18 Apr 2011

Garden abstracts

We had another lovely sunny spring weekend and whilst the warm weather makes it feel summery – it’s still rather too early to plant summer annuals. Consequently, whilst I’m out in the garden working on it and getting some much needed fresh air and sunshine, there still isn’t that much to see – and certainly not much colour – and it looks a tad barren at the moment. I do however grow quite a lot of greenery to keep it looking interesting even without flowers, so I decided to enjoy that for what it was and not worry about the lack of flowers.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

I have one spectacular potted hosta that has lovely variegated leaves and it is just opening up – the bits that the snails haven’t already consumed are opening in lovely tight spirals.

I kept coming back to the same leaves as the light changed, totally besotted with the lovely shapes and lines.

The textures of the greenery do tend to give rise to some lovely abstracts and textures and that was what I focused on for my garden photography this weekend.

Newly opening ivy leaves which are seemingly quite hairy as they uncurl.

I often do this when out on my lunchtime walk or if the weather isn’t good – I pick a theme or subject and concentrate on looking for images to fit that theme – it’s good for making you look at things differently and even in limited locations (i.e. my postage stamp sized garden or the familiar walk to the next village) and poor weather, means there’s much more to see that you initially think – once you attune your eyes to seeing them.

Not all my foliage is green – my Japanese maple opens with these scrawny thin red leaves that gradually fill out – red at first, turning green as they mature.

I might pick a theme like shadows, reflections, texture etc. and only take photographs that fit this theme – on other occasions I might limit myself to a particular fixed focal length lens or camera mode. It’s very liberating to work this way – and good for finding something interesting when in a creative funk like I am at present. Who needs flowers with all this lovely texture and interest in the foliage.

A long growing tendril from my honeysuckle – it’s an evergreen, but like everything else in the garden, it starts growing again with gusto once we get some sunshine and longer days.

I like variegated foliage for additional interest.

Some new opening foliage on alpine strawberry plants – making a lovely carpet of texture.

This bud will open out into tiny red and white candy-striped flowers.

The only thing this monkey puzzle is good for is taking photos of – if you lean against it or brush past it it slices you like a razor blade, falling leaves get totally ensnared in the spikes and need removing with surgical precision and protective gear.

9 Aug 2010

Summer raindrops – precious jewels

Everywhere water is a thing of beauty gleaming in the dewdrop, singing in the summer rain. – John Ballantine Gough.

We just had a weekend away in the English Lake District, to try and get some fresh air, time under trees and some walking done. The weather forecast didn’t look very promising and after several weeks of very poor summer weather, we were resigned to donning waterproofs and just getting out there and making the best of it. As it happens, it didn’t turn out that badly and we only got damp.

To quote Billy Connolly, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. So get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little”. For many years I was a fair-weather walker – if truth be told, I didn’t really like walking that much, in any weather. I just didn’t enjoy the process and how it made me felt. I was perpetually struggling to keep up with my significantly fitter husband and unfit enough myself to make it uncomfortable, combined with joint problems that simply made it painful.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

But I’ve recently had to embrace a more active way of life, in a deal I struck with the medical professionals that manage my diabetes. I was on medication that made me thoroughly miserable, but it was a necessary evil for my well being and future prospects. I finally mutinied at the end of 2009 and said I would have to look at alternative methods to manage my health, I didn’t feel there was much point in living longer if I was totally miserable, and largely housebound, in the process.

So I was prescribed some initial gym sessions and told that if I’d get fitter, lose a whole chunk of weight, I might be able to manage it better under my own steam without the medication – they’d give me 6 months to achieve that – but it would need work. I was going to trade pharmacological control for personal effort.

The sky above Thirlmere looked incredibly ominous and it was very dark, but thankfully the rain was light and gentle and nowhere near as bad as we anticipated.

So as 2010 has progressed, I’ve stuck religiously with the regular gym sessions, taking out membership once my initial prescribed sessions expired. I’ve recently been given a revised regime, as I’d simply progressed beyond the original plans. I’m just about on target for my weight loss plan for the year and am significantly fitter than I was as the New Year started.

