Posted tagged ‘Before and After’

Glowing Embers – A Winning Japanese Maple for Sun

May 3, 2013

As many readers know, a couple of years ago I had to take down a gorgeous crabapple tree in my front yard that was failing. And because I also had lost a 90-foot beech tree shortly before, on the other side of the front yard, the site had turned from shade to fiercely sunny.

In considering what to plant to replace the crabapple, I did some research and settled on a Japanese maple called ‘Glowing Embers.’  Usually you don’t plant Japanese maples in full sun – they prefer dappled shade. But this one is different – it takes full sun and high heat, and is a vigorous grower to boot. Developed by Dr. Michael Dirr, the dean of woody plants, ‘Glowing Embers’ received the Georgia Gold Medal Winner award in 2005. Ultimately it will reach 20-25′ high, a bit smaller than my crabapple was, but it will help provide shade to the eastern side of the house.

I planted it in November 2011, when all I could see to appreciate was its bark, which in winter has kind of a reddish cast to the branches, something I haven’t read about in online descriptions.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'

Taken with my iPhone, this image of the tree with its branches tied up on its way to the planting hole shows a reddish tint to the bark.

I’ve even had one designer colleague ask me if this was a ‘Sango Kaku’ maple, which are noted for their red branches. It’s not that intense, but it’s pretty impressive.

I loved the shape of my tree in winter, and took this image of it during a light snowfall.

‘Glowing Embers’ in snow.

In spring and summer, this tree has lovely light green leaves (a choice I favored because my house is red brick and I wanted it to stand out against that background).

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers"

A close up of the leaves as the little “whirlybirds” (oops, technically that’s “samaras” to us plant geeks ) start to appear. (iPhone 5 photo)

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'

Acer palmatum ‘Glowing Embers’  last spring. I gave it extra water during the summer.

But it was in the fall that I fully appreciated ‘Glowing Embers’. The leaves can turn a variety of shades on the same tree, which explains how it got its name. And from tree to tree, it can take on a different aspect. Here are two photos, one from my specimen and another from a ‘Glowing Embers’ planted in a client’s garden.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'

A close-up of the leaves on my tree as they started to turn.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'

A ‘Glowing Embers’ planted in a landscape client’s garden, showing a slightly different range of colors on the leaves in autumn. Some of the reddish leaves had a purple tone to them.

What will the future bring? I’ll close with an image provided courtesy of the Georgia Botanical Gardens, of a mature ‘Glowing Embers’ in the fall at its Callaway Building.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers,' Georgia Gold Medal Winner 2005

© Contributors to
The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, 2007

I have no idea how long mine will take to get this large, but I hope it will be while I still call Thornapple Street my home.

Warming up Some Tulips

January 25, 2013

In case you don’t live in the DC area, it’s winter here now. The days are shorter, the light goes faster, and there are only so many trips I can make to the National Arboretum or client gardens in search of new images. Today we even had some light snow, but too late in the afternoon to make venturing out with my camera feasible. (Maybe tomorrow.)

So recently I’ve been experimenting with some techniques in Photoshop to add a little warmth and light to some older photos in my way-too-large image library. (Nothing like a 300 MB PSD file to clog up your operating system’s speed, right?) Here’s a 2009 photo  of three tulips, taken in my dining room, where I didn’t have to worry about wind but where the light conditions  and background were less than optimal.

Textures in Photoshop

Three pink tulips with a blah background (i.e., my dining room walls).

And here’s the “after” shot:

Textures in Photoshop, Flypaper Textures

‘Tulips Sea and Skies’ is now one of the images I use for custom note cards. (Without the annoying copyright line, of course)

How did I do it? With the help of two “texture” files from Flypaper Textures, called ‘Sakura Skies’ and ‘Tempest Seas.’

Textures in Photoshop, Flypaper Textures

The two textures I used from Flypaper Texture’s “Spring Painterly” pack to get to the finished image.

In Photoshop CS5 (I just upgraded to CS6 but this technique should work with almost any version of the program, or in Photoshop Elements as well), I used ‘Skies’ as the first layer over the background image, set the blending mode to ‘Darken’ and reduced the opacity of that layer to 80%. (I then used a layer mask to make the edges of the tulips a little clearer.)

