The Custom Header as Art Form

One of the hats I wear at Landscape Projects is that of newsletter editor. About four or five years ago, its design got a long-needed update from a graphics designer who is a friend of our company president. And one of the things he did that pleased me the most was to use my photographs in “slices” at the top of several of the pages. You can see a sample of the newsletter here. So, for example, a rather routine photo of  the base of a beech tree

Beech tree roots

The original photo that was cropped for the newsletter "header."

could be used as a graphic element that could set off  a “slice” of another image with some of the same colors. (To see these two photos side by side, go to page three of the newsletter link here).

The adjoining photo, which was also cropped as a "slice" to go next to the beech roots.

I loved the way he used my photos and it inspired me to shoot with an eye for images that would look interesting cropped narrowly in a horizontal format. So when I started a blog at WordPress, I knew I wanted a theme with a customizable header that I could change whenever I felt like it, to take advantage of the same idea.

If you’ve been reading this blog (and my thanks to those of you who have!) but have come to it only recently, you may have missed some of the first headers. Here’s one I used around the holidays.

This is a cropped photo from a Christmas tree at Longwood Gardens. The font is Papyrus. Nice, but hard to read.

I use WordPress’  ‘Sapphire’ theme, which calls for images 740 pixels wide by 180 pixels high. I find a photo I like that has a background where type will be readable, crop it to these dimensions in Photoshop, and put my “Garden Shoots” header text on it. Then I save the cropped image as a low-resolution JPEG file and upload it as my header.

From the outset, I wanted to use headers that more or less corresponded seasonally to the time of year when I’m writing. That probably means fewer header changes in winter, and more in spring, summer & fall. I also decided to use a simpler font, and stick to white typeface whenever I can, although on lighter backgrounds I sometimes have to get creative, as with the iris header that was up last week:

I used a font color sampled from the golden yellow of the iris' eye to make the text stand out against the green background and white of the flower in this header.

Here’s one from early spring in the DC area, when the dogwoods were in bloom:

I tried white type on this header but it wasn't very readable. The font is Gill Sans MT.

The next one is one of my favorite headers so far. I took the photo at Brookside Gardens and cropped it so the the Nectaroscordum siculum is primarily on the left with space for the text on the upper right-hand side.

Another spring favorite was the allium with baptisia, a shot taken in a client’s garden.

Same font, this time slightly smaller to keep it from running into the allium.

The possibilities are endless, and can include larger garden scenes.

Sissinghurst Garden

A Sissinghurst Garden "slice" which could be used as a header. The upper-right hand corner of the photo is dark enough for white type, and just about the right size since the alstroemaria in the left side of the image are what's important.

I don’t want to give away what’s in store for the upcoming months so I will close here.

But here’s an offer for anyone with a customizable header and a photo you like. Send me your name, either by e-mail at or by leaving a comment on this post, and I will randomly select one entrant as the winner of a custom header for your blog. Details to be worked out later, but I promise to get it done within a month of the drawing. Deadline for submitting comments or sending e-mails is July 10, 2010. And thanks for reading!

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7 Comments on “The Custom Header as Art Form”

  1. sequoiagardens Says:

    An interesting post, Melissa. Although I’ve never thought of it as a slice, being from a wide angle photograph, I guess my header fits the bill! Jack

  2. Melissa Says:

    I’ve always thought your header was very eye-catching. In case you are interested, you are officially “entered.” Thanks for reading.

  3. I love the header you have at the moment.

  4. Melissa, my header is still the original one when I signed up at wordpress. Never changed it, not sure how to, but I love all of yours.

  5. teresa hart Says:

    Hi Melissa,
    I have been following your posts weekly for the past 6 months or so after reading about it on garden design online. Just wanted you to know that I love it, share your passions and think you have a dream livelihood going.

    I am commenting today because the “slice” of the sissinghurst garden mentions alstromeria but I see astilbe?

    Vancouver Island

    • Melissa Says:

      Teresa, I’m so glad you wrote. It’s lovely to hear from someone who lives in what I think must be a horticultural paradise and thinks I have something to offer in my blog!

      As for the Sissinghurst photo, it is a bit fuzzy because I scanned it from a print (taken in my pre-digital days) but what looks like astilbe in the back of the alstroemaria (which are shorter and hard to see in the foreground) is actually Maclayea cordata, very tall indeed. The colors really harmonized perfectly but I will always this of thie as the “alstroemaria corner” because it was where I first discovered that plant.

      Thanks again for writing. I hope to make it to your part of the world someday!

  6. Jean Says:

    Melissa, Please include me in the drawing for the custom header. How exciting!

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