In Evening Light

Leaves of the smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria)
Leaves of the smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) have a fiery glow in the last of the evening light.

After a busy day, getting out into the garden for a while is wonderfully calming and restorative. The garden can look its best in the evening light too, when the low-angled light creates long shadows and shows up the textures of the plants. Colours come alive in this light, especially where the sun passes through flowers and leaves. (Just like sun coming through a stained-glass window.)

If I can, I like to spend some time in the garden at this time of day. Maybe I’ll do a bit of weeding or simply sit for a while. What I prefer to do, though, is to take my camera for a wander around the garden.

Yellow broom (Cytisus) flowers
Yellow broom (Cytisus) flowers gleam in the sun.

Late in the day, the light is warmer and yellower. (More of the blue in the light is absorbed by the atmosphere when it’s at this low angle.) It warms and intensifies the colours of flowers. Quite ordinary looking flowers like the broom above become much more appealing photographic subjects when the strong side-lighting shines through their petals and makes them glow.

In the apple blossom photograph below, you can see that the evening light has an attractive warming effect on the petals of the flowers. This brings associations of pleasant evenings spent outside and can conjure up thoughts of the summer to come, or past memories of time in the garden. Just with the difference of the colour in the light, you can give a photograph a little suggestion of emotion and make it a bit more than a straightforward record of the flower.

Blossom on a Braeburn apple tree.
Blossom on our Braeburn apple tree.

Because evening light creates excellent side-lighting that picks out the texture in petals and leaves, it makes them appear more 3-D. (Like the rather crinkly surface of the apple blossom petals and the hairy calyx behind them.) The shapes of flowers and details such as the stamens are also highlighted and the whole flower can be ‘spotlit’ in a way that helps to bring it out from its background.

Early morning light has the same beautiful low-angle effects as evening light but there’s rarely time to take an unhurried stroll around the garden at that time of day. (Not here anyway – there’s cats to be fed, humans to be fed and other distractions!) And as the dawn becomes earlier and summer approaches, it’s less likely that I’ll be out of bed to catch that very early light. (But doesn’t it feel quite heavenly to be up really, really early, when no-one else is around but the birds, and you have the whole world to yourself? I love it if I can manage it! Sadly, that’s not very often.)

So evening time is, for me, a time I look forward to with anticipation on clear days. And when I’m gardening, I try to place plants that are especially colourful, or that have delicate structures, where the late sun can make the most of them. That smoke bush in the top photograph was planted where the setting sun could shine through its deep red leaves. It makes the shrub seem as if it’s alight. It’s amazing what a little bit of evening sunlight can do!

Camassia leichtlinii
This Camassia is in the last area to catch the sun and for a little while the colours become richer.

Beauty in the Woods: Bluebells

 

Flowers of British bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
British bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) with the flowers all hanging on the same side of the stem.

Right now, in the UK, you can see swathes of blue among groups of trees and along the bottoms of hedges. If you’re lucky, you might find yourself in a bluebell wood. It’s one of the special sights of springtime and a precious part of the British countryside.

But not all bluebells are the same…and it’s not always easy to tell which are the true native British bluebells. The bluebell below is a Spanish bluebell, which you will find growing in many gardens. (These bluebells came from my own garden – I had to crop the picture quite tightly to remove some of the rather chewed-looking bells. I wonder what has been eating them…)

Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)
A close-up of a Spanish bluebell, showing the arrangement of flowers on the stem.

So how do you tell the difference between the two types of bluebell? There are a few clues that should help. The Spanish bluebells hold their flowers on all sides of the stem and stand very upright, whereas the British bluebell’s flowers hang in an arch, mostly on just the one side of the stem. (However, the photograph below shows what appears to be an immature flower at the left-hand side of the picture. I’m assuming that it has yet to develop the characteristic arch.)

The flowers of the British bluebell are a darker colour and the bells are a slimmer and longer shape. The leaves are also slimmer (about 1.5cm or half an inch wide), while the leaves of the Spanish bluebell are twice that width. Additionally, our native bluebells have a sweet scent but there is none or little from the Spanish flowers.

