Archive for December 2011

The Vale of the White Horse

December 31, 2011

In August I encountered one of the most mysterious landscapes I have ever seen – the Vale of the White Horse in Uffington, in Oxfordshire, England.  Although the Vale itself is fairly typical looking, with hedges delineating individual farms and holdings,

Vale of the White Horse, Uffington

The Vale of the White Horse, as seen from an outlook near the White Horse.

it is the White Horse itself that makes this destination so special.

White Horse, Uffington, Vale of the White Horse

The White Horse, viewed from below. It's much easier to photograph from an aerial perspective, but I had failed to book a helicopter.

The White Horse is described in Wikipedia as a “highly stylized prehistoric hill figure”, created of chalk (it is estimated) during the Bronze Age some 3000 years ago. (For a better aerial view of it, click here.) The figure is about 375 feet long and is cleaned periodically to keep it visible. The surrounding landscape contains some unusual ridged hills called The Giant’s Stair, and above the White Horse stands a knoll known as the Iron Age Uffington Castle.

The day we visited, the landscape was windy and clouds scuttered across the sky. A child was running with a kite.

Uffington, Vale of the White Horse

Flying a kite below the White Horse

The surrounding meadows were appropriately bleak, with an occasional outcropping of thistles.

Uffington, thistles

Purple thistles dotting the meadow grass near the Vale of the White Horse.

I won’t forget the Vale of the White Horse. See it if you can.

Ghost Forest

December 17, 2011

On my last day of vacation in England in August, it rained. The friend I was visiting had a morning appointment, and so I found myself dodging raindrops in dowtown Oxford, visiting museums rather than gardens. I left my D300 at home but packed along my trusty Canon G11. Sure enough, I found plenty to shoot, starting with “Ghost Forest,”  a remarkable installation  at the Oxford Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum.

Ghost Forest installation, tree roots, Wawa tree, Oxford Museum of Natural History

The outdoor installation of enormous tree roots called "Ghost Forest" outside the Oxford Museum of Natural History. On the left is a denya tree, the largest specimen in the installation.

The artist, Angela Palmer, sourced the tree stumps on display from fallen rainforest trees in Ghana, which have been decimated by illegal logging over the years (Ghana, which supports the artwork on display, became the first African country to sign an agreement with the EU outlawing trade in illegally felled timber, according to the British newspaper The Guardian.) Palmer has put on display ten tree stumps from commercially logged areas in the Suhuma rainforest areas of western Ghana. Three were trees that had been felled, and seven had toppled over during storms. I couldn’t decide which was more impressive – their size, or their beauty. But why choose?

Ghost Forest, Oxford Museum of Natural History

The massive tangled roots of one of the trees from Ghana.

The installation has also appeared in Trafalgar Square and in Copenhagen for the U.N. Climate Conference. When I visited in Oxford, signage indicated the installation was about to close, but its run there has apparently recently been extended through July 2012.  For more information and extensive photos documenting this project, visit the Ghost Forest website or archived photos from The Guardian.

“Winter Sun” in the Garden

December 3, 2011

It’s late November as I write this. Opportunities for photographing gardens are almost nil (although I did happen on a fabulous fall garden a couple of weeks ago when a new client contacted me). With the soaking rains here last week, all the leaves are down (except for those blasted oak leaves, which will last until January) so finding something to shoot is a challenge.

Enter an invitation from one of my ongoing garden owner clients to come see his mahonia. Ho hum, I thought. How interesting can that be? Answer: plenty, when the mahonia in question is Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun.’

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

'Winter Sun' mahonia lighting up the landscape in late November in a client's garden.

The client had mentioned that he had “a few” of these mahonia around the upper part of his garden, whose hardscape areas were designed several years ago by Corinna Posner (her own garden backs up to this one). But I was totally unprepared for the impact the bright yellow blooms of  ‘Winter Sun’ had on the surrounding areas.
Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun', winter garden

The blooms of two plants of 'Winter Sun' lead your eye up into the far parts of the garden - and don't you just love the contrast with the pumpkins?

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun', fall

The blooms of Mahonia 'Winter Sun' provide a great foil for the fading rust and red colors of adjoining deciduous shrubs as well as its own dark green foliage

Up close, the blooms are even more striking, and faintly fragrant as well.

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

The spiky blooms on 'Winter Sun' turn from chartreuse-green to a bright yellow.

After seeing this beauty in my client’s garden, I looked it up online. ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia is hardy only from zones 7 to 9, prefers a partially shady site sheltered from wind, and will grow to about 10 feet tall unless pruned to a lower height. It’s more fragrant than most mahonias – and should be deer-resistant although if I’m lucky enough to find one for my own garden I will be putting it to the test. For more details on this stunner, visit Great Plant Picks’ website here. And be prepared for a serious case of plant lust.


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