Late Winter Colour: Primulas

 

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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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Early Growth

Honeysuckle leaves with water drops.
Melting frost coats these new honeysuckle leaves with drops of water.

It feels as if we aren’t yet having a proper winter here. The last few winters haven’t been as cold as we’d normally expect, but this may be the mildest since I moved here. We have had some cold weather this week and there’s been a bit of snow much further north, but it hasn’t lasted long.

As a result, plants are further on than they should be for this stage of the winter. At this time last year, the daffodils were just showing the tips of their leaves but this year they are in bud already. The yellow crocuses are open (didn’t expect them for another week or so) and many plants are showing signs of new growth. Leaf buds are beginning to open on some of the shrubs here, especially the roses. And the honeysuckle in the photo (taken a couple of weeks ago) has hardly had time for a rest before its new leaves appeared.

But winter certainly isn’t over and we may still have more frosty mornings to come. And we could even have a snowy ‘beast from the east’, like last year. I hope that the plants don’t get far enough ahead to be likely to be damaged if they freeze – they really need to slow down and take it easy for a while! (And it IS winter, so I’d like to slow down and take it easy too…)

Remembered Colour: Lewisia

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Lewisia cotyledon ‘Sunset Strain’

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.

Indoor Photography: Flowers with Studio Flash

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I couldn’t resist these ruffled cyclamen flowers – they make me think of flamenco dancers!

During the winter I’m glad to be able to photograph plants indoors. It feels good to be able to stay warm and dry! And life is much easier when there’s no need to worry about the flower you’re trying to photograph waving around in the wind.

More importantly, taking photos indoors means that there is plenty of light available to me. I have a very small studio space set up in the house, complete with flash lighting, which allows me to be busy taking photographs at any time of day.

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I wanted the light to catch all the little crinkles and curled edges on the petals of the flower.

The photographs here were taken with a very simple setup. The white background is created using a small ‘light table’, which is basically a piece of translucent white plastic which is curved into an ‘L’ shape on a metal support. This gives a base and background that is lit with flash strobes both from behind and from below. These are adjusted to give an evenly lit bright white background to the photo.

The flower itself is lit with a flash fired through a white translucent brolly and a reflector at the side to provide a little bit of light to soften shadows. I like using this particular arrangement because it gives a slightly ‘harder’ light than the softbox that I’ve used for previous photos on this blog. This helps to bring out the shapes within the flower and gives a feeling of depth.

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The shadows help to give a sense of the shape of this cyclamen.

Having the flash pretty much to one side of the flower means that shadows can form in the ripples on the petals. If you look at the photograph below, you can see that there is a slight shine to the area at the centre of the flower, on the left side. This shows where the light is coming from. (More or less at a 45 degree angle, slightly higher than the flower and only just in front of it.)

If there wasn’t a reflector (a silver-coloured disc) at the right side, that side would be in shadow. The reflector is just enough to lighten heavy shadows without removing the shadows entirely, so you’re able to see the flowing shapes of the petals.

Digital photography has made using studio lighting far easier than it was with film cameras. (For years I used film, and I tended to stick with safe setups that I new would work.) Experimenting is easy when you can see the results straight away and you can soon find what happens when you move the lights around.

So when the weather’s turned miserable, I’m quite happy to be indoors, so long as I can find something to photograph…

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The petals seem to swirl around this little flower, almost as if they’re floating.

 

Frost-Magic

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A geranium leaf is lit up as the sun starts to creep over the garden fence.

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.

Frozen Flowers

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Frost made this echinacea flower an inviting subject to photograph.

On Monday we had the first frost of the year. Up until then, the weather had been mild and wet, so it felt as if it had come suddenly. There were still a few flowers in the garden, lasting much later than you might expect. And, of course, they were caught by the frost.

As you may imagine, this meant that I had a busy morning padding about the frozen garden with camera in hand.

Now that the plants are beginning to die back for winter, there’s not much left to photograph, so the intricate effects of frost give an opportunity that’s too good to miss. I took as many photographs as I could before the sun melted it all away. (And there will be more in later posts…)

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A passionflower bud, caught by the frost.

The echinacea flower (PowWow White) was frozen through, and this has enhanced the green tinge to the ends of the petals. The emerging flowers start off pale green, with a vivid green cone, gradually maturing to a white flower with a golden-yellow cone.

This colour-change makes for more photographic potential. The plant is a new addition to the garden and I’m looking forward to following its progress with my camera during the next year.

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Frosted penstemon ‘Raven’ – hope it can cope with the cold!

The passionflower is ‘Constance Elliot’, which I wrote about here. It was planted just last year and has flowered well during the late summer. The bud seems to have escaped any serious damage from the frost and the plant’s leaves are still firm and healthy-looking, so I reckon it hasn’t come to any harm. Even so, as it gets colder, I’ll protect the base of the plant with either mulch or frost-fleece.

If the winter gets really cold, I may also put fleece around the penstemons. I’ve lost a few of these in cold winters, but some varieties have gone on for years – especially ‘Garnet’, which seems to be hardier than most. (Pictured is ‘Raven’, which came through last year’s fairly mild winter easily. I hope it turns out to be thoroughly hardy too.)

The rose below is a tough old girl who doesn’t let anything bother her…’Zephirine Drouhin’, a rose that is both delightfully scented and thornless. This is probably my favourite plant in the whole garden. I’m glad that she doesn’t mind the frost!

