Tropical Beauty: Rio Dipladenia

Rio Dipladenia
A touch of the exotic for my conservatory.

It has been raining heavily here for over a week. The garden needed the rain, but it has made planting spring bulbs and dividing up plants impossible for the moment. But, luckily, it hasn’t stopped me from photographing flowers.

When I first came across this dipladenia plant in a local garden centre, I thought it was a mandevilla, which I’d seen in books and magazines.

It turns out that the two are very closely related but different. Mandevillas grow taller than dipladenia, and will climb. Dipladenias, on the other hand, are shorter and bushier and will trail unless you train them to be upright. (They can also be recognised by their smoother, more rounded leaves – the leaves of mandevilla are narrow and comparatively rough.)

By chance, the ‘Rio’ dipladenia appears to be a good choice to grow here because it is small enough to grow happily in a pot in the conservatory. (They’re supposed to be good in a hanging basket too.)

Usually I’m quick to ask questions at the garden centre if I’m unfamiliar with a plant. I like to know that I’ll be able to give it the right conditions. But this time, I’ll admit, I just looked at the label and thought, ‘Oh, that’s exciting!’ So far, taking a chance has worked out well because the plant is still small but covered in flowers. That makes me a happy photographer, with something to keep me busy on a rainy day!

Flowers of Rio Dipladenia 'Hot Pink'
My impulse buy has worked out well!

Frothy Lace: Wild Carrot

Seedhead of wild carrot (Daucus).
Wild carrot gets the name ‘bird’s nest’ from the way the umbels of seeds curve in on themselves.

Lacy, dainty flowers held on stems that curve inwards into a concave shape, both when the flowers are just opening and later, when the seeds are forming  – this is the wild carrot (Daucus carota).

If you live in the USA, you may know this flower as ‘Queen Anne’s lace’, but in the UK we also call it ‘bishop’s lace’ or ‘bird’s nest’. (You can see why, from the photo above.) Just to add to the name confusion, Queen Anne’s Lace is a name also used for an entirely different plant in the UK (Anthriscus sylvestris, aka cow parsley).

Daucus-Wild Carrot-Seedhead-3246
Here, the tiny flowers are still folded shut. As the flowers open, the umbel will become less concave and flatten out.

Whatever name you know it by, the wild carrot, in its white-flowered form, is often seen growing along the edges of roads and fields. In recent years, new pink and burgundy-flowered cultivars have been developed and the plant has become popular in gardens.

Here I grow it for the light, airy feel that it adds to garden borders. I’m also growing it to photograph. There’s plenty to inspire me: delicate umbels of tiny flowers contrasting with the almost spiky-looking bracts below them, colours ranging from palest pinks to deep, dark reds, and that distinctive ‘bird’s nest’ shape.

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Open flowers of Daucus carota ‘Dara’

Photographing the flowers in the garden can be a bit tricky. The large, lightweight flower heads tend to move in the slightest breeze, so getting a reasonably sharp photograph can take a lot of patience! They’re worth the effort though, and I know that I’ll go back to them again and again for more photographs.

Next year, when I hope to have a larger number of the flowers in the garden, I will cut some and bring them indoors to photograph in the studio. No breezes there! (Apparently they make a good cut flower, lasting well if you sear the stem ends in boiling water for a few seconds.)

Right now, the seeds of these plants are ready to gather. So I will collect them – some to sow now and some to sow next spring – in the hope of having lots more of this delightful plant.

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The newly-emerging wild carrot flowers in springtime.

Rich With Colour: Dahlias

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One of my favourite dahlias, for both its flower shape and its colour.

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.

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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.

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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…

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A dahlia that I’d love to grow.

Late Summer Heat

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One from my own garden – tithonia. (Mexican sunflower)

This post is a follow-up to last week’s ‘Late Summer Colour’. In it, I mentioned that I’d seen several especially striking orange flowers during my visit to Fullers Mill Garden and that I’d save them for their own post.

