Light or Dark?

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.

Summer Flowers

Well, who’d have thought we’d go from cool and rainy to very hot and sunny from one week to the next. Of course, the answer is anybody used to English weather.

Rose L’Aimant in the rain.
Planted last autumn in a pot. Initially L’Aimant only produced three blooms, but more buds are forming following a mid-season feed.
Climbing rose ‘Breath of Life’. Planted last autumn against a south-facing fence.
Clematis ‘Margaret Hunt’ in a pot and doing well. Grown over three years from a small, £3 supermarket offering.

The roses, clematis and lilies have most definitely appreciated the moist soil followed by plenty of sunshine.

And, finally the pots planted up with summer bedding have eventually taken off and got into their stride.

This year’s summer bedding in containers.

Whilst writing this post I took a moment to review the progress over the last three years of getting my concrete backyard to look like a garden.

It has taken a fair amount of effort and time, but, at last, when I look out at the backyard I do feel as though I am looking at a garden. Unfortunately, the excess of rain at the wrong time facilitated a population explosion of slugs and snails. This has done entirely for the runner beans with every single one eaten to the ground and has also pretty much annihilated the sweet peas resulting in only one in five surviving to flower. However, there are plenty of plants that have not been eaten (yet) and the recent sunshine has boosted flower production enough for me to cut and have a scented arrangement for indoors.

June Blooms Before the Rain

The English gardener is the eternal optimist. Roses are planted, pruned, trained and nurtured and then the arrival of June is awaited.

Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’ before the rain.

And, when June arrives the buds start to open and all that effort is rewarded. Of course, the warm June days of gentle English ‘Constable’ skies with soft, billowy clouds and intermittent sunshine are the best conditions to achieve a fine display of roses.

However, as we know every year is different and having a good June for roses is not as frequent as the English Gardener believes. I gave up growing those old fashioned roses with large quartered blooms as four seasons out of five the buds balled and rotted in the rain.

Rosa ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. Left photo, perfect and right photo beginning to scorch.

And, so we come to this June in particular, where the first two weeks brought temperatures up to 28ºC with days of endless, hot sunshine. The roses in my sheltered, backyard became scorched and bleached. Then virtually overnight the weather changed. The wind blew in from the north-east, the daytime temperatures dropped to 15ºC and we had several days of continuous rain to bash the remaining blooms into a squidgy mess.

Perennial poppy, papaver orientale ‘Patty’s Plum’ before the rain.

It wasn’t just the roses that were spoilt by the rain. The perennial poppy, Patty’s Plum were reduced to mush too. Fortunately, I took some pictures of their rich, intense beauty before their disintegration.

View from basement kitchen window of Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica with climbing rose ‘Mortimer Sackler’ in the background.

At the front of my house the pink climber now displays roses in various states of pulp yet the neighbouring salvia sclarea, normally good for a dry planting, has coped very well. Its contrasting shape, both flower stalks and leaves, has diverted attention from the climbing rose washout. It hasn’t been enough though, and with the lack of suitable flowers to cut, I was tempted and I am sorry to say, have bought some flowers from the florist. Well, who could resist these scented stock, so pink, such sweet scent, so summery.

Surprise flowers, lasting well

Every year my birthday falls near Mother’s Day and occasionally on Mother’s Day itself. I am not usually sent bouquets of flowers as I am not keen on the commercialization of ‘special’ days, but this year with the Covid thing and no visiting allowed I received a bouquet of pink flowers from my daughter.

A birthday bouquet that arrived in the post.

The beautiful roses arrived as semi opened buds and unusually the bouquet included some white foxgloves in bloom, all of course grown under glass probably in Holland.

Naturally, after about two weeks the flowers gradually began to fade and we arrived at the cut-down stage for some, and the transfer to a different vase stage for others. This transfer trick also included adding a couple of stems of hellebores from my backyard.

Unlike the roses and carnations the hellebores from my garden completely drooped after a single day, but as many of you know these flowers can be seen so much better when cut with a very short stem and placed in a bowl of water. And, I can report one week later the floating blooms are still looking fresh and catching the light as they bob around.