Then I added the ‘Tempest Seas’ texture file as another layer, changed the blend mode to Overlay, and set the opacity to 70%. With a final Curves layer adjustment to darken some of the lighter areas and lighten the tulips, I was finished. (For a good online tutorial on blending, click here.)

These texture packs I bought aren’t cheap, although with a little looking around you may find some discount codes to lower the purchase price. But they are very high quality, large images (400 px square at 300 dpi) that have enough variety in each one that you can move them around until you get the effect you want.

If you look online, you may also find some free textures to use, including on Flickr – but be careful to check what rights have been reserved or requests made of potential downloading before proceeding. You can also make your own by taking photos of skies, water, grasses, crumpled paper, or anything else that you think might work. This is all about experimenting, and it’s very much a matter of personal taste.

I’ll close with another image of mine, from the Arboretum last fall, where I thought the use of some textures enhanced the overall effect (the textures are Heather and Necropolis, again from Flypaper Textures).

Flypaper Textures, textures in Photoshop

An image of the Capitol Columns with wildflower plantings, enhanced with texture overlays.

Destruction in the Garden

January 11, 2013
tree damage

August 2012 in my side yard.

Just when you think your garden has suffered as much as it can, you find out you’re wrong.

Last year, as many readers know, I lost two beloved trees in my front yard, which turned a north-facing sloped shade garden into the horticultural equivalent of the Sahara Desert. I’m still coping with those changes.

Then, in early August, my next-door neighbor’s massive, leaning oak tree fell on their house, crushing the attic and top floors (fortunately no one was home). The canopy was wide enough to rip bricks from their chimney and hurl them into my side garden, and to crush a section of fencing, my wobbly arbor and destroy a number of shrubs. (Again, fortunately, no damage to my house, just the garden).

A closer look at the arbor area.

A closer look at the arbor area.

Arbor debris surrounded by bricks after the tree canopy was removed from the house next door.

Arbor debris surrounded by bricks after the tree canopy was removed from the house next door. The hanging line was my cable connection.

To the right of the photo above, you can see the large stand of azaleas shown in the  2011 photo below. I had just had them carefully pruned but they still suffered some damage.

The old arbor and stand of azaleas in happier days.

The old arbor and stand of azaleas in happier days.

What did Henry Mitchell say? “Wherever humans garden, there are magnificent heartbreaks. It is not nice to garden anywhere. Everywhere there are violent winds, startling once-per-five-centuries floods, unprecedented droughts, record-setting freezes, abusive and blasting heats never known before.” (From The Essential Earthman).

But gardeners are made of stern stuff. My first act after removing some shrubs damaged beyond repair (a pair of variegated Pieris japonica which would have not liked the new, additional sun anyway) and pruning broken branches off my star magnolia, was to commit to a new arbor.

A new white arbor has found a home where the old one was. Now all that remains is to decide what to plant to adorn it.

A new white arbor has found a home where the old one was. Now all that remains is to decide what to plant to adorn it.

I like looking through it from my kitchen window. And even if the new one won’t be such a line of demarcation in terms of sun and shade, it will remind me that gardens change constantly, and we have to be prepared to do so as well. So this winter I’ll curl up with my favorite gardening books and dream about how to re-design the space I see from so many windows. Opportunities beckon.

When North Becomes South

December 1, 2012

Time for a little break from my California posts – just for this week. As some of my readers know, in May 2011 I was forced to take down a 90-foot beech tree that had been the centerpiece of my front yard for as long as I’ve lived in my house.

My front yard when the beech tree ruled.

Its loss turned my north-facing front yard to the equivalent of southern exposure, and this summer I watched in horror as my lovingly-chosen shade-tolerant plants struggled to cope with direct sun for much of the day.

Hosta 'Halcyon,' sun scorch

Example 1: The ‘Halcyon’ hostas have fried in the heat. I expect to have to move them next year, and invest in more deer spray (at present their location protects them from the ravages of local Bambis).

I suspect the reason the front yard took such a direct hit has a lot to do with the fact that the house sits at the top of a steep slope. And now, any shade provided by my gorgeous, mature crabapple tree on the northeast side of the front yard is also history – the crabapple was removed shortly before last Thanksgiving because of disease problems (fireblight and other issues) and the proximity of its sagging large branches to my dining room window.

