Glittering Jewels

Viewed from a distance the winter-flowering evergreen shrub Garrya elliptica can look fairly unremarkable (to me at least). Its long, slender catkins could be easily mistaken for bits of old string draped over the branches. From the photographer’s viewpoint it appears too busy and confusing, with no obvious focal point. Move in a closer, however, and the catkins begin to look more interesting. Now add the final ingredient…sunlight…and the opportunity for a spot of magic emerges!

Catkins of Garrya eliptica

I photographed this splendid Garrya at Ness Botanic Gardens and noticed the way the winter sunlight, positioned behind the shrub, picked out the catkins. The true beauty only revealed itself, however, as I moved in extra close. I concentrated on small segments of the dangling tassels and moved around my subject looking for the most effective combination of natural light and background…

Voila! I’ve turned some bits of old string into priceless jewels. If only!


For this photograph I used my favourite micro-Nikkor 105mm on a Nikon D300s. The key to the shot is the backlighting ie shooting against the light to add sparkle, separation and interest. The colour has been tweaked by processing the image through the app Camerabag2.

Photography, Wildlife Gardening

Seduced by Seed Heads

Around this time of year, as the glitter of the festive season begins to fade, the majority of my garden maintenance clients expect to look out on a neat and tidy garden, all set for the new growing season ahead: leaves cleared, last year’s flowers cut down and barely a fallen twig out of place. I have to confess that there is a certain satisfaction in digging up spent annuals and cutting down last season’s dessicated perennials – their collapsing, straggly stalks and rotting or crusty brown leaves, if left in situ, can easily give the impression that the garden is unkempt and uncared for.

Frosty flower heads

But as both a keen wildlife gardener and photographer I can also offer a different viewpoint. Seed heads provide a vital source of food for hungry birds, especially during a harsh winter, and hollow flower stalks make great hiding places for countless invertebrates. To add to the argument, all it takes is a touch of frost to add sparkle, structure and interest to the winter flower border; cut them down early and all you’re left with is bare soil until the first bulbs show their faces in early spring. For many flowering shrubs and hardy perennials the dried flower stalks and old seed heads provide protection for the new growth to come, so there’s also a gardening case to be made for going easy with the secateurs until absolutely necessary.

As is often the case, a compromise may be the answer. Tidy up those areas of the garden in full view by all means, but why not also leave the odd corner of the garden to see out the winter as nature intended? The new shoots and fresh growth of spring will be here soon enough, but just a few more weeks of ‘untidiness’ could make a huge difference to overwintering insects and birds, so helping to maintain the natural balance of wildlife in the garden. There are photo-opportunities in frosty weather too!

Dried teasels in a winter garden Dried foxglove seed heads in winter

Huechera in winter
Photo by Janet Turner

Dried flower heads of Lacecap Hydrangea Nigella seed head Winter seed heads of Hypericum