The Giant Houseplant Takeover: A Review With Pictures

Bath and shower in a tall room hung with plants

An outdoor bathroom, but indoors

The current Giant Houseplant Takeover exhibition at RHS Garden Wisley is kooky and wry: an elaborate conceit. A Victorian house has been abandoned to the houseplants which, in the absence of humans, have made themselves at home.

Four-poster bed with colourful flowering bromeliads

Bromeliads fill the bed, trunk and leafy plants tumble down the walls

An abundance of greenery may convey a derelict feel as visitors enter, but it soon becomes clear that everything is carefully arranged and tended. We’re visiting the best-behaved invasive houseplants in the history of mankind. My own ‘triffid’ is much less mannerly. Continue reading

Assessing The Beauty Of Hellebore Hybrids

A plant breeder has the unenviable task of deciding which hybrids to keep and which to discard. The nearest a photographer comes to that experience is when we are in a garden exploring a collection of hybrid plants, deciding which forms to capture.

Pink hellebore with an attractive covering of spots

The nodding habit of most hellebore hybrids forces us to bend and balance as we make our deliberations, lifting each flower head and looking inside. As a general rule, the more regular a pattern, the more photogenic the flower if we are aiming for a fresh look rather than artistic decay, but there are exceptions. Continue reading

Flowering Orchid: Calanthe William Murray gx

Pink and white orchid: Calanthe William Murray gx

RHS Garden Wisley has a wonderful collection of deciduous Calanthe orchids in flower now in the Glasshouse. This plant was labelled Calanthe William Murray gx. Its upper petals are white with pink bottom lips and a central section shaped like a nose.

There are two subgenera of Calanthe. Preptanthe ones like this are winter-deciduous orchids that die back to peculiar structures called pseudobulbs. Hairy flowering stems appear from near their base and bear a cascade of flowers that weigh the stems down into a graceful arc. Continue reading

Valentine’s Day Roses And Embarassments

Shrub roses with red splashed flowers

Shrub rose

Whatever our feelings about Saint Valentine’s Day, it’s hard to ignore. We all know we should let our sweethearts know that we love them all year round, even when they are walking mud into the house, let’s say, or leaving jam on the fridge door.

For those of us who find it hard to express our affection every day, Valentine’s Day can be a good thing. For those of us who get a sweet little extra something we appreciate, it’s a good thing. For people who sell cards, chocolates, flowers and meals, it’s definitely a good thing.

I’ve never been wildly keen on the day, perhaps due to several embarrassments it has occasioned. Continue reading

Green Flowers: Hellebores

Helleborus argutifolius has pale green flowers

Helleborus argutifolius

Green flowers are not always as subtle as they might appear – some of them are very striking. Today I’m sharing pictures of some of my favourite green hellebores.

Helleborus argutifolius produces one sturdy stem thickly clustered with flowers and buds a few shades lighter than the darker green leaves, and with golden stamens. The flowers persist for weeks or even months as with all hellebores, eventually forming equally striking seed heads, pollinators permitting. Like Helleborus foetidus (below) this is widely grown in the UK and can be found in many winter gardens.

Helleborus foetidus with dark foliage

Helleborus foetidus

This particular Helleborus foetidus has dark, purple tinged foliage and pretty purple lines around the edges of the petals (or sepals). At a guess, it is part of the Wester Flisk group. H. foetidus is an architectural plant, not because of its height, but because of the stems of elegant, tiered buds that hang like bells above deep, palmate foliage. Continue reading

Where to See Snowdrops In Lancashire in 2020

Snowdrops with long outer petals

February is snowdrop month for much of the UK. I’ve gathered a list of places you can see snowdrops this month in my home county, Lancashire, with details of their snowdrop open days. If you’re planning to take close up pictures, go sooner rather than later to catch them at their freshest.

This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for 2020. For those who live elsewhere in Britain, I’ve added a link at the bottom for you to research local gardens with good collections of snowdrops.  Continue reading

Pink Climbing Rose: An Exercise

HeyJude is running a photo challenge during 2020 on her Travel Words blog designed to get us thinking about the techniques of taking pictures. You can find out the details and monthly topics here. January’s topic is Composition and Framing. These crops are inspired by some of Jude’s instructions – I’ve added them in italics, so you know the intention.

Pink climbing rose at Harlow Carr

Clearly identify your subject. Not as easy as it might seem. The rose is my main interest, but the setting is worthy of attention too (around an oval opening on the curved outside fence of Diarmuid Gavin’s garden at RHS Harlow Carr), so I was slightly torn, wanting to give a glimpse of the inside.

It was an overcast summer evening. The curve of the wall and habit of the rose meant shooting into the light, creating a bright glare. The original picture has a few more inches of haze at the top, and bright light always draws the eye away from the subject. I’ve removed some of it with the effect that the crop is neither landscape, portrait or square. I like to keep the traditional proportions if I can, but throwing aside the rules and cropping any way the subject demands is often the difference between a poor picture and a decent one.

Move in closer to your subject, but not too close. While the flowers in the first picture were blobs, more of their character comes out here. Continue reading

January Squares: Snowdrops Glisten

Snowy landscape with snowdrops backlit by the fading sun

Snowdrops glisten under silver birch trees in a snowy winter garden

Interaction between the camera lens and the sun’s rays has sent rainbows tumbling from the top right. I’m not sure if that’s a feature or a flaw… perhaps a bit of both.

Pockets of snowdrops are barely distinguishable from the snow at first glance but, once your eye tunes in, they seem illuminated like tiny, ankle-high lamps. Long, narrow tree shadows accentuate the ray effect while the shade and golden rays together capture that feeling of warmth and exposure we Northerners associate with winter… the lucky ones, that is, who have the means of keeping warm. Continue reading