Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Bright, Brighter, Dazzling - challenges for garden photographers

Monday brought warm sun (for about the third time this summer) and the return of Our Great Leader from France. No-one is allowed to travel without bringing back a treat for coffee break - Jim included - and the Pineau de Charentes plus cake went down very well.
Jim pours the Pineau, Adam supervises
Warmer, but not warm enough
The warming effects of sun and Pineau made working in the garden a pleasure and flowers were popping open all over the place. I couldn't help looking my gift horse in the mouth, though: if only we could have had a sunnier summer! The lack of warmth and sunshine has meant that the Brugmansia sanguinea which I grew from seed (last year) and planted in the massive Orange Pot on the well has had a mere three flowers this summer. Its leaves are impressive, and the bright red Pelargonium 'Paul Crampel' with it is working hard but I am disappointed with the lack of red and yellow trumpets.
Giant Orange Pot overflowing with Brugmansia sanguinea, Abutilon megapotamicum, Pelargonium 'Paul Crampel'
Lysimachia nummularia and Oreganum vulgare 'Aureum'
Brugmansia sanguinea flower
But I want more!

The Brugmansia produced those three flowers back in July and has remained stubbornly quiet ever since. I know that these are relatively young plants so I can't expect too much but I couldn't help getting excited when I saw the first buds.

This planting still makes a good centrepiece for the courtyard, on Monday evening Jim and I included it in some photos for a possible magazine feature - we spent a long time moving pots around and getting shots set up only to find out later that Jim had had the wrong setting on his camera and all his pictures were BLUE! Ah there's nothing like wasting a rare warm evening to make you curse.

One of my Monday evening snaps. Here's a game for you: how many pots can you see?

Dahlia 'Geerling's Moonlight' aka 'Vlad'
Another flower I welcomed with enthusiasm this summer is Dahlia 'Geerling's Moonlight'. This is a preposterous colour, the high vis jacket of the flower world. As I am only a very basic photographer I find it an extremely difficult plant to photograph.

Call Buffy!
The picture on the right does it no justice; Liz Eddison, our garden photography guru, could probably tell me how to capture it, I'll have to ask her next time she is here for one of her garden photography day courses. I do have a sneaking feeling it is like Dracula, impossible to photograph, leaving a blank space where its crisp petals should be.

I did try sneaking up on it with some garlic for a close-up and the picture below is the best I could get. If you really want to know what it looks like look at the picture of Miss Babs in 8th June's post. Many people will find it unpleasant (the dahlia, not Miss Babs) but I love it for its unapologetic dazzlingness and was so pleased that one tuber survived last winter.

Dahlia 'Geerling's Moonlight'. Looks quite tasteful in this photo.

Ferns and burns
It is usually easy to get an interesting photograph of the Seraphim Pot, whatever the planting. This year I have a fern in it (please don't ask me which one, I'm very bad at ferns) plus seed-grown Cuphea ignea with its incandescent orange cigars, Begonia 'Glowing Embers' and Coleus (or Solenostemon) Giant Exhibition 'Limelight'. I am very smug about this planting, not just because it glows nicely against the dark wood of the pottery building but because of the fiery names. Silly really because most people will be oblivious to them but I must take these little moments of self-satisfaction when I can get them.
Seraphim Pot looking serene even with fiery contents

Cuphea ignea and Solenostemon (or Coleus) Giant Exhibition 'Limelight'

Let's cool things down a little with this detail from a well-weathered large Swag and Acanthus Pot, the leaves are from Pelargonium 'Lady Plymouth'.
Venerable Swag and Acanthus Pot

Bad news: summer is nearly over. Good news: it's nearly bulb time.
And finally - Jane and I have been slaving away checking the details of all the spring bulbs which will soon be arriving at the pottery for our Bulb Sale. In spite of my reluctance to think about the end of summer I do find myself daydreaming about next winter/spring's plant combinations...
April brightness at Whichford Pottery this year

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Dingy Digits, Determined Dead-heading and Desirable Dahlias

Last weekend I returned from a seaside holiday with lovely clean nails. I took a photo just to show that it is possible because for most of the year I have to keep my hands in my pockets at smart occasions.

Of course half an hour after our return they were back to their usual dismal state.

At home I have kind neighbours who don't mind watering my 200-odd pots and at Whichford I have the marvellous Miss Babs, so I don't have that awful sinking feeling on returning from a trip to find sad, wilting plants.
Overflowing just a little

Back to work
Although Miss Babs had also managed to do some dead-heading for me I could see that the plants had taken advantage of my absence to grow rampantly, so my first job was to work through all the pots doing a really thorough dead-head, prune,tidy and prop-up. It is also a good way to get re-acquainted with the garden after any absence.

In some groups the plants had spread so successfully the pots were almost invisible. I removed pots of spent lilies and agapanthus, which gave me a little more space to play with and so the group pictured right has been spread out a little but the large long tom containing Lophospermum erubescens remains invisible under a cascade of reddish-pink blooms.

It is more important than ever to keep on top of the dead-heading so that all the extravagant late-flowerers don't exhaust themselves long before the cold weather arrives.

Dead-heading petunias
Petunias don't mind if you miss some of their dead-heads, but I find that pinching off as many as possible keeps the plants healthy and stops them from collapsing under their own weight as well as making them look brighter and tidier.

Taking yellowed leaves off Salvia leucantha
It's also worth taking off any yellowing leaves to maximise light and air flow in the hearts of the plants. In my capacity as plant referee I also lop off floppy leaves, sprawling shoots and clinging tendrils which threaten to overwhelm weaker or less shade-tolerant plants.

