Going to Seed: Wild Carrot

One of the plants I’ve grown specifically so that I can photograph it is the wild carrot (Daucus carota). This variety is ‘Dara’. It starts off white when the flowers first open, gradually becoming pink, before finally turning a lovely deep burgundy red as they mature.

Daucus carota is the wild form of the carrot we eat and gives an eye-catching display of delicate lacy flowers on the end of long stems. It creates a stunningly pretty effect in a border. The plant is a biennial and seeds itself around easily – so it will probably get everywhere here eventually. (It has stayed in the same area so far, so I may just give it a little help to spread.)

Wild carrot (Daucus carota)
Right back at the start: wild carrot (Daucus carota) flower buds about to open.

I love the flowers and seed heads but I find they can be tricky to photograph. As quite large flowers or heavy seed heads on the ends of long, delicate stems they move easily in the slightest breath of air. I should have taken some indoors to photograph them, but my little studio space is in a state of upheaval at the moment. (Very inconvenient!)

This year, I have at least managed to take photographs of the flowers at different stages. Next year I’ll try to catch the early stages of the flowers when they’re white or pink. (Somehow this year I got distracted by doing other things.)

My favourite time to photograph this flower is when it turns to seed. The seed heads are an extraordinary shape, with the individual stems of seeds curving inwards to make a little ‘nest’. And the seeds themselves look interesting – covered in tiny white spikes and either ridged with, or entirely red.

Wild carrot (Daucus carota) flower head.
First seeds forming in the centre of the flower head.

I haven’t finished photographing the wild carrot seed heads yet. They are one of the best plants to leave standing in the garden for winter. (I don’t tidy very much away anyway, because it’s useful to wildlife.) Having the seed heads there through winter means that there is the possibility of something exciting to photograph when they get frosted. (Especially if the breeze drops and they sit still for a little while!)

This winter I’ll be checking to see if there’s any frost in the mornings and rushing out with my camera if there is. These are shaded by a fence in the early morning, so any frost is protected from the rising sun. Wish me luck and a little frost!

Daucus carota (wild carrot) seed head
Tiny spiky seeds on the maturing seed head

Light and Colour: Rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’

As a photographer, I’m very aware of the difference that light makes to flower colour. The pictures on this post are both of the same rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, but you can see how the light has changed the way the colours appear.

The top photograph was taken in the evening, at a time when the sinking sun was creating a warm golden glow over everything. This has made the flower petals look much more magenta. Their red and pink tones have been picked out by the warm light.

The second photograph has been taken nearer the middle of the day. (On a day which has been just overcast enough to soften the shadows which might otherwise have been very harsh.) See how much more purple there is in the petals in this light. That’s because the light is more neutral, allowing the flower’s real colour to show.

If I had taken the second photograph on a day with heavy cloud, I would probably have got stronger blue tones in the flower. (And more yet if I had chosen to photograph during ‘blue hour’ before dawn or after sunset – but that’s getting a bit dark for my purposes!)

Exploring how changes in light affect colours is all part of the interest of garden photography. But right now, after a very grey few weeks, I’m grateful for every bit of bright sunshine we get. The last few days have been hot and sunny and it feels as if summer has returned to us. I only wish it would last a little longer!

Rose 'Rhapsody in Blue'
Rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ looking much more purple in cooler light.

A Splash of Red

The red echinacea I planted last year has done well this summer. (The orange and orangey-pink plants have been fine too, but not as luxuriant.) And it’s been great to have this vibrant scarlet blaze to brighten up what has been an unusually cloudy and grey few weeks.

These showy flowers demand attention. They could overshadow the plants around them, so I have some thinking to do before I plant up the rest of that area.

At the moment I’m planning to add some more hot colours. I have an orange hyssop (agastache) which I bought unlabelled from a local nursery. It would look good planted nearby but I’ll probably keep it in a pot for now because I don’t know if it’s hardy enough to spend the winter outside. (I don’t know how big it will get either, so this will also let me find out how much space it needs.)

Red echinacea flowers

Other plants for this area have a slightly ‘prairie’ feel. There are dainty yellow kniphofias, a red helenium and arching Mexican feather grass (stipa tenuissima). Scattered around the area are tall dark red scabious and yellow potentilla, both of which seed themselves everywhere. There’s a long way to go (and few weeds to remove) before this small part of the garden becomes a fully-fledged border. It is starting to look interesting, though, and it makes a change to experiment with plants that might not fit in elsewhere.

Finding more plants for this area may have to wait for next year. (We have been out to some of the nurseries around us, but have stayed quite close to home so far, so choice is limited.) Meanwhile, I’m delighted to see that the echinceas have produced a few seedlings – I wonder what colour their flowers will turn out to be? Given that there are plants with red, orange and a bright pink that has an orange blush to the petals, the possibilities are interesting. I’ll just have to wait and see – hope there’s some red amongst them!

