On Friday we had some rain! It was a steady drip for a couple of hours during the day, and then a bit more as I was going to bed. It was badly needed: it felt like a rescue breath for the hedges and fruit trees.
I have accidentally caught a couple of lovely water droplets before when photographing flowers (in A Gallery of Geraniums) and so thought I’d take my camera out and see if I could get any more.
I think I am guilty of showing the best of what is in the garden, and letting my eye and camera glide over the less-than-optimum blooms, so I also thought I would show some flowers that are past their best, but perhaps more interesting for that.
Here is a Dahlia, ‘Vino’, bowed over with the weight of the rain, sun-faded and crumpled. As dahlias open, they sort of turn themselves inside out. The looser, more open petals near the stem are the ones that opened a couple of weeks ago, whilst the tightly-packed petals deep in the centre of the flower have only just opened. ‘Vino’ opens brightest red-pink, and then gradually mellows to this bubblegum pink, fading most at the tips of the petals where they catch the most sun. A wet dahlia holds a lot of water. If you cut the flower and shake it, it is like a dog shaking itself after a bath, and the flower is half the weight afterwards.
I love this next picture. This is one of my favourite roses, ‘Royal Jubilee’, which had a whole post to itself in Floriferous. I really like the way the raindrops are congregated on that top petal with just the right distribution to be pleasing to the eye. The droplets get smaller are more dispersed as the petal curves. It is natural distribution. Nature organises itself perfectly. I like the two raindrops that are almost tipping, but surface tension is just enough to keep them holding on.
This is a red Crocosmia I am going to tentatively call ‘Emberglow’, but I can’t be sure because I inherited it with the garden. I utterly love the warm red of this Crocosmia. Rather than being scarlet, which is a pure fire-engine red verging on orange, this Crocosmia just has a hint of purple in it, making it tip into the crimson side of red. Red is important to me. It is probably my favourite colour, so I spend a lot of time analysing the reds in my garden. What I have discovered is that I don’t like scarlet being next to crimson. To my eyes they jar. So I keep my orange-reds (scarlet) well away from my purple-reds (crimson).
This photo also demonstrates surface tension in the raindrops. There is a meniscus, like a skin, around the water droplet, holding it together. It can defy gravity in the elbows and armpits of this Crocosmia bud. When the droplets roll together their combined weight will be too much. They will roll to the base of the plant to be taken up by the roots. Maybe collecting water into a bigger package before it falls reduces the overall evaporation of precious water? Whether this was designed or a happy accident, who can say? But it is all very clever.
When you watch rain falling on a plant, you appreciate how the design of the leaves and stems allow the plant to make the most of rainfall. Leaves have a central gully where raindrops are directed, to take the water down to the plant’s base and then to soak into the roots.
Here is Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’. You can see how the leaves fan out to cover the available area, allowing the plant to make maximum use of sunlight. But also to capture the most raindrops. The leaves spiral the stem, perfectly spaced, with the new upper layers filling in the gaps between the lower layers. Isn’t nature brilliant?
And here is the structure of the leaf with its irrigation gully down the centre. That big droplet will get too heavy if smaller droplets join it. It will suddenly roll into the smaller droplets below, and down the stem to the base of the plant. Surface tension of water will mean that not much gets left behind.
I have a patch of Penstemon ‘Pensham Plum Jerkum’ which has been very disappointing this summer. I don’t know whether these plants were particularly affected by ‘The Beast from the East’ (they are in the Bright Border, which is more exposed than my rose garden: the plants are always a week or two behind in their flowering). It might just be that Penstemons have a life-span and these are reaching the end. Often this is the way: new gardeners worry that they have done something wrong, but nature has just run its course. These plants may be exhausted and ready to take their leave.
I like the tenuous grip in this photo. The flower unthreads itself, like a bead falling off a string. This one is just holding on, but it is not long for this world.
I really struggle to capture the beauty of Salvia x jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’. I haven’t really succeeded here, but this post is not about perfection. I love the plumped-out shape of the flower of these tiny, delicate flowers. They have such elegant curves, like the cushions of an antique armchair. The soft petals contrast with the tough, mineral purple-grey of the stem and calyces. This is a great plant for dry conditions and just keeps in flowering through the whole summer.
Rose foliage is lovely in the rain. This is ‘Boscobel’. Many English roses have this beautiful red on the edge of the leaves, and on the thorns and stems. ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’, ‘Summer Song’ and ‘Benjamin Britten’ to name a few. You can see that even though roses have a broader leaf than the Euphorbia above, the design principles are the same. They have tributary veins across the leaf to bring the water to the central gully. The globes of water droplets are in a ‘holding pattern’ at the leaf nodes along the stem. There will be a domino effect when the upper droplet gets too heavy and falls into the next.
I love the reflected pattern in this water droplet, which is just teetering on the edge of a rose bud of ‘Lady of Megginch’. I’m not sure, but I think the darker pink spots are the reflections of the leaves of the cherry tree nearby. My fanciful brain, which likes to see associations, can’t help seeing the spots of a foxglove, though there are no foxgloves nearby. What we see is always layered with what we think we are seeing. Perception is everything. I also love the perfect globe lower down on the lip of the petal.
Here is another good illustration of surface tension, at the centre of a lupin leaf. It also shows the refraction of light, where the image in the water droplet is slightly distorted. You can see the really fine hairs on the edge of the leaves. This reminds me of the ears of my new-born daughter. She was distinctly hobbit-like for a couple of weeks!
Here’s another rose foliage picture, because I can’t help myself. You can see pooling of water here because the leaf is relatively flat. New leaves tend to be upright, but they then become more horizontal to make maximum use of light. I guess there is a trade-off between light- and water-collection. The gullies solve the problem because either way the water is going to be directed to where it needs to go. Even if it falls from the leaf tip, all is not lost. The weight of the water makes the leaf dip, and the run-off will be within the footprint of the plant.
This is my The Rose and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. It has been suffering in the heat, with blooms going over very quickly. But it has beauty in imperfection. I love the distinct layers of petals here, with those that have dried out and those that are still fresh.
This is Geranium wallichianum ‘Crystal Lake’. Its petals have slipped off, but are stuck to its skin, like a wet skirt. To quote the B-52s, ‘dancing in torn sheets in the rain’, something I have always wanted to do. You can really appreciate the dramatic print on the petals, with their dramatic veining.
Geranium ‘Blushing Turtle’ is still flowering strongly. I love the pink stigma, and I like the water droplet just clinging to the petal. There is a whole world inside that crystal ball.
And finally, this one reminds me (fancifully again) of Leonardo’s Creation of Adam, with the petal almost touching the waiting leaf. This is life-giving water. Water makes the world go round. It is our most precious resource. Which is maybe why it is just so beautiful.