The shows have finished for the year; this lull in activity gives me the chance to look back on some of the outings I made this year which haven’t yet featured in this blog.
On a blistering hot Thursday at the end of June, I travelled across to Essex to give a talk to the local AGS group on plant photography at AGS Shows. I hate travelling at the last minute and risking getting held up in traffic, particularly around London, so I set off in the morning, planning to visit the garden at RHS Hyde Hall. There is little alpine content here but some dazzling plantings of herbaceous perennials.
With temperatures in the mid-30s, it was almost too hot to walk around a garden, with only the barest hint of a breeze. I caught the sun despite my fetching white sunhat and my tan from the Picos in May. Hardly the weather, or time of day, normally associated with successful garden photography.
I entered the garden through an area known as the Winter Garden, which features shrubs with colourful stems and banks of heather. However, in the summer this area features massed herbaceous plantings with bold colour combinations.
One of the highlights for me was this grouping of Achillea cultivars in burnt orange shades, but I couldn’t get close enough to photograph it effectively.
Nearer the path, the pink spires of Lythrum salicaria ‘Blush’ looked very effective against the red leaves of the shrubs behind.
The most flamboyant combination was the red balls of Lychnis chalcedonica (the Maltese Cross plant), mingled with the hovering flat disks of this yellow Achillea.
After this, I crossed the main path and started working my way up through the perennial borders on the side of Clover Hill towards the Dry Garden.
At the bottom of the slope, there was a massed planting of the wonderful Geranium ‘Ivan’.
Near the geraniums, beds full of sea-holly attracted the eye – and the bees. They always fascinate me, with exciting textures and a subtle blend of colours. The blue was especially effective when in front of yellow Santolina.
However, the dominant plantings at this time of year were massive blocks of Salvia nemorosa in a variety of different cultivars, though not all had visible names.
The most heavily used Salvia cultivar was the purple ‘Caradonna’, which looked incredible interplanted with wispy blonde grasses.
Further up the hill, there was a bank of one of the big blue geraniums, here photographed with the pink of Rosa ‘Ballerina’ behind.
The bright blue Geranium had obviously been planted to provide a nice contrast for the bold orange spikes of Kniphofia ‘Bees Sunset’.
The Salvia also looked good with the grey leaves and straw-yellow flowers of Thalictrum flavum behind it.
By now I was nearly at the top of the hill and skirting the edge of the dry garden. Here, the bright red flowers of Penstemon barbatus stood out against lime-green Euphorbia and the purple of Salvia nemorosa.
The dry garden is topped with shingle and Verbena bonariensis seeds itself around in drifts among the blowing grasses.
I found this planting enchanting, with the graceful, airy stems and bright red flowers of Knautia macedonica mingling with the equally airy Verbena.
The pink and white butterflies of Gaura lindheimeri provide another important component of the airy, hazy planting.
The grey felted leaves and purple spires of Stachys byzantina looked great here, particularly against the yellow Santolina.
Another of my favourite plants was self-seeding here, the South African Berkheya purpurea. I have grown it several times but it never stays long; it wants a sunny well-drained situation, and my clay is just too claggy in the winter.
The purple haze of Verbena was punctuated by the great yellow columns of Verbascum olympicum, also at home in these hot sunny beds.
Even the Verbascum were dwarfed as the great spires of an Echium started to stretch skyward.
In among the more familiar elements, it was exciting to find this striking Aloe. I would love to grow it if I had the space and a suitable location.
There were other succulents as well as the Aloe in among the rocks, including this which I don’t have a name for.
As you move out of the dry garden, under the trees at the top of the hill, the Verbascum are replaced by Acanthus mollis.
The paths around the new learning centre and restaurant at the top of the hill were flanked by regimented ranks of onions, still to bloom.
In other beds here, the soft blue of Campanula lactiflora was set off by the acid green of Euphorbia.
I thought this marigold cultivar was delightful.
I moved into the herbaceous borders of the hilltop garden, edged with the foaming flowers of Alchemilla mollis, here backed by the architectural stems of Phlomis russeliana.
The silver Eryngium giganteum is also a magnet for bees – and photographers!
I enjoyed the large groups of Delphinium at the back of the borders and wondered how the molluscs had been kept at bay.
In front of the delphiniums there was a short pink Achillea.
Used as a component of the herbaceous border.
I was surprised to see a neat double form of Ragged Robin
This Triteleia worked really well in amongst the Alchemilla.
For me the highlight of the border was this fabulous Osteospermum.
Beyond the herbaceous border is a vegetable garden, which didn’t hold much interest for me, and then an area where various new annual cultivars were planted (possibly being trialled?). I have always loved marigolds and these were very attractive.
