Scampston Hall-Autumn

We have returned from a family trip out to Scampston Hall. Scampston has two great attractions. The grounds were designed by Capability Brown, the great landscape designer of the 18th century. Then the walled gardens contain the Dutch designer Piet Oudolf’s largest private commission in the UK. We had chosen to go there so we could meet up with my parents. It feels more comfortable meeting somewhere outside currently.

Scampston is free for one visit to RHS members, but only on Fridays. So far I’m not managing to get any free visits out of my membership. I visited Burnby too late in the year. Glad I’m paying student membership. I am enjoying the RHS magazine though which has been excellent.

We began with the walk around the grounds. There is a short walk through part of the grounds and woodland or a longer walk taking in more of the area. With Alice’s shorter legs we only did the shorter walk but it was a nice stretch taking in parts of the Capability Brown design. Alice was very keen to check the map each step of the way.

It took us through the rock garden which currently looks like it’s a work in progress. Several gunneras have been cut to the ground and the river was dry.

It took us down to the waterside and bridge-building.

Several swans and geese about.

Then we went through a stretch of trees with a pleasing trio of Acers.

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Burnby Hall

Today I sat my first RHS exam. I think it went well. I was able to answer everything. Just a few questions I think I may have lost marks on. In order to break up the journey home from Skipton I stopped off at Burnby Hall Gardens. I enjoyed my lunch and did a quick loop of the gardens. The garden contains a large man made lake and contains the National Collection of hardy water lillies.

It was a glorious day to visit with the sunlight reflecting on the water.

The pond is filled with ornamental roach and carp that are used to being fed by visitors. They come to snap at anyone near the edge of the water.

The water lillies were looking spectacular. Though I can’t say I can distinguish that many differences in the collection beyond colour.

The water was attracting many dragonflies. They were skimming all over the water hunting for smaller insects.

Off the edge of the lake are various garden areas. With Covid they have put a one way system in which takes you to the Victorian garden first. This is made of a walkway, pavilion and formal beds.

The beds were looking good but I think they probably peak earlier in the year. But some pretty Japanese anemones and Asters.

After the Victorian garden you come to the rock garden along the edge of the lake. Ferns fill many of the crevices. but there were a few more autumn favourites. The nerines looking particularly good.

The butterflies were enjoying what is possibly plumbago.

Though I did have the urge to take the labels off many of the plants. Here one slightly spoiling this otherwise beautiful Acer palmatum ‘dissectum’.

The stumpery was probably my favourite area. The shade was appreciated today. The mass green of foliage from ferns was very peaceful. A serene area scattered with totem like sculptures. The hobbit house is a nice playful touch.

They seem to be in the process of establishing a hydrangea walk. Only small specimens at the moment but theis will look great in a few years.

A well filled dovcote.

I enjoyed my trip today. A pleasant stop off for food on the way home and to bring my blood pressure down after my exam and the drive through Harrogate and the Wolds. I could happily return again to see it through the seasons. Thank you for all the well wishes today and support people have given me for my first RHS exam. I won’t get the results until December 2nd but I’m feeling fairly confident of at least a pass. I’m still getting to grips with the new blog editor so apologies for mistakes and poor formatting.

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Six on Saturday: 12.9.20

I have made it through my first week at work. It’s been lovely. I have the first of the RHS exams next week. I am feeling confident of passing but I’d like to get the commendation but we’ll see. WordPress has made the update to the new editor for writing my blogs. So far it is very clunky, sections I’ve written keep vanishing so I’m hoping I can change it back or it improves rapidly as this was a pain to write. I hope you all appreciate it.


1. Scaffolding

The builders are returning to finish our rendering. This has been an ongoing problems since last year. The builders did the job poorly putting internal insulation on the outside of the house and then rendering over. This all has to come off and then another team of builders who seem to know what they are doing are fixing it. It means the garden is going to be a bit of a mess for a while as a lot had to come off the patio ready for the work.

2. Front planters

I have two planters either side of the front door. Into these I placed hydrangea runaway brides. One has thrived. The other has shrivelled. Not sure exactly why. They were both suffering slightly with chlorosis but they’ve both had the same feed. They both get watered at the same time and have similar conditions.

