Winter Delight: Hellebores

Hellebores are starting to flower in the garden here. Some are still just small buds, but this one has been in flower for a few weeks. This is one of the Helleborus Gold Collection, HGC ‘Shooting Star’.

I particularly like this hellebore for the way that its flowers are held more upright than most hellebores. It makes it so much easier to see the flowers – and to photograph them too.

(My other hellebores are difficult to see properly in the garden. You really have to take the time to turn the flower head upwards if you want to look at the detail. But that has the advantage of making you get close to the flower and actually touch it, rather than just passing it by. So they’re all good!)

For the moment, this plant is in a pot, which has made it easy to take it indoors to photograph it. But it would probably be happier in a border where it has a bit more space. Later I will plant it out – when I find it a slightly shady spot where it won’t get too hot in summer.

As a winter and early spring flowering plant, hellebores are a great treat in the garden. They start flowering when much of the rest of the planting is either dead foliage or shoots that are not yet ready to emerge. And their beautiful flowers have an exotic look – much bigger and more showy than the other winter flowers. If I get the chance to go shopping in a garden centre while they’re still available, I know I’m going to be very tempted to buy more.

hellebore flowers

The Ordinary Made Special: Frost

It’s the end of January and I hope that these are the last frost photographs I’ll share for a while. Although this winter hasn’t been very cold, I just can’t wait for it to end. I’m ready to see new growth and to welcome the first flowers of spring.

Despite my impatience for the cold weather to be over, I’m grateful for a bit of frost. Without it, there would be very little to photograph here in winter. There would be much less to tempt me outside for a wander around the garden too.

With frost, the garden is transformed from being a soft and soggy mess of dying vegetation into somewhere crisp and rigid. It feels utterly changed, alien even. Plant remains that would normally go unnoticed stand out as the frost makes them into something new.

frosted plants

The smallest of things can suddenly be full of photographic possibilities. Tiny seed-heads, old leaves, the dried stems of decorative grasses – these can become features that demand attention. The frost emphasises the delicate nature of these small things. It can make a plant look like a piece of fragile lace or as if it has been dipped in sugar. And if the sun is shining, the garden can come alive with the sparkle of all those millions of tiny crystals.

So I won’t be ungrateful for the beauty that winter can produce. I’ll try to be patient while I wait for spring to arrive. But I can’t help being excited to see the signs that the spring isn’t far away. Now there are green daffodil buds starting to appear and the first of my hellebores has come into flower. And I’m off out into the garden to photograph them…

frosted hydrangea

Frosted Seed-Heads

After last week’s snow-capped anemone seed-head, today we have seed-heads that are covered in frost. In the middle of winter I’m really glad to find anything to photograph in the garden, so I’m grateful that these are here.

On a frosty morning, these seed-heads create a focal point and some interesting textures in the garden. They become like miniature natural sculptures when their details are picked out by frost crystals. I find that seeing the patterns of frost encourages me to look more closely at the plant’s own structure. That allows me to see possible photographs where I may not have noticed them before.

frosted honesty seed pods
The remains of honesty seed-pods sparkle in the sunshine.

Mind you, sometimes there’s very little left of the seed-heads, as you can see with the honesty above. These are pretty-well wrecked by now but, given a bit of sunshine to make the frost sparkle, still manage to look interesting. Of course, on a dull but mild day, with no frost or sunshine, they don’t look at all pretty at this stage. So it’s amazing what the right weather can do.

Amongst the best of the seed-heads for frost photography are the umbellifers. There are usually quite a lot of self-sown bronze fennel seedlings around the garden and these really sparkle on a frosty morning. I never cut these down until spring, because the seeds can provide food for hungry birds. (As well as starting lots more plants.) The delicate decorations that they become is a delightful winter bonus.

frosted fennel seed head
Fennel seeds look at their best with a thick coating of frost.

Winter Flowers

There’s still a little colour here in winter – just a few brave plants that choose to flower when it’s cold and grey. They brighten up the days and offer something to any bees that are awake and foraging.

It’s a pleasure to be able to wander into the garden to see the latest buds to have opened. Whatever helps to encourage me to go outside at this time of year has to be a good thing. Being rewarded by beauty and colour makes it easier to get started on some gardening.

winter-flowering iris
winter-flowering iris

As I enter the garden I’m pleased to see that a winter-flowering clematis is festooned with small bell-shaped blooms that have a deep red interior. To see the colour of these, you really need it to be growing above your head, so I have planted it to climb into a tall shrub (Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, shown last week). The clematis was planted only last year, so isn’t very big yet. But I’m happy just to see it alive and growing, because it was in a position that meant it could easily have been destroyed when the fence was replaced earlier in the year.

Further along the same border is the winter jasmine. The work of replacing the fence meant that this had to be cut back a lot, but it will recover in time. (It was a terrible straggly mess, all tangled up with a rampant honeysuckle that had started to look very unhealthy.) I had to give several shrubs and climbers a rather drastic pruning so that the fence could be got at. This has made me realise that I need to be more practical in the way that I plant the garden.

