Small but Beautiful

The flowers in the garden are getting fewer as autumn progresses. Finding something to photograph is more difficult now, but there are a few flowers left and some are still looking good.

Amongst these is this very long-flowering Scabious atropurpurea. It’s a lovely little thing, but you do need to look at it closely to see the detail. I’ve also had to use plenty of light because the flowers are very dark. Here it’s a tricky balance between being able to see anything in the centre of the flowers and keeping the colour as true to life as possible.

And talking about the true colour – this is one of the supposedly ‘black’ flowered scabious varieties. (I’m not sure which. I’ve had both ‘Ace of Spades’ and ‘Chile Black’ and they look very similar to me.) As you can see, the flowers really aren’t black at all, but a very deep burgundy red, as are many other flowers that have black in their name. (Like Black Parrot tulips, photographed here: https://annmackay.blog/2020/05/03/tulips-flamboyant-and-fun/ )

I love having the deep, dark purplish-reds of these flowers in the garden. They look dramatic as they sway on their tall, delicate stems and can take the overly sweet edge off a bed that has a lot of softer pinks. Because they also self-seed freely around our garden, they help to give a more cohesive look to the borders.

(A problem of growing flowers to photograph is that it’s easy to end up with lots of ‘one-offs’ that give a very bitty effect. Repetition helps to hold the garden together. It’s good to have plants that are easy to propagate and can be sprinkled through the borders or grown in massed groups. )

Like other scabious flowers, these are great for bees and other pollinators. That gives me another reason for growing them and makes me want try other varieties of scabious too. (I do already have a small blue scabious – no idea of the name – and the related Knautia macedonica which is an absolute magnet for bees and hoverflies.)

It’s great that these flowers are happy to sow themselves everywhere because they are short-lived as perennials. (They’re often treated as annuals.) These have been in flower for a very long time and look set to flower for a few weeks yet. I do dead-head them but always leave the last seed heads, so there are usually lots of new seedlings the next year.

Hopefully I’ll never be without a few of these pretty little flowers around the garden – it will make the bees happy too!

Scabiosa atropurpurea flowers (scabious 'Chile Black')

A Daisy by Any Other Name

This week my garden is full of Michaelmas daisies. I would call them asters – but that isn’t necessarily true. Actually, I do still call them asters, even though some had their name changed a few years ago.

My preference for the old name is because the new name for some asters is such an awkward mouthful. ‘Symphyotrichum’ isn’t exactly easy to say and is even harder to spell. (If I’ve got it wrong, I can blame the RHS website, which is my usual go-to for spelling plant names.)

Bee on Michaelmas daisy
A happy honeybee enjoying these Michaelmas daisies.

And if that’s not bad enough, many other popular asters were given a different name – ‘Eurybia’. Well, at least that one is much easier to spell, but it makes life more complicated for gardeners. But then there’s also ‘Galatella’, ‘Doellingeria’ and others – argh!

In fact, I have no idea of the names of all but one of the Michaelmas daisies here. I know that the flower below is Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Les Moutiers’ because I bought it from a nursery. But the small blue daisy above and the dark pink one at the bottom were both given by friends and their names are a mystery to me for now.

(I think the top photo – taken in a garden I visited last year – is probably Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’. It’s a plant I’ve been meaning to buy for a while, but it will have to wait until it’s easier to go plant-shopping.)

Honeybee on pink Michaelmas daisies
Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Les Moutiers’ – just try remembering that at the garden centre!

Whatever their names might be, I love seeing the colours of these daisies at a time when we’ve been plunged into dull weather with grey skies and lots of rain. They cheer me up and remind me that there’s a while yet before winter approaches.

More importantly, the bees are busily (and buzzily!) making the most of the nectar and pollen provided by these flowers. Having flowers for bees and other pollinators as late as possible in the year is one of my aims for the garden. The asters are a big help with this.

Whenever I do get the chance to buy plants again, I’ll just have to make sure that I’ve written down the names of any Michaelmas daisies that I want. (And then I’ll have to check it carefully, because most of my books and quite a few websites are out of date.) That way I’ll have a better chance of remembering the names of the plants I want!

Dark pink Michaelmas daisy flowers
Aster? Symphyotrichum? Or Eurybia?

Rainy Day in the Studio

It’s very wet and windy here and has been for a few days. So no chance of close-up photography in the garden. (Although, if I feel up to getting rather wet, I may go out in search of drip-covered spider’s webs later.)

For now, I have opted to stay warm and dry indoors. But what to photograph? Luckily, I don’t even need to go outside to pick some flowers. That’s because I tend to gather up odd bits of dried plant material and other natural bits and pieces that catch my interest, like these dried bougainvillea bracts.

I am fascinated by the structure of plants. There is such a variety of shapes and of ways that the parts of the plant are constructed. Looking at them from close-up allows you to see all the little details – sometimes much more than you would have expected from a passing glance.

Photographing these bougainvillea heads under studio lights gives the lace-like veins of the bracts a clarity and crispness. The strong light enhances the translucent bracts and also helps them to stand out against their plain white background.