I’ve also included a couple of flowers from my own garden. The first is Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’, which is so brilliant in the sunshine that the colours almost shimmer. And the other is the vibrant red-orange echinacea in the final photo. (I couldn’t resist buying this one, as a change from the pink echinaceas that I’ve grown in the past.)

Orange-Crocosmia-Kniphofia-2-up
Left: Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’ (aka montbretia).  Right: Kniphofia (‘red-hot pokers’).

So, back to the flowers at Fullers Mill… Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’ was particularly showy, with larger flowers than any of the other crocosmias that I’ve seen before. The richness of the orange, with the deep red markings and the glow from the light shining through the crocosmia’s petals made me think of a sumptuous silk.

Near the crocosmias were the bold flowers of red hot pokers (kniphofias), looking like fizzing orange rockets spurting up from the ground. (Which makes me wonder if it would be possible to plant a border to suggest fireworks. That could be fun!)

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Flower of Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’

A little calmer than the dazzling oranges of the crocosmias  and kniphofias were the bi-coloured flowers of the heleniums. The helenium is certainly less flamboyant than the others. Even so, the golden-yellow and reddish-orange of its petals are vibrant, and they have a warmth that is typical of many of our late summer flowers.

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Helenium flowers (aka sneezeweed) radiate warmth.

Earlier in the summer the gardens in this area had a lot of the cooler colours in them – reds and pinks that contain some purple, magenta, lavender, blue and white. (We probably choose these colours because we want to create a suggestion of coolness to offset hot temperatures.)

But now, as the season gets closer to its end and the temperatures have dropped, the late-summer flowers are creating a feeling of warmth through their hot colours. (Which are enhanced by the warmer light towards the end of the day.) So these radiant orange flowers help us to hang on to the idea of summer for a bit longer – and I hope they continue to do so for a good while yet!

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Another flower from my garden – a brilliant echinacea daisy.

Elegant and Exotic: Acidanthera murielae

 

Acidanthera flower
Acidanthera murielae flowers have an elegant, exotic look.

At this stage of the summer, there are not very many flowers left in the garden for me to photograph. But there’s one that’s in flower right now that I have wanted to photograph for some time.

I have been able to photograph Acidanthera murielae in a garden I visited, but I really wanted the chance to try it again in my own garden.

If you’re garden-visiting, you can’t tidy up the plant by removing the spent flower-heads before you take your photograph. And there’s a limit to how long you can spend as you wait for the flower heads to stop swaying in every slight breeze.

It’s so much easier to wait for a calm period in your own garden.

Acidanthera flowers sway easily because they’re held in groups on graceful three-foot high stems. With their tall, iris-like leaves, the plants make a very elegant sight that is both a treat to photograph and a star attraction for a late-summer border.

I just have a few of the flowers in a pot this year. Next year I’ll plant more of the bulbs in the garden, but I’ll have to remember to store them inside over winter because these East African bulbs aren’t very hardy. (Even better would be to just buy some new corms every spring – they’re not expensive.)

Acidanthera (also known as callianthus or Abyssinian gladiolus) are sun-lovers for a well-drained soil. They’re easy to grow and can create a spectacular show at this time of year.

Now I just hope they’ll sit still for a little while so that I can take some more photographs!

Flowers of Acidanthera murielae
I’m delighted to have acidanthera growing in my own garden at last!

Blue (and Violet and Purple) for Bees

Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens' (Honeywort)
The common name of Cerinthe is ‘Honeywort’ and bees love it.

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.)

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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.

A Rediscovery: Triteleia Laxa

The blue flowers of Tritelia laxa 'Queen Fabiola'
Tritelia laxa ‘Queen Fabiola’ has blue flowers that are reminiscent of agapanthus.

Occasionally I come across something in the garden that I had pretty much forgotten about.

That happened last year when I was starting to clear an area of the garden that had become overgrown with too-rampant plants. (I have quite a few of these!)