I have cut back the one that has shrivelled. It may return next year but I’m not holding out much hope soI have moved some cylamen in to fill the gap for now. The foliage of the cyclamen being one of my favourite autumn plants.

Only one is flowering currently but they look to be a red and a white one.

3. Pot Rose

Alice has been going past the florist each day on her way to school and has been asking if we can get one of these little pot roses. As we’d made it through a week of work and school I indulged her.

Not necessarily a colour I’d choose but it looks nice enough. We’ll keep it inside to flower and then try transferring it outside to see if it can come back again.

4. Mouse

I went looking in the shed for a potlast Sunday and knocked this little mouse into the bird feed box. I kept it in a box so Alice could have a look and then released it back. They don’t do any harm in the shed. The bird food is all in metal tins and I’d rather they were out in the shed than coming in the house.

5. Bishop’s Children dahlia

This was another of the Bishop’s Children dahlia grown from seed this year. There has been a variety of colours from bright red, through pink and orange and yellow. This one seems to have developed as a partial double form.

6. Asters

The asters are coming into flower now. This is a tall variety that is wedged behind a hebe and sambucus.


And now they’re flowering the insects are happy.

Well, this was painful to write in the new editor. There is no spell checker and trying to read back through it leaps around so I expect complaints from my mother about mistake. I will be getting on with my last burst of exam revision this weekend so I may not get around to reading everyone else’s six blogs until after Monday. Enjoy your weekends.

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Six on Saturday: 29.8.20

I haven’t spent much time in the garden this week apart from preparing for wind damage. A few things have been staked in better and a few things removed as they were blown over. I lost one sweet pea patch but nothing major. The combination of wind and rain can be very punishing for the garden but as the week has gone on it has shifted to a bit less wind and a bit more rain. I have still been reading up on plenty of gardening know-how as I prepare for my first RHS exam in a few weeks. On Thursday evening I attended a zoom lecture by Rosy Hardy of Hardy’s plants. This was excellent. The talk came through Lou Nicholls Patreon channel. There is a good line up of talks coming up. It’s about the same price as the monthly gardening magazines and probably better value. Rosy’s talk covered several perennials with excellent tips, a wealth of experience around the Chelsea chop, growing tips for plants, trouble-free alternatives to several popular choices. It was well worth the monthly price. Mark Lane, Steven Edney, Phil Gilmartin, Harriet Rycroft and more are lined up already. It gives you access to Chelsea winners, university lecturers and authors and the chance to pick their brains on their specialist area.

1. Heuchera ‘Bressingham’ hybrid

These were started from seed a few months ago. I bought two types from Chiltern Seeds. These and greenfinch. I potted them on from the seed tray this week into plugs. I now have about 100 plus. I doubt they’ll all make it to maturity but I should hopefully have enough for my needs. They have evergreen bright green foliage. The flowers come out red, pink and coral and are cut for cut flowers but they are also loved by the bees. I haven’t seen as many of the greenfinches germinate but not abandoning them yet.

2. Digitalis lutea

This is a perennial foxglove I am growing from seed. These have been potted on now into 9cm pots. They should be able to carry on rooting for another month or so and then I should have some strong plants ready for next year. They are shorter than the biennials but I have had issues with the biennials. I had one year I where I think I removed many of the self-seeders and another where slugs accounted for a number. With the perennial varieties, I can plant them where I want and now where they are coming back up.

3. Hylotelephium

The talk with Rosy Hardy reminded me I’d added two new Hylotelephiums to help encourage butterflies. I’ve also wanted some of the dark-leaved varieties since I first saw them in the in-laws garden. Time to mention them so I have the record on the blog of what they are called. These were known as sedum but they had a name change with the spring flowering plants retaining the name sedum while these autumn flowerers gained a new name. This is a short, sprawling one ‘Bertram Anderson’. I have placed at the front of the border to spill over. It’s a bit untidy but I think as it flowers it should be popular and when it puts on fresh growth next year it will fill out and look a bit better.

This is another dark-leaved type, Hylotelephium ‘Vera Jameson’. More like the popular ‘Autumn Joy’ with dark leaves. It is taller than ‘Bertram Anderson’ but that is currently meaning it has flopped over. It would have benefitted from a Chelsea chop but I bought it after the time for that. Rosy Hardy gave an excellent explanation of how to do this in various ways on the Thursday talk. I’ve put it next to the green ‘Autumn Joy’ which you can see in the picture. This has lost a number of its leaves as I don’t think it was in the best health when I got it but it will come back fine next year.