Melted frost on winter jasmine flowers.

Not far from the winter jasmine is an area planted with shrubs and a few garden thugs (mainly Japanese anemones and a very vigorous geranium). Hiding amongst these is the pretty lavender-blue Algerian iris. (Iris unguicularis – I can’t spell it without checking the RHS site.) This needs to be moved to somewhere where it can be more easily seen and photographed…my knees and back will be grateful for that! The flowers are delicate and easily damaged by the weather but they are soon replaced by more, so certainly earn their place in the garden.

As I continue towards the back of the garden, my attention is drawn to the mahonia with its great sprays of bright yellow flowers. This shrub is an extremely prickly monster and must be approached with great caution when working around it. It often stabs at me in a very ungrateful manner while I am trying to weed around its base. But I forgive it because it can look spectacular and its big spiky leaves give it a very bold, ‘architectural’ appearance all year round.

I had intended to add some new winter-flowering plants this year, but obviously that hasn’t been possible. (I suspect that many gardeners may be tempted to have quite a spending-spree when we can shop freely for plants again!) For the moment I am content to enjoy what’s already here. This is a quiet time in the garden and staying at home means I have plenty of time to plan future plantings. I hope that means I’ll be all organised for spring and summer…haha! (That would be a first!)

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Merry Christmas!

Somehow I feel that Christmas has sneaked up on me this year. It has arrived stealthily, without the normal fanfare. I don’t feel at all ready for it – which isn’t really a problem because our Christmas is fairly simple. But I haven’t noticed its imminent arrival in the way I usually would.

It’s probably partly due to spending so much time at home and being less aware of all the Christmas items in the shops. Not going out very much also means not seeing the Christmas decorations in the streets as often. And, of course, there have been none of the usual Christmas get-togethers that help to get us into the festive spirit.

Even if I’m a bit later than usual in getting the house decorated for Christmas, the garden could look suitably festive if we get a bit of frost. Nature seems well able to create her own sparkle and drama in the garden as the frost turns the remaining plants into icy sculptures.

Frost makes something special of the simplest things in the garden. The top photo is of fennel leaves. Most of the other fennel plants have died back for winter. This one, however, is a young seedling and has kept its leaves for long enough for the frost to turn them to a delicately etched tracery of tiny ice crystals. To my mind, it’s much prettier than any indoor decoration! The eryngium below (sea holly) had managed to produce some very late flowers and they look quite magical with a thick coating of frost. The sun had reached these, so the frost had started to soften and would soon disappear. Part of the excitement of frost, for me, is that it lasts for such a short time, so you have to make an effort to get out and see it at its best.

I hope that you are able to find some magic in your Christmas this year, despite the effects of Covid. I think that this year has reminded us all of how important our friends and family are to us, and how much we value their company. I hope that it won’t be long before we can plan to see them all again and enjoy being with those we care about. Until then, please take care of yourselves and I wish you fun and joy over the holidays.

Frosted eryngium (sea holly)
Frosted flower head of eryngium (sea holly)

Here Comes Winter!

Winter is on its way. The first signs of its approach have begun to show here. Earlier in the week, there was a light frost. It had already melted by the time I got out into the garden with my camera.

That melted frost allowed me to photograph the gaura above, still covered in dozens of icy little droplets. Somehow these drops seem fresher and clearer than raindrops do. Maybe they are actually cleaner – rain must collect whatever’s in the atmosphere as it falls.

The way that flowers can become translucent after having been frosted fascinates me. It makes the flowers look quite different from the way they normally do. They become especially delicate and rather ethereal. The gaura in the top photo is now so see-through that you can easily see the drops on the backs of the petals right through the petals themselves.

I photographed the flower below a couple of days later, after a much harder frost. The sun takes a few hours to get into this part of the garden in winter, so I have a good chance of finding still-frozen flowers here. By contrast, at this time the other side of the garden was dripping quietly as the brilliant sunshine worked its way in. (I reckon that I should use the shadier areas for more plants that would look good frosted.)

After photographing the frosted gaura, I wandered around the garden to look for more frozen flowers. So that means I have more frosty photos to process for next week. In winter, I’m grateful for the photographic opportunities that frost brings – they help to keep me active until spring!

Frosted gaura flowers

No Return

Sometimes flowers don’t survive here for long. Last year these autumn crocuses were growing in little wall-mounted pots by our front door. Really, they needed to be planted in the ground. However, because they’re very toxic, I decided that it would be best to keep them somewhere out of reach of our cats.

So this year they haven’t come back. Totally unsurprising, given that they had so little space to grow in. But that’s OK – sometimes I’m happy to have a plant that I know will just be temporary. It can be enjoyed at the time (and of course, photographed), and valued for the brief enhancement it brings to the garden.

Most of our plants do come back from year to year. Others are a fleeting glory that remains only in memories and photos. For me, they give a bit of variety to both the garden and my photography.

