Archive for March 2010

Charleston on My Mind – Middleton Place & Cypress Swamp

March 27, 2010

Just about this time last year, I decided to splurge on a photography workshop in Charleston, South Carolina. For the first time ever I entrusted my tripod to checked baggage, packed all my other gear in a  carry-on bag, and headed off.

The day I arrived, I reached Charleston mid-day but I wasn’t scheduled to meet up with the group until around dinner time. So I decided to head to Middleton Place Plantation, which wasn’t on the group itinerary. The grand photo you see on their website must have been taken from an airplane – it’s stunning but I soon realized there was no way to replicate it as an earth-bound mortal. The mid-day sun was also a challenge. I finally settled for a shot or two of the garden areas not far from the house, where classic statuary dotted glades loaded with azaleas and Spanish moss-covered live oaks.

Middleton Place, Charleston

Live oaks provide shade to a garden area at Middleton Place Plantation.

The next day, we set off early (by 6:30 for a stop at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, which seemed to be on every other corner, practically) for Cypress Gardens. Blessed with 3-1/2 miles of nature trails and what is called a “swamparium” on its website, Cypress Gardens offered lots of gorgeous azaleas in bloom and a chance to try out some abstract approaches to shooting the water (a challenge for me, who is the Queen of Realism when given a camera).

Cypress Gardens, Live oak bark

Morning light on the side of a live oak in Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens, South Carolina

Pink hose-in-hose azaleas along the nature trail.

Cypress Gardens, azaleas, nature trail

Early morning light on a nature trail at Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens

Boat wake patterns

Our instructor, Tony Sweet, is a whiz at getting you to think outside the box a little. The photo above is one I probably never would have thought to take on my own. As I said, I’m a bit of a literalist when it comes to photographing gardens. But  even though I would never frame it or enter it into a competition, I like this image.

Next stop for the tripod-toting group: Magnolia Plantation – look for it in the next post.

Related posts: Less Becomes More

Conquering the Hill

March 20, 2010

I live at the top of a hill that causes anyone with a lawnmower to shudder. My family moved into the house in the summer of 1988, when I had no interest in gardening or landscape design. The front yard was something to be moved through as quickly as possible, to get to the house – no mean feat given the length of the set of concrete ramp and steps that took you from the street to the front door. Here’s an old photo (bad quality, but you get the picture).

front yard design, "before"

My house in 1988 or so, complete with lovely concrete steps up to a yew-covered facade. Charming.

When I set about redesigning this area in 2000, I was most of the way through my training as a landscape designer and eager to start from scratch in terms of plant palette, with the exception of my two magnificent trees and a few interesting, mature shrubs. But tackling the steps was more challenging, and had to come first. I wanted a more direct approach to the house but knew I would need landings, retaining walls – and lots of steps. One experienced designer, a friend and my part-time employer, consulted on the concept for the new steps. Another friend was kind enough to shoot grades for me, and eventually I came up with a plan:

The plan for my new steps and front yard plantings.

Then I hired a wonderful stonemason to bring the plan to reality, and watched as the design came to life.

hardscape, steps, construction

The hillside resembled a battle zone at times.

Because of the scale of the pillars at the landings, I decided to use 3″ flagstone caps rather than the 2″ ones I had originally planned for. It increased the price but made the structures look just right rather than wimpy on top.

hardscape, steps

The steps and walls, awaiting only final mortaring and lighting fixtures.

The landings are edged in brick, to tie them to the brick on the house.

stone steps, hill design, landscape design, hilly sites

Brick-edged landing areas help the flagstone and fieldstone steps and walls relate to the brick house.

The planting phase, after the steps were done, was icing on the  cake (although since I did most of it myself, my back still hurts to think about it). Out came the oversized yews and non-blooming azaleas. On the north-facing slope, I planted a small ‘Crimson Queen’ dissectum Japanese maple, ‘Halcyon’ hostas, skimmia, cherry laurels, ferns, hellebores and dwarf azaleas. Next to the house, there are more cherry laurel (I was trying to avoid the predictable palette in our area of too many azaleas) and hydrangeas, along with some old pieris; Solomon’s seal and hostas which I spray against the maurading deer; and fothergilla and Itea virginica. A weeping yew spills over the top retaining wall and I planted a Schizophragma hydrangeoides (Japanese hydrangea) on the wall next to the front door.

stone steps, hill design, landscape design, hilly sites

The front yard in 2003, three years after the steps were replaced.

The only hardscape left untouched in this project is about to get its own makeover now. The front steps and stoop next to the front door are concrete and brick. I didn’t face them with flagstone in 2000 because the veneer sizes available weren’t workable. Now I’m glad I didn’t, because unfortunately the concrete stoop is cracking, causing moisture problems in the basement. So some time in the next few months, my great stonemason will return, demolish the stoop, and for a price that is about 1/3 of what I paid for all the stonework you see here, build a new set of brick and flagstone steps and stoop. Lemonade from lemons, I guess, even though my pocketbook is protesting. But it will finally tie everything together – and then I will get to replace all the snow-damaged plants next to the steps. I’ve already started thinking about that part!

