Category Archives: My Garden

How to take good flower photographs, ten tips

The camera – most modern digital cameras will do a good job. The pictures on this website were taken with a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300. I have had it for two years and am very pleased with it. The current equivalent, the W350B, is available from Amazon UK for under £120. The main things I look for in a camera are a good lens that will take close-ups and a compact design. This camera fits in a carry case that clips on my belt.

A sunny day – if you have a choice then wait for the sun to come out. It is easy to wait for the sun if you are taking pictures in your own garden. If you are planning some flower photography away from home then keep your fingers crossed for a sunny day.

The position of the sun – the direction of the light can make a big difference to the look of your picture. I like to have the sun to the left of my shoulder. This gives a good shape to the petals. I also like to take pictures with the sun in front of the camera. Not so much in front that it is shining down the lens, but forward enough to give good rim lighting.

Focus – it is important to have the main subject in sharp focus. My camera has automatic focus and it puts up a grid showing what area it has picked. The problem with automatic focus is that it may pick a point nearer or further that the main subject. The trick is to move the camera from side to side until you get the point you want and then lock it on by gently squeezing the shutter release button half way. Then frame your subject as you want it. Once the focus is locked keep the distance to the main subject exactly the same.

Composition – with flower photography it is usually best to get the main subject in the middle of the frame. Having said this other factors come into play. Pay attention to what is happening behind the main subject. Is there anything distracting in view? Moving around the subject may improve the background. It is often a matter of trial and error to find a pleasing composition.

Light and shade – strong sunlight creates strong shadows. You may be able to use this to your advantage by framing your main subject that is in bright light against a dark shadow. This will make it stand out more.

Viewpoint – if you have low growing flowers then it is a good technique to crouch down so that you are taking the picture on their level. On the other hand, with a wide open flower it is interesting to get above it and look into it. The key is experimentation with different viewpoints.

Distance – the distance from the camera to the subject depends on what you want to achieve. You may want a record of the whole plant or you may want a close up. I usually take several photographs at various distances. I like to get in really close wherever possible as this can give dramatic results.

Insects – if you can photograph the flower with a butterfly or a bee on it this can add drama. It takes luck and patience to get the insect in the right place since they tend to flit around. The delay between pressing the shutter release button and the picture being exposed does not help. If you can hold the shutter button at the half-way point so that it is focused and ready to go this helps.

Take more than one picture – the beauty of digital photography is that you can take additional pictures at no extra expense. Photograph your subject from different angles and distances. When you view them on your computer screen you can then pick the best.

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Grapevine progress

In mid-June I put up a trellis in front of the greenhouse. This was to provide a place for my grapevine to grow and to form an attractive feature. This is a report on the vines progress over the summer.

The brand new trellis on 21 June 2010.

The grapevine has been growing against the garage wall behind the greenhouse for about 20 years. The fruit has never really come to much until this year. One year I trained it into the greenhouse in an attempt to get better fruit but it wasn’t much of an improvement. However, this year it went all the way and provided small but perfectly edible grapes. Maybe it is because of my new trellis or maybe it is thanks to global warming providing a warm but wet summer.

Tiny grapes.

The grapevine on 19 August 2010.

A bunch of grapes on 19 August 2010.

The grapes are almost ripe on 6 September 2010.

My strawberry plants are multiplying

In July daughter gave me four baby strawberry plants taken from strawberry runners in her garden. I decided to start them off in a tub to give them some protection from garden pests. That was a mistake because I had not reckoned with a larger pest. Each morning I would go into the garden and discover that my strawberry plants had been dug up. At first I thought it must be birds looking for worms. Then one day I spied from my window a grey squirrel. It scampered over and scratched up my plants.

That also solved another mystery. Last autumn I planted up five tubs with spring bulbs. Three of the tubs gave a good display but two tubs had nothing to show. At the time I assumed the bulbs had rotted away because when I dug down there was no sign of them. Now I know that it was the squirrel that had them for lunch. When the squirrel saw my tub of strawberry plants it must have though; “a tub – that means bulbs” and started digging out the plants.

Two of the strawberry plants survived being dug up several times and were planted out when they got stronger. These two plants have put out lots of runners and made new plants. I am looking forward to my first crop of strawberries next year.

Strawberry plants on 6 September 2010.

Strawberry plants on 6 September 2010.

The fuchsia is in flower

I have had my fuchsia plant for many years and it never fails to perform. It also stays the same size which is great. Each autumn the foliage dies off and I cut it back to ground level. The next spring the cycle starts again and we get a beautiful, long lasting display of bright red/mauve flowers. These pictures were taken on 19 August 2010.

My runner beans are cropping well

We are getting some good meals from the runner bean plants. In fact the plants got so top-heavy that the frame began to look like the leaning tower of Pizza. I fixed it by knocking in some extra wooden stakes and tying the bean poles to them. I also tied some string from the fence to the beanpoles to take some of the strain.

Earlier in the year the leaves of the runner bean plants started to turn yellow. I looked at various remedies on the Internet but in the end I just let nature take its course. They grew through it and the plants greened up again.

There are still lots of flowers on the plants so with the current wet spell we are going through I am hopeful of some more good pickings.

