Tulips: Flamboyant and Fun

Tulips are flowers to make you smile. They come in all sorts of rich colours and extraordinary shapes, like the parrot tulip above. And they just call out to me to photograph them.

The tulip in the top photograph is ‘Black Parrot’, but, as you can see, it’s not really black at all. It’s more of a deep maroon shade – like a very dark wine.  Here, newly picked and under the powerful studio lights, the reddish tones stand out. But the colour looks more purplish in the less intense light of my kitchen, especially as the flower ages.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this tulip flower will develop as it opens out fully. New shapes will be created by the unfurling petals, giving the opportunity to take a variety of different photographs.

The tulip below is very different to the first one. It’s a viridiflora – named for the green markings on the petals. The vibrant colours and sheen of the petals make me think of  silk. The twisting shapes of the petals even suggest that the fabric is swaying in a breeze.

This year I’ve had several different tulips in the garden and they have done well in our warm spring weather. (There are more that are just starting to open.)

I haven’t grown many before, but now I feel encouraged to make a point of trying some new tulips every year. Then we’ll have the enjoyment of them in the borders and I’ll have plenty of lovely subjects to photograph.

Now I’m just waiting for the ‘Blue Parrot’ tulips to open – exciting!

Viridiflora tulip 'Doll's Minuet'
The petals of a viridiflora tulip look like a rich, silky fabric.

Blossom Time

Our lives may have been put on hold by Covid-19, but spring is speeding along as usual.

It seems that we wait for weeks in late winter for any sign of spring’s arrival. And then, when it gets here, it almost bowls us over with the energy and headlong change as everything in the garden rushes into growth and new life.

Spring feels wonderful but is hard to keep up with. So many jobs to do – plants, seeds, weeds – where to start? And with so many plants flowering at once, I always miss photographing some of them.

But the special flowers, like the cherry and crab apple blossom here, are worth making a special effort for. The wind had begun tearing at the delicate flowers, so I quickly cut a couple of sprays to photograph indoors. This makes it much easier to capture their details in close-up photographs, with no worries about them being blown around by the wind.

Being able to spend some time photographing these flowers was a special joy. It was a chance to appreciate their soft and transient beauty without other distractions intruding. And it was a bit of attention that the flowers thoroughly deserved. I hope you have time and the opportunity to enjoy some flowers this week.

Crab apple blossom
Delicate spring blossoms

A Flash of Colour: Pasqueflowers

Over the past week or so, I’ve been enjoying the brilliantly-coloured flowers of Pulsatilla vulgaris (commonly known as pasqueflower) in my garden. Their rich violet-purple petals and golden stamens are a sight that has lifted my spirits.

You can see these flowers at their best on a sunny day, when they open fully, inviting bees to come and pollinate them. Soon there will be the fluffy white seed heads which glisten in the sun as their silky hairs catch the light. (You can see the seed head at the top of this post.)

Pulsatilla vulgaris (purple pasque flower)
I find the fluffy stems and leaves of the pasqueflower very appealing.

It feels like no time at all since the flowers started to appear but it won’t be long before they go over. This feeling is partly because I’m distracted by the spring work in the garden and sometimes get too engrossed in whatever is keeping me busy.

A nearby clump of white pasqueflowers has already finished flowering. (I removed the seed heads from this one as it’s still a young plant and I didn’t want it to put its energy into producing seeds yet.) The difference in timing intrigues me – why did the white one flower a couple of weeks earlier than the purple one? It can’t be a difference in conditions because they are only a foot apart and get the same amount of sun.

The spring flowers seem to rush into bloom very quickly and disappear quickly too. Maybe it’s the comparison with the slower changes of winter that makes this seem to be the case. It’s a good time to pause and have a good look around to see what’s in bloom and to take a few moments to appreciate the brilliance and exuberance of our spring flowers.

Pulsatilla vulgaris (purple pasque flower)
Spring flowers bring glorious colour to the garden.

Stay Home Spring: Virtual Garden Tours

Normally I try to have something different to photograph every week, so that there’s plenty of variety in the images for this blog. But I think that’s going to be a bit difficult for a while. When there isn’t much to photograph in the garden I may buy a new plant or go on a garden visit – neither of which is possible at the moment.

However, although I cannot leave home to go visiting gardens for now, I can at least enjoy them through videos on the web. It seems a good time for me to share a quick fantasy tour of several gardens. I hope they will provide a little ‘escape’ if you’re stuck indoors.

