We are fast approaching the end of April and I look at a blank piece of silk and feel I want to turn to floral colour for inspiration. I do have several containers of tulips almost in bloom, but they are either the double or parrot varieties typically at their best in May, and, as yet none of them are fully into their stride. Yes, I know there’s blossom, but in my backyard the trees; a couple of pears, the Victoria plum and the cherry ‘Stella’, are all white. And, there’s even more white with an unexpected abundance of honesty (Lunaria annua var. ‘Alba’) this year.
So I’ve resorted to scrolling through my photo albums and hunting down colourful flower pictures. I’ve been looking for pinks and oranges and, funnily enough, golden or possibly even yellow examples to inspire me.
In the process of selecting images I discovered that it’s almost three years since I’ve painted a yellow scarf or even a scarf of muted golds.
And the more I looked at all the pictures the more I felt like a return to yellowy warm hues.
It’s probably not going to be the strong yellows of the sunflowers, but a mixture of the softer apricot and cream of this bearded iris ‘Barbara My Love’ tempered by the time-worn gold of medieval St Jude from the rood screen of St Edmund’s, Southwold.
Merging the two photographs (the digital photomontage image below) has produced interesting, subtle tones which I feel fit with my mood. I think I’ve found my inspiration.
I have to say that up until recently I was very much committed to the traditional dark background for a floral image.
You only have to see a few examples of those amazingly skilful and intriguing seventeenth-century Dutch flower paintings to fall in love with the striking contrast of colourful blooms against a very dark, if not black background.
Over the years whenever I have grown enough flowers to put together a reasonable arrangement I have attempted to save the results of my gardening labours by snapping a few floral-themed photos with black backgrounds.
Now this preference of mine came under serious personal scrutiny when I decided to enter an image-based competition where photograph entries had to be uploaded to Instagram. I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but photos on screens can either benefit from the backlighting effect of the screen or be blighted by it.
After some time experimenting with my dahlias I concluded that a bright, almost white background made for a more interesting, contemporary photo and suited the screen presentation a little better. And, then it was a choice of going with either more flowers (above) or less (below). I chose less and although not a winner I was individually thanked for taking part, as were all entrants, which I thought was rather civilised for social media.
It’s that time of year again when desperate for spring colour indoors I buy a bunch of tulips, then watch them slowly fade away. It has taken just over two weeks in my cool, basement kitchen for these pink ones to drop their petals. And, I think I have decided that there is something more beautiful about their fading glory than the stark, brash pinkness of fresh tulips.
There is something gently mournful about this process and this year it is more poignant than ever as we mark this day, March 11th 2021, when one year ago the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic.
On Tuesday I saw that the weather forecasters were telling us to expect the arrival of autumn proper. This was code for prepare for a noticeable drop in temperatures accompanied by wind and rain.
Just as the light was fading, I grabbed my secateurs and nipped out into the backyard to cut any blooms that still looked half decent.
I cut dahlias, cosmos and sunflowers. It was more in error than by design I had planted three sunflower seedlings six weeks later than the main sowing and they only started blooming last week.
And, the dark pink cosmos has been very late this year getting into its stride. With the bright yellow sunflowers and the deep fuchsia pink of the cosmos I didn’t think I’d be able to make a tolerable arrangement, but it turned out that the dark red dahlias saved the day.
What a difference a backdrop makes? I prefer the black to the more contemporary choice for floral images which, I have recently noticed, is grey.
If we are honest there are signs and hints of the coming of autumn that occur most years during the course of the average British August. So the recent drop in overnight temperatures and the cooler, misty, damp mornings should not really be a surprise. Here, in East Anglia, as normal, plenty of late-summer flowering plants are still going strong.
I thought I’d take this opportunity to cut quite a few blooms, gather them together in different compositions and take photographs as a record for future work. I love the colours, individual forms and the various combinations. In my backyard the sunflowers are just getting into their stride and I have so much ammi visnaga finally blooming (after a late start from seed) that it is beginning to look like a weed infestation.
