, and ‘Hadspen Abundance’. (That’s the one in the top photo, complete with a little ladybird.)

Pink delphinium close-up

The third anemone is ‘Honorine Jobert’, a white one that doesn’t seem to spread as aggressively as the other two.

Despite their desire to take over the garden, I’m happy to see the mass of soft pink anemone flowers. It’s a restful, relaxing colour. Next year, I’m thinking of moving some of them beside our main sitting area and combining them with pale purples, such as perovskia (Russian sage) and silver foliage. This should help to create a laid-back area where we can allow our cares and stresses to float away…hopefully!

Another soft pink, this time unexpected, has been a second flowering of one of the delphiniums. To be honest, I don’t expect these delphinium plants to last long here, but I couldn’t resist them when I saw the pink that also has tones of mauve. These plants really like to be well-fed and don’t like too much heat and drought, so our garden is very unsuitable. I shall just have to try to remember to water them with tomato food and enjoy them for as long as they survive.

Blue geranium flower

A soft blue with a slight blush of magenta pink is a colouring I especially love and can be seen in the geranium pictured here. I’ve no idea what the variety is. (It was already in the garden when we arrived.) It manages to produce flowers over a long period and grows in the dry soil beneath several shrubs. Really, I ought to move a piece to somewhere where it would have more space and moisture, just to see what it can do.

The last of the more delicately-coloured flowers for this week is the blue scabious below. I find that scabious loves the sun and well-drained soil here. They flower over a long period and attract bees and butterflies, so there’s more than the pretty colour to enjoy. They’re almost finished for this year, but can produce the occasional late flower when you’re not expecting it.

It feels great to find a plant that is both delightful and happy in the conditions that you can give it, so next year I’ll be planning to plant more scabious varieties. And I’ll hope that there will be part of the garden that is full of gentle colours that bring rest and relaxation. (And, of course, bees and butterflies too!)

Bee on scabious flower.

Didn’t Do My Homework: Heleniums

Last year I bought a couple of helenium plants because I wanted to have as many late-season flowers as possible. (I’m always keen to prolong summer and keep the bees fed too.)

One plant was put into a border straight away, while the other has been in a large pot until recently. It is now in my ‘hot’ border. Both plants have been kept well-watered through the dry summer and are growing happily.

But that may be more by luck than any gardening skill on my part. Normally I make a point of checking the needs of any new plant on Google – sometimes even before I buy it. (I’m at my most impulsive in garden centres!) Not this time…I’ve only just discovered that heleniums like a much wetter soil than I’d thought. Luckily, it’s raining at the moment, so the plants are happy for now.

Soon, though, I will have to move the plants because they’re in the driest part of the garden and probably won’t survive there long. Later this year I want to build a bog garden and now this is making me think of having two ‘bog’ areas. One would be drier than the other, i.e. damp rather than truly boggy. Hopefully this would make it possible for me to give a good home to plants with a range of moisture needs. Will it work? I guess we’ll find out next year!

Incidentally, when I did get round to Googling heleniums, I discovered two facts that (together) intrigued me: that the common name ‘sneezeweed’ was given to the plant because the leaves used to be made into snuff and that all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans. Makes me wonder if anyone was ever poisoned with the snuff – maybe it’s better to just enjoy heleniums in our gardens and let them keep their leaves!

Yellow helenium flowers
These yellow helenium flowers look like little pom-poms!

Hungry Critters 2: Butterflies

Recently I’ve been chasing around after butterflies to take part in the ‘Big Butterfly Count’. This is a UK survey where people from all over the country count the numbers of butterflies and some day-flying moths that they see in a 15-minute period.

(Actually counting the butterflies was quite tricky – some had to be ignored because they were too fast moving for me. A sudden flash of something brownish could be one of many butterflies. How frustrating!)

Small tortoiseshell butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell butterfly photographed in early summer.

Butterflies were being counted from the middle of July to the end of the first week in August. Anyone can take part in the butterfly count (the more the better) and from anywhere – gardens, parks, fields or forests.

The butterfly count was set up because butterflies are important as both pollinators and as part of the natural food chain, and because they react quickly to changes in their environment. A decline in butterfly numbers is a strong indication that other wildlife species are also struggling.

Comma butterfly
Comma butterfly on a blackberry

Unfortunately, because I was so busy with preparations for the fence being renewed, I only managed the one count right at the end of the survey. By then, there were only a few butterflies left in the garden – several Red Admirals, a couple of Commas and lots of Large Whites (which were probably taking advantage of the neighbours’ veggie patch).