Just to make identification difficult, the two plants hybridise very readily and the hybrids are becoming very common. There is a fear that these hybrids may take over from the less vigorous British bluebell and that over time the genes of the native flower will become diluted by the incomer. It would be a pity if that happens. Our native bluebell is a sign of ancient woodlands and a sea of these deep blue, scented flowers is a wonderful sight.

Bluebells growing among birch trees.
Bluebells growing among birch trees.

A Flower for Easter.

Purple pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)
Jewel-bright colours of the purple Pasqueflower.

It’s Easter Sunday today, so I thought I’d post a photograph of a pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris). This flower gets its name because it flowers around Easter time, with ‘pasque’ being like ‘paschal’, i.e. ‘relating to Easter’. (But I haven’t figured out whether the name should be one word or two. Pasqueflower or pasque flower? Both seem to be used.)

The Easter holiday tends to be a really busy time in the garden. Everything has started to grow very fast so that any old dead growth needs to have been cleared away to allow it space. (I leave the old foliage on some plants over winter to help protect them against frost.) The weeds are growing quickly too, so the battle with them keeps me busy. It seems like an unlikely and very distant dream that I might someday have a fairly weed-free garden!

But it’s seed-sowing that becomes the biggest rush for me. I really shouldn’t leave it so late. Everything else always feels so urgent and this year I’ve taken extra time to dig a pond. (That is going quite well and I’m hoping to have it done before the ground dries out and becomes really difficult to dig.) Now I need to get those seeds all sown and hope that all the tiny seedlings will have time to catch up…or they can just flower a bit late if they like!

With all the frantic gardening, it would be easy to forget to enjoy the garden itself and the tremendously sunny and warm weather we’re having this weekend. So I will make a point of sitting down for a while and just enjoy the outdoor scene for a bit. (That’s if the cat will let me have my seat…he thinks I put it in a nice sunny spot just for him!)

Whatever you’re doing this weekend, whether you celebrate Easter (or even have a long weekend for that matter), I hope you get a chance to get outside and enjoy some sunshine and the natural world. Happy Easter!

 

The Early Flower Catches The Photographer

White Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasque Flower)
White Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasque Flower) already in flower.

Last week, I wrote about finding all the new stocks of plants coming into garden centres very tempting. So you may not be surprised to learn that I bought a few of them. (If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you will probably know me well enough by now to expect it!)

I tell myself  that I have a great excuse, because I need something to photograph and there isn’t a lot available in the garden yet. And buying plants instead of cut flowers means I can grow them in the garden for the following years. Neat reasoning, eh? All the same, I’m glad that there are several plant nurseries nearby, so that I can buy reasonably-priced small plants rather than spending a fortune on larger plants elsewhere.

It’s interesting to see just how far advanced these plants that have been grown in large, heated glasshouses are, in comparison to garden plants. I have pinky-purple pasque flowers growing in the garden but they won’t be in flower for weeks yet. (Probably April or May.)

Hairy flowers of Pulsatilla vulgaris (pasque flower).
You can see how hairy these pasque flowers are!

Pasque flowers like it in the garden here. The well-drained soil and open, sunny site suits them. It’s actually a native plant in the UK and East Anglia (which includes Suffolk, where I live) is one of the areas that it grows in. Sadly though, it’s rare as a wild plant now and you’re much more likely to see it growing in gardens. However, as a ‘local’ plant, they’re both drought-tolerant and wonderful for bees.

The flowers themselves are delightful to photograph – fresh, pretty and entirely charming. And then there’s the bonus of the rest of the plant being photogenic too. That’s because it’s so very hairy (and soft enough that you want to stroke it). All the soft little hairs that cover the finely-cut leaves, flower buds, and even the outside of the petals, help to give the plant a silvery appearance when they are caught in sunshine. Later the seed-heads become very ornamental, like some sort of silky, wildly fluffy pompoms. (My cats think they’re great fun for having a swift bat at with a paw!)

The pasque flower that I bought will no doubt be joined by others. (I have to wait for them to flower at the nursery, so that I can see what colour they are.) And I’m sure that a few hours will be spent photographing them…happy times!

Flower of Pulsatilla vulgaris (pasque flower).
Delicate white and rich yellow make this a very attractive spring flower.