Dead-heading Dahlia 'Moor Place'. Cut right at the base of the pedicel.
 When the new flower on the right has finished cut further back to
where new shoots are emerging
Keeping trim
Dahlias need really thorough dead-heading to keep looking good. I cut the flowers off pom-pom dahlias such as 'Moor Place' as they are fading; they produce lots of flowers and if you wait for the petals to fall the rising tide of new flowers and growth will mean that you can't find all the dead-heads and the plant will stop flowering.

Always cut right at the base of the pedicel (flower stem), back to where a new shoot or another live stem arises. If you leave a stump it will die in an unsightly, straw-like way.

Dahlias have their day
I love dahlias, they flower all summer, peaking just when the days are shortening depressingly. The fashion police are at last letting us enjoy their fabulous colours and varied shapes and sizes without having to excuse our weakness and lack of taste.

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' in the garden at Whichford pottery

Dahlia 'Candy Eyes' in a Trailing Leaf Pot
'Bishop of Llandaff' is an old favourite, but this year we are trying a few new ones too. 'Candy Eyes' is shorter but also has dark foliage, a great foil to the abundant pink-striped flowers. A really good doer in spite of its twee name.

Rene was right
Rene (our dutch bulbmaster) insisted that I should try Dahlia 'Black Jack' even though it was more expensive than most. I have only recently planted it out because I wanted to see the colour of its flowers first - they took ages to start emerging  but ooh they were worth the wait: spiky, dark, dark maroon with a gorgeous bloom on the petals. This one promises to be a favourite, good sturdy stems too.

Dahlia 'Black Jack' - worth waiting for
Cobaea scandens 'Alba' rampaging upwards

So in spite of autumn looming on the horizon I can bury my head in the foliage and pretend that summer will carry on for ever while the plants rampage in every direction.

Lobelia 'Monsoon' ballooning outwards in Pastry pots
Mrs B update:
Her latest brood is out and about and still pestering her for food like gluttonous teenagers. I hope she's going to take a bit of time to recover from all the child-rearing before winter gets here.
Mrs B finds worms for her teenager while Bill (or is it Ben?) looks on
The English Garden
Oh crikey! I nearly forgot to tell you that some of this year's spring plantings feature in the September issue of The English Garden Magazine (on sale now...). There is an article on growing tulips in pots by Sarah Raven which is illustrated with Liz Eddison's photos of my plantings at Whichford, then there are a couple of pages written by me with some tips and recipes for some of the plantings featured. It's a really attractive magazine and we are delighted to feature so prominently - so please do have a look if you can.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Sunshine, seeds, birds and bees

Proper summer this week! There was an air of exhaustion at the pottery as everyone had worked so hard to make the garden party a success, but the warmth of the sun helped us all to relax and lovely comments from our customers made us think the extra hours of toil worthwhile. We left the bunting up for a little while because it made the place look so jolly.
The entrance to Whichford Pottery's garden with added bunting

Convolvulus sabatius capturing filigree shadows
Sun spots in pots
The sun constantly makes me rediscover certain plants, whether in the crispness of shadow and clarity of colour it brings or in the effects of light filtered through foliage or through translucent petals.
Of course having plants in pots means that you can move them around to find exactly the right place for your lighting effects - and as the plants are raised up you can look closely at, or through, them.
The sun lights up Agrostis nebulosa

Anagallis monelli like stained glass in the evening.
 Warm sun has already brought us crowds of butterflies and in the last few days the number of happy bees and hoverflies humming contentedly among the flowers has been really noticeable.

Happy honey bee on Helianthus 'Pacino'

Bumble bee (Bombus terrestris?) on Agastache. It was tempting to try stroking it!
Poisonous aliens 
As we stagger into late summer deadheading becomes more and more important to keep the show going, but some plants produce seedheads that are decorative features in themselves. Notoriously poisonous, Ricinus produces spiky alien-looking seed capsules and the blue grey one which I grew from seed this year is looking particularly fine.

Ricinus forming its odd, spiny seed capsules, with the Octagon in the background
Seed collection commences
I allow some plants to go right ahead and form seeds. Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens' is ripening now and hot, dry days are the best for collecting its seed, which normally hangs on like grim death until your back is turned, at which point it falls out and you only notice it when it crunches underfoot.
Looking a bit tired now but producing lots of seed

Shake the seeds into a labelled paper bag .
 I shake the ripe seedheads into a labelled paper bag; it is very important to add the year of collection so that you don't end up with a stockpile of seed of indeterminate age and waste time and compost sowing long-dead seed. Store them somewhere cool and dry. It not only saves me money but also gives me a sense of satisfaction and continuity.

Strictly for the birds
Some seeds are attractive to the birds - I didn't realise that Geranium phaeum was an example of this until I saw a male bullfinch early on Thursday morning hovering like a hummingbird in order to extract the seeds. The more it eats the better as far as I'm concerned because this plant can be a bit of a weed.
Sadly I wasn't quick enough to get a picture of the bullfinch but I did have my camera to hand when a chain of young long-tailed tits was flitting about in one of our field maples:

Young long-tailed tit in a field maple at Whichford Pottery

Lilium 'Mona Lisa' in evening sunshine
I'll leave you with a picture of Lilium 'Mona Lisa', which has been spreading its glamorous scent in the warm air this week. We had a staff barbecue on Wednesday night, a lovely warm, relaxing evening. The company, food and drink were delightful but I did have to take five minutes for a few evening garden pictures... We saw some shooting stars later but by that time I had abandoned my camera in order to pay my drink more attention!