So now walking isn’t a chore and I really don’t care about the weather any more. What’s the worst that will happen – I’ll get soaked, need to wash my hair and require a change of clothes? I feel significantly better than I did on the medication and know that my health has simply improved for the efforts I’ve so far made and my improved fitness. It was a win-win trade I made. They thought so too, they’ve allowed me to stick with this plan.

One of the factors that significantly helped me, was deciding to try walking with a pole – my joint problems and a recent back injury meant I was always a little nervous and tended to guard myself as I walked, meaning that I never truly relaxed when walking on uneven ground, or got up a decent pace and was reluctant to try more challenging paths. I had the idea that being a tad clumsy already, adding a pole into the mix, along with the camera I always carry was just going to be asking for trouble, I would either end up covered in bruises, or more likely, my walking partner would. Or else I’d trip one or both of us up with it and end up with it confiscated on the grounds of safety.

But it simply didn’t prove to be the case. I took to using it much more easily than I expected and now wouldn’t set off without it. I’ve taken on steep paths that would have felt insurmountable a year ago and I can now walk faster and with much greater confidence than I ever have before. Such a simple change has been responsible for a massive improvement in both what I’ve actually achieved, but my willingness to even try. And yes, husband of mine, I can hear you crowing “I told you so”.

I love gawping into woodland – I cannot conceive of life without being surrounded by trees. Much of the woodland around Thirlmere is managed forest as a timber crop – and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly the land is re-colonised by young trees after an area has been cleared and you see new trees living alongside established ones. There’s a little waterfall running through this scene that I’d not noticed before.

Thirlmere is a reservoir owned by United Utilities and the public are granted permission to access the land. The large lake was originally created from two smaller ones adjacent to two villages, Armboth and Wythburn, which were flooded late in the 19th century to provide water to Manchester. Consequently, there is still evidence of rural life in the area and you can see stretches of dry stone wall and sometimes a lone gatepost amongst the dense woodland.

So come Saturday morning, we were determined to walk along Thirlmere, one of our very favourite spots and donned waterproofs and set off under the trees. The rain was light and gentle and the air very still, so whilst it felt very damp and humid, it was pleasant enough to walk in. The light texture of the rain seemed to cling on everything and all the small plants seemed to be bejewelled with the tiny raindrops. Heavier rain simply bounces off, but these tiny fine droplets clung to the hairs of fine grass seeds and mosses like diamonds. It was very certainly worth damp hair to see them. Unfortunately, due to very low light, they’re not as sharp as I’d hoped, but you get the idea.

1 Aug 2010

Aren’t hoverflies brilliant!

And daisies are too!

And oft alone in nooks remote
We meet thee, like a pleasant thought
When such are wanted.

William Wordsworth: To the Daisy. 1807.

Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.   John Ruskin

I love daisies. If pressed, I might even declare them my overall favourite flowers. But they’d have a tough fight for that title, along with the likes of snowdrops and daffodils. I even love dandelions, when properly looked at, they’re quite fabulous.

But the sheer simplicity of a daisy makes it near perfect – its cheerful brightness is often all you need in a flower – something Mr Wordsworth obviously grasped. Yet it isn’t actually simple at all. It just lets you think that it is. The structure, when examined, is quite a magnificent piece of natural engineering.

Please click on the photographs for a larger view, the photos tend to look rather dark here on the page.

The white so called petals, aren’t actually petals at all, but white bracts – the flower(s) is actually the cluster of tiny yellow florets at the centre – rotating from the centre in a complex, tightly packed, geometric spiral.

So I always have daisies of some variety in the garden – I love big pots of them. This year I have one huge tub at the end of the table and despite horrendous weather for the last month or so, has had a continuous fabulous show of cheering flowers.

I went out today to do some work between showers and the garden was full of hoverflies today – lots of them busying away around the various flowers – they seem especially drawn to both lobelia and my daisies – and they do look so fabulously colour co-ordinated against the daisies, so I grabbed my camera.