Bee on red echinacea flower

Much Missed: White Passionflower

Occasionally I lose a plant that I really miss. There have been plants that haven’t survived after I’ve planted them. Usually because I’ve put them in the wrong place in the garden or because I’ve bought something that doesn’t suit our climate or soil.

It may be that the plant is short-lived anyway, or else that it isn’t very hardy and will be unlikely to survive a hard winter. That was the case with the lovely white passionflower ‘Constance Elliot’. This passionflower was growing alongside a grape vine on our arbour. It seemed fairly happy there as it wove its way through the vine leaves and produced a sprinkling of gleaming white flowers.

This year it failed to reappear in spring. I waited hopefully in case it was just late, but no, it was gone. I was lucky to get a few years from it as I knew it might not cope with a really hard frost. It was always going to be chancy whether it could survive in a fairly exposed area of our garden.

Passiflora Constance Elliot

I particularly loved this plant. The white flowers had a great freshness against their background of green leaves. They had a simpler, somehow more ‘natural’ look than the Passiflora caerulea has. I enjoy the flowers of caerulea with their lovely rings of blue filaments, but I feel that the plainer white flowers of Constance Elliot fit into our garden more easily. (Caerulea is great for the conservatory, where things can be a bit more exotic.)

Fortunately, I had taken the opportunity to photograph this passionflower both in the garden and in the studio. It makes an interesting change to photograph after caerulea (where the blue filaments tend to dominate the image). The mostly white colouration of the flowers means that there is more emphasis on the shapes of the flower as a whole and on the dark purple markings of the stigmas and the yellow pollen on the anthers.

Normally I would have just bought a replacement for the plant but I haven’t seen them around so much this year. (Actually, I think that’s just because I haven’t been out much. The plants are probably out there.) The garden centres and other stores often have them as small, very inexpensive plants that can be quickly grown on in a warm year, but I haven’t seen them there. It could be that Brexit has caused problems with some plant supplies – I don’t know. I do know that I will be on the lookout for another plant of ‘Constance Elliot’ next year!

Passiflora Constance Elliot

Getting There…

A couple of weeks ago I posted photographs of flowers of our Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’. They were showing very little of the bright pink markings on the edges of the petals that they’re grown for. While I enjoy having variety among the flowers that come up from seed, I was hoping that they would show some of the ‘expected’ markings.

As you can see from the top photo, the flowers are becoming much closer to having the pink edge all the way around each white petal. They are now much more like those illustrated on seed-packets and adverts. The flowers are very different to the others in our garden, most of which have solid-coloured petals.

I also hoped that there would be some of the darker flowers with pale pink petals surrounded by the darker pink edge. I’m delighted to be able to show you that yes, I now have those opening too.

Photographing these was a bit tricky because it’s been breezy here for a while. It’s a matter of trying to choose a moment when the wind dies down to press the shutter button…not easy, haha! So I should really pick some of these and photograph them indoors – much better for getting clear detail. That might not be soon, though, because there is so much to do in the garden right now. But it is lovely to be able to enjoy these flowers while I’m working. It makes life feel good!

You can read my previous post about cosmos here: https://annmackay.blog/2021/08/01/not-as-expected-variations/

Cosmos 'Candy Stripe'

Not as Expected: Variations

Sometimes the flowers you plant come up a bit different from the image on the seed packet. That’s the case with this Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’. Most of the seed companies advertise this plant with images of white flowers with a rich raspberry-coloured stripe all the way round the edge of each petal.

One or two of the companies, though, show you what will actually grow – flowers with a very varied mix of colourations. Some will be almost pure white with just a few traces of pink here and there along the petal edges (as in my photo above). Others may have petals that are partly edged in pink (below). Or the flowers may be mostly blushed with a soft pink but with a darker pink around the outside of the petal.

For me, this is part of the appeal of growing plants like these. Every year I try to grow one or two annuals to give me something new to photograph. So when the result is a little unpredictable, and as beautifully varied as these cosmos flowers, it becomes far more interesting. Having all the different colourations gives me more to photograph and makes it fun to see what new flowers each day brings. I had hoped to photograph one of the flowers with the full markings on the petals, but left it too late. When I went back out to photograph it, the wind had stripped all but two petals off the flower I wanted. (The weather is a bit rough at the moment!)

Happily for me, I can see that there are some darker flowers opening so I’ll soon be able to take some quite different photographs. That’s the joy of growing a flower that is variable and has the capacity to both surprise and delight. (I just hope the wild winds and rain aren’t too unkind to them!)