Parched in May, Sodden in June

We’ve had some strange ol’ weather adding to our already strange times. As if we weren’t all living in an upside down world, the weather is all over the place. According to the Met Office we have, in England, just experienced the driest May on record.

And, now it’s June and we have these monsoon-like downpours. My roses bloomed so early that the first flush had near enough finished before the arrival of June and despite the rain, there’s no sign of ‘balling’ of the next flush as they are still tight buds. For once, I feel the roses have outwitted the capricious English weather.

However, it has been another story in the local park as by the end of May the lawns were turning brown,

and the ornamental grass display looked so parched it could have been mid-August in a heatwave.

A few white alliums in bloom are the only clue it isn’t high summer.

It was also a shame to see some of the frilly poppies (papaver somniferum) failing as they are normally so resilient. Their heavy heads drooped and their leaves withered. Following the past month without rain even a good watering would probably not save them now. I think perhaps it’s more the fact that the soil is baked so dry that the roots have become entombed.

Papaver somniferum – only about one in ten were successfully blooming.

Hopefully, there will be other poppies germinating from a later sowing that will fare better now June has brought us plenty of rain.

Of course, there are other features of Holywells Park where the heavy rain has been most welcome. It has topped up the ponds, re-greened the grass and provided moisture to the sheltered areas beneath the trees. This amazing palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) grows well in its sheltered position. It stands tall as the monsoon-like deluge penetrates the overhead canopy and gives this little corner of an urban park in Ipswich a tropical atmosphere.

But, there is no doubt about it – the plant that has benefitted the most from all those hours of Maytime sunshine is the banana plant in the park’s Victorian Conservatory – it’s been growing like Jack’s beanstalk.

Reviewing Rose Possibilities

Botanical-illustrationsIt is now June and the classic flower of the month in England is usually considered to be the rose. Apart from the fact that I still have endless weekends of internal decoration to attend to, and, as I type, I am manfully ignoring one entire room left in an almost derelict state, I have started to think about the garden.

I realise one way and another I have missed this year for some of my flowering favourites such as the hellebores, tulips, aquilegias, irises and roses not to mention a flowering fruit tree or two. However, now is not the time to moan, but to get on and get planning. It is a good time to think ahead as although quite a few container grown roses are now out of stock for this season, they can still be ordered for delivery as bare root plants for this coming autumn and winter. Naturally, recent evenings have been spent perusing my old copy of ‘The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book’ in the hunt for suitable roses for very small gardens.

Graham-Stuart-Thomas-go-to-rose-bookAlthough I do love many of the old fashioned shrub roses that I have grown in the past not all of them are as robust as some of the more recent introductions such as rosa Queen Elizabeth (1954, see below) or the David Austin rose, rosa St Swithun (1993, above right).

Modern-hybrid-tea-Queen-ElizabthCurrently, I am tending towards a thornless, reliable modern climber for my very tiny front patch, possibly the David Austin climbing rose, rosa Mortimer Sackler (2002). It needs to be thornless as it will eventually top the boundary wall at waist height between my property and a side passage used as the rear access for my neighbours.

David-Austin-Mortimer-Sackler
Rosa Mortimer Sackler introduced by David Austin 2002. Photo: David Austin website

Mind you I have been tempted by Stuart Thomas’s comments on rosa Agnes, “Unusual with delicious scent”, but despite the appealing name (😉) I don’t feel I can fit a yellow rose, even this pale, muddled beauty, into the planting scheme.

Agnes

It is a while since I have taken my copy of the Rose Book off the shelf. Indeed, it has been boxed up with all the rest of my books for the last 18 months during the moving process and consequently I was surprised when a slip of paper fell out. As I picked it up expecting it to be a now redundant list of roses from my last garden, I noticed with curiosity that it was a poem. One of my favourites originally copied out over 15 years ago.

ee-cummings-poem

 

The Romantic Rose for Valentine’s

Romantic-rosesWhen folk consider flowers for Valentine’s Day, the perennial favourite is the red rose. I think there is something intensely romantic about a single, velvety, dark red rose, but if I were to be receiving a bouquet of roses, I think I would prefer pink roses.Romantic-roses-2The bonus with giving or receiving roses is many are fragrant too, with most of the old fashioned varieties perfuming a whole room with their beautiful, rich scent.