Just a couple of weeks before I did my count, there had been around ten to a dozen Peacock butterflies sunning themselves on our brick path. I had hoped to be able to include them in my count but when the time came, they had all disappeared.

red admiral butterfly
A Red Admiral butterfly enjoying sedum flowers.

Nor were there any Painted Ladies or Essex Skippers, both of which I often see here. And I think that the Small Tortoiseshell that I photographed in May or June was part of an early brood. I haven’t seen any recently, so maybe there won’t be any from a later brood to overwinter here.

The variability of butterfly numbers here (and those that are scarce or just not seen in my garden) makes me feel that I need to do more to help. Like making sure I don’t weed out the food plants needed for caterpillars! (Nettles and other invasives may have to go in large tubs though.) And I need to do a bit of research to discover more plants that I can grow for butterflies. I hope that next year I’ll be able to count more butterflies in my garden.

Peacock butterfly
A Peacock butterfly suns itself on a brick path.

Soft Blue: Himalayan Blue Poppy

This is a bit of a post and run today, because it has been a very busy time over the last week. It’s been frustrating not to have time to take new photographs, but hopefully I’ll be able to get back to doing what I love soon.

The photograph above is a flower I love to see – a Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis). It is frequently grown in Scotland, where the conditions suit it. (It looks wonderful near water, with trees and shrubs growing around it.)

I tried growing a couple of plants in our previous garden in Scotland, but they only lasted two or three years before dying out. At the time I thought I simply hadn’t kept them moist enough but I’ve learned since that they’re short-lived perennials. So maybe they wouldn’t have lasted a lot longer anyway.

There’s something about a plant being difficult to grow or hard to obtain that makes them all the more appealing to gardeners. I’m trying to learn to keep to plants that have a good chance in my very warm and dry garden (still a learning process). That means that I won’t be buying any blue poppies – they really wouldn’t like it here. But I can enjoy the memory of them.

The reason for being so busy this week is that we’re getting the garden ready for a contractor to come in and replace the fence around the garden. There’s far more to do than I had first realised and it seems to have taken a lot of time! Shrubs and trees have been cut back, lots of things, (including a large compost heap) have been moved and room still has to be found to store the new fence panels, posts and gravel boards…phew!

It will be a great relief to get this work done. The oldest part of the fence was blown down by gales in early spring. Since then it’s been cobbled together and propped up as best we can, so that the neighbours’ young dog can’t escape from their garden. (He managed it once, and had a lovely time playing and evading capture in our garden.) Originally the new fence was to be started mid-May – but Covid stopped it.

The job will take three weeks and there’s till plenty for me to do to create enough working space. After that I’ll be glad to get back to my photography and to planning some new planting!

Hot Spot: Echinaceas

There’s a small patch of border that’s become quite a hot-spot this year. Red, orange and magenta-pink echinaceas (coneflowers), red geums, dark red scabious and the deep reddish-purple leaves of a heuchera are the start of a new planting scheme that radiates warmth.

There hasn’t been much red or orange in the garden before. Most of the other areas are planted with softer colours. These include lots of pink and mauve flowers, with plenty of lavender-blues added into the mix.

I find that these gentle pinkish shades can be difficult to use near red or orange – they can end up looking washed-out and feeble. On the other hand, a bright magenta – like rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) – works just fine and adds its own intense colour to the fieriness of the new border.

It feels good to now have an area specifically for hot colours. Last year I had some tithonia (Mexican sunflowers) in that space, and I found that I really enjoyed the intense colour. The tithonia is annual, so this year I’ve planted perennials instead.

(Although I grow a few annuals, at the moment I’m trying to concentrate on perennials so that I don’t have too much re-planting to do every year.)

The only problem with echinaceas is that they are short-lived perennials. I’ve read that the older pink varieties appear to go on from year to year because they self-seed and their offspring continue the display after the original plants have died. (It was something of a relief to discover this, because I was worried that I couldn’t keep the plants alive for long – some years they just seemed to disappear for no apparent reason.)

Some of the new echinaceas are said not to come true from seed and may die out after a few years. If that’s the case with those that I’ve planted here, then, because the colours are so gorgeous, I won’t mind buying more. (I’d like to plant yellow echinaceas too – they would be a good alternative to rudbekias because they’re much more tolerant of drought.)

