A Slow Start and Gradual Change

The cold weather in May has slowed down the development and flowering of our garden for June. Normally there would be plenty of flowers here, including these alliums (Allium christophii) that I photographed last year.

There aren’t even as many of the alliums as there were in the few years before. Last year there were a good number of them in the bed where the picture below was taken. This year there are only a few in the same place.

I know that other gardeners find that Allium christophii doesn’t always come back but I don’t know why…is it because the bulbs became diseased, were in soil that was too poor, or had they just reached the end of their lifespan? (The plants had a sunny and well-drained site which seemed to suit them.)

Allium christophii flower buds opening
Allium christophii flower buds opening

Luckily I have another patch of Allium christophii which has done much better. This is an older area that I had planted as a gravel garden and here the plants have multiplied over the years. Ironically, the way the alliums had spread in this area made me worry that they would take over the other, newer border too. (And that’s still possible because there are plenty of allium seedlings in both areas.)

The unpredictability of gardening and the way things change from year to year is one of the things that keeps it interesting for me. (How boring would it be if the plants always stayed the same year after year!) There are always new things to learn and different ideas to try out. And there are always surprises around the corner!

I’m glad that I do have the older patch of alliums that are doing well because I would hate to be without their little purple stars. The bees love them too, which makes them important for my future plans for the garden. I think I will try to move some of those tiny allium seedlings to another area. Then I can just leave them there to grow and develop into new bulbs. Hopefully, in a few years I’ll be surprised by a whole new batch of these lovely flowers.

Allium christophii

Trollius: Golden Globeflowers

This globeflower (Trollius chinensis ‘Golden Queen’) has been flaunting its gloriously sunny petals throughout a couple of weeks of unseasonably grey weather.

It has been a bright point to days that should have felt like the run up to summer. In combination with an orange geum (‘Rijnstroom’, photographed for this post) it has given a cistrusy zest to a new border that I’m building.

Actually, I don’t know if they’ll normally flower at the same time because I have just recently bought the globeflower from a nursery that keeps most of its plants in a large glasshouse. The extra warmth they get in there means that they can flower early. So I’ll just have to wait until next spring to see if the flowering of the globeflower will coincide with the geum.

Whether or not it flowers at the same time next year, I know I’ll be delighted to see it again. How could you do anything but smile, in response to such cheerfully golden flowers?

Trollius 'Golden Queen' (globeflower)

Tiny Beauty: Spring Vetchling

The spring vetchling or spring pea (Lathyrus vernus) is one of those plants that needs to be seen up close to appreciate its loveliness.

It’s a relative of the sweet pea, but is far smaller and looks much more delicate. It doesn’t climb, but instead produces a rounded clump of leaves and flowers around 18 inches high and wide. The flowers are just 3/4 inch long.

Several different cultivars of Lathyrus vernus have been bred to give different flower colours. You can find plants with flowers in pink and white, plain pale pink, white or blue. The plant in my photographs is the original species.

These flowers start out purplish pink, but gradually age to a pale blue. This gives a range of different shades of colour which adds to the appeal for photography. In those areas where background flowers are out of focus, the colours have a softness that reminds me of watercolour paint (top photo).

While writing this, I have popped back into my studio and had a quick look at the flowers in their vase. I was delighted to discover that the flowers have continued to change colour even after picking. The remaining flowers are now almost all blue, so I should be able to take some quite different photographs of them. (In that case, next week’s post will probably be blue spring flowers.)

The spring pea’s flowers are amongst my favourites at this time of year. For me, the smallest flowers can be the prettiest.

Lathyrus vernus (spring pea) flowers

A Plant to Share: Billbergia Nutans

The cold weather this spring has meant that there is less than usual in flower in the garden. So I had to look elsewhere for something to photograph this week.

Luckily I only had to go as far as the conservatory to find a plant in full flower. This is Billbergia nutans (aka ‘friendship plant’ or ‘queen’s tears’ ), a bromeliad that comes from South America. There it can be found growing attached to the branches of trees in the rainforest. Despite the huge difference in conditions, it seems quite content as a houseplant and is very easy to grow.

This billbergia must be pretty hardy, because our conservatory is unheated and gets cold in winter. (The conservatory is used more as an indoor garden than as a normal living area and in the winter usually has plants brought in that wouldn’t survive outside.) There is sun in the morning and early afternoon, followed by shade and this seems to suit the plant well. It grows fast, and after being split in two, has quickly filled both pots.

Billbergia produces leaves which grow in rosettes with the flower stalk at the centre. These leaves are long and arching and as they grow older, their edges develop tiny spikes. For most of the year this is a very plain-looking plant with nothing to show but its clump of green leaves. But while it’s in flower, it does look quite spectacular.

The speed at which billbergia grows and produces offsets means that it really does deserve the name ‘friendship plant’. The young rosettes at the outer edges of the plant can be detached (when they’re at least 6 inches high) and potted up as new plants. The other name, ‘queen’s tears’ comes from the way that the flowers drip nectar onto the ground. (It’s very sticky!)