I’ve enjoyed visiting  Kew Gardens, but a day spent there can be quite tiring it you want to see absolutely everything. Their short video tour lets you see the highlights of the gardens the easy way! It includes my favourites – the Treetop Walkway (an amazing experience) and the gorgeous waterlilies in their own special glasshouse. You can find more videos from Kew at their YouTube page and I’d suggest the ‘Wakehurst in Bloom‘ video as a lovely glimpse of spring in one of their subsidiary gardens.

For many years I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh on a very frequent basis. (I lived a little over 10 miles away.) So I’m pleased to be able to see spring there again and even visit their other regional gardens from the comfort of my own home.

From another botanical garden are the New York Botanical Garden’s videos. It was a treat to be able to see their fabulous orchid exhibition, which is too far away for me to be able to visit in ‘real life’. (Look out for the superbly elegant Darwin Star Orchid and the ‘predicted moth’.)

Most years I visit open garden events in the areas nearby. Sometimes the gardens are unusual or quirky and many surround interesting historic buildings. Of course, these have all been cancelled this year. I’ve been looking for videos instead and was happy to be able to explore gardens a bit further afield than usual when I found this video of gardens on the Isle of Man.  Watching the video felt just like many of the open garden days that I’ve been to.

Gardens that I would normally be planning to visit at this time of year include Beth Chatto’s beautiful garden, which I’ve written about in a past post. This is one of my favourite gardens to visit, so I’ll miss it, but the video does convey what a spring visit there feels like. (I preferred to watch it with the sound music turned off though!)

I hope that you enjoy a little look around these gardens while you’re staying home. Stay safe!

Oranges and Lemons: Daffodils

Rich oranges and lemon-yellows make these daffodils a brilliant and delightful welcome to spring. The flowers in these photographs are growing on a wide, grassy bank in front of the houses here and they’re a sight I look forward to every year. (And a lovely greeting to everyone who passes by on their way into the town.)

A mass of brightly-coloured daffodils.

This year I think we all need as much optimism and good cheer as we can find while our minds are full of worries about the coronavirus. I’ve certainly felt lucky over the past few days to be able to escape into the garden and enjoy the peace and calm of being surrounded by the plants I’m working with.

The emerging flowers, new spring growth, and the increasing warmth of the sun are a comfort and allow some respite from the serious side of life. A small thing, maybe, but anything that increases our well-being right now must be good.

The daffodils seem to be bringing their own little bit of sunshine and exuberance to help lift our spirits – right when we need it.

Close-up of a yellow and orange daffodil.

A Flower for Easter.

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!

Gleaming White

Last week I mentioned my friend Judy’s beautiful garden and that I’d been able to spend a morning taking photographs in it. While I was there, I noticed that there were a good number of white flowers sprinkled around the garden and I really liked the effect they created.

There’s something very fresh and delicate about the appearance of white flowers. If they were pure white, they could seem a little harsh. But many have yellow stamens or perhaps a touch of another colour on their petals, and this softens the effect greatly. Seen growing in great numbers, perhaps spreading their way amongst other flowers, the look they create can be  quite dreamy or fairytale.

White flowers of Anemone blanda.
Anemone blanda soon builds up to a healthy colony if it’s in the right spot.

In combination with the blues and yellows of other spring flowers, white is truly beautiful. It brings a lively sparkle and gleam to the garden and chases away the memory of winter greys.

The most enchantingly impressive sight in Judy’s garden that morning was a Clematis armandii which had become a great mass of flowers along a section of fence. Not only are the flowers beautiful to look at – they’re scented too. That’s a pretty good bonus!

White flowers of Clematis armandi.
Clematis armandii flowers practically sparkle in the spring sunshine!

I enjoyed the effect of these white flowers so much that I’m thinking about ways of bringing a bit more white into my own garden. A background of green foliage makes white flowers look especially fresh and lively, so that is something I’d like to try.

There are a few white flowers in my garden. The best are Gaura lindheimeri, which has flowers that look like a flock of tiny white butterflies, and the white pulsatilla that I photographed last month. There’s also a big old white lilac (Madam Lemoine) which has very scented double white flowers and is a joy to be near…except that it has one problem. When its flowers die, they turn brown but don’t fall and because this lilac has become very tall now, it’s difficult to prune them off. The dead flowers really spoil the look of this lilac, so I will have to get out my telescopic lopper on a pole thingy to remove them. That will most likely be exhausting but worth it!