Tulips for A Shutterbug

March 13, 2010

As a landscape designer, I tend to plant daffodils for clients who have deer problems, or who prefer bulbs that can be depended upon to return for many years, if the site is right (mostly in terms of adequate sun and not too much ground moisture).

But as a photographer, my heart belongs primarily to tulips. Here is one of my first images of a tulip taken just for the pure joy of the color. I was trying out my new macro lens at the Cylburn Arboretum, near Baltimore. I have to say the composition isn’t great – your eye doesn’t really know where to rest. But the color probably made me a little crazy.

Parrot tulips

Parrot tulips at the Cylburn Arboretum near Baltimore, MD.

Brookside Gardens is a great place to photograph daffodils in the spring (my next header, going up in April, is a “slice” of tulips from one of their beds a couple of years ago).  In this shot, I went for the repeating line of the bulb heads. I think this is probably ‘Princes Irene,’ one of the most fabulous of the orange tulips. Wish I’d gotten a little more of the stem in the shot.

Tulip Princes Irene, Brookside Gardens

Orange tulips at Brookside Gardens

Another great place to photograph different varieties of tulips is the Tulip Library in downtown DC,  near the Tidal Basin in view of the Jefferson Memorial. You have to catch it just right, but if you do there are countless varieties to enjoy, all of them labeled.  Here’s ‘Banja Luka’ from an early-morning visit several years ago. This time, I went for a cropped profile shot, close up to capture the dew still on the petals.

Tulip Banja Luka, Tulip Library

Tulip 'Banja Luka' at the National Tulip Library can't be checked out except visually.

Finally, here are two more recent photos, both taken at my house with the tulips in vases, so I was able to control lighting and was able to get shots without contorting my body or groveling in the dirt. Special thanks to Brent and Becky Heath, whose bulb company sent me (as a member of the Garden Writers Association) some extra bulbs to trial. So here is ‘Perestroyka’, followed by a closeup of an unknown pink tulip.

Tulip Perestroyka, Brent and Becky's Bulbs

A clutch of Tulip Perestroyka, their stems bending over the side of a vase.

macro photography, tulips

This shape on the side of the tulip is what caught my eye as a photographer.

One final note: if you love tulips and want some that do come back (unlike the Darwin hybrids and the other stunners shown above), try some species tulips, like the Kaufmanniana or Greigii cultivars. I have a small group of  ‘Stresa’ tulips (yellow and red) that have been blooming reliably for me for over six years in a sunny, well-drained site. More on these another time!

Worth Quoting

March 10, 2010

As a garden photographer, I like to believe in the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, however – just sometimes – I discover I can be proven wrong.

My “real job” is heating up as the snow melts, so beginning with this coming weekend I will have to cut back to one post a week. But one of the many hats I wear in the landscape design firm where I work is newsletter editor. Every issue  I try to include a quotation about gardens, or seasons, or plants. Sometimes they are well-known (like Pope’s “genius of the place” phrase). But I especially love finding gardening-related quotations I’ve never come across before, that resonate and make me smile. Here are a few I especially like, paired with photographs that seem to match. Hope you enjoy them. And let me know if you have a good quote to share.

Crocus, spring

First a howling blizzard woke us,
Then the rain came down to soak us,
And now before the eye can focus –

– Lilja Rogers

Alchemilla mollisApril prepares her green traffic light  and the world thinks Go.
– Christopher Morley, John Mistletoe

Rose, Rosa 'Aloha'

As sense-bludgeoning as a rose.
– Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Chanticleer in the Spring

March 6, 2010
Chanticleer Garden, sculpture

A mysterious stone sculpture wreathed in honeysuckle and nestled in prairie dropseed grass at Chanticleer, near the Ruin Garden.

The time has come to talk about Chanticleer.

Many gardeners among you may already know about Chanticleer Garden. But in addition to being a mecca for garden lovers, it is also a photographer’s dream, regardless of the season. Located in Wayne, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia, Chanticleer is a lesser-known treasure open to the public from April through October. A special bonus for photographers is that on Friday evenings from May through August, the garden stays open until 8 p.m., allowing you to photograph during the “sweet light” of late afternoon. Tripods are welcome although you need to sign a release that photographs will be used for editorial or personal purposes only.

Formerly an estate belonging to the Rosengarten family, Chanticleer Garden is comprised of 32 acres with a lake, an Asian Wood, a Teacup Garden, a Tennis Court garden, gravel garden, artificial ruins, a cutting garden, and countless other areas to lose oneself in. Scattered throughout the garden are handmade chairs to sit in (repainted yearly), mysterious bits of sculpture, and bridges, water fountains and small structures or artworks custom-designed and crafted on site or especially for the garden.

I first discovered Chanticleer in July 2004 on a visit to Mt. Cuba Center with some friends. Since then, I’ve been back for a number of garden photography workshops as well as on my own. There is always something wonderful to discover that I haven’t seen before, and the garden areas change yearly. Last year, I collected my favorite photos, published a book on it, and sent it to Chris Wood, the Executive Director of the garden, who loved it. What a thrill!