What am I most worried about? First, my awesome stand of skimmia, which over the years had spread like crazy on the slope on the left side of the front steps. I had never seen skimmia this happy in any other place I’ve tried it. But this is definitely a shade plant and last summer after the beech came down leaves began yellowing on the skimmia. In desperation, I moved many of them to the back yard, and have replaced them with Indian hawthorn, which I hope the deer will ignore.

Skimmia japonica

Two transplanted skimmia. The one on the left came from the front hill and you can see how yellowed by the sun its leaves are. I plan to prune it hard eventually to see if I can encourage new growth, but my experience is that these plants resent being moved.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers,' Hydrangea macrophylla 'Nigra,' daphne

Surprisingly, the Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ has done remarkably well despite strong sun and blistering heat since the two trees were taken down. The ‘Nigra’ hydrangea is soldiering on; I try to give it extra water. I can’t transplant everything.

In the bed of the new ‘Riversii’ beech I’ve planted to replace the old beech, I’ve put Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight,’ Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ and variegated Hakone grass; late in the fall I added some Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster.’ (Feather reed grass – not shown in these photos.)  Fingers crossed. I think of it as an experiment, and will keep you posted.

Fagus sylvatica 'Riversii', Cephalotaxus harringtonia

Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, Cephalotaxus harringtonia, and groundcovers just after planting last November.

Fagus sylvatica 'Riversii,' iPhone photos, sunny exposure

Taken in early August, this photo shows how the ajuga have struggled. So has the Hakone grass, although the iPhone’s “happy face” effect tends to disguise that fact.

Seeing the Garden in Black and White

July 23, 2011

Recently a client asked me to photograph his wife’s garden for the purpose of surprising her with a few prints of it. Since this is the direction in which  I would like to head my efforts as I contemplate retiring from landscape design work, I was only too happy to oblige.

The garden (designed by his wife) is lovely, a shady paradise less than a block away from me. But after I processed about a dozen images for possible prints, he asked if I could convert some of them into black and white or sepia. I’d never done this before, and was skeptical. But what I found as I experimented with the images from their garden and others I’ve shot in the last couple of years opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about photographing gardens.

Here are two photos from a recent garden shoot (different garden), first the color and then the black and white version.

epimediums, ferns, plant combinations

Epimediums and ferns in an early spring garden image.

black and white garden images

Rendered in black and white, the image is more about shapes and textures.

Here’s another pair, from the same garden, with more contrast in the tonal range this time.

Euphorbia, plant combinations

Euphorbia and an unidentified broadleaved perennial (cimicifuga?) offer contrast in color, shape and texture.

black and white garden photographs, euphorbia

Greater dark and light variation in this image makes it more dramatic as a black and white photo than the previous example, I think. But somehow I like the ferns and epimedium shot more.

The last set from this garden is probably my favorite.

Asarum, Hydrangea 'Annabelle'

The client had asked for some photos of the variegated ginger, a slow-growing but spectacular groundcover for shade.

Asarum, black and white garden images

The same image converted to black and white.

This project sent me searching back through older images for some I could experiment on. Here’s a shot from last summer’s trip to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, not featured in my post on “The Luminous Lotus.”

Lotus flower, summer

A partially-opened lotus flower shot at Kenilworth Gardens in Washington DC last summer.

Ever so much more appealing, I think, in the black and white version – which surprised me.

Lotus, black and white garden photography

The same image in black and white.

In the second image, the veins on the lotus petals stand out more and the whole flower seems to float against a darker background – and the water drops on the leaf behind the flower really shine.

I’ll close with a hybrid – an image originally taken in color (as all of these were), converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro, and then the underlying color layer ‘revealed’ through the use of a layer mask.

Magnolia Plantation

A red azalea against a wooden fence and live oak covered with Spanish moss at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston SC

A black and white version of the same image. Without the azalea in color, this would look dull. Trust me.

I vacillate between liking this final image and thinking it looks too gimmicky. But I thought I would include it because it shows something a little different from straight color and straight black and white.

Silver Efex Pro (now available in an upgraded version, which I don’t own) is a versatile program that can be used as a stand-alone or integrated into Lightroom and Photoshop. It offers more variants than you can imagine in terms of different “looks” for black and white images, including sepia, infrared, and a variety of custom effects you can create yourself. For what I do, I don’t envision using it more than occasionally, but I found it easy to use and more flexible than the black and white options available in Lightroom.

