Dahlias are one of my favourite flowers. I look forward to their colourful blooms in the garden throughout the summer, bursting out of their large button-like buds.
I love the way the sun lights up both the crimson dahlia behind and the sunburst dahlia in front. I also love the way the light creates a fascinating green speckled shadow from the old green bottle that I chose for these flowers.
I’ve spent the morning browsing seed catalogues and seed merchants websites, dreaming again of sunny days and Summer flowers … To be fair, our weather hasn’t been too wintry so far this Winter, though the wind has been rather wild this weekend.
As I’m browsing, I am also thinking about my New Year’s Resolution … to do whatever I can for our beleaguered planet. In choosing the flowers I will grow for Summer 2020, I intend to consciously choose varieties that actively support garden wildlife. I’m looking at nectar-rich blooms to feed our VIPs (Very Important Pollinators) – bees and hoverflies, butterflies and moths. But I am also looking ahead to the end-of-season seedheads that will enrich the diet of birds visiting the garden for food as the Autumn and Winter draw on.
Usually in the vegetable patch I am looking to keep most animals out – especially rabbits.But one animal I would love to encourage into the garden is one of my very favourite creatures, the hedgehog. And I know I am not the only one. Here in the UK there are now a whole lot of hedgehog supporters … over 620,000 of us on Hugh Warwick’s petition to Help save Britain’s hedgehogs with ‘hedgehog highways’!
Hedgehog highways are a very simple idea, but hugely important for hedgehogs. One of the main reasons that hedgehogs have become so scarce in the UK is because we keep fencing off more and more bits of the landscape into smaller and smaller pieces.
The ‘hedgehog highways’ petition has been seeking to bring housing developers onboard to make sure that new housing is hedgehog-friendly. Of course, it is not only new housing that needs to be hedgehog-connected. The more of our gardens that are connected, the better for hedgehogs. Our hedgehogs only need a 13 cm hole in the bottom of a fence or garden wall that allows hedgehogs to move freely between gardens so they can find food or find a mate. (That’s about the size of a CD … if you remember those 😉 )
If you’d like to join the growing band of hedgehog supporters, doing your little bit for hedgehogs, you might like to take a stroll down Hedgehog Street to find more about Britain’s favourite animal. There’s an interactive map too, where you can log sightings of hedgehogs (now also available as a phone app, which is very handy).
Whether it’s bees, butterflies, birds, hedgehogs, or any of the other creatures with which we share our gardens, I’ll be looking to incorporate ideas on gardening for wildlife and there are plenty of ways of “Giving Nature a Home” over on the RSPB’s website too.
I love flowers. For me, flowers give so much, from the anticipation when sowing their tiny seeds to enjoying the beauty and scents of their full grown blooms. Then, there are some flowers that become so much a part of life, they are practically part of the family.
My fondness for the plant I know as the Christmas cactus spans several decades. From early Autumn, I begin watching out for the beginnings of tiny buds forming on its shiny dark green leaves. Gradually the buds fill out and then, usually just before Christmas, the bright fuschia pink flowers burst open.
I remember my very first Christmas cactus. It comprised of just two green leaves. I’d bought it from the plant stall at the church Christmas fair. I was an eight year old Brownie and the plant cost me 10 pence.
There were no flowers for a few years, but slowly, year by year, my two leaves grew into the fuschia flowering plant I now know so well.
My cactus plant has met a few mishaps along the way. Bits of it snapped off when it fell off the fridge in the first apartment my husband and I lived in. Bits of it “snapped off somehow” at the hands of our children too – it usually involved footballs or light sabers 😉
Many of these broken off pieces of cactus plant were then divided up into smaller cuttings and planted into potting compost in a small pot. Quite a few cuttings later is the plant you see in my photo.
I have several of these cactus plants, all grown from cuttings … that would have been taken from plants that themselves had started out as cuttings …
Some of my cuttings have developed into the most splendid specimens, about 2 feet across (that’s about 60cm), just like the original plant that fell off the fridge years ago.
Some plants are really so generous and can be so easily raised from cuttings from mature plants. For me, the Christmas cactus has always been one of those.
