Archive for December 2009

Looking Back, Moving Forward

December 31, 2009

Double snowdrops

I’ve been thinking a lot today about the end of this decade (the literary pundits are agonizing over what to call it – the “aughts”?). Ten years ago I lived in a family of four, had fewer grey hairs, and was a stay at home mom who had just discovered gardening and was thinking about learning to design gardens. Photography meant pulling out a compact film camera on vacations. I assumed my life track was set for good.

What a difference a decade makes. Despite some blips on the radar, I have few regrets and many  life changes for which to be grateful. OK, I don’t like being an empty nester. But I will always be grateful for my mid-life transformation from lawyer to landscape designer, stretching my creative side. And even more grateful and excited at the new sights that have greeted my eyes as I work as a photographer, whether in gardens or outside them (more of that to come next year).

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’, the double form shown above) have always seemed to me to be symbols of hope and rebirth. They appear before almost any other bulb in spring. So as 2009 leaves us and we look forward to the new decade – which on a global basis will hopefully be an improvement on the last ten years – I wish you the very best for a wonderful new year. Thanks for visiting, and I hope you will come back often.

Seasons’ Greetings from Longwood

December 22, 2009
Longwood Gardens

Winterberries and cranes in a central fountain in one of the Longwood Conservatories

Garden Shoots is taking a winter break until January. In the meantime, I’m offering a re-posting of some seasonal images from Longwood Gardens several years ago. Hope you enjoy them!

Most avid gardeners on the East Coast know Longwood Gardens, near Philadelphia. Even in the winter, it’s well worth a trip. Two years ago, in early December, my camera club planned a field trip to photograph in the Conservatories, and I went along.

At this time of year, tripods are allowed in the Conservatory areas only in the mornings, so we arrived at 9 am sharp when the doors opened.

Longwood Gardens

Holiday plantings in the Conservatories are on a large scale for maximum impact.

Lighting in these areas is tricky. If the sun is out you can get gorgeous shadows made by the columns and the plantings, but the window areas blow out. If it’s overcast, the lighting is flat but you have fewer problems with shadows and highlights.

Winterberry shrub with poinsettias and decorated trees in the Conservatory at Longwood

We had both kinds of light, but my best images turned out to be those I took when the sky was overcast.

Longwood Gardens

Even the Christmas trees at Longwood are full of surprises – like yarrow as an ornament.

Outside of the main Conservatory halls, there were smaller vistas and views to take in and capture – like the Christmas tree ornaments above. So in the spirit of the holidays, here are some of my best images from that trip. If you haven’t been to Longwood, plan a road trip soon.

Sweet Amaryllis

December 17, 2009

Every year for Christmas, a friend from Los Angeles sends me an amaryllis from White Flower Farms. While I have a decent track record for keeping most plants in my own garden alive, indoors my thumb is not green. But it’s hard to fail with this plant. All I have to do is provide it with water (not too much), stake it up as it starts to grow, and step back and admire. Most of the amaryllis she has so kindly sent over the years have been beautiful, but last year’s offering was truly spectacular. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Amaryllis ‘Monaco.’

By the time this beauty was in full bloom, I was dying to get out my macro lens. Photographing flowers close up is difficult outdoors, what with wind, lighting issues, and finding a specimen that hasn’t been nibbled on by various insects or damaged by some kind of leaf or petal blight. Here, however, was perfection. What I really wanted to capture was the velvety texture of the red petals, the Christmas-y juxtaposition of the green throat against the red blossoms, and the flawless line of the stamens. The single white stamen tip positioned just inside one of the petals was the icing on the cake.

This ‘Monaco’ is royalty indeed. Hope you enjoy the view.


Less Becomes More

December 11, 2009

One of my favorite books is Seeing Gardens by Sam Abell, a wonderful National Geographic photographer. He has an extraordinary eye for detail. In this book, he observes that “Some of the gardens that mean the most are impromptu arrangements.” One of my favorite images in the book is a still life of pears on a windowsill, a gauzy curtain lifting in the breeze, with the Kremlin and St. Basil’s cupola visible in the background. In another, a Moscow woman’s colorful scarf of vibrant flowers illuminates her drab surroundings on a city bus, becoming the “garden” for the viewer’s eye.

Abell’s genius is shared by other artists. Last April I walked the streets in Charleston’s Battery Park neighborhood as part of a photography workshop. As I did, I saw more than one example of a landscape designer’s skill in creating beauty on a minimalistic scale. The gardens in this part of Charleston are tiny jewels, and I was in town on a photography workshop that had just missed the Festival of Houses and Gardens tours offered each spring. But wonderful views of the gardens’ entry “faces” were there if you looked closely. In the photo at left, early wisteria blooms spill over a whitewashed stucco wall topped with wrought iron on a garden on Meeting Street.

Further along the same street, I encountered a breathtaking juxtaposition of delicate flowering dogwood branches just beginning to leaf out against a background of beige stone walls. This image won raves from the instructor in a critique session the next day; but his eyes glazed over as I explained that I had been taken not only by the minimalist visual beauty of the image (thanks, Mr. Abell) but also the designer’s inspired choice of tree for the shady spot. Sometimes there are unexpected bonuses for a garden designer behind the lens.

Structure in the Winter Garden

December 8, 2009

So here we are in early December, one snowfall already behind us. This creates all kinds of havoc for the landscape design firm where I work. You can’t blow frozen leaves, or easily extract them from gutters.

Gardens blanketed in snow, however, have their own special charm if they have been well-designed — which makes photographing them especially rewarding. The structure often comes from trees, grasses, or other plants that don’t disappear in the winter. That’s what gives the front garden shown above an arresting presence even though many perennials on the streambank have disappeared until spring.

Another way to provide structure for the winter garden is to place a bit of what garden designers call “hardscape” – a built element, like a bench, obelisk or eye-catching urn – in a central place. Here, in my own front garden, I’m lucky enough to have both a great crabapple tree with architecturally arresting branches and a small teak bench underneath, on a landing area near the front steps of my house. And it was this view that drew me out on a snowy day, to capture the tree, the season, and the design that pulled my eye. Hooray, I thought. It works. And it does.

The weekend forecast is for more “wintry mix.” If we get snow and not ice, I may well be out, camera in hand. Gardens have their own beauty in winter, if you look hard enough.

Garden Shoots

December 7, 2009

I’ve observed gardens in many ways, but two views predominate – through my camera lens, or on my knees. Close-up, or big picture. Either way I am thinking of views, looking to get it right for the viewer or the garden owner.

Why “Garden Shoots”? It’s a double-duty moniker. I design gardens for a living, and I photograph them (and other subjects) for pleasure and as a freelance photographer. I’ve learned that each activity enhances the other. So I’m here to share what I’ve learned in both spheres with you, and hope you’ll enjoy what I have to offer.


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