4. Brunera ‘Alexander the Great’

This is just small currently but will fill a nice space with its super foliage. Suitable for shade and the small forget-me-not flowers attract the bees. It has a large Dryopteris fern to one side. They should contrast nicely in terms of texture and foliage shapes.

5. Verbena rigida

This is shorter than the ever popular verbena bonariensis but forms larger clusters of purple flowers. But just like its taller relative, the small tubular flowers are popular with butterflies. I have got a packet of seed kicking around somewhere so may try and grow a few more to spread around. It’s fitting in nicely here with the fuschia.

6. Dahlia tamburo

I believe this is Tamburo. Alice swapped labels last year. I bought the tubers last year as part of a collection of short dahlia for pots. It’s a lovely dark dahlia. It’s one fault is that the flowers tend to come out in the middle of foliage. They often form between stems and then the foliage growth overtakes them. I’m sure this could be resolved with careful pruning but deadheading is enough of a job currently.

I’ve got one more week and then I return to the world of work. There are a few days forecast as dry so I can hopefully get a few garden jobs done so the garden is in the best state before I start work. If you fancy taking part in six on Saturday read the guide.

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Six on Saturday: 22.8.20

Well, what a week! Rain for the first part of the week followed by glorious sun followed by wind and sun. I’ve been busy clearing the patio ready for the builders. I’m trying to find spaces for lots of the potted plants in the borders. So there are several areas of the border that are a bit rammed currently but I will gradually sort them out as annuals come out. Yesterday was my two year wedding anniversary. We didn’t get out but had a nice evening in after getting Alice to bed. The wind was blowing strong. I cut a few of the gladioli for vases inside as I didn’t fancy their chances.

1. Lily

This lily was in a pot last year on the patio. It was completely devastated by lily beetle and didn’t flower. I had heard on gardener’s question time that they often survive better in partial shade so I moved it near the black cherry. It has come back with a vengeance and has been spectacular. Even with the wet weather I’ve had a few weeks out of it. The wind yesterday has accounted for most of the petals but it had a pretty good run.

2. Hydrangea paniculata ‘limelight’

Just behind the lily is limelight. It’s a spectacular hydrangea with lime green flowers fading to white with a tinge of pink. The flower heads are a good size. There are varieties with bigger heads but I think the proportions of this are quite pleasing. I planted two in the back garden last year and one as the centrepiece in the front garden. As you can see, they are settling in well and should carry on putting on a bit more height in future years.

3. Small tortoiseshell butterfly

I had mentioned that small tortoiseshell butterflies have been lower in numbers in a previous six. I’ve just started to see some in the garden this week. I think this would be a second brood of the year. Here it has come for the Achillea millefolium ‘Pink grapefruit’ (yarrow). I had planted this a few weeks back to attract in more butterflies so it is good to see it is doing its job.

The chives are also proving very popular. I cut them back a month or so again after flowering and we’re getting a second burst.

4. Silver Y moths

Each year we seem to get a few years where these day-flying moths are around in large numbers. Last year was a record year but we’ve had a few days this week where every plant I touch sends up a cloud of them. They migrate into the UK but don’t stay for the whole year as it’s too cold for their liking.

5. Dahlia variabilis ‘cactus mixed

These were grown from seed this year. Not reaching anywhere near the heights on the label but they are still looking pretty. So far I’ve had orange and yellow. None of the purple on the label that I quite fancied but these are a nice bright burst.

6. Gladioli

I’ve grumbled about my gladioli since I first put them in. They were blousy pastel colours. I added several dark purple and white ones into the border. I prefer block colours for these and this Wilco’s special is looking particularly good. A few have been blown over even with staking and have been taken for cut flowers inside.

Another productive week in the garden. I still have a few more plants to clear from the patio. A few winter bedding plants to pot on. It’s a week of rain ahead on the forecast so I don’t know how much I’ll get done. But, on the positive side, the garden is looking lush. If you fancy taking part in six on Saturday check the guide. It’s an ever-growing community of gardeners with many blogs and hundreds taking part on Twitter. Enjoy your weekends whatever you are up to.