Something Different

Blue-veined flowers of primrose 'Zebra Blue'.
Fun with stripes! I bought this Primula ‘Zebra Blue’ so that I could photograph the flowers.

As spring approaches, there are new stocks of plants coming into garden centres and other plant-sellers, such as supermarkets and market stalls. After winter, it’s a huge delight and an even bigger temptation to see all these fresh plants that are just waiting for us to buy them.

There are the usual bulbs – snowdrops, crocuses, irises and daffodils. And at the moment there seems to be a huge number of primulas (or primroses) everywhere, in just about any colour you might want. They glow brightly at you, flaunting their brilliance and offering themselves as a cheerful reassurance that spring must be almost here.

Like many others, I found myself wandering past these happy little plants, wondering which would be the most uplifting addition to the winter-weary borders in my own garden. Unexpectedly, I came across one that I haven’t seen before and which intrigued me much more than the gaudier varieties…a stripy-flowered primrose!

Macro photograph of Primula acaulis 'Zebra Blue'
The yellow centre is a striking contrast to the blue and white petals.

The primrose I bought turned out to be ‘Zebra Blue’. It has white petals which are veined with a wonderfully deep blue (which looks rather as if ink has been spilled onto the flowers and gradually crept along the veins). The deep orangey-yellow centres are the perfect contrast to offset the blue and make the flower very eye-catching indeed.

Most of the flowers and plants that I buy are seen as potential subjects for my photography. A flower with markings like these is an ideal source of inspiration for an afternoon spent experimenting with different compositions.

The prominent veining of the petals and the vibrant contrast of the centre of the flower makes this primrose a very bold subject. It’s easy to use the patterns produced by the veins to create a rather abstract feel. But, because some of the flowers have a more muted colouration, with much paler veining (sometimes becoming a lighter, more denim-blue), there is the option of creating a softer, more gentle image too. I have only just started exploring where this little flower may lead my photography and I reckon that I need to spend a few more hours in it’s company…what fun!

Blue-veined primrose flower against a yellow background.
I used a contrasting yellow background to give a bolder image in this photo.

A Little Survivor

Pink-freckled hellebore.
I thought I had lost this hellebore.

It’s the time of year when gardeners start peering anxiously at their plants, looking for signs of life. Are there new shoots emerging from the ground? Some leaf buds perhaps? Anything to show that the plant has made it through the winter?

But, as any gardener is unfortunately all too aware, it’s not just the winter that can kill our plants. There are all sorts of possible mishaps. Here, building work has been one of the biggest dangers to our garden plants in the last couple of years.

We’ve had several things done to our house, the main one being the addition of a conservatory. So there have been piles of building materials parked around the garden.

The resulting chaos was made worse by our decision to reclaim and re-use the brick pavers from the big old patio area where the conservatory was to be built. And, of course, they needed to be piled somewhere out of the way. Like the bit of border that has been overrun by a huge mass of Japanese anemones and is desperately in need of renovation…. and all before I could think to warn that there were other plants there too.

Pink-spotted hellebore flowers.
Last year there was only a single leaf on this hellebore – this year it has managed to flower.

To be honest, I’d forgotten precisely where the hellebore was and it wasn’t until I saw one lonely hellebore leaf poking out between a couple of bricks that I realised that it had pretty much been covered. The bricks were removed but I didn’t really expect the plant to survive. There seemed to be too little of it left. That made me feel both sad and guilty because it was such a lovely little plant and one that I had enjoyed photographing.

So you can imagine how surprised and delighted I was to discover that it was growing again and this year it has even managed to produce some flowers. (I feel as if it has forgiven me! And I’ve promised it that I’ll take better care of it in future!)

It’s extraordinary how strong the life force in plants can be and how they can often tolerate conditions that really should kill them. (I know, it’s true that the plants that you try to get rid of – the weeds – that seem show the most determined ability to survive.) Every so often you get a wonderful surprise when a plant that you fear has died reappears, when new buds grow on what look like dead stems, or when new seedlings spring up from old plants unexpectedly. That vitality can certainly be something to celebrate!

Pink hellebore flower.
The usual view of a shy hellebore flower.

Glorious Green: Ferns

A tightly-curled young fern frond.
A tightly-curled young fern frond.

