Sunday, 30 June 2013

Happy Lonely Bouquet Day

Today is Lonely Bouquet Day, a day for lovers of flowers from gardens and the nature around us, to make a bouquet and leave it for a stranger to find and adopt. It's a wonderful idea, and I've made three lonely bouquets. I'm just off to deliver them now....I'll update afterwards!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Peonies at Penshurst Place

I visited Penshurst Place for the first time this week.  Inspired by Claire Austin’s talk at Wisley, I wanted to catch the peonies before their season finished (it’s a shame they’re so ‘blink and you’ll miss us’) and also test out my nervous, new photography skills in a beautiful setting. I took 382 photos! Thank goodness for digital cameras.

I’ll focus on peonies here and I’ll write another post or two for the rest of the gardens, otherwise this post will be mammoth.

What I loved about the peony border is that you walk around the first gardens that you come across, looking from pear tree to lavender shrub, and you enjoy it so much, you forget what you came to see in the first place. Then you turn a corner and – wow. The scent along nearly knocked me off my feet. There are four varieties on display, from hot pink (Mons Jules Elie) to the ice cream and blush shades of Lady Alexander Duff, Albert Crousse and Sarah Bernhardt.

The border is one hundred metres long. Imagine a sprint set alongside it – it would draw the most languid runners, stopping to look, touch and sniff as they ambled along.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Sweet enough

I had my first attempt at crystallising flowers and herbs at the weekend. I picked a rose, some chocolate mint leaves and orange flowering thyme. I rinsed and dried them, pulled off the rose petals, then brushed them with beaten egg white and sprinkled them with sugar. It was a bit messy and I used granulated sugar as I'd run out of caster, but the petals and leaves still looked fine, I thought. They need to be left to dry on parchment overnight, but some of them were still not dry the next morning - I'm not sure if I used too much egg white, not enough sugar, or just needed to leave them for longer. At any rate, they tasted good and they looked pretty on top of rose water cupcakes. I think these would make pretty favours for an informal, shabby chic wedding. And of course, garden roses come in all sorts of colours, and you could also do this with other edible flowers, such as violets or nasturtiums.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

I'm snipping in the rain

I didn’t let the rain put me off today. I snipped away at the roses, orange thyme, scabious, daisy-like matricaria, pittosporum and – oh joy! – the first green stems of jasmine. Then I grabbed the camera and snapped away before the drizzle turned torrential.

Once the flowers were safely indoors, I took some more photos, including one sweet-smelling lilac rose in a lemonade bottle. It was really dark indoors because of the rain clouds, but I turned on the room light, changed the ISO to 1600 and the aperture to 4. I haven’t started using a flash on this camera yet.

The Chelsea Flower Show and the Gunpowder Tea Plot

You can now have afternoon tea at the House of Commons while Parliament is in recess during the summer, which sounds rather wonderful to me. So I took a magazine photograph of the Palace of Westminster tea and a picture of a flowery Union Jack flag (designed to celebrate 100 years of the Chelsea Flower Show) and stuck them on a jam jar. I filled the jam jar with bits from the garden – roses, scabious, orange thyme and chocolate mint. It smelt beautiful.

I found it difficult to get the exposure right because of the white roses, especially when the white roses were positioned on the side.

I have no idea what varieties of tea they serve at the House of Commons. I suspect they don’t serve gunpowder tea (which is a real tea; I haven’t just made it up), but if anyone is lucky enough to have afternoon tea there and discovers that they do serve it, please let me know!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Spicy stocks and Sweet Williams

There are some flowers whose scent is more foodie than floral. Chocolate cosmos, obviously. The clove-like, spicy scent of stocks is mouth-watering, too. British summer flowers are available everywhere now, and each week I see more types of flowers appearing in buckets to buy. Stocks and Sweet Williams are brilliant British flowers, both for their scent and their vivid colours. I love the dramatic boldness of these crimson and white flowers. I want to do this jug again with more stocks in pink or white.

I took these photos, and moved the jug to different locations to see what effect the background and the light would have. I'm really enjoying learning about photography and seeing the difference that the aperture, ISO and shutter speed makes to an image.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Pink lemonade and chocolate mint

I've been going to lots of classes over the last few months - flamenco, ballet, swing (lots of fun, would like to do more classes in future), singing, tap dancing (far too technical for me and both are much harder than they appear to be), and different types of acting (which is loads of fun).

After my improvisation class last week, we went to a cafe for food and a chat. When we left, I asked the staff if I could take our empty bottles - pink lemonade and citron (isn't that just 'lemon' in French?!) and the staff at Bills' kindly wrapped the bottles up for me.

There wasn't a lot in full flower in the garden, but I filled the lemonade bottles and some mini milk bottles with rose buds, scabious, flowering orange thyme and chocolate mint. I made a lovely cup of chocolate mint tea with the leaves below the water line, and even that looked pretty in my William Morris 'Daisy' mug that my friend Sarah gave me as a 'cheer up' present this year.

I took these photos on the same day that I took the overlit photos of the first roses, and I think these came out much better!

I like the promise of summer that these image evoke - parks, wooden benches, lemonade and tea, and sweet-smelling roses and herbs.

Coming up roses

I've added a page about roses at the top, so if you like roses (and really, who doesn't?), then it's worth a look.

But, this week - wow! The sun shone, and those promising, teasing rosebuds that were slowing appearing in May started to flower. I took photos of the first two roses to open, but despite my many attempts, I couldn't get the settings right in the evening light, so you can't really see the detail of the white rose or the beautiful peachy colour of the second rose. I'll keep practising and hopefully my 'difficult light' photos will get better!

Both of these roses smell gorgeous and the scent has wafted indoors because of the warmth of this week. It's been lovely. And there are even more roses opened up now.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A peony as big as the Ritz

The Peony Society put on a flower show at Wisley on Sunday, with lots of cut peonies on display. I have never seen tree peonies before and I couldn’t believe that some of the flowers were as big as my head! Just incredible. The scent of the herbaceous peonies was beautiful.

Claire Austin gave an interesting talk on intersectional peonies. The main point I took away from her talk was that peonies are very resilient, so we shouldn't be scared about uprooting them and moving them somewhere else! As well as being the daughter of David Austin and having a white rose named after her, Claire is an expert on peonies and sells these along with irises and perennials grown at her farm in Wales. These are some of the plants from her farm.

Bees and bunny ears at Wisley

I went to RHS Wisley on Sunday to see the display of peonies (more of that later). I guess the late summer has delayed the flowering of many plants (including peonies), but there was still plenty to see in the gardens. There were gigantic alliums everywhere, massive-headed Red Shine tulips, beautiful Claret astrantia, wisteria, primulas and irises.

Gardens aren't just about sight and smell; they can be about touch too. If you ever see Stachys byzantina 'Big Ears', then have a stroke of the leaves - they are lovely and velvety, like a rabbit's ears!

The sun was shining and the bees and butterflies were out in force. Looks like summer’s finally on its way.