These autumn crocuses may be gone, but, having given me something new to photograph, their images will remain.

Pause for Thought

A very wet weekend means that I am forced to stay indoors – unless I fancy a thorough soaking. But that’s not bad, because it gives me the chance to think about what I’m doing next in the garden.

I’m still working on building a pond and a new border running along that side of the garden. This has been my ‘Covid project’, although it actually started back towards the end of 2018. (Hubby offered to help this year, but I decided to continue on my own because it has given me a sense of purpose during this strange year.)

It has felt as if digging the pond would go on forever, partly because our dry ground is practically impossible to dig in summer. Also, I have found that the site for the pond has much more of a slope than I first realised. (It’s amazing how invisible a slope can be until you start using a spirit-level.)

I thought I’d finished digging the pond back in May. But the smaller sizes of pond liner were sold out when I tried to buy one, so I decided that I might as well make the pond bigger. More digging! (More soil to shift too.)

At last I’ve got to the point where I need to think carefully about the border around the pond. This area was always pretty awful – overshadowed and impoverished by huge conifers in the neighbouring garden and swamped by the few thuggish plants that could grow there. (The worst ones were two types of deadnettle. They’re valuable for bees but in our soil they just keep spreading…and spreading.)

Which brings me to the flower above – a Japanese Anemone. I’ve mentioned how invasive they can be in previous posts, but they are beautiful. This one was growing in a raised bed in the ‘pond border’ which was acting as a temporary nursery area. I’ve just cleared that bed away and potted up all the plants from it. But now I have to think about where to put them in the new border and whether they may cause trouble.

Since I know the anemone is a little trouble-maker, I’ve decided to keep it in a pot. (Probably many pots eventually…) It’s not the only plant that is making me pause for thought. I’ve just read that some ferns are allelopathic, meaning that they emit chemicals that suppress the growth of other competing plants. So does this mean that the particular ferns I want to plant out will damage the plants around them? I haven’t been able to find out so far. Maybe my ferns will also have to stay in pots.

Other plants are making me wonder too. Like the perennial sunflower I photographed back in August (Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’). After struggling to grow for years, this has suddenly grown tall and wide. Will it now try to take over?

As it rains outside, I’m busily Googling all these plants. I need to find out which are safe to grow together without some being bullied out of existence by their bigger and more boisterous neighbours. Sometimes being a gardener feels more like being a referee!

Brilliant Bougainvillea

Although it’s late autumn, there are still some flowers in our conservatory. We treat it as an ‘indoor garden’ rather than as a sitting room and try to have a few plants in there all year. (We haven’t actually got that many yet – I’m working on it!)

The most eye-catching of the flowers there are those of a young bougainvillea plant. This is just its second year and it has been well covered in flowers. (So has the floor – I seem to be always sweeping them up.) I love the showiness and flamboyance of the bright flowers – really I should say bracts, rather than flowers.

Apart from the glorious colour, these have a nostalgic attraction for me. My parents spent over 20 years in Spain when they retired, and had exactly the same colour of bougainvillea growing by their front door. So this bougainvillea brings back happy memories of spending time in the sun with Mum and Dad.

Seeing bougainvillea in flower in Spain always made me wish I could grow it too. There was a garden centre close to my parents’ apartment and I frequently went there to buy plants for their garden. That was a great excuse for spending ages wandering around looking at all the exciting and (to me) exotic-looking flowers, shrubs and trees. (If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you’ll know that time spent discovering plants makes me happy.)

The bougainvillea flowers will soon be gone from my plant, but I’ll look forward to seeing them again next year and to the sunshine that comes with them too. By then, I hope we’ll all be able to get out and discover the things that make us happy.

Bougainvillea flowers

A Memory of Summer: Clematis ‘Samaritan Jo’

Now that we’re so far into autumn, I have already photographed most of the flowers that are left in the garden. So I’m catching up on a bit of photo-processing from earlier in the year.

The clematis here (‘Samaritan Jo’) was planted late last year, and I had been excitedly waiting to see what the flowers would be like. In early summer, a mixture of single flowers and double flowers appeared, and even one (at bottom) that didn’t seem able to decide which it wanted to be.

A single flower of ‘Samaritan Jo’.

The deep magenta/purple edging to the petals was what initially attracted me to this clematis. The faint magenta lines along the midrib of the petals and the slightly greenish tips add to the beauty of the flower, and make it a delight to photograph.

This clematis was named in honour of the volunteers who work for the Samaritans. (Apparently they are all known as ‘Samaritan Jo’.)

It seems to have settled down quite well in the garden. (I have lost a few clematis by planting them in areas where they got really baked by the summer sun and didn’t have enough moisture in the soil around them.) ‘Jo’ is in a position that doesn’t dry out too much and has a bit of shade to the base of the plant.

Hopefully there will be lots more pretty flowers on this lovely clematis next year. (A happy thought right at the moment, with rain falling here and the wind suddenly sending leaves flying everywhere!)

This one doesn’t know if it wants to be single or double!