A ‘Scintillating’ Rhododendron

June 11, 2011

This week we step away from clematis – briefly – for those of you who are wondering if I grow anything else in my garden. The answer, of course, is yes – but some plants more successfully than others. One of my successes is Rhododendron ‘Scintillation.’ A hybrid developed by Charles Dexter, it has wonderful deep green, large leaves and beautiful ball-shaped flowers that open as deep pink streaked with white and turn a slightly lighter pink. Comme ca:

Rhododendron Scintillation, Dexter hybrid rhododendrons

‘Scintillation’ trusses in various stages of bloom.

Here in the DC area, mine usually bloom mid-May. I planted two against my deck, one each in 1998 and 1999. Don’t they look kind of sad in this first photo, photographed from a garden journal I kept back then (because my scanner seems to be on the blink):

Rhododendron Scintillation

My two ‘Scintillations’, way back when.

They are planted next to my deck, where they get morning sun only. Seven years later, they had matured quite a bit:

Rhododendron Scintillation

After seven years in the garden, the two Scintillations had grown nicely.

This year, they were over the top of the deck.

Rhododendron 'Scintillation'

Blooming in 2011

The only complaint – and it’s minor – is that in alternate years, for some reason I haven’t been able to fathom, they bloom relatively sparsely. The trade-off is fewer blooms to deadhead (sticky fingers are always the byproduct of this pastime).

I have to confess that this plant hasn’t always performed well in client gardens (true of most of the rhododendrons I’ve tried) – it often succumbs to phythopthora, especially in gardens with irrigation; and our temperatures here are not really conducive to rhodos (see my esteemed colleague Jane Berger’s recent post called “You Can’t Always Have What You Want” on her blog “Garden Design Online.”) But if you live in a climate where rhododendrons do well, give this ‘scintillating’ cultivar a try – you won’t be sorry.

A River (Sometimes) Runs Through It – Part 2

April 9, 2011

Last week I set the stage for another “before and after” design problem and solution. This garden is on a normal-sized suburban lot in Bethesda, MD. It came with a daunting topographical problem in rainy times. Click here to see the “before ” pictures.

As explained in the last post, I decided to use a dry stream bed concept to cope with the periodic gully washers while providing a welcoming feel to the front yard. Plantings that went in included serviceberry trees (Amelanchier x ‘Autumn Brilliance’), hostas, Louisiana iris, Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), and variegated redtwig dogwoods (Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo’),  to name just a few.

Dry streambed plantings, Amelanchier

Three years after the garden was designed and planted, an Amelanchier anchors the right side of the dry streambed plantings.

The neighbors at the bottom of the hill have paid us the ultimate compliment by saying  they have “the best view in the neighborhood.”

Dry streambed, landscape design

The dry streambed ends near a bed of river birch and inkberry hollies at the bottom of a steep hill.

Even the county culvert area got a facelift that makes it look like part of the garden. Here’s the “before” photo from last week.

A county culvert on the side of the clients' property added nothing to any curb appeal of the property.

And now, “after.”

The culvert area, now part of the garden, is almost unrecognizable from before.

It’s been over five years since we planted the garden. The streambed has worked well, although ironically, two summers ago it was so dry that the owners decided to install an irrigation system just for the bed areas. Last summer’s torrential rains have once again proven the value of the design. We continue to tweak the beds here and there. The garden has won an award and been published in some magazine articles and even a book. But my greatest pleasure, beyond its success from a design standpoint, is watching it change with the seasons, and learning to photograph it in challenging light conditions which can be frustrating or rewarding. I’ll leave you with two favorite shots, the first taken from the same perspective as the opening “before” image,

This is the view that now welcomes visitors. The dry streambed is invisible from this perspective.

and my favorite, the garden bathed in late-afternoon light.

dry streambed garden

Baptisia, alliums and red-twig dogwoods surround the channel of stones and boulders.

There seems to be a wealth of references and online information about dry streambeds these days. I recommend it as a design solution to what can be otherwise daunting drainage issues. And it has the added benefit of allowing you to dress up the banks with appropriate plantings. Another example of making lemonade from lemons!


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