Magnolia stellata flower.
Magnolia stellata brings a touch of the exotic to the garden.

Snake’s Heads and Crowns of Leaves: Fritillaries

Snake’s head  fritillaries and crown imperial fritillaries are strange-sounding names for very unusual plants. For a photographer, the flowers make an enticing subject and I was lucky enough to be able to take some pictures of them in my friend Judy’s beautiful garden. (Thanks, Judy – I had a lovely time!)

The snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) gets its name from the shape of the unopened flower bud – long and pointy at the tip – a bit like a viper’s head. It has other folk-names, according to Richard Mabey’s ‘Flora Britannica’ (a fascinating book, worth dipping into if you happen to get the chance). These include crowcups, leper’s bells, sulky ladies, and frawcups (possibly derived from a place-name).

These fritillaries were recorded to be growing in gardens in the UK in 1578 but not recorded in the wild until 1736. Some say that this suggests they may not be native to the UK but, even so, they used to be seen in their thousands growing in damp meadows.  Sadly, as agriculture developed over time and land was drained and ‘improved’, they lost these habitats. There are still a few places where they can be found growing wild and, thankfully, they’re popular with gardeners, so they are still able to create a magical sight every spring.

Close-up of Fritillaria meleagris flower.
The markings on this fritillary look as if someone painted them on!

The tiny chequered markings on the snake’s head flowers are irresistible. They make me want to get as close as I can to photograph the flower, in an attempt to show how much they look as if they’ve been carefully painted on by hand. The graceful shape of the flower, with those almost umbrella-like ribs at the top adds to the attraction. (Doesn’t it look just as if the petals are fabric, stretching over the ribs that are holding it in shape? Umbrellas for the ‘wee folk’!) The way the bell of the flower hangs from its curving stem, with one or two long and slender leaves soaring up from it, completes a very elegant flower.

Yellow 'Crown Imperial' flowers. (Fritillaria imperialis.)
The crown imperial has an extraordinary top-knot of leaves!

The crown imperial fritillary is very different from its serpent-like sister. A dramatically long stem holds the bold cluster of flowers up high. Instead of the one or two leaves rising above the flowers, there is a generous top-knot of leaves, giving a very distinctive appearance. This ‘crown’ of arching leaves is said to have given the plant its name, due to its resemblance to the shape of an imperial crown. However, a competing claim suggests that the name derives from the plant having been grown in the Imperial Botanic Garden in Vienna after the plant was brought there from Persia in 1576.

Like the snake’s head fritillary, I wanted to be able to get close enough to the flower of the orange crown imperial to show the markings on its petals. (The veins on the petals of the yellow version are barely visible by comparison.) These darker veins create a strong pattern of lines that make the flower even more pleasing to photograph. These flowers are such star performers when you come to take their photograph, that I think I will need to try growing some fritillaries in my own garden.

Orange 'Crown Imperial' fritillaries. (Fritillaria imperialis.)
The prominent veins of these orange crown imperial flowers make them all the more striking.

Tulips: Glowing with Glorious Colour.

As March comes to an end, gardens are filled with plants coming back to life. New flowers are opening every day, providing an exciting array of  possible photographs. You can imagine, I’m sure, what a happy and busy time of year this is for me!

Among my favourite spring flowers to photograph are tulips.  The variety of colours and the amazing markings that some of the flowers have make them an obvious subject for a picture. When you also take into account the different flower shapes and the sinuous way that the tulip stems bend, then you have all sorts of possibilities for different images, whether bold, graceful, or full-on pretty.

Striped flowers of tulipa orphanidea 'Flava'
Tulip orphanidea ‘Flava’ has delicate coloured veins on its petals.

Tulips with coloured markings – the ‘feathered’ stripes, as in the top photo, or the more delicate veining of  ‘orphanidea’ (above), can be especially lovely. These are the flowers that I look out for because they add a lot of extra interest to the photograph.

But the single-hued flowers are great too. These tulips, with their brilliant, saturated, colours and simple shapes help the photographer to make very bold, eye-catching images.

For next year, I’m planning to create a small bed for cut flowers that can be used for photography and tulips will be an essential addition to it. And for now, there are tulips in the garden that haven’t opened yet…I’m waiting!

Tulip 'Prinses Irene'
There’s a flame-like glow from this tulip flower.

The Early Flower Catches The Photographer

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.