The majestic iris

I have two varieties of iris growing by my garden pond. One that has blue/mauve flowers grows in the water and the other that has yellow flowers grows in the soil just behind the pond. The iris strikes me as the most regal of flowers. They are just coming into flower. Unfortunately the lifespan of each bloom is very short and the display is soon over.

Water iris.

Yellow iris.

In praise of the rhododendron

The rhododendron is a wonderful plant for the idle gardener. Once it is established it does not need any special attention and produces an abundant show of flowers each year. My rhododendrons are in full bloom at the moment and are a wonderful sight. The huge flowers are magnificent, especially when viewed close up. Here are some pictures I took in my garden recently.

Rhododendron.

Rhododendron flower.

Insects like rhododendron flowers.

The name rhododendron comes from the Greek with rodi meaning “rose”, and dendron, meaning “tree”. It is a genus of flowering plants in the family Ericaceae and there are over 1000 species. The Ericaceae family includes the plants known to gardeners as azaleas. It is the national flower of Nepal, the State flower of Uttrakhand, India and the State Flower of both West Virginia and Washington in the USA.

I planted the runner beans today

This will be the fourth year we have grown runner beans in our garden. It is great to eat vegetables you have grown yourself and runner beans are a great choice for the idle gardener. Once they are established they produce a crop of beans over a long period of time. Last year we were picking beans until the first frost stopped the plants in their tracks.

Newly planted runner bean plants.

Last year we tried Suttons Best of All runner bean and it produced delicious beans. There are still some left in last year’s packet so that is what I am using this year. I started them off in pots on the kitchen windowsill. They take about a week to germinate. Once the first shoot appears it seems to grow while you watch. They go from nothing to 2 inches in a day. Within a few days they have large leaves.

I planted mine in the garden this morning and now I have my fingers crossed that the slugs do not eat them. I like to be a green gardener and avoid pesticides wherever possible. Over the years I have tried various remedies to keep the slugs a bay including spraying the leaves with a garlic solution, putting broken eggshells and grit around the plant and surrounding the plants with copper pipe. All this has been to no avail. My theory is that tiny baby slugs come out of the soil next to the bean plant stems. It was heartbreaking to find the young plants stripped of their leaves and most of their roots. So last year I invested in some slug pellets. There is a warning on the packet that they can be harmful to pets if eaten in quantity and to scatter them thinly. They are blue in colour so hopefully birds will not mistake them for food but I wonder what happens if a bird eats a slug that has eaten a pellet? If anyone has a proven slug remedy that is not harmful to other wildlife I would be please to hear about it. Let me know in a comment to this post.

I have left the bean plants in their pots long enough to develop an extensive root system. Hopefully this will withstand a bit of nibbling from the wildlife for long enough for the bean plants to get established. The thing I can’t understand is that there are lots of plants with fresh green leaves that the slugs ignore. What is it about a young runner bean plant that attracts slugs?

My top ten tips for idle gardening

Azalea

1. Have flowering shrubs as the main feature of your planting. Choose an evergreen variety where possible so that your garden looks green in the winter months. Azaleas and rhododendrons are my favourites.

2. Use bark chippings to cover all exposed soil. The deeper the better, say 3 or 4 inches, to discourage weeds.

3. Use ground cover plants in areas between the shrubs. If these grow thickly enough you will not be troubled with weeds. My favourite is heather. There are varieties that flower at different times so with a careful choice you can have a display of colour through much of the year.

4. Have a paved area for sitting out and enjoying your garden. Well laid paving stones are very low maintenance.

5. Have as little amount of lawn as possible. My wife insists on having a lawn but it is quite small, just big enough to take a rotary washing line.

6. Use a hover mower to cut the lawn. This can be swung from side to side whilst mowing so it gets the job done quickly. Do not use a grass box; just let the clippings settle back on the lawn. The clippings will put energy back into the soil. Clumps of grass clippings can be brushed out to disperse them.

7. Plant the right plants in the right place. If the plants are happy they will thrive and you will have less work looking after them them. For example put sun loving plants in the sun and shade loving plants in the shade. If you have acid soil then choose acid loving plants. If you have dry soil then choose plants that will thrive in those conditions.

8. Plant up tubs with flowers that will give a colourful display throughout the summer. Busy Lizzie, begonias and geraniums are my particular favourites. Buy potting compost that has water-retaining granules to cut down on the frequency of watering. If the flower tubs are placed near the house the view from the windows will be enhanced.

9. Use beech as a hedging plant. It is slow growing so only needs trimming a couple of times a year. The leaves turn brown in the winter but stay in place so still form a screen. They drop off in the spring as the new leaves are appearing.

10. If you enjoy a garden barbeque choose one powered by electricity. Just plug it in and you are ready to go. No charcoal or gas bottles to purchase. No ashes to dispose of afterwards. My barbeque is on a trolley that I keep in the garage. I wheel it out at barbeque time, then I sit back with a glass of wine while the sausages sizzle.

It’s bluebell time in my backyard

The advantage of being an idle gardener is that the soil does not get disturbed very much. This means that bulbs can go fourth and multiply without being disturbed. I have a beautiful patch of bluebells that gets bigger each year. The bluebells first appeared many years ago without any help from me.  There are bluebell woods very close by so the first ones could have self-seeded from those. A mass of bluebells is a wonderful sight and they look even better when you get really close up. Here are some pictures that I have just taken.