Every season has its dominant colour in the UK’s wildflower calendar and the colour of Summer for me is definitely purple. A myriad of tonal variations of purple, contrasting beautifully against their accompanying greens, add so much to Nature’s Summer palette.
The thistle family give us some beautiful purples and with their soft tufted flowers are very popular with butterflies and other insects. Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense, in particular – whilst you might not want to be introducing it into your garden, we find is a very popular nectar cafe where butterflies and their ‘friends’ love to meet and linger – which is ideal for slow photographers like me!
Another member of the thistle family that we find is much loved by bees and hoverflies is Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra. Many of our family’s ‘bee-on-a-flower’ photos feature the purple tufted flowers of Common Knapweed. So you could say, it is popular with us too! The deep cerise-purple of this grassland wildflower is one of my favourite shades of purple.
Here are two thistles that live up to their traditional spiny thistle appearance while also adding to Summer’s purple display.
The tall, slender Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre decorates the stream banks and other damp areas in our woods with its deep purple tufted flowers.
The Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare is a sturdy plant with grey-green stems and leaves that contrast beautifully with its purple flowers. I call it the Spear Thistle, as this is formally its correct name. But we have always called it the “Scotch Thistle”, as this flower is the national emblem of Scotland. Though apparently this species is by no means the only thistle that claims to be the true Scottish Thistle!
Two more purple flowering Summer stalwarts that grow quite ubiquitously in our local area are Rosebay Willowherb and wild Foxgloves. You can see the tall purple spikes of Rosebay Willowherb in the photo at the top of this post … and some more growing near the Creeping Thistle that I showed above too. Some areas of disturbed ground can become overrun with Rosebay Willowherb – it is hardly surprising given each plant produces something like 80,000 seeds! The 20th century botanist and ecologist, Sir Edward Salisbury, noted that Rosebay Willowherb “empurpled” London’s bomb sites in World War II.
Wild Foxgloves are one of my own personal notifier species. I consider them a sign of the arrival of Summer and watch out for the first ones flowering each year. This year I spotted my first flowering Foxglove on 6th June, growing on an old coal mining spoil heap we often climb when out on one of our regular walks. This heap supports an interesting variety of flora and fauna, despite its industrial heritage.
Vetches are another family of wildflowers that contribute to the Summer purples. On a coastal walk recently I spotted a good number of my favourite vetch, Tufted Vetch Vicia cracca, with its dense spikes of blue-purple flowers. This cliff-top purple patch was especially noticeable.
Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica is a plant that you often notice with your nose before you see it with your eyes.
Its distinctive but not-very-pleasant smell is a common feature of the dense wayside greenery in our woods where we find it growing with many other wildflowers among the grasses and nettles. The reddish-purple flowers of Hedge Woundwort grow in a spike at the top of a single stem.
My final purple flower of Summer for this post features another landscape I love – heather-covered moorland. When the Bell Heather Erica cinerea blooms on the moorland, we can see it miles away across the valley – it literally turns the landscape purple. Here’s a closer look. This photo was taken while we were out on a Summer hike.
There are so many wildflowers we see that contribute to the purple of Summer. Purple is definitely the colour of Summer for me.
When I sowed my Sweet Peas in their upcycled air-pruning plant pots, way back in April this year, I wasn’t sure how well my plants would grow. I’d never experimented with air-pruning plant pots before so this was a whole new experience for me.
Despite being in somewhat smaller pots than would normally be used, the Sweet Pea plants I’d hung on my yard gate have still grown to their full height – the fully grown plants are now 175cm (69″) tall. The Sweet Peas are supported on one of the willow and jute garden screens I’d designed and created for this purpose. This project was part of my idea to expand the growing space in my back yard by vertical gardening.
I have been watching closely as the flowers have been developing on the Sweet Peas. This week I am very happy to report that my first of my Sweet Pea plants has revealed its first beautiful pink blooms 🙂
Looking at the other plants along the yard gate that are now budding, we have some creamy white flowers and some deep crimson flowers, so with the pink flowers too, that’s going to be a lovely range of colours growing together.