These are very simple photographs to take but the results please me. It shows how worthwhile it is to gather up things like these – nature’s tiny creations – and to take a close look at them. Next, I really ought to go and photograph the flowers that are still on the bougainvillea plant. Luckily, that’s in the nice dry conservatory!

Dried bracts of bouganvillea flower

Flowering at Last: Cosmos

This year I decided to grow cosmos ‘Seashells’ (above), but it has taken a long time to come into flower. For a while, I didn’t think there would be any flowers at all. Now, however, the first few flowers have opened and there are plenty more buds for flowers to come.

I was worried that I had sown the seeds too late. (Sometimes there are just too many things wanting to be done at the same time in spring.) Even so, I hoped for a late show of flowers from them and they haven’t let me down.

I belong to a gardeners’ group on Facebook, and some of the members had been discussing the lateness in flowering of their cosmos plants. One of the group came up with the information that it’s simply because the plant is sensitive to day-length and needs a short day (long night) to be able to produce flowers.

That’s something that I would never have thought of before. Living in the UK, I tend to assume that flowers will want the longer days of summer. (I imagine that people who live in areas where cosmos are native or naturalised will be much more aware of the effect of the day-length.)

Apparently there are new varieties which don’t need the short days and can flower earlier in the summer. So next year I can either buy these seeds, or relax, take my time, and sow the older varieties a bit later. Or maybe try both – you can never have too many pretty flowers!

Dark pink cosmos flower
A dark pink cosmos photographed in a garden I visited last year.

Pure Elegance

The white flowers of passionflower ‘Constance Elliot’ have been gradually appearing over recent weeks. There are never many at a time, but the sprinkling of delicate blooms feels like something very special to me.

This climber has only been in the garden for a couple of years, so it will no doubt spread and have a greater number of flowers in time. That’s if it can come through the cold of the winter!

There’s something about growing plants that are not really hardy or are only borderline hardy in your area that makes it all the more exciting and satisfying when they survive and flower.

Having lived most of my life in Scotland, it was a surprise to find that we could grow such things as passionflowers and grapevines here in Suffolk – and a tempting novelty! (Of course, there are things we could grow in Scotland that won’t grow here – rhododendrons particularly.)

Right now I’m trying to work faster in the garden to get as much as I can done before the weather turns wet and windy and winter arrives. Autumn can be a busy time, with plants to be split and moved, but this year there is plenty more to do on the new pond border. I’ll probably find myself working outside through the better weather of winter too – there’s so much to do! But for the moment, I must remember to take the time to enjoy the beautiful flowers that appear so briefly in the garden, especially these passionflowers.

Hot Spot: Echinaceas

There’s a small patch of border that’s become quite a hot-spot this year. Red, orange and magenta-pink echinaceas (coneflowers), red geums, dark red scabious and the deep reddish-purple leaves of a heuchera are the start of a new planting scheme that radiates warmth.

There hasn’t been much red or orange in the garden before. Most of the other areas are planted with softer colours. These include lots of pink and mauve flowers, with plenty of lavender-blues added into the mix.

I find that these gentle pinkish shades can be difficult to use near red or orange – they can end up looking washed-out and feeble. On the other hand, a bright magenta – like rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) – works just fine and adds its own intense colour to the fieriness of the new border.

It feels good to now have an area specifically for hot colours. Last year I had some tithonia (Mexican sunflowers) in that space, and I found that I really enjoyed the intense colour. The tithonia is annual, so this year I’ve planted perennials instead.

(Although I grow a few annuals, at the moment I’m trying to concentrate on perennials so that I don’t have too much re-planting to do every year.)

The only problem with echinaceas is that they are short-lived perennials. I’ve read that the older pink varieties appear to go on from year to year because they self-seed and their offspring continue the display after the original plants have died. (It was something of a relief to discover this, because I was worried that I couldn’t keep the plants alive for long – some years they just seemed to disappear for no apparent reason.)

Some of the new echinaceas are said not to come true from seed and may die out after a few years. If that’s the case with those that I’ve planted here, then, because the colours are so gorgeous, I won’t mind buying more. (I’d like to plant yellow echinaceas too – they would be a good alternative to rudbekias because they’re much more tolerant of drought.)

In contrast to these brightly-coloured daisies, I also have an echinacea which has white flowers with centres that start off green and turn yellow. (If I remember correctly, it’s ‘Powwow White’.) It has a very different look to the hot-coloured flowers and suits a softer, more relaxing colour scheme. I photographed this particular flower when it froze last winter – you can see it here: https://annmackay.blog/2019/11/24/frozen-flowers/

Pink and orange echinacea flowers.
Echinacea flowers in a mix of orange and magenta-pink.

Crumpled Silk: Oriental Poppies

Somehow it feels as if the summer is moving fast. It’s all the fault of the flowers in my garden. (Well, just some of them!)

One day the opening flowers of a plant are teasing you with a flash of colour as they strain to pop out of the confinement of their buds. And just a few days later they’re already gone, leaving you with just a passing memory.

Oriental poppies are amongst the fastest-moving. From that first hint of the glorious petals as the flower emerges, to the rounded seed-head, takes hardly any time.