By this stage of winter, the idea of lush green growth is tremendously appealing. It’s easy to dream of densely-planted borders bursting with re-emerging life – new shoots, unfurling leaves, and buds that swell with the promise of flowers soon to come.

Amongst all this imagined greenery, ferns would be an excellent addition. Their finely-cut fronds would contrast well with larger, more solid leaves and would bring their delicate textures and a subtle feel of pattern to the border.

Hairy reverse of young fern-frond.
The young fronds are very hairy on the back. They look almost furry!

For photography, ferns make an excellent subject. There’s lots of pleasing detail, especially in the new foliage. The tightly-wound curls of the young fronds are especially photogenic and the outside surface of the curl (the back of the frond) can be surprisingly hairy and looks soft to touch.

(Saying that has made me realise that I didn’t actually touch them. I could have put out a finger to stroke the back of a curl, but I didn’t. Perhaps I should have. Taking photographs can absorb you so that you forget to interact with plants – or a garden – in ways that you would do, if you were walking around without a camera. So maybe I need to leave my camera in its bag for a while and explore the garden, before I start to take photographs.)

Fern leaves.
Fern leaves can add some texture and pattern to garden borders.

In my real garden (as opposed to the imaginary borders where anything will grow), it is too hot and dry for most ferns. The Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) is reckoned to be able to cope with drier conditions than most, but that is if it’s in the shade. Most of our garden gets a lot of sunshine, but there is one area that is shaded by the house in the afternoon. Now I am wondering if that bit of ground might be suitable for making a bog garden and I’m imagining the other moisture-loving plants that would also be happy there. (Though there are ferns that don’t need such damp soil.)

If I do go ahead with this idea, the beautiful green growth of ferns would be a very satisfying reward. (Meanwhile, my imaginary garden is flourishing!)

Fern fronds with curled tips.
The curly tips of the fronds of this fern look unusual.

Are You Dreaming of a White Christmas?

Frosted fennel seed-head
Heavy frost makes this fennel seed-head look like a Christmas decoration!

Snow can bring a bit of magic to the garden at this time of year. It covers up the dead  leaves of perennials, hides weeds and makes tiny sculptures from the seed-heads that you’ve left for the birds. And if there’s frost too, then those seed-heads become like icy Christmas decorations.

It’s rare for us to get snow at Christmas here in the east of England. In fact, in the last few days, hubby and I have been using a mild spell of weather to get work done in the garden. (It’s very pleasant if you manage to follow where the sun is as you work.)

Snow is more likely in January, when the temperature always seems to drop and you really start to notice the cold. If it snows, then there’s not much chance to get any work done in the garden. It’s a good time to grab a camera and go for a walk, looking for things to photograph.

Snow-covered Echinacea seed-heads.
Guess what’s hiding under the snow! (Echinacea seed-heads.)

There are water meadows very close to our house, so this is where we usually walk. They become a great plain of white, etched with the dark shapes of trees and the even darker waters of the river. After one especially deep fall of snow, the temperature had risen enough to let the top surface of the snow melt slightly but it then re-froze as it got colder again. This made for a very satisfying walk, crunching through that top icy layer into the soft snow beneath.

Back in the garden, the plants may all turn to soft mounds of white. It can be hard to remember which is which. Everything becomes unfamiliar, clean and, for once, immaculately tidy. These are the days when I don’t look at the garden and immediately begin to think of all the jobs that are waiting to be done there. Instead I wander around with my camera, looking to see what strange forms the snow has created from the plants.

The opportunity to take photographs in the snow is quite rare here and doesn’t usually last very long. (These pictures were taken some time ago.) So if it snows this winter, I’ll have to take my chance quickly and get out into the garden to see what transformations the snow has made.

Snow-covered Eryngium seed-heads
Eryngium seed-heads – prickly little starbursts in the snow.

Snow is part of our romantic image of Christmas – all white and crisp and ideal for sledging, snowballs and making snowmen. We very conveniently forget chaos on the roads, cancelled flights at snowbound airports and horribly slippery paths. Snow is an essential part of Christmas cards, holiday TV and happy childhood memories.

I won’t do a Bing Crosby and wish that all your Christmases may be white – it may be inconvenient for your travel plans or, if you’re reading this on the other side of the world, more than a bit unlikely! But I will say ‘May your days be merry and bright!’ I hope that you have a very happy Christmas.