My plants have tightly filled their pots now, so I think it will soon be time to remove some of the young offsets. That means that some new plants will go out into the world, continuing the chain of shared plants. A happy thought!

Bilbergia nutans

Frothy Pinks: Cherry Blossom

After last week’s pink tulips, here’s more pretty pinks – but even frothier! (Or should that be fluffier – not sure, but this cherry blossom can out-pink anything else.)

The blossom on our cherry tree is late this year because April has been so cold. Not all of the buds have opened yet but it should be a very good show when they are. The tree must be a good few years old, so is a good size and is always completely covered in these soft pink flowers.

The tree is Prunus ‘Kanzan’, one of the most frequently-seen ornamental cherries here. Sadly, our tree may not be here for many more years. They’re known to have a short life-expectancy. (I’ve seen differing estimates of 15-20 years and up to 40 years.) Ours was a mature tree when we moved here 16 years ago. In addition, it now has splits in the bark, which may be due to the effects of winter weather or may be an indication of disease. It has obviously suffered from canker at some time before we moved in, but this hasn’t stopped it from being laden with flowers in spring.

For now, we’ll enjoy whatever time the tree has left. At the same time, we will probably have to think about what we might want to plant in its place in the future. It should probably be something that doesn’t get too big, given that it’s so close to our boundary with our neighbours. We wouldn’t want it to protrude into their driveway! And it needs to be robust and healthy because it is the most exposed area of the front garden.

It feels a bit sad to to know that it may not be long before we have to remove this old cherry tree. We moved in to this house at a time when it was in full, glorious flower and it felt like a warm welcome to our new home. But the tree, like its flowers, is an ephemeral thing – to be enjoyed in the moment. (And afterwards I will still have photographs of its blossom as a reminder of it.)

Cherry blossom

Fluffy Flowers for Easter: Pasqueflowers

The pasqueflowers (Pulsatilla vulgaris) are flowering slightly earlier than last year. That means they’re here in time for Easter, so they’re living up to their name. (The pasque part of the name comes from ‘paschal’, meaning ‘of or related to Easter’.)

The clumps are a bit bigger than last year, so there are more flowers too. Those fluffy, cup-shaped flowers are a most welcome sight. They seem to have settled into the garden here very well and they’re probably the most reliable of our spring flowers.

Pulsatilla vulgaris (pasqueflower)

But they don’t just look good – they feel nice too. Those fine hairs on the outside of the petals, buds and leaves are just as soft as they appear. I know this for certain, having spent a few minutes stroking them just to check! It’s not often that I think about how a plant feels as opposed to how it looks, but with these, the urge to touch is strong.

Although a native wildflower in the UK, the pasqueflower is rarely seen in the wild. It has become a well-loved garden flower, with nurseries and garden centres stocking plants with purple, white (‘Alba’) or deep red (‘Rubra’) flowers.

Pulsatilla vulgaris (pasqueflower)

I was hoping that I might have the opportunity to buy one or two more pasqueflower plants today. We were able to visit a garden centre for the first time in many months. (Probably since the end of last August.) It was a treat to be able to do this again and we did make sure to buy some plants. (But no pasqueflowers this time.)

Now that a few weeks have passed since having our first Covid jabs, we have enough protection to be able to explore the world again. Plant nurseries will be also able to open soon, so I’m feeling excited about being able to visit my favourites again. There’s a fair bit of border space that’s just waiting for some new plants to fill it!

If you celebrate it, I wish you a very happy Easter. And for everyone, I hope you enjoy your weekend.

A pasqueflower bud.

Still Waiting for Spring

It’s still not quite spring here. Actually, it’s quite confusing. We had a few days when it did get warm and sunny and working in the garden was a pleasure. But then the cold came back, along with heavy grey clouds.

Luckily, I hadn’t started removing the dead leaves and remains of the old growth from the perennials etc. There are still lots of ladybirds and other little critters tucked up for the winter in amongst it all. I don’t want to eject anything from its comfy little bed yet – they’ll want to snooze a bit longer until it gets warmer. Tidying up in the garden can wait a while.

I did make a start on removing some of the Japanese anemones that are doing their best to take over large areas of the garden. It was necessary to get a move on with this because a friend had given me two big plants of Salvia ‘Amistad’ and I needed to find space for them. (It’s a very sunny spot, with a bit of shelter, so they should be happy there.) However, it took me so long to get rid of all the anemone roots that I decided to plant the second sage into a big pot. Otherwise I would probably have run out of time to get the second patch of ground cleared.

Although the big swathes of anemones are a problem, I may well plant other flowers in big drifts. This is because it’s supposed to make it easier for the bees to find them. So no more dotting a plant here and another there! (I do try to plant in groups if I can. It does look much better. But that can get expensive if you’re buying them at a garden centre.)