I just used my compact camera as it was to hand, I’d really like to do some more with the big guns – the compact is way too slow to react to catch them taking off and landing which I was hoping to catch.

Despite a shutter speed of 1/1000 second, the wings of this hoverfly are a barely visible blur.

There are something like 6000 species of hoverflies globally, with around 300 species in Britain and I spotted at least 6 distinctly different ones today on the same plant – although all the best photos I got seemed to be of the same species, so they must move slower than the others.

I love hoverflies, they’re docile and fascinating to watch and just don’t bother with you. Quietly going about their business and despite their dangerous looking colouring which mimics wasps and the like, they’re totally harmless to humans.

If you watch one hovering quietly and gently put your finger underneath, they’ll often lower their undercarriage and rest for a moment on your finger. When they realise you’re not a source of food, they just raise their legs again and take off.

More photos with a DSLR:

I went out into the garden again when the light had supposedly improved. By the time I’d attached lenses and established focus, using extension tubes, the light was worse than ever. The hoverflies had now seemingly exhausted the food from the daisies and most were working other areas of the garden.

I managed a few shots before I decided that the exposures I was securing weren’t worth persisting with. These were all taken at 1600ISO and some with shutter speeds slower than 1/100 second. Just as well that they don’t move that fast when eating.

I hadn’t noticed their metallic jackets before.
If I had wings, I’d like them to be delicate and iridescent like these.

3 May 2009

It’s amazing what there is to see when you look closely

You can click any of the photos to see a larger version.

My very modest postage stamp of a garden has been a great joy to me since we developed it from scratch. It has filled out and developed over the years into a haven of peace – the place I reward myself with time when I reach some deadline or the end of an especially tricky piece of work. I potter and tinker as I eat my lunch and work outside on every day the weather makes it possible.

I laughingly call it my ‘courtyard garden’. In reality, it started life as a typical yard to a Lancashire cottage – a walled patch of concrete, originally to house the outside facilities – and in more recent times, the bins.

There is a tale attached to the layout of our house and outside areas, which are pretty much back to front. It would be normal practice for houses to face the street and have their back yards on the side of the house furthest from the street, but our house is one of a collection of cottages, all slightly different, that housed the workers of the adjacent mill. Mine, the largest and end of a short row, is reputed to be the mill manager’s cottage. My yard and back door are on the street side and my ‘front’ door on what is the gable end.

When they were built, the owner of ‘our’ mill was in some sort of feud with the owner of an adjacent mill, who owned a very large domestic property of some status (in recent times it has been a nursing home) along from the row of mill workers’ cottages. In order to cause him maximum offence, our mill owner built the properties back to front, to ensure that the outside facilities and less attractive aspect of the houses faced the road, so that as his rival drove past to his large luxurious home in his carriage, he had to pass the back of the workers’ homes, offending his sensibilities.

Our cottage is a long thin stone built property of about 140 years old now. So the yard is long and thin too. We have our proper garden on the other side of the house, but the layout doesn’t make it as suitable to occupy, so I leave that as my bird garden – one to be viewed from inside and enjoyed through windows and my courtyard garden is the one we spend time in. Being fully walled it gives us more privacy and is a sheltered sun trap that has allowed it to thrive.

Due to unfortunate domestic circumstances, I’m not going to be able to spend any money on summer planting this year, or at least only the barest minimum. So I decided today to make the best of what we already have.

I’ve always kept a lot of evergreen plants and perennial greenery to supplement annual flowers, which ensures that it looks good and has interest all year. Which will come into its own this season when I can’t do so much summer planting. So we moved things around to fill gaps and re-potted things and gave it a good tidy and I was pretty happy with the results.

It’s at that exciting time when everything is waking up after winter and even supposedly ‘green’ shrubs develop little flowers and new growth races away. I took some photos – most of these below are of very small areas of growth, tiny little flowers at the end of shoots – some only a few millimeters in diameter. This is why I love taking photos of little things – you get to see detail that you just don’t see with the naked eye.

I was astonished to see that this little flower at the end of a growing shoot actually has striped petals on the back – why does nature bother to give it this detail?