Of course, as you may have already guessed, I don’t just love old fashioned pink roses, but pink blooms in general and find them a great source of inspiration for my flowery silk scarf designs. And with that in mind, here’s a jug of last summer’s dahlias providing just such stimulus!

After the rain some cheery survivors

Pattern-floral-possTimes are a little turbulent and it’s been a grey summer so far, but some flowers are doing just fine. Hardy geraniums, single clematis, small spray roses, foxgloves and poppies.

Beautiful flowers in the garden, as arrangements or simply as a single bloom bring some cheer to our daily grind.

Although I have been moaning about the English weather in previous posts, I have had enough survivors by the beginning of July for two mantlepiece arrangements.

Summer-arrangement

Oh well – let’s try and look on the bright side

Karlsruhe
Drooping rain-soaked blooms of the mid-twentieth-century doer, Rosa Karlsruhe (1957)

Gardening is all about the turning of the seasons. Clear, bright spring changing to warm and sunny summer, but sometimes the seasons simply won’t play the game. Apparently, this ghastly, unseasonably heavy June rain is down to the jet stream. That is the jet stream is not normally directly above the UK at this time of year, but HERE IT IS.

Jet-stream-23-June-2016-Net-Weather.TV
Image of the jet stream for 23 June 2016 over England from netweather.tv

We see it whipping round the world at over 100 miles per hour somewhere in the region of eight miles plus above the planet’s surface. It affects the UK by deepening the depressions heading our way from the Atlantic and that means more rain.

All this rain has caught most of my roses at precisely the wrong moment. Of the old fashioned roses the small cluster and single roses are coping a little better than their more blousy, fully quartered cousins.

Luckily, I do have a few climbers threaded through large shrubs which have offered some blooms protection from the hail and heavy rain we had last week.

It’s been a bit hit and miss with a couple of my more modern roses depending on how exposed the flowers have been more than anything.

Even my favourite soft, papery single rose Anemone Rose has been disappointing.

So, looking on the bright side we have some survivors and a weekend of deadheading!

This year’s favourite is a ‘summer only’ display and will be in full flower in July, but here’s a peak at a random early bloom of François Juranville (1906).

Francois-Juranville

 

Colour inspiration from suburban classics – spray chrysanths, hyrbid teas and hydrangeas

hybrid tea rose spray chrysanthemums hydrangeasSuburbia gets a mixed press, and ‘suburban’ (at least in the UK) is frequently thrown around as an insult. It can mean average, boring, pedestrian to restrained, uptight and limited. In gardening terms the heyday of the suburban garden was surely the fifties and sixties where neat rectangular lawns were edged with three flower-filled boundary borders. Hybrid tea and floribunda roses were popular for the summer along with bright vivid dahlias and then in the autumn chrysanthemums took over to bring some uplifting colour.

Of course, plants are plants and not in themselves suburban, and who cannot fail to love a classic pink rose or a blue mophead hydrangea. And, I’ve even found a style of flower arrangement that I like which works with the standard supermarket/garage forecourt spray chrysanthemums.

. . . so much so that I’ve used the palette for some scarves.

Oh yes, and finally, through the ether I’m informed by email and adverts that a festival called Christmas is on the horizon – UKHandmade has just published their Christmas Showcase featuring all kinds of handmade work including a stunning Christmas stocking embroidered by a lady who used to work at Buckingham Palace!

Catching up on those five buds of potential

Very-early-backgarden

Here is the group of five plants that were in bud at the beginning of June.

Buds-first-weekend-June

Now two weeks of early summer sun and light rain and . . . we now have the foxgloves out.

And the Oriental poppies, pink roses and the knautia.

The garden is full of daisies.

However, we’ve to wait a little for the salvia and then much later for the hollyhocks.

But time is marching on and it’s almost time to start clearing away the euphorbia bracts after all the seeds have popped out.

And-finishing-Euphorbia