Cosmos bipinnatus flower

Something Sweet: Scabiosa columbaria ‘Flutter Rose Pink’

As you can imagine, I haven’t bought many plants during the pandemic. Recently we have ventured out to a few of our favourite nurseries and we have treated ourselves to one or two new plants.

This pretty scabious is one of the plants that appealed to me most. It’s an undeniably feminine looking flower, with all those frilly petals in a sweet shade of pink. I’m sure it will add something special to a border that has lots of smaller, simpler flowers.

Reading about it tells me that I can expect flowers for a long time over the year – right through from spring into autumn. (I’d noticed this long flowering period from the other plants from the scabious family already in the garden.)

‘Flutter Rose Pink’ should be happy here because it likes sun and good drainage. (It’s said to be drought-tolerant, which makes it very suitable for our East-Anglian climate.) The other scabious relatives in the garden include a smaller Scabiosa columbaria in a pale blue, the tall yellow Cephalaria gigantea, Knautia macedonica in reds and pinks and a very dark red Scabiosa atropurpurea. All of them do well here and generously seed themselves around the garden. I’m hoping the new scabious will do the same!

My new plant is a treat for me but will be one for the pollinators here too. I’ve found that the various scabious are extremely popular with bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Because they keep flowering until late in the year, they are a reliable food source for these insects. ( That’s especially true of the knautia, which can produce flowers right up to the start of winter. It’s great for frosted-flower photos and feeds the latest of bees.)

Now I just have to decide where to plant my new scabious…

Pink scabious flower
Scabiosa columbaria ‘Flutter Rose Pink’

Colour Change: Nigella

Since my post about colour-changing spring peas, I’ve been looking out for more flowers that change colour. There’s been one practically right in front of me but I hadn’t noticed it until now.

Nigella damascena (probably ‘Miss Jekyll’) has been seeding itself around our garden for a few years. It becomes covered in lots of soft blue flowers and some that are white with blue veins. I’d always liked the pale-coloured buds best as a subject to photograph because of the extra detail of the delicate blue veins on the bluish-white petals.

Nigella damascena bud about to open.
This light-coloured bud of a nigella flower is just about to open.

Despite photographing them fairly frequently, I hadn’t realised that these pale flowers were the immature colouration. I had thought that they were a variation and that the flowers just came in a mix of blues on each plant. However, I’ve just read online comments by other gardeners who say the lighter coloured flowers gradually darken to give the beautiful sky-blue of the mature flower.

I don’t know why I didn’t notice this before. Even now I’m wondering if it is really true. I’ve just been out in the garden to look at the plants and all the buds I could see were light-coloured. There were no darker blue buds. So it seems that all the flowers do indeed start off as a white slightly flushed with a pale blue and with the blue and green veins as shown above.

Most of the mature flowers were blue but I could see one or two that were still pale. Maybe they will darken to the same blue as the rest if given time. Or will they? It will be difficult to tell because the seed pods develop quickly, so the whole plant is always changing. Perhaps some flowers simply don’t mature as fully as others before their petals drop. Trying to find the answer will give me a very good reason to look at these pretty flowers more often!

Blue Nigella damascena flower
This nigella flower has matured to a lovely blue.

Under Attack!

Normally I don’t have many problems with slugs and snails in the garden, probably because we have a low rainfall here. But when they do appear, it seems that they’re keen to snack on the flowers that I most want to photograph.

Some flowers seem to be particularly tempting to the hungry critters. For a few years we had a lovely pale blue clematis (Perle d’Azur) in a large wooden tub. Well, it should have been lovely, and sometimes it was, but just for a little while. Sooner or later the slugs and snails would find it and reduce the flowers to lacework.

Irises are another flower that tend to get a bit chewed. Sometimes, as with the top photograph, I have to avoid having damaged parts of the petals show. With this one (Iris sibirica ‘Silver Edge’), I had to find a low angle that hid a prominent hole in one petal and then crop to remove extensive damage on another petal.

The occasional damaged petal is one thing, but sometimes the damage is much worse. While living in Scotland (more slugs and snails there!) I decided to grow an assortment of sunflowers to photograph. So I was dismayed to discover that all my seedlings had their stems chewed right through at the base. No sunflowers for me!

I’ve had similar damage to the irises too. I was glad to be able to photograph the iris below because the year before I was denied that chance. The buds on the iris’s first and single flower stem were almost ready to open and looked really promising with their soft shades of caramel and pink. Excitedly, I visited in the morning to see if the top flower had opened and was ready for me to photograph it. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered the flower stem lying on the ground, looking sad and wilted, with its stem chewed the whole way through. I could have cried!

Since then, I have discovered that it helps to surround vulnerable plants with a circle of either gritty sand or wood ash from our woodburner. But sometimes only careful cropping or the use of digital heal and clone tools can save a photograph.

Bearded iris 'Top Gun'