I was delighted to discover these pretty little blue flowers – Tritelia laxa – still managing to survive, despite the tide of geraniums, Japanese anemonies, ivy and assorted weeds that was threatening to engulf them.

I haven’t seen them very often in the UK. Perhaps that’s because they are not thoroughly hardy and don’t like getting very wet in winter. Luckily for them, my soil is very well-drained and I guess that the weeds etc. have been protecting them from the winter cold.

Triteliea growing in a garden.
These triteliea flowers have managed to survive and multiply in a rather neglected corner of my garden.

The flowers used to be known as Brodiaea and you can still find the corms for sale under that name. They have several other names too, but the one that intrigued me is ‘Ithuriel’s Spear’. So I had to Google it…

Apparently, Ithuriel was the name of an angel who had a spear that could unmask any disguise by its touch. According to the poet Milton, he was sent to the Garden of Eden, where he used the spear to discover Satan, who was hiding in the disguise of a toad. (You can see that this must come from the sharp-looking tip of the flower bud somewhat resembling a spear.)

So now, as a result of that strange association I’m imagining myself wandering around the garden, trying to touch the frogs (haven’t seen any toads here) with a tiny blue flower. Somehow I don’t think they’d be too impressed! (Nor would the neighbours!)

Plant names seem to belong in a strange world of imagination and fantasy – but they can be amusing. And now I must go and take some more photographs of my rediscovered little beauties…

Triteleia laxa (also known as Brodiaea) 'Queen Fabiola'
Tritelia (aka Brodiaea) makes a great cut flower.

 

Elderflowers: Pink Fizz

Pink elderflowers
Sambucus ‘Black Lace’ has finely-cut foliage and frothy pink heads of flowers.

Time moves fast in the garden. One moment a plant is in full flower and the next it’s covered in seedheads or berries.

This year especially, with so much new work to do in the garden, I’ve been finding it difficult to keep up with all of the plants and flowers that I want to photograph. Sometimes I leave a plant too long and then find that the flowers have gone over before I get near them with my camera.

A few days ago I realised that the flowers on our bronze elder were almost gone and I really didn’t want to have to wait a year to have another chance.

Having chosen one of the last few flowers, I decided to photograph it indoors. This was the easiest way to get a sharp image. It has been quite breezy here recently and it takes very little to make the elder’s long branches sway – so not much chance of being able to focus on the flowers!

Of course, I could have collected some of the flowers to make elderflower cordial or ‘champagne’. The flowers can even be fried in batter to make fritters. Or the flowers could be left to produce berries for making an elderberry syrup.

(The syrup really doesn’t appeal to me because the berries contain cyanide and other toxic substances. These are destroyed in cooking, but  I still wouldn’t fancy chancing it!)

Other parts of the elder tree also contain cyanide, which may be behind the superstitious belief that burning the wood is unlucky.

There are many old beliefs surrounding the elder tree. These are a strange, inconsistent mixture! One one hand, it was said that if you burned the wood, you would see the devil but on the other hand, having the elder planted near your house would keep the devil away.

In early times, the elder was thought to be a protection against witchcraft and evil spirits but by medieval times, it was reckoned to be both the wood used for Christ’s cross and the tree on which Judas hanged himself.

Well, there’s no confusion for me. I simply enjoy the pretty flowers while they last and the beautiful lace-like leaves and dark berries too.

Flowers of Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace'-2121
The tiny pink flowers can be used to make elderflower cordial or ‘champagne’ – and it will be pink!

Summer Scents: Philadelphus

Philadelphus Coronarius flowers
Our neighbours’ beautiful philadelphus leans over the fence into our garden.

As a photographer, it would be easy for me to forget that being in a garden is not just a visual experience.

Scent is something that I tend not to think about until I am greeted by an unexpected waft of perfume from some nearby flowers.