In contrast to these brightly-coloured daisies, I also have an echinacea which has white flowers with centres that start off green and turn yellow. (If I remember correctly, it’s ‘Powwow White’.) It has a very different look to the hot-coloured flowers and suits a softer, more relaxing colour scheme. I photographed this particular flower when it froze last winter – you can see it here: https://annmackay.blog/2019/11/24/frozen-flowers/

Pink and orange echinacea flowers.
Echinacea flowers in a mix of orange and magenta-pink.

Bad Hair Day?

I feel that this flower and I have something in common at the moment – a ‘hairdo’ that’s totally out of control! (At least I suppose I can blame mine on Covid!)

But the flower has a big advantage over me…it looks good with its strangely shaggy petals sticking out at odd angles. (Even if you might imagine that someone plugged it into the mains, cartoon-style!)

This is Dianthus ‘Rainbow Loveliness’, which I have previously photographed in the studio but not outside. The fringed petals make it an unusual and striking flower but they can make it more difficult to photograph in the garden.

The reason for this is that it can be difficult to isolate a single flower when it’s growing as part of a clump. And for this little dianthus, you do need to, if you want to be able to see the details of its complex shape. Otherwise, the fringed petals of the other flowers get in the way and create a confusing mass. (You can see what I mean in the bottom photo!)

I find that it’s useful to try propping the flower where there’s a plainer background using a thin cane and a clothes peg. And using a larger aperture to give a shallow depth of field helps too. But it is much easier for me to pick the flower and bring it into the studio where it’s easier to isolate it. (That’s one of the reasons why I tend to do a lot of my flower photographs there – and I don’t have to worry about the wind blowing the flower around either.) So I’m still planning to try to get some of the pink flowers into the studio – when they come back into flower!

You can see the studio photograph from last year here: https://annmackay.blog/2019/12/15/dianthus-rainbow-loveliness/

Dianthus Rainbow Loveliness in pink

Ranunculus: Jewel Colours

These ranunculus plants were the last plants I bought before the Covid-19 lockdown. It’s strange to think how different life was then.

The supermarket where I bought them was full of people rushing in and out on a busy weekend. Families and elderly people all going about normal life. While choosing my plants, I chatted happily with another lady who was a keen gardener…changed days!

Nurseries and garden centres have just started to open up again here but some had already begun selling over the internet and delivering locally. We were pleased to be able to buy from a tiny local nursery that we use every year. (Hubby plants annuals into tubs and baskets for the front of the house every year. I’m more into perennials.) It was a relief to know that the nursery would be able to survive.

As it has turned out, the extra time that folk now have to work in their gardens seems to have made many of these small businesses busier.

Ranunculus-red-4967
Ranunculus (red) aka Persian Buttercup

While garden centres and nurseries may cope with the effects of the pandemic, it’s a disastrous year for garden events and openings. Some however, have tried to offer an online alternative.

The Chelsea Flower Show is the biggest of these online events. For the week, the RHS had a programme of short talks by growers and designers plus a few visits to gardens that we might not normally see. It’s been interesting, but nothing like watching Chelsea on the TV as we normally do.

The BBC has managed to make some interesting programmes using footage of previous Chelsea shows alongside interviews with designers, growers and presenters all in their own gardens and nurseries. I enjoyed this much more than the RHS event – it gave more space to talk about garden design and the developments going on within gardening.

(If you’re in the UK, you should be able to watch the BBC programmes on the iPlayer. But if you’re elsewhere, you may find some of the programmes on Youtube.)

Ranunculus-5011

Camassias: And Some Blog Love (1)

My favourite thing about blogging is the friendly community that you can become a part of. At a time when it’s impossible to visit my friends locally, the relationships I’ve formed with bloggers from all over the world are deeply valued.

So it was a welcome surprise to find that I’d been nominated for a ‘Liebster Award’ by my lovely friend Liz at Exploring Colour. (You’ll find that Liz’s blog is a wonderful mix of life-enhancing colour and fascinating articles, many tackling issues that are important to the natural world.)

Now you may be wondering just what the ‘Liebster’ (German for ‘favourite’ or ‘dearest’) Award is. It’s a means to allow readers to discover new blogs and by the recipients nominating more blogs, lots of bloggers have a chance to be found. (A sort of bloggers-helping-other-bloggers chain letter!)