I’m glad to see that the bumblebees have been making use of the flowers that are out now – mostly crocuses and the remaining winter jasmine flowers. They are probably visiting our hellebores too, but the downturned flowers make it hard to spot any visiting bees. I reckon that growing plants for bees makes an excellent excuse for buying more hellebores! (Well, any good bee plants really!)

The hellebore here is a plant that I photographed in the garden last year. Bringing a few of the flowers inside made it much easier to photograph than trying to get low enough down to see the flowers outside. This is just its second year of flowering, so I’m hoping for lots more flowers as it gets bigger. (I don’t like to take many flowers from a plant that’s still small because I really prefer to see them still out in the garden. But you don’t miss the odd flower if there’s plenty of them.)

If you’re waiting for spring too, I hope there’s lots of exciting new growth popping up around you. And I wish you flowers – lots of flowers!

Simple but Colourful

Often it’s the form of a flower, especially the details of the structure within it, that attracts me to it. Usually it’s a combination of shape and colour that makes for an interesting photograph, and some of my subjects (e.g. passionflowers ) can be quite complex in their appearance.

But some flowers are delightful in their simplicity, like these ranunculus, aka ‘Persian buttercups’. Their vibrant colours were enough to make me buy the plants to photograph them. (The red flower makes me think of the red crepe paper we used for making Christmas decorations as kids at primary school.)

These images are from last spring. Several others were posted on the blog at the time, but these have lurked on my PC as unprocessed RAW files since then. Wintertime is a good time to catch up with processing photographs that have been taken a while ago. It has given me something to keep me busy while it’s too cold to work in the garden.

Whenever there are flowers around, I take photographs of as many as I can. That means I have something to show on this blog every week. But during the warmer times of year, when I’m kept busy in the garden, time can be short. And then the photos mount up, waiting for me to get them ready to post here. It’s like having a little stash of colourful memories from sunnier days to keep me occupied while the garden has its winter break.

Soon I’ll be too busy outside to be able to spend a lot of time at the PC. Already the sunshine has come back and the temperatures are just a bit warmer. Everything in the garden is beginning to grow again and the crocuses are welcoming the first of the bees. No doubt, I’ll also be taking lots more photographs, so there will be plenty to process during next winter too.

An In-Between Time

Spring is getting closer but it certainly isn’t here yet. Sometimes February can feel mild and spring-like, but this year it has felt colder and snowy. I haven’t been in the garden much in the last week or two.

Apart from the hellebores which are starting to emerge, there has been a lack of flowers outside. Happily, the cyclamen plants have been busy flowering indoors to cheer us up. This year they seem to have lasted longer than usual – I think that’s because they’re in a cool conservatory.

Ruffled pink cyclamen flower

It feels like it’s not quite either winter or spring as I wait for the garden to come alive again with fresh growth. Meanwhile, I wanted something interesting to do. A plant I could photograph indoors so that I wouldn’t have to face the cold. These little flowers are ideal for that.

The rich colours and swirling shapes of the cyclamen flowers make them an obvious photographic subject. All those crinkles, curls and serrated edges give the petals a sense of drama and energy. Altogether, these features make the flowers look as if they’re in motion. The slight sheen of the petal surfaces suggests silk, making the flowers look like small pieces of fabric, fluttering in a breeze.

Cyclamen flowers

Alternatively, you could imagine that the flowers are tiny dancers, skirts swirling as they perform some graceful and athletic pirouette. Come in closer to the flower and that feeling of energy is magnified by all the curves and twists of the petals. Your eyes follow the lines made by the delicate veins, increasing the feeling of movement and strengthening the illusion.

Fun to photograph and glorious colour to combat the winter greys – I wouldn’t want to be without cyclamen at this time of year. Soon the spring flowers will be flaunting their brilliance and freshness, but for the last few weeks, it’s the cyclamen that have gladdened my heart.

Cyclamen flower

A Rose for Valentine’s Day

Actually, this really isn’t a Valentine rose – it would need to be red. But I don’t have any red roses in the garden, so this is the best I can offer. (It’s the climbing rose ‘Handel’.)

According to Google and several florists’ websites, a pale pink rose means, among other things, ‘happiness’ or ‘joy’. So maybe it’s a bit more suitable as an offering to my blog readers than a red one would be!

I don’t know why it’s the red rose that means love. Perhaps it’s because it’s the colour of blood, so associated with the heart and passion. At any rate, it does go back a long way, even to the myths of the ancient Greeks. Aphrodite, their goddess of love, was scratched by a thorn on a white rose bush as she was rushing to be with her dying lover, Adonis. Her blood turned the rose red and ever afterwards, red roses were the symbol of love.

It feels like it will be a long time before there are any roses at all here. It’s snowy outside at the moment, and I am dreaming of being able to visit gardens where the scent of roses is carried on warm summer air. And I’ll be very happy to see them, whatever colour they may be!