For the past few weeks, a shrub in my neighbours’ garden has been flowering magnificently and leaning right over the fence into my garden. It has been a most welcome sight, but, beautiful as the flowers were, their scent was even more impressive. Strong and sweet, this scent has been filling the air near our back door and has made it a pleasure to step outside.

The shrub is a philadelphus or ‘mock orange’. I’m guessing, from its strong perfume and height (about 9-10 ft.) that it is likely to be Philadelphus coronarious. (You can see it in the top photo.) It has just finished flowering and now the two philadelphus shrubs in my own garden have taken over.

White philadelphus (mock orange) flowers
This Philadelphus was in the garden when we came here – I think it’s probably ‘Virginal’.

In the photograph above, you can see the older of these. I think it has been in the garden for a very long time and it was terribly overgrown and straggly when we arrived. I cut it back a lot and it has grown back strongly.

Despite now having quite a lot of shade from nearby trees, this philadelphus is heavily covered with flowers but their scent is not as strong as those on the neighbours’ shrub. By the look of it, I think that this one must be the cultivar ‘Virginal’ – it was one of the commonest ones. (Nowadays, there seems to be a very large number of cultivars available.)

In contrast, I do know the name of the philadelphus in the bottom photograph. It is ‘Belle Etoile’  – I’m sure, because I planted that one!

(Not knowing the full names of plants that you’ve ‘inherited’ or else photographed in other people’s gardens makes titling photographs accurately very difficult.)

Belle Etoile seems to have less scent than the others, however, it makes it up for that with the pretty purplish colouration at the centre. This makes it attractive to photograph, as well as blending it nicely with its dark pink and purple flowered neighbours in that border.

I’m enjoying the company of these lovely shrubs at the moment – what more could a flower photographer ask, than a beautiful subject that also happens to smell good while you’re working up close to it. Sweet!

Flowers of Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile'
Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’ has a magenta blush at the centre of the flower.

Little Stars

The star-shaped flowers of Allium christophii.
The star-shaped flowers of Allium christophii.

The shape of flowers is one of the main elements that draws me to photograph them. If it is a plant with a distinctive shape, especially when it’s graceful, then (as I’m sure you’ll expect) I’m keen to create images of it.

Allium christophii is one of the more spectacular early-summer flowers, with it’s firework-burst head of delicate purple stars. Each little star reflects light, giving it the appearance of being metallic. They remind me of the rich colour and sheen of anodised aluminium.

Flowers of Ornithogalum nutans
Ornithogalum nutans has a spike of starry flowers.

While the allium has a very sculptural look, there is something softer and more subtle about Ornithogalum nutans (AKA ‘Nodding Star of Bethlehem’). I hadn’t seen it until a recent garden visit and I was immediately attracted by the elegant white flowers with their green markings. They would look lovely mixed in a border with ferns and and something with bold leaves – hostas, maybe. (I think they’d be a great choice for the rather more ‘natural’ pond-side border that I’m currently planning.)

Flowers of Scilla peruviana
The little stars of Scilla peruviana orbit the still-unopened flower buds

Scilla peruviana is another plant that I’d like to grow so that I can photograph it. The purple and blue stars look as if they’re in an orbit around the darker buds that are still waiting to open. There are lots of possibilities for interesting compositions here, but it helps if you have the plants in your own garden so that you can spend some time experimenting. (I’m always wishing I could spend longer with the interesting plants I find in the gardens I visit. The only solution is to do a bit of plant-shopping!)

The last plant is one that I do have in my own garden. You may have come across the edible blue flowers of borage (also appropriately known as ‘starflower’) as a pretty addition to summer salads or frozen in ice cubes for drinks. Here, I let it seed around an area of the garden so that the bees can enjoy it. Borage is also an excellent companion plant for anything growing around it because it adds trace elements to the soil. (So it’s not just a pretty face!) Pimms, anyone?

 

Flowers of borage (starflower)
Borage is also known as ‘starflower’, a very apt name!