As gardens get cleared up ready for the coming season, some of the remnants of last year's growth are difficult to ignore. Of all the dried, sere relics rattling in the winter breezes, the bracts of Hydrangeas and Viburnums are the most dramatic. In the flowering season these forms have colour and some presence, but are competing with the flowers of hundreds of other plants for attention; for me they are at their best in late winter when, almost everything else having died back or been cleared, they catch the eye and tease the mind with the promise that summer past is also summer to come.
Papery and stiff, the bract stalks are more rigid than in growth, and the wings held more steadily. If you are lucky, some will have decayed just far enough for the skeleton of veins to be revealed in each, a small graphic statement that looks amazing when frosted or backed by snowy ground. In the low light, the stalks even manage to disappear into the surroundings, leaving the large flowers to hang seemingly unsupported, like satellites around the remains of the centre of the inflorescence.
Set at odd angles to one another the flowers catch what little light is available in their own way, and monochrome photography shows the tonal differences that close inspection will reveal to those patient enough to stand in a cold garden for five minutes and examine them.
These images were all taken at RHS Wisley in Surrey during a visit in early February 2009 - some of them have been entered for the IGPOTY photo competition 2010.