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Six on Saturday: 15.8.20-Bay wildlife

We have returned from a trip the in-laws before we potentially end up in another partial lockdown. They have a fantastic garden with several tiers as it goes down to a cliff edge. The garden is in good order with drifts of verbena, the hydrangeas at their peak and the sedums ready to bloom. The agapanthus are doing very well. But, I thought I’d make a focus of the wildlife in the garden this week as we had a few exciting sightings. Their garden is a good example of how, with a variety of habitats, you can have a wide range of wildlife while still having a garden that looks prim and tidy.

1. Dragonfly-Southern Hawker

The wildlife pond at the bottom of the garden is doing well. The grasses and flowers are attracting in many bees and a few other pollinators. Plenty of food for dragonflies. The weather was a bit grey so I didn’t see that many dragonflies but I did spot what I think is a southern hawker. This is different from the ones visiting my garden so nice to see something different.

2. Newts

The pond is also home to newts. The in-laws I think would prefer the frogs for the slug defences but it’s glorious to watch these amphibians that were common in my childhood but rare now. If you have newts they eat the tadpoles so you generally don’t get many living together. I think it’s a smooth newt. These are the commonest in the UK but still protected by law. It is illegal to sell or trade them. Whereas Northern Ireland has better protection: no killing, injuring, capturing, disturbance, possession or trade. Newts will still manage to thwart Boris in Northern Ireland

3. Hoverflies on buddleja

As I said, the weather was a bit gray so not many butterflies on the bushes famous for enticing them in. But, there was still lots of hoverflies enjoying them.

4. Robin

I saw lots of birds on the feeders: tits, bullfinches, goldfinches, sparrows and wrens. But, I didn’t manage any decent photos of them with the exception of the robin which was a bit more sociable.

5. Martha

A bit less wild, this is Martha. This was Amy’s cat before she went to live in Indonesia. She hasn’t taken it back as it is settled well here and I’m allergic. So my birds are safe. She was sat down by the pond and bird feeders for a lot of our visit. She likes people but not sure about small children. So, Alice was given a wide berth.

6. Badger

The compost heap has been getting dugout. The in-laws have been concerned that it might be rats so we left the trail camera set up to check. A little bigger than a rat. They have had the badgers before but they thought they’d fenced up the entry points.

We tried to narrow down where they are coming in but only really know which end of the garden they are entering.

It’s been great visiting them and wonderful to see so much wildlife within their garden. Don’t forget to check out the other six on Saturday posts. I now need to get on with getting my own garden jobs done. The seagulls have been throwing the compost out of pots and lots of plants are still very dry. Enjoy your weekends whatever you are up to.

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Saving pollinators

This week a new label for plant sales has been launched by the National Botanic Garden of Wales to help protect pollinators from plants containing insecticides. The story has been picked up on nationally though I think the significance of the story may be lost on some.

Currently, many plants are sold as being beneficial for pollinators. If you go shopping at a garden centre or nursery you may see labels with the RHS Plants for pollinators badge on. This is a very useful resource listing plants the RHS have deemed to be useful for pollinators. The lists are very useful. They list plants by season that are beneficial. This allows you to plan your garden to have plants in flower through the year to help the pollinators in your garden. Which is all great!

However, many of the plants sold with the RHS ‘plants for pollinators’ label may have been grown using pesticides. This will mean that the plants you are buying to help may actually be harming the wildlife. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that. In tests where plants bought with the perfect for pollinator label, 76% contained at least one insecticide and 38% contained two or more insecticides. The RHS has been discussing changing the label since 2017 but has shown little leadership in making the change. I imagine it would ruffle too many feathers withing the Horticulture Trade Association and the RHS sponsors. But it is a change that needs to come so consumers can buy without engaging in a Russian Roulette of whether they potentially harm the insects they are trying to help.