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Rose ‘Zepherine Drouhin’, covered in frost now, but her flowers will perfume the air again next summer.

Armchair Gardening: Planning a New Border

Sidalcea 'Party Girl'
Sidalcea ‘Party Girl’ has small flowers which look very like wild mallow.

The weather in the past week has been rainy, so not much good for gardening. But it has been ideal for a bit of ‘armchair gardening’. I’ve been thinking about the planting for a new area and imagining which plants might look good there.

Elsewhere in the garden there are a lot of deep or bright colours. I’d like to keep this new patch a bit softer and fairly informal. (Having lighter colours towards the back of the garden can give an effect of receding distance, making the garden look slightly bigger.)

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This white rose has just the softest blush of pink.

Recently, I bought a white-flowered hibiscus, called ‘Red Heart’ because it has a bold red marking at the centre of its flowers. This was originally meant to go in the border alongside the new pond but, as I’ve been planting that area up, I’ve realised that there won’t be space for it.

Instead, I’m going to dig out a new border behind our main sitting-out area. (This is a tiny paved space with a wrought-iron arbour which is smothered by a grape vine at one end, and a more open seating place at the other.)

Left: Astrantia 'Florence' Right: Erigeron karvinskianus
Left: Astrantia ‘Florence’ Right: Erigeron karvinskianus

Because it’s an area for sitting around and taking it easy, I’d like to keep the planting looking relaxed and soothing. Somewhere that will help you to let all the stresses of the day ebb away. Whites, to pick up on the white hibiscus, and pale pinks are the most likely choices at the moment.

We already have a white-barked birch tree nearby, and I’m planning to move some pale pink Japanese anemones to another border behind the new area. (The anemones are beautiful thugs, so they’re getting a border of their own where they can run riot.)

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This acanthus has delicately marked veins, but it looks rather spiky.

Sidalcea, astrantia and erigeron (Mexican fleabane) grow in the garden here, so it should be easy to introduce them to the new area too. And we have lots of dark red scabious – a few of those would help to emphasise the similarly-coloured red markings on the hibiscus.

Among the plants waiting to be found homes in the garden here are several white and pink rock roses (Cistus) and they would be likely to enjoy the sun in this border. So the planned area is beginning to look very pink and white, especially if I also add a pale rose like the one in the photo. (Don’t know its name.)

And maybe there should be some acanthus too – it has similar vein-markings to the astrantia and the ‘architectural’ form of the plant would be very striking. But that spiky look might not be so relaxing to look at! (Acanthus is a plant you need to be very sure about wanting, because it’s very hard to get rid of and can grow from little pieces of left-over root.)

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The sunny little daisies of Anthemis ‘EC Buxton’

The plan for this new area may be getting a little too pink, so some other pale colours could be added. I love the happy little daisies of the anthemis above. They’re like a sprawling splash of sunshine in the border and have a very informal look. Nigella also has that relaxed feel about it and would be delightful to see close-up. (The area behind the seating is a little higher, with a low retaining-wall because our garden is on a slight slope.)

Fantasy-gardening and planning new planting is a very pleasant way to spend wet days. But maybe the best thing about it is that it gets the enthusiasm going for starting the work. The rain is over for now and the forecast for the next week is mostly dry, so it looks like I have some digging to do…

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Nigella is an easy filler in a border.

Late Colour: Early November

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The flowers of Gaura lindheimeri sway in the breeze like little white butterflies.

November has brought chilly winds and the threat of frost. It’s not quite winter yet but the garden flowers are disappearing fast. Soon the main colour will be the yellow of the autumn leaves.

But for a few days yet, there is a little bit of colour here and there. Just enough to enjoy while I finish planting the spring bulbs.

Some plants have flowered for a surprisingly long period. The gaura (above) has been in flower for months, as has the pink-flowered salvia below.

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Salvia and fuchsia flowers brighten the garden until the end of autumn.

The deep purple penstemon ‘Raven’ is another plant that has fully earned its place in the garden by flowering for a long time. A weeping crab apple called ‘Royal Beauty’ grows nearby, and the rich red of its tiny fruits picks up on the slight touch of red at the mouth of the penstemon flowers.

The fuchsia is one of several plants that are in pots at the front of our house. I think this one is ‘Army Nurse’, but I can’t be sure because we have several that are very similar to each other. It’s one of the hardy fuchsias and I’m planning to plant it (and some others) out in a border in the back garden. They’ll be visible from the house and give a splash of glowing colour right through the autumn.

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Left: Malus ‘Royal Beauty’ (crab apple)    Right: Penstemon ‘Raven’

My last flower is the autumn crocus. The bulbs are growing in small clay pots sitting in a wrought-iron holder on the wall. (This keeps them well out of the way of my cats – autumn crocuses are very toxic plants so I didn’t want to take any risks with them.) These flowers should have been over by now but I planted them late, so here they are at last!

Now I must remember that I still have to finish planting some spring bulbs…then I’ll be hoping to find something more to photograph. Maybe some of the late colour will hang around for long enough to get frosted. Not very kind to the plant but makes a great picture!

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Crocus speciosus (autumn crocus) opening in the sun.

Japanese Anemones: A Dilemma

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‘Honorine Jobert’ has a slight pink blush on the reverse of the petals.

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.

Tropical Beauty: Rio Dipladenia

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A touch of the exotic for my conservatory.

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!