But the crumpled silk flowers with their dark and mysterious centres are so gorgeous that their short life is something special for me. Nothing in my garden can match the flamboyance or drama of these prima donna blooms and every year I excitedly await the moment that they will open.

The poppy in the top photograph is ‘Patty’s Plum’, a very popular cultivar. The second photograph is of a poppy that was labelled ‘Lilac Girl’, but is really a pretty pink rather than lilac. I tried Googling this plant, but could find little information on it, other than that it may be a seedling of Patty’s Plum. In any case, it’s a lovely flower, and I shall look forward to seeing it again next year.

Papaver orientale 'Lilac Girl'
Papaver orientale, said to be ‘Lilac Girl’

Early Summer Clematis

The clematis above (Guernsey Cream) was planted just last year. I had forgotten that it flowered early in the year, so it was a happy surprise to see lots of buds already beginning to open last month. I’m hoping that it will flower again in late August too.

The petals of this clematis have a green bar down the centre that is more strongly coloured if the plant has shade. In this particular flower, the bar marking wasn’t very pronounced. Instead, there was more of an overall green tinge which faded to cream as the flower aged.

Like many other pale-coloured clematis, strong sun makes the flower colour fade. So if you want to preserve the colour of a delicately-hued clematis, plant it somewhere that gives it some shade.

Clematis ‘Multi-Blue’

Unfortunately, Clematis ‘Multi-Blue’ has struggled this year. I planted it in an unsuitable position in the hottest part of the garden. Even with a bit of shading at its roots, the plant gets baked by the sun all day. When it’s windy, as it has been recently, it gets even more dried out. Lesson learned! I shall take a bit more care with future plantings.

‘Ernest Markham’ (below) is doing much better. Apparently this one can grow to 4 metres high, so it may take over in the shrub border behind it…I won’t mind if it does.

After weeks of drought and high temperatures, we’ve had a few days of wonderful, life-giving rain. It’s such a relief! And all the plants, including the clematis, are doing much better for it. The moist soil makes it possible to dig in the garden again and I’ll make sure to create some good planting-places for future clematis purchases. There are sure to be some!

Clematis ‘Ernest Markham’

Allium Christophii: Star of Persia

We’ve just had our first little bit of rain in weeks. The garden has been desperately dry, with small cracks appearing in the ground in the worst areas. So this rain is a huge relief!

At the same time, we’ve had the sunniest May here since records began in 1929. Wonderful for sitting out in and giving us lots of flowers everywhere, but making it even harder to keep up with watering.

Many plants have suffered in the heat, but a few have coped well. One of the best has been Allium christophii, which seems quite unbothered by drought. As long as it gets lots of sunshine and has well-drained soil, it’s happy.

The allium leaves become yellowed and dead-looking by the time the flowers open. These can to be hidden by planting the bulbs with something that they can grow up through.

When the allium flowers are over, there are the lovely dry seed heads to give an interesting display for the rest of the summer. You may find seedlings if you leave the heads – or you can just cut the heads and bring them indoors to display. (Allium christophii will also multiply by bulb offsets.)

One big bonus of growing alliums is that they’re highly attractive to bees. I’m trying to increase the number of good plants for pollinators and other insects in my garden, so these really earn their place.

These alliums are well settled in my garden. I have two areas where there are spreading clumps of them and it’s a delight to see the flowers increasing every year. They’re so pretty that I won’t mind if they get a bit invasive. That just means that there will be more for me to photograph!

Ranunculus: Jewel Colours

These ranunculus plants were the last plants I bought before the Covid-19 lockdown. It’s strange to think how different life was then.

The supermarket where I bought them was full of people rushing in and out on a busy weekend. Families and elderly people all going about normal life. While choosing my plants, I chatted happily with another lady who was a keen gardener…changed days!

Nurseries and garden centres have just started to open up again here but some had already begun selling over the internet and delivering locally. We were pleased to be able to buy from a tiny local nursery that we use every year. (Hubby plants annuals into tubs and baskets for the front of the house every year. I’m more into perennials.) It was a relief to know that the nursery would be able to survive.

As it has turned out, the extra time that folk now have to work in their gardens seems to have made many of these small businesses busier.

Ranunculus-red-4967
Ranunculus (red) aka Persian Buttercup

While garden centres and nurseries may cope with the effects of the pandemic, it’s a disastrous year for garden events and openings. Some however, have tried to offer an online alternative.

The Chelsea Flower Show is the biggest of these online events. For the week, the RHS had a programme of short talks by growers and designers plus a few visits to gardens that we might not normally see. It’s been interesting, but nothing like watching Chelsea on the TV as we normally do.

The BBC has managed to make some interesting programmes using footage of previous Chelsea shows alongside interviews with designers, growers and presenters all in their own gardens and nurseries. I enjoyed this much more than the RHS event – it gave more space to talk about garden design and the developments going on within gardening.

(If you’re in the UK, you should be able to watch the BBC programmes on the iPlayer. But if you’re elsewhere, you may find some of the programmes on Youtube.)

Ranunculus-5011