Burning Bright

I posted on Sunday about my visit to Sissinghurst, where I concentrated on form and texture in the rose garden.

The Cottage Garden has a very different feel at the height of summer.  Yes, there is form and texture, but mainly it is about the shimmering, simmering colour.


I adore Crocosmia, and this orange form sets the tone for the tropical feel to the Cottage Garden at this time of year.  I love the complex form, with feathers and tongues of flames, and the tapering shape spilling over and cascading downwards.  Its common name of ‘Falling Stars’ suits it perfectly.

Another iconic plant is Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’.  Like so many of the South African daisies, the actual flowers are the tiny ‘disc florets’ arranged in Fibonacci spirals at the centre of the larger ‘ray florets’.  To see the structure of Helenium under magnification see this rather marvellous page.  The flower on the left of the photo below is less mature than the one on the right.  As the disc florets mature, they produce yellow two-headed curly stigma on each brown pistil.

Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’

The bees love Helenium.  Each stiff, upright stem is constantly rocking from side to side with buzzing bees.  There is a sort of percussion to a Helenium.

Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ with bees.

Sunflowers also have disc and ray florets, and make use of Fibonacci sequences.  Flowers tend to make use of Fibonacci numbers in the number of petals, sepals, pistils and so on.  Fibonacci numbers are: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 and 55.  Fibonacci numbers arise from adding the last two numbers in the sequence, so 3+5=8; 5+8=13; 8+13=21; 13+21=34.  The Fibonacci numbers in disc florets swirl outwards from the centre.  The pattern crops up again and again in nature, in starfish, pinecones, leaf arrangements and seedheads.


Sunflowers have 34, 55 or 89 petals.  Except when they have 21.


Here’s the Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundifolia.  Another wonder of nature is iridescence.  Iridescence (which I find almost impossible to spell or type correctly) is a phenomenon seen on butterflys’ wings, peacock feathers, bubbles and some petals.  If the light catches it one way it looks one colour, but if seen from a slightly different angle, it turns another colour.  The cells on the surface of the petal or wing are arranged in regular scales, but the surface is curved.  Lightwaves travel in predictable patterns with crests and troughs which can combine with one another.  In constructive interference, they are combining to intensify the colour, but in destructive interference they combine to dim the colour.  These phenomena combined causes the colour to shimmer.  In the case of Tithonia, the outer ray florets can appear vermillion or gold.  Another example of nature being, literally, brilliant.

Tithonia rotundifloia ‘Torchlight’.

Talking of feathers…


The Martagon lily eschews Fibonacci numbers.  It prefers the number 6.  Diversity is everything in nature.


Here is Digitalis ferruginea, the rusty foxglove.  Looking marvellous with the sunflowers and the worn bricks of the South Cottage behind.  There is an elemental rawness in this garden.


And my final pick is the more flexible Verbascum ‘Cotswold Queen’.  Both Digitalis and Verbascum have rosettes of leaves at the base, with spiralling towers of flowers.  They are outward looking and curious.

Verbascum ‘Cotswold Queen’

I hope you burn brightly this week.  I hope your constructive interference is strong and your destructive interference is weak, but if you get both, remember to shimmer.  Like only you know how.

My aim on this site is to share the sense of wonder I get from gardening and being outdoors.

If you would like to join the joy, click on the ‘Follow’ button at the end of this post. You will receive an email each time I post a little pop of wonder.

23 Comments Add yours

  1. Those are absolutely beautiful! I’d forgotten about how pretty Heleniums are … I think I had a bit of a thing for Echinacea purpurea, but will now remember to add them in. I love how you describe them. Please, please, please can you do a book about all the best (RHS and non RHS) gardens and include some of these lovely close up details!

    1. Ali says:

      I would love to! Hi Publishers, I’m here!

  2. I’m in awe of your blog-posts Ali! Thanks, I really enjoy them 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you so much, you are a lovely person to have around!

  3. Gorgeous photos and a very educational post. 😊

  4. Rupali says:

    Such lovely vibrant colours.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Love it! Both pictures and comments!

  6. Lovely post Ali! I always learn so much from you. One thing I do know is that I’ll never know the scientific names to all my flowers, especially at this late age. Doesn’t seem to be that important over here, but I love and admire that you know them all. Thank you for continuing to educate us.

  7. bcparkison says:

    More confusion. Why my crocosmias bloom on the underside of the curved stem?? Mexican sunflowers are grand and come back year after year..you just never know where.Lol Is that a beautiful leaded glass window in the back view. There is just something magical about “old ” buildings.

    1. Ali says:

      I think I noticed some Montbretia today doing exactly this! How curious! Yes, that’s one of the South Cottage windows. They are beautiful.

  8. FlowerAlley says:

    This was fabulous! So mindful.

  9. Eliza Waters says:

    High summer flowers, all loving the shimmering heat. Beautiful post, Ali!

    1. Ali says:

      Thanks Eliza. X

  10. Thanks for sharing your gorgeous photos and your amazing knowledge Ali!

    1. Ali says:

      It’s my pleasure, Terri!

    2. Ali says:

      Thank you Terri. X

  11. M.B. Henry says:

    Wow such beautiful pictures! 🙂

  12. Claudette says:

    loving those colours

  13. Sam says:

    Nature really is incredible – I’ve long been fascinated by the patterns and the Fibonacci principle. Beautiful photos, Ali. I admire your prodigious writing (how do you find the time?!).

    1. Ali says:

      I keep thinking I need to slow down in order to clean the house or do some exercise, but there is so much to write about at this time of year!!

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