Tricky Manoeuvres: Hellebore Photography

I’ve been waiting for a chance to take photographs of these hellebores for a while. At last the weather has become calmer. The wind has died down again and there have even been a few dry spells.

It felt good to get back outside into the garden with my camera and I was relieved to see that the rough weather hadn’t harmed the flowers.

But actually getting into a good position to photograph them was going to be a bit tricky. At the best of times it can be awkward to get close enough to low-growing plants, especially when the ground has become too much of a swampy mess to kneel on. Hellebores make it even more difficult by insisting on hanging their beautiful little heads down. You have to practically get to worm’s eye-level if you want to see them.

Luckily for me, there was a stack of bags of compost nearby and I was able to drag one over and lie down on it to get my photographs. Having one elbow firmly wedged against a big plant pot helped to make sure that I didn’t take a nose-dive into the mud.

All this makes me realise that I may have to change the arrangement of some of the garden borders. Far too many of the smaller plants are positioned quite far into the border, so that you really need to get right into the border to photograph them. Without standing on the other plants. Or getting jabbed by something prickly. Or even sitting down unexpectedly in the mud! Hmm, this may need a bit of thought…

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Spring Comes Closer : Irises and Crocuses

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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Late Winter Colour: Primulas

By the time you’re reading this, the garden here will probably be under attack from gale force winds and heavy rain as storm Ciara passes through.

During this sort of gardener-unfriendly weather, I’m very happy to be able to stay inside, working in the comfort of my tiny studio space. So I am always on the lookout for flowers that lend themselves to indoor photography. For this, primulas are very obliging.

Primulas are easily available at this time of year in a great variety of colours and markings. They don’t cost much to buy and the flowers, once picked for the studio, last well in water.

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To be able to photograph such short-stemmed flowers, I have a collection of very small containers that act as mini vases. The top photo has a square recycled-glass bottle that is only 2 inches high – just the right size for very small flowers. The container in the other photos is probably an old eye-wash glass and it’s wide enough for several flowers.

Other useful ‘vases’ for short-stemmed flowers include vintage ink bottles, candle and tealight holders and shot glasses. It’s been fun shopping for these in junk shops and vintage stalls – you never know what you’ll find that will help to make a good photograph.

Now that the primulas have been photographed, I must decide where to plant them. They somehow look a bit formal and perhaps too showy for most areas of the back garden (which is now developing a more ‘natural’ look), so they’ll probably be planted in the front garden. Sadly, it seems that these highly-bred primulas are not useful to bees so I won’t be buying many of them. (Instead I could buy the yellow-flowered Primula vulgaris, which is native to the UK and is a good plant for bees, butterflies and moths.)

I hope you enjoy this little bit of cheery colour!

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Remembered Colour: Lewisia

There’s not much happening to photograph out in the garden at the moment. Instead, I’m looking back through some older photos that have been hiding in my PC as unconverted RAW files. Processing them is one of those jobs that I never fully catch up with and sometimes I find an image I like lurking there.

These lewisias were bought a couple of years ago because I couldn’t resist the gorgeous deep pink and the orange with pink veins of their vibrant flowers. They just had to be photographed! (These are Lewisia cotyledon ‘Sunset Strain’.)

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I’d be happy to wear these bright colours!

The petals make me think of light, silky fabrics. Like something you might wear on a summer’s day – rich, bright and full of the joy of life.

Photographing the flowers makes me aware of how delicate and translucent they are. As you’ll see in the last photo, the studio lights can shine through the petals, revealing their veining and the texture.

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Close-up of a lewisia flower.

Unfortunately, I’ve never managed to keep lewisias growing for very long. They are natives of dry, rocky places in North America and need really good drainage. I have been able to keep some alive for a few years in clay pots, until I have eventually over-watered them. These, however, were planted in a very dry garden border and were happy until winter rains got to them. So it will be back to the pots for the next lot! Then I’ll be able to bring them under cover in winter.

These little beauties may not last long with me but that won’t stop me from buying more and trying again. I hope that I’ll learn how to look after them properly at last!

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You can see the light coming through the petals of these flowers.

Frost-Magic

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.

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.

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‘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.)

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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!

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Geranium madarense has unusually hairy, sticky stems.

Japanese Anemones: A Dilemma

Last year I bought two plants of the Japanese Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ while I was visiting Fullers Mill Garden, (which you can read about here). There had been one already in the garden when we first arrived, but somehow it died out, even though the pink Japanese Anemones nearby thrived.

The elegant white flowers on graceful tall stems captivated me. The stamens are a rich yellow and the petals have the slightest blush of pink on the reverse – just enough colour to add interest when I’m photographing them.

In the garden they are simply beautiful. One plant is in front of a weeping crab-apple that has dark red fruits. Beside is a gaura, whose butterfly-like white flowers are still on the go, creating a lovely early-autumn combination.

The other plant is apparently very happy in a little raised bed that is a temporary nursery area for plants that will go into a pond-side border.

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The backs of the petals of ‘September Charm’ are surprisingly hairy.

There were already some pink Japanese anemones in the garden. One is ‘September Charm’, which I planted as a division from a plant in my previous garden in Scotland. (This doesn’t really live up to its name here, because by September it has pretty much finished flowering. But I can forgive it for that because it starts to flower in late July, so it has been busily flowering for a good long time.)

The other pink anemone was already in the garden when we arrived and I believe it is ‘Hadspen Abundance’. This is an unusual flower, because the petals are very variable. Two of the five petals are smaller and slightly darker than the rest. In the particular flower below, the variance isn’t much, but I have seen the plant with much bigger differences between the two sets of petals. That can make the flowers look quite strange!

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‘Hadspen Abundance’ has irregularly-sized petals.

So by now you may be wondering what my dilemma is. (Or, if you are familiar with Japanese anemones, you may know exactly what I’m going to say…) The problem is, these enchanting plants are real thugs in garden borders.

My pink September Charm has run riot. It now has a huge spread in an area that nothing much wants to grow in because the conifers in the neighbouring garden had left the soil so impoverished. (The conifers are gone now, thank goodness.)

And as for Hadspen Abundance – well, let’s just say that now I understand why there wasn’t much more than it and some geraniums in the garden. It takes over and is difficult to remove. So now I want to add to the chaos… (Actually, I have added to the chaos – both white anemones are already in the ground.)

This all leaves me wondering what to do next. Re-plant them in large containers? Chance it and hope that they don’t smother everything else? Maybe I can leave the one in the temporary nursery-bed where it is – but it’s only a very small raised bed. I think it will be able to creep out of there! (Anemone roots are very efficient at spreading themselves around.) Big bottomless pots might be the answer, so I’ll have to see what I can find.

Meanwhile, I shall enjoy the flowers and take photographs of them whenever I get the opportunity. Let’s hope that I’m not writing about how they’ve taken over the entire garden at some point in the future!

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The white flower of ‘Honorine Jobert’ brightens a slightly shady spot.

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.)

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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.)

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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!

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

Tropical Beauty: Rio Dipladenia

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

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).

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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.