Liz had eleven questions for her nominees, which I’ll answer here. The following part, where I can tell you eleven (probably random) facts about myself will be kept for next week’s post. (Along with my own questions for the bloggers I nominate.) This post might get awfully long otherwise!

Let’s get down to the questions:

1. What connection (if any) do you feel that you have with New Zealand? Not a direct one, but through my husband, Colin. Colin has a cousin named Madeline who lives there and came over to Scotland to meet everyone. I remember a family boat trip along Loch Ness (no sign of Nessie) and a huge party afterwards.

2. What place in this world do you most love? My garden – a close runner-up is Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland because it’s so beautiful.

3. Your favourite colour(s) are what? And what do you associate with the colour? Blue and purple. I think of blue skies, my hubbie’s lovely blue eyes and blue and purple flowers.

4. What connection do you feel/experience with nature? I’ve always felt a strong connection to nature. I was brought up in a house surrounded by open countryside with only one other house in view. That tends to make you aware of every living thing around you and of the weather, the seasons, the amazing skies and sunsets…there weren’t many other distractions in those days. As a keen gardener, the connection to the garden and its plants and the many little creatures that live there is extremely important to me. I believe that it is vital for us to remember that we are ourselves a part of nature.

5. Your favourite ‘active’ recreational activity…? Is walking along the country paths here. And best of all is walking around gardens that we’re visiting!

6. Your favourite ‘quiet’ hobby/interest? If you read this blog regularly, you’ll guess…gardening!

7. Is there something you enjoy ‘having a go at’ regardless of skill? Drawing – it’s something I’ve been trying to learn to do better over the last couple of years because it is so useful for printmaking.

8. What was (or is) your favourite children’s book? ‘The Starlight Barking’ by Dodie Smith. (The sequel to ‘The Hundred and One Dalmations’.)

9. Your current or past ‘occupation’ i.e. work/study/keeping busy..is what? When I lived near Edinburgh, I used to write for magazines and newspapers. That was mainly about incidents from Scottish local history, but also work for my local newspaper. I wanted to improve my photography to be able to use it to illustrate my magazine articles, so I went back to college to study HND Photography. Now the photography has taken over…

10. What’s your favourite creative activity…what do you have a passion for? Photography! My parents gave me a Kodak ‘Instamatic’ when I was eleven and that started me on a lifetime of taking photographs. Photographing flowers is my passion and a great way to blend my favourite activities.

11. Is there something you can share about a challenge you face, or have faced? The biggest challenge I’ve faced has been dealing with my mother’s dementia. I suppose we were lucky, in that it didn’t get really bad until the last couple of years of her life. Mum was almost 92 when she died, and she’d had a very full and happy life up until the time her health started to fail in her late 80s. But dementia is a dreadful way for a life to end. You lose everything – your home and interests, your relationships with family and friends, and even a large part of yourself because you forget so much of your life. Mercifully, Mum was looked after by lovely, caring people and she always remembered who I was and found my presence reassuring. (It doesn’t always go like that.)

Wow! This is a much longer post than usual! So thank you for making it this far and thank you Liz, for the questions!

Flower of Camassia leichtlinlii
Seen a little closer…

Tulips: Flamboyant and Fun

Tulips are flowers to make you smile. They come in all sorts of rich colours and extraordinary shapes, like the parrot tulip above. And they just call out to me to photograph them.

The tulip in the top photograph is ‘Black Parrot’, but, as you can see, it’s not really black at all. It’s more of a deep maroon shade – like a very dark wine.  Here, newly picked and under the powerful studio lights, the reddish tones stand out. But the colour looks more purplish in the less intense light of my kitchen, especially as the flower ages.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this tulip flower will develop as it opens out fully. New shapes will be created by the unfurling petals, giving the opportunity to take a variety of different photographs.

The tulip below is very different to the first one. It’s a viridiflora – named for the green markings on the petals. The vibrant colours and sheen of the petals make me think of  silk. The twisting shapes of the petals even suggest that the fabric is swaying in a breeze.

This year I’ve had several different tulips in the garden and they have done well in our warm spring weather. (There are more that are just starting to open.)

I haven’t grown many before, but now I feel encouraged to make a point of trying some new tulips every year. Then we’ll have the enjoyment of them in the borders and I’ll have plenty of lovely subjects to photograph.

Now I’m just waiting for the ‘Blue Parrot’ tulips to open – exciting!

Viridiflora tulip 'Doll's Minuet'
The petals of a viridiflora tulip look like a rich, silky fabric.