The plants containing pesticides causes harm to the pollinators and has been linked to colony collapse disorder. But it can also affect food up the food chain. Birds and mammals such as hedgehogs can be affected by eating these poisoned pollinators. It has been hypothesised that eating the infected insects may lead to the birds becoming denourished. It has also been shown that birds eating the neonicotinoids directly may lead to bird deaths. You would have thought we would learn from our past mistakes where the pesticide Organochlorine led to a decline in birds of prey as the eggshells ended up thinner but we obviously haven’t. On top of the decline of birds, many of these pesticides have been strongly linked to cancer in humans. While glyphosate was banned here in the UK companies like Bayer have just developed alternatives that are likely to be as harmful.

So having painted a rather gloomy picture there I hope you can see why the Botanic Gardens new ‘saving pollinators’ logo on plant sales is so significant. The label will indicate that these plants have been grown without any pesticides whatsoever. This will give consumers peace of mind that the plants they are buying are beneficial for pollinators and they don’t have any hidden surprises. Currently, the new label is being taken on by a series of Welsh nurseries but it would be great to see this go national.

In the meantime what can you do to ensure the health of your plants for pollinators? You can buy direct from several nurseries. More and more nurseries are advertising the fact that they are pesticide-free and peat-free. Alternatively, you can grow from seed. While some seeds sold are coated in pesticides this is used more in agriculture than horticulture. But again, companies advertising their eco-credentials. A number of the nurseries on Dog Wood Days Peat-free list state that they don’t use pesticides. The RHS plants for pollinators lists are still a valuable resource for planning for wildlife gardening but the label isn’t a guarantee of safety. Hopefully, in time, we can see the Welsh saving pollinators badge adopted nationwide.

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Further reading

https://botanicgarden.wales/press/science-fact-fuels-campaign-to-stamp-out-pollinator-friendly-fiction/

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/lifesci/goulsonlab/blog/bee-friendly-flowers

Six on Saturday-8.8.20

We made it out to visit a garden this week. I did consider featuring our trip to Wassand Hall for this weeks six but there was far more than six so this has featured as a post on its own. The garden is going through the transition to late summer. The poppies have come out and a few annuals so that I can put a few more dahlias in the ground. The verbena and gladioli is almost ready to flower. The air has been filled with insects with the heat of the week. The house martins are still shrieking overhead. So much to enjoy in the garden and too hot to do much more than some light deadheading until the evenings.

1. Hebe

I culled all the hebes in the front garden last year as they had all become too leggy and they weren’t flowering much anymore. This smaller one survived in the back garden. It is not quite hardy enough though. The leaves get damaged each year so it gets a cut back in spring and spends much of the year recovering. It does, however, have pretty very vibrant pink flowers that the bees and butterflies seem to like.

The passionflower is trying to grow through it so I keep needing to unwrap tendrils and put it back on the fence.

2. New Butterflies

I’ve been grumbling the last few weeks about the lack of butterflies. I’ve not had a lot of my regular visitors but I read an interesting article saying that several species are possibly hibernating earlier. Having grumbled I have then had two species which I haven’t sighted in the garden before.

First a gatekeeper. These are fairly common locally but I haven’t seen in the garden. The caterpillars feed on grasses so an area of long grass is useful for attracting them in. After lockdown easing the locals and town council have gone a bit mad on the grass mowing cutting back areas that are often left longer. I’m wondering if this has displaced some of these butterflies.

The second newcomer was a brown argus I think. When the wings are closed they are very similar to common blue butterflies but I’m pretty certain this was brown when it opened its wings. Both of the newcomers settled on the marigolds so they are earning their keep. I still think numbers are down in the garden despite the newcomers. numbers of whites are up with the caterpillars eating my sprouts and nasturtiums but other species numbers are down.

3. Dragonflies

I featured these last week but I wanted to feature them again as I’ve managed some more detailed photos.

I have seen bigger numbers this week. There have sometimes been as many as 4 in at once. They seem to like settling on the honeysuckle. They eat small flying insects. I think this spot offers them a vantage point where they can rest and observe the garden for hunting.

4. Passionflower

The passionflower is now dominating one fence. I featured the flowers earlier in the season. Each day a couple of new flowers open keeping the bees happy.

The early flowers mean it has managed to form fruit for the first time. They might even have time to ripen this year.

5. Achillea millefolium-Yarrow

In my efforts to help the butterflies I am looking at adding a few more nectar sources for them. Yarrow is recommended as a good option. Tesco had a number at the point of death for a £1. I think this one can be salvaged. If nothing else I can collect seeds.

