Hints of Autumn

Recently I posted photographs of wild carrot (Daucus carota) flowers and seed-heads. A little while later they developed further and started changing to more autumnal colours. (You can see my earlier post here: https://annmackay.blog/2021/09/19/going-to-seed-wild-carrot/ )

The seeds had already begun to turn red when I took my first set of photos, but as time passed, the whole plant began to take on red tints. It has been one of the first plants to show the change to autumn reds here. (Actually, we don’t have many in the garden that do – most of our plants, shrubs and trees develop yellow tones in autumn.)

In the top photograph, you can see that the little sub-bracts (bracteoles) behind the seeds have now become mostly red, with touches of a brownish orange. The stems and lower leaves also turned red. That’s something I hadn’t noticed in the previous couple of years that I’ve grown wild carrot. Maybe it’s because it has been colder at night than usual. It was evidently enough to encourage the bracts and leaves to turn a brilliant colour, rather than just yellowing before they died.

The leaf below just happened to be lit so that the late-afternoon sun was shining through parts of it, making it glow and stand out against the dark background. It gave me an opportunity for a photograph that I hadn’t expected. It seems that my garden is always able to surprise me!

red daucus leaf
Wild carrot leaf with autumn colouring.

Warm Memories

We’ve had some lovely sunny and summery days here in September. There was even the chance to spend a day with friends out on a boat on the Norfolk Broads and another at a beach. After the caution of staying close to home for so long, these outings felt very good.

Now however, the weather has changed and summer is behind us. I can’t say I’m ready to welcome autumn yet, because our summer has been an odd one, with many more cold and grey days than you might expect. So I’m looking back at some images from past summers that might just bring a bit of warmth with them.

Helenium autumnale ‘Ranchera’ (Mariachi series)

The tithonia in the top picture (Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’) was photographed a couple of years ago, after a friend gave me some plants. They made a glorious display – the plants became tall and covered in the dazzling orange flowers and the bees loved them. It’s a plant I will certainly grow again.

The Ipomoea lobata (‘Spanish Flag’) shown below was given to me by the same friend and made a great companion for the tithonia. (I grew it up tripods of canes nearby.) I think I like the leaves of this plant just as much as the flowers – both are very striking shapes.

Left: Ipomoea lobata. Right: zinnia detail.

The red zinnia was from a batch I grew from a seed-packet of mixed colours. The results were a delightful range of pinks and oranges, with just a couple of red-flowered plants. I had a great time photographing these and wished I’d had time to grow them again this year. (Next year, maybe!)

Most of the photographs here were taken in previous years, except for the heleniums (second photo from top). It’s the second summer for this perennial but it has struggled a bit because it’s planted on a slight slope and the ground is a bit on the dry side for it. I’ll probably move it soon and give it a position that suits it better. It’s worth that bit of extra care just to see those delightfully twirly petals every year.

Below is the one photograph that wasn’t taken in my own garden. I’d love to be able to grow gorgeous dahlias like this one, but I know that the soil here needs a fair bit of improvement first. (And I’m glad to say that our main compost heap is at last able to be used for this. I never would have though creating compost would make me so happy!)

I hope these warm-toned flowers have brought back memories of summer warmth if you’re heading into autumn. And there should soon be some autumn reds around to make us smile.

An orange and yellow dahlia flower.

Common Carder Bee: Bee I.D.

In the last few years, I’ve become fascinated by the bees and other insects that visit my garden. Sometimes I like to just sit and watch as they go about their business among the flowers. It feels very relaxing and deeply peaceful.

There are several different species of bee that use the garden. Honeybees come here frequently. There’s usually a good number of buff-tailed bumblebees too, and just occasionally, a red-tailed bumblebee. And there’s the bumblebee pictured above – the common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum).

Common carder bee
Common carder bee on Caryopteris x clandonensis

I’d noticed these bees back in spring, visiting the white deadnettle and other early flowers. They moved about too much for me to get a really good look at them, or a clear photograph that showed their markings. Recently, I saw a couple of them enjoying the freshly-opened flowers of a sedum on a sunny afternoon. It made a good opportunity to photograph them.

Having photographs of the bees made it easier to identify them by comparing them to images on websites about bees. Even then, it can be very hard to be sure about identification, because many bees look very similar.

Honeybee on Sedum
For comparison: honeybee on sedum

To make it easier to see the differences between the commonest bees in my garden, I’ve posted a couple of comparison photos. Above is the honeybee. (The western or European honeybee, Apis mellifera.)

You can see that the honeybee’s colouration is quite like that of the common carder bee. But the carder is much hairier and a stronger ginger colour. (The common carder is also a bit bigger than the honeybee.)

If you look at the tails of the two bees, you’ll notice that the tail of the common carder has hairy stripes in black and white. While the honeybee also has a stripey look to its tail, they are quite different. Here the black areas of the tail look smooth and slightly shiny, with just very short and sparse pale-coloured hairs.

Bumblebee on a blue scabious flower.
For comparison (2): Buff-tailed bumblebee (I think!)

The other comparison (above) is the very common buff-tailed bumblebee. (Which can be distinguished from the white-tailed bumblebee by that very narrow orangey stripe at the top of its tail.) It looks quite different from the common carder bee, having a mostly black thorax with an orangey-yellow stripe just below the head, and another on the abdomen, just below the waist. (Mostly hidden here by the wings.)

One of my reasons for wanting to know which bees use my garden is so that I can try to make sure I have a range of flowers to suit them.

The common carder bees have been busy at the caryopteris flowers, even though the shrub has almost finished flowering for the year. Like a lot of other bees, they’re keen on the flowers of sedums at the moment, as well as the last of the catnip flowers. (When there’s not a cat sleeping in it!)

Now I must go and read up on what other flowers they like and what sorts of habitats suit them. I’m hoping for lots more of them next year!

Common Carder Bee
Common Carder Bee – it has a hairy face!

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