Anemone seed-head capped with snow.
The fluffy seed-head of an anemone wears a little cap of snow.

Not True Blue

Clematis Crystal Fountain
Clematis bud opening.

Blue flowers are beautiful but those that are truly blue aren’t common. Those that come to mind first are delphinium, cornflower, salvia, morning glory and plumbago. Many of the flowers that we think of as blue have a hint or more of purple, mauve or lavender in their colouring.

I’ve been sitting comfortably inside while it’s been cold and sleety outside, looking through photos taken in the garden here. Working my way through them has made me aware of how often I choose to grow flowers in the purple-blue and mauve colour range.

Purple-blue clematis flower
Blue and purple blend in the petals of this clematis.

The second photo of a clematis shows a very similar colouring to the first photo. (But you’ll see that the bud in that first photo develops very differently as it matures….) Violet-purples and lavender-blues seem to be very common colours for clematis. That can make it hard to choose between them.

The way the colours in the petals bleed into one another is very delicate. It’s almost like the way watercolours blend into each other and is something that I’m keen to try and capture in a photograph.

Blue and a lilac-y pink penstemon
Blue and a lilac-y pink blend in the flowers of this penstemon.

The purply-blues, lavenders, mauves etc seem to all mix quite easily with other colours but not always with ‘true-blues’. However, the penstemon above seems to have managed this perfectly. Maybe nature can teach gardeners a thing or two about colour combinations. But, I prefer the colours in the flowers below, where the blue is a bit softer and seems to blend more gently with the lavender – perhaps there is a touch of red in the blue.

Left: Brodiaea Right: Iris
Left: Brodiaea           Right: Iris

Going much more to the mauve/pink end of the colour range, there are many flowers that look beautiful and mix with the darker purple-blues very happily.

The hydrangea in the photo below grew in my previous garden in Scotland. The flowers on this shrub shaded from blue through to a mauve-pink. Evidently our soil there was not acid enough to turn the flowers completely blue, but the soft blending of the colours on the petals was lovely. (Here in Suffolk, blue hydrangeas turn pink – no chance of keeping one blue!)

The mauve-purple of the Allium ‘Cristophii’ has a lighter feel to it than the blue-purples but looks good with them. It’s an easy colour to use and the flowers are very attractive, so it’s good to see them self-seed around the garden.

Left: Hydrangea Right: Allium
Left: Hydrangea             Right: Allium

So, while I may not have many real blues in the garden here, I’m very happy that there are so many photogenic flowers in the different purple shades.

At the start, I said you’d see how that clematis bud’s colours developed…. here it is…. Yes, it is the same flower!

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' flower
Clematis flower showing more colour as the flower matures.

 

First Frost

A frosted geranium leaf.
A frosted geranium leaf.

It’s been quite mild here in Suffolk for the last few weeks but during the week we had the first frost of the season. Suddenly it feels like winter, although it was soon wet again.

While there’s a frost it’s great to be able to nip out into the garden and look to see what might be worth photographing.

If it’s sunny, the sparkle on the frost is wonderful but, of course, it means that the frost will soon disappear. That can make it can hard to decide what to photograph first. There’s never time to photograph all of the frosty subjects, no matter how fast you work.

Frost-covered penstemon flowers.
Frost covers these penstemon flowers.

I like to leave seed-heads on the plants in the garden here in the hope that they’ll get frosted. Sometimes there are a few flowers still. Penstemon ‘Garnet’ is especially good at continuing into the winter, although by this time there is only a sprinkling of flowers left.

Frosted heads of Stipa gigantea
Frosted heads of Stipa gigantea

Waiting for the frost to create opportunities for photography is a great reason for not being too tidy in the garden. Anything might look good with a coating of frost – flowers, seed-heads, leaves, grasses. It doesn’t matter if they’re dead or alive, so long as there’s an interesting shape or texture.

Frost is a kind friend to the garden photographer in winter – it makes interesting photographic subjects out of very little. (And you can leave tidying up the garden ’til springtime – well that’s my excuse anyway!)

Frosted fennel heads.
These fennel heads have just lasted long enough to get frosted.