The second is a healthy one. This is Achillea millefolium ‘Pink Grapefruit’. It is filling out the pot nicely and the pink stands out nicely. This is part of the tutti-fruiti series that have been bred to be compact. So they seem like a good option for a pot to attract some butterflies on the patio. They need good drainage. My garden is clay. I have improved it over the last few years but I think these will still do better in a pot than in my ground. They are drought tolerant which is becoming more of a consideration each year.

6. Dahlia-Black Jack

I had originally wanted this dahlia last year and I ordered ir from Sarah Raven as part of a trio of short dahlias. However, she had supply issues and I was refunded. I ordered this year from Farmer Gracy and it was delivered this year with no issues. It’s a smallish dahlia with lovely dark maroon ruffles. I think it was worth the extra years wait.

If you’ve enjoyed my post and fancy taking part or reading more check out the participant guide. I’ve got a bit of potting on to do today and may start off a few more seeds now the mini-greenhouse is emptying out. I’m gradually clearing the patio and garden ready for the return of the builders. I hope you all enjoy your weekends whatever you are up to.

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Wassand Hall

Today we headed out to Wassand Hall. I haven’t been to the gardens for two years and never in high summer. The whole set up is pretty much outside so Corona precautions are pretty straightforward and social distancing is easy enough. There were a few other people checking out the gardens but it was easy enough staying apart. Alice’s leg is still hurting so we didn’t want to take her for a day out which was going to strain her too much. The gardens here are not massive so we thought this would be about right.

The walled gardens are largely in three sections. One part is a run of formal box hedges with perennials growing inside. This was mainly heuchera, salvias and hostas currently.

A small fountain fills one wall.

With some stunning water lilies.

A climbing hydrangea Seemannii is spilling over one wall. This a different version to the one I grow as this one is supposedly evergreen. Either way, it has been allowed to romp away and is spectacular for it.

A formal pond fills the middle of this section.

There is a nice run of rose arches and clematis. Many of the roses had finished flowering but there were a few late-flowering clematises hanging on. This one is Doctor Ruppel.

We have continued Alice’s training. Hydrangeas are for having photos taken in front of.

Hydrangea Annabelle has been used a lot but then it is a beauty and easy to propagate.

To the side is the veg patch. Some of it looking a bit sorry for itself in the heat but some good obelisks.

And a good cutting patch of sweet peas.

Then a few flowers for cutting are arranged around the edge. The cactus dahlias proving popular with the bees.

The main walled courtyard is centred around a fountain complete with fish.

Then the borders seem to have been roughly split in four with a tropical border, a white area, a pollinator-friendly area and the shade border. I’m not sure if this is how they’d classify their planting but this is how it came across to me.

The tropical corner is thriving. Massive cannas, verbena and dahlias. Lots of Christopher Lloyd inspired schemes.

The cannas are truly enviable. A picture of health as opposed to my runt.

The shaded border is full of many of my favourites with foliage being key. Lots of hostas and ferns. It was also the nicest place to sit. When we set out it was grey and clouded but the sun came out as we wandered and the shade was appreciated.

The white border. As in Vita’s it is really a green border. It’s nicely done but it doesn’t excite me personally as much as other areas.

Though the agapanthus was spectacular.

It was good to see lots of bees and butterflies enjoying the garden. I saw both small and large white, peacocks, and gatekeepers while we were in.

We left the gardens for the cool of the woodland walk.

We told the story of the Gruffalo while we walked.

This took us round to the wilder ponds. A few moorhens looked to be hidden around the edge. A few dragonflies were flitting along the edge. I managed a few shots though none that great. Not as good as the shots I’ve been getting in my garden but nice to see a different dragonfly. I think this a common darter but if anyone knows better please feel free to comment.

They had a plant bench laid out. Mostly well priced for the size of the plants. They had a few of the hydrangea Annabelles for sale, a few interesting hardy geraniums, fuchsias and a few other bits. I picked up some cheap hakonechloa macra aureola for two-thirds of the price it is costing online. I’m not sure if I’ll use this bulking out my existing patch or possibly in a pot with one of the Acers that requires potting on. Then a small eucomis. Though I’m not sure whether it is labelled right. I like the spotty underside of the leaves. These grow a kind of pineapple-shaped flower. Quite exotic looking though supposedly quite easy to grow.