Some lovely Gerbera cultivars were also planted here. I particularly liked the orange one with yellow centres.
I loved the way the light reflected off these grasses as they moved in the breeze.
Another lovely Osteospermum.
I always enjoy the sculptural shapes and texture of these ‘everlasting’ flowers.
Finally, there were patches of these petunia-like annuals which I have never encountered before. The cultivars shown here are Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Light Pink Blast’ and Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Pink’.
I walked back across the hilltop through the rose garden. The heat had taken its toll here and most of the blooms looked tired. One thing that did attract my attention though was the careful planting of clematis with the climbing roses to give colour combinations and contrasts.
As I approached the Upper Pond, there was a large bed of Amsonia orientalis, a curious shrubby perennial which is covered in pale blue flowers at this time of year, and which seems to attract the butterflies.
In the island beds between here and the Lower Pond there were some beautiful clumps of day lilies, shining brightly in the sun.
In a more shaded bed, I found a large bank of a fern I have photographed at AGS shows.
On the banks of the Upper Pond, there was a lovely short red Astilbe. The family of ducklings inhabiting the pond offered photographic potential but I didn’t have a long lens with me.
The beds between the pond and the house glowed with more of these golden everlasting flowers.
In amongst them, the deep blue of this Mediterranean pimpernel.
This yellow Osteospermum made a nice contrast between the Salvia and the purple leaves of the Sedum.
As I moved towards the Woodland Garden, I found a bed full of the lovely white form of Lychnis coronaria, with occasional plants in pale pink.
Passing through the woodland, I went out to see the new meadow planting. After my experiences of the Picos, I found this rather disappointing despite the wonderful views across the flat fields. This was primarily because the plants were not massed populations of the same species bleeding into each other, but individual specimens mingled together and labelled rather inadequately. Here are a few: Leucanthemum vulgare, Galega sp., Galium verum, Knautia macedonica and Linum flavum.
I made my way back from the open skies, past beds of Euphorbia to the Robinson Garden. Near the path, the spires of Veratrum caught the light.
Here, I thoroughly enjoyed the beds of Astrantia, mainly ‘Buckland’ and the patterns of light and shade the flowers produced.
Monkshood was growing and flowering well here in the shade.
Among the Astrantia, a fine plant of Trollius chinensis drew the eye.
Also in these semi-shaded woodland beds.
Returning slowly through the Queen Mother’s Garden, I came across several large clumps of Common-spotted Orchids. I suspect, from their vigour, that these had some hybrid blood.
The bright purple flowers of Geranium psilostemon caught the light, along with other Geranium cultivars, both blue and a subtle purple shade.
Above and behind, the tall spires of Veronicastrum virginicum.
Several of the paths here were closed for maintenance, but somehow or other I found my way through to top of the Australia and New Zealand Garden.
Here, Mimulus aurantiacus was being used as a bedding plant.
Close to the Mimulus, the glowing flowers of Dianthus deltoides ‘Brilliant’ demanded to be photographed.
This Callistemon cultivar was a nice clean colour.
On a sunny bank, there was a wide mat of Pratia pedunculata, covered in light blue stars and thriving as well as I have ever seen it in the open garden. My own slugs love it – I can’t even keep it alive in a pot.
On my way back to the exit, through the Winter Garden, I found this lovely planting of Veronica spicata alba.
Shortly beyond, a bank covered in backlit Salvia provided one final picture. I’m not sure which Salvia it was.
That concludes my visit. Although there were not many plants here of specific alpine interest, I thought the herbaceous plantings were spectacular and I was pleased with the way the photos came out.
People always tell you that you that you should visit gardens in evening or early morning for photography, in order to get soft pastel lighting. Here, the light was strong and overhead, but you have to make the best of what you have. This bright sunlight gave me bold saturated colours all through the garden and dappled light in the woodland.
Jon lives and gardens on the north side of the Hogsback on the border between Hampshire and Surrey, on a heavy clay soil. He is a long standing member of the AGS and has been treasurer of the local group in Woking for many years. He is especially interested in bulbs of all sorts, particularly those from South Africa, and is progressing slowly towards his Gold Medal at shows, at the rate of roughly one first per year.
However, he is best known within the AGS as an enthusiastic amateur photographer. For about 10 years he was responsible for organising the artistic and photographic section of the AGS shows around the country, and also for organising the show photography. During this period, he set up and ran the AGS Digital Image Library. He is still actively involved in plant photography, both at shows (he visits many shows each year to catalogue the extraordinary achievements of the exhibitors) and in gardens both public and private, and he makes regular outings to view and photograph wild flowers in the UK.
If you have any comments or queries for Jon, you can contact him direct at email@example.com