In the bright light on the kitchen table where I usually have any current ‘jug’ arrangement, my loose sunflower bunch looked okay, but when I came to take more formal photos with a dark background the cream jug dazzled and distorted the composition.
Hunting around for something less white I remembered my mother’s copper kettle and switched the bunch to that instead. Annoyingly, in the process of rearranging the flowers into the new container several of the sunflowers dropped all their petals.
As I mentioned the other week the dahlias have been flowering well and the more you cut the more you get – my kinda plant! And, as you can see, the verbena bonariensis eventually grew to its full height and began to flower despite the less than ideal conditions.
There’s not really enough hours of full sunlight in my backyard to create a flower-filled space bursting with colour. In all honesty I think I have been overly optimistic about what I could grow successfully.
I did plant out the sweet pea seedlings in the best, sunny position available, the prime site. They have flowered reasonably well, but despite doing my usual trench preparation I’ve definitely had less flowers than I did from my old ‘suburban’ garden. I have a feeling I need to make some serious efforts at soil improvement this winter. That will mean adding garden compost to the depleted backyard soil perhaps with the odd handful of chicken manure pellets and finally topping off with a mulch. Additionally, any spare compost mix will be needed to beef up the small area at the front of the house too. No doubt by next spring I will be enthusiastically sowing flower seeds again optimistically hoping for a glorious display all summer.
Well, it is the end of July so there should be some flowers in the garden. My hollyhocks, sown from seed earlier this year, won’t bloom until next summer, but I spotted this beautiful single pink variety in our local park.
Of course summertime is the season of plenty in the flower garden and there really, really must be some to cut for the house.
Disappointingly, there are not as many as I would have hoped, but it is a start.
And, naturally, just as my late-sown sweet peas are getting into their stride, Mother Nature gifts us a mini heatwave. And, sweet peas do not like the heat.
It can all be a little disheartening, but that’s the standard trials and tribulations of gardening.
As if all this heat wasn’t enough, last Friday we had torrential rain through the night and I woke up to find the big old hydrangea at the front of my house had split in two.
The sheer number of huge, sodden blooms had weighed down the shrub until one of the two main stems split. I have had to remove nearly half of the plant. I stuck a handful of blooms in a vase and have strung up some stems to dry, but sadly most of it has been chopped up and added to the compost bin.
Nevertheless there is good news, the remains of the hydrangea is still adding some oomph to the pot arrangements at the front of the house.
It is October, but the dahlias just keep on blooming. Some flowers are a little windblown and tatty, and the big blooms of dahlia ‘Crazy Love’ have been nibbled by earwigs, but they are still worth cutting and bringing indoors to cheer up a gloomy week.This is the second week of October and that’s three small fresh flower arrangements with no heated greenhouse or air miles involved. Flowers grown with the addition of homemade garden compost and watered with recycled bath water. I am rather pleased about that although it has been a battle with the slugs this year.
And, as I cleared away last week’s dying flowers I thought they still had a charm and grace in their faded condition worth photographing and perhaps using as the starting point for a scarf or two.
Finally, even the zingy lemony yellow dahlia (a potluck purchase as an unidentified tuber) has earned its keep as I have realised it’s acceptable in a blue and white vase on the kitchen window sill.
Recently I’ve spied quite a few photographs of flowers and flower arrangements featuring very dark or black backgrounds. This is not new in the depiction of flowers, but it is a swerve away from the de rigueur of the ‘computer white’ backgrounds so prevalent across the online world.
Pale colours are contrasted and highlighted by a dark background and interestingly the foliage greens appear more striking.
Naturally, this has all been explored before during the Dutch Golden Age. Inventive Dutch 17th-century artists created beautiful, dramatic flower paintings against dark or black backgrounds. Currently, there’s an extremely gifted contemporary photographer, Paulette Tavormina also working in this area producing some fascinating images – well worth a look.