A nice afternoon out. The gardens aren’t massive. But, it was about the limit of what Alice could manage on a poorly leg and Amy’s back is aching too. Though she doesn’t know what she’s done. Always nice to see other gardens and see a few different plants in different combinations.

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Six on Saturday: 25.7.20-Anatomy of a photo

This week I have been aiming for a few decent photos in the garden. There are a few photo competition deadlines coming up including the Countryfile calendar competition. Going off previous years where the ‘wildlife’ has been faked in home-built studios I probably don’t stand much of a chance. But the theme this year is ‘bright and beautiful’ and I have an idea of a photo I wanted. The rules have been changed a bit for this year in that people can enter wildlife photos taken closer to home as we’ve been on lockdown rather than the countryside. So I wanted to try and get a photo of the wildlife in my garden that has brought me comfort during lockdown.

1. The aim

I have been wanting to get a decent photo of the bees on this allium. The allium was randomly placed in Alice’s fairy garden. It is growing out on in its own but the bees are loving it. It frequently has two or three bees on it.

Being out on its own it has the advantage of standing out dramatically on photos as I can angle photos to either have the bright green of the grass of the bright pink of the Hydrangea macrophylla. I knew the combination of a bee, the allium and a striking background could make for a stunning photo.

2. Initial attempts

My initial attempts were taken with my telephoto lens (Nikon-300mm) as the bees were a bit skittish when I got too close and they weren’t settling for long. I can focus this lens quickly for the quick movements of the bees and take shots from a little distance. The results were ok but using such a long lens limited my freedom to compose the shot with the background as I can’t gain the height to get the background how I wanted it. It also lacks the detail I felt I could get on the bees.

3. Lens change

I decided I’d try with the macro lens to get a higher level of detail on the bee.

It’s been a bit of a grey week so the photos are a bit muted. But, you can see the level of detail on the bee went up from the previous photo. However, it lacks the depth of field to have much of the allium in focus.

4. Flash

I’ve been hoping for brighter days, but as they haven’t happened I got the flash out. I don’t often bother with it as I mainly use my previously mentioned telephoto lens for taking pictures of the birds. The flash doesn’t make much difference at those distances. But for this close up work it stops me or the camera shading out the subject. It does add quite a bit of weight to the setup.

The best result with the flash.

5. Diffuser

The flash helps give the extra light to really show off the hairs of the bee but it places all the light in a focussed spot. So I had quite a few photos with the light bouncing back at me or spread unevenly. So I added the diffuser to the lens. This covers the flash and allows some light through but more evenly.

This got me some much better photos. With a little bit of digital editing to increase the colours a little bit more so they reflected the colours the bee and plant really are. I don’t generally edit my photos much after except cropping as I mainly just take photos to illustrate the blog but I was aiming for a particular result here. I was close to results I was happy with.

But they both had elements that were wrong. On this one, the allium is still out of focus. The bee’s positioning meant all of the bee was pretty much in focus though not the most exciting composition. But the bees aren’t that accommodating at poising.

On this one, the position was more dynamic but key elements around the face were out of focus.

6. Tripod

Over the week I’d seen that in the evening the bees become more sluggish and they stay on the allium for longer. I thought I’d try for a few more shots using the tripod to make up for my shakey hands. The camera weighs a lot by the time you add the lens and focussing with the macro is precise. So the tripod allows for less camera shake allowing for things like a slower shutter speed without the photo becoming blurry. With the tripod and flash, I was able to manage a photo with both the bee and allium in focus and the hydrangea background I was hoping for.

I’m unlikely to win as like I already said many of the winners have been staged photos within studios or certainly look that way. Then of the actual natural shots, there have been some far more stunning and technically better photos. Photos of mammals almost all win the public vote. People seem to be able to relate more and go for that ‘cute’ factor. But, I have enjoyed the process of trying for a better photo. If I do get a day with better natural light I’ll try for some more photos. I’ve probably got another few days before the allium goes over. But Amy is complaining that I am on infringing on her photo specialty of macro, so back to birds for me. Thank you if you’ve read this far and tolerated me writing a different six on Saturday again. If you fancy seeing more garden pics or taking part check the participant guide.

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