Here are some photos of it in the spring. The first is a favorite from a May 2006 photo workshop. We were allowed onto the grounds at 6:30 a.m., a treat since the garden doesn’t open to the public until 10 a.m. By the time we stopped shooting, around opening time, the light was getting harsh.

This part of the garden has changed so although the “floating lady” is still there, the foreground plantings are not.


Chanticleer Garden

This sight captured my eyes and heart the first time I saw it. Sadly, the plantings around the "lady" have changed so the composition is gone.

The Pond Garden, Chanticleer Garden

The Pond Garden in the spring, with the Pond House in the foreground.

Unlike many other public gardens, plants at Chanticleer are not labeled (although tucked away here and there a visitor can find wooden boxes with plant lists for the area of the garden one is in). However, during one spring photo workshop, Brent Heath was there to help identify bulbs we didn’t recognize.


Nectoscordum, Chanticleer Garden, allium

Nectaroscordum siculum and allium at the Pond Garden

Brent identified these fabulous beauties as Nectaroscordum siculum. I thought they looked perfect with the alliums. Apparently some people think their fragrance is offensive, but I didn’t detect anything. What a great combination!

Other bulbs setting the scene were Camassia, one of the few bulbs I know of that can tolerate (and even enjoys) damp sites.

Chanticleer gardens, Camassia

Camassia in bloom in May near the stream at Chanticleer.

And the poppies! Don’t get me started.

Poppies and iris

Salmon poppies and Iris siberica on the hillside in spring.

Chanticleer Garden, primulas, hostas

Primulas and hostas, also breath-taking, in a sea of equisetum near the Asian Garden at Chanticleer.

The Minder Ruins, above the Gravel Garden, is one of my favorite parts of the garden to photograph. Although these are artificial “ruins,” they are both beautiful and mysterious.

Chanticleer, Minder Ruins

A fringetree in bloom outside the Minder Ruins

Chanticleer Garden, Minder Ruins

A doorway in the Minder Ruins is reflected in the black pool.

I could write forever about this place. And I promise at least two more posts, one about the garden in summer, and the other about it in fall.  But before I close, here is the quintessential spring flower photo, from my very first May photo workshop there. Visit Chanticleer soon, if you can.

Chanticleer Garden, meconopsis, Himalayan blue poppy

Meconopsis (Himalayan blue poppy) in bloom at Chanticleer in the spring.


My Favorite Thing

March 3, 2010

As I’ve been known to confess to fellow landscape designers, I would probably rather photograph gardens than design them.  It’s my “favorite thing.” And in most of my blog posts, photographs occupy as much space as words – if not more.  So I was enormously flattered when Deborah of Kilbourne Grove invited me to take part in a Favorite Photo Meme. Deborah’s photo of her beloved dog Piper, who now lives with a friend, is wonderful – intimate, humorous, it produces an immediate emotional connection between the viewer and subject.

Well, that’s a tough act to follow, especially since gardens don’t have kissable noses like Piper. I’ve been privileged to photograph a number of extraordinary public and private gardens for some time, and I probably have at least a dozen “favorites.” Pick just one? Impossible. But after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to share my favorite photo of my own garden, and save the other favorites for posts on other places and topics.

My front yard in early summer morning light

I like this photo because of the wonderful quality of the light (I took it about 6 a.m. on a July morning) and the area of the garden it shows. My front yard consists of a very steep, hilly area. At the top of a long series of stone steps and retaining walls, you reach a landing that serves as a bridge to the final steps to the front door. There, I placed a small seating area with a four-foot wooden bench under the embrace of an old crabapple tree. Hydrangeas (Annabelles in the background, ‘All Summer Beauty’ in the right foreground) thrive in the north-facing site, and there is a Daphne odorata in front of the bench. A very peaceful place, where my older son often sat to study when he was in high school (while I, of course, was busy elsewhere in the garden, most likely weeding). This isn’t the most technically proficient or inspiring garden photo I’ve ever taken, but it speaks to me like almost no other.

Now I would like to invite four other bloggers whose work I admire to join in the exercise:

First, Cyndy of Gardening Asylum in Connecticut . Her blog posts always lift my spirits and I love, love, love her recent photos of her Garden Muse, complete with randomly-curled metal wire. She has a good photographic eye and lots of good material to work with from her own garden. And Jean, of Jean’s Garden, recently posted some stunning photos of a pink and white amaryllis in bloom that I would loved to have taken.

Charlotte at The Galloping Gardener and Britt of The Photo Garden Bee both do what I long to do – on a regular basis, they travel to and photograph gardens all over the US (and the world), sharing photos with us so we can visit vicariously and fill out our “to see” list for vacations, retirement, or simply our dreams. Both are first-rate photographers.

If you haven’t visited any of these sites,  I hope you do so immediately. And I’ll be eager to see what each of them shares with us!

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