Posted tagged ‘Before and After’

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!

A River (Sometimes) Runs Through It – Part 1

April 2, 2011

Several years ago, an architect I know and have worked with before introduced me to a client of his whose home renovation was nearing completion. Most of the work was a beautiful interior renovation; the only changes to the exterior consisted of adding a porch and a cleverly-disguised laundry room on the front of the house. In the course of construction, as is often the case, the plantings around the house had taken a beating, including a dogwood tree and some azaleas.

House, almost done. Landscape, almost done in. (The flowering dogwood just to the right of the wooden ramp didn't make it.)

The entire place needed a make-over. But there was one small catch, which is detectable from the photo above if you look closely at it. The lot sloped dramatically (OK, the drama isn’t visible from this shot) from the left side of the house to the right, beginning with a very large hill on the left property line, and ending in a county culvert on the right property line. Strong rainstorms had always cut a gully line right in front of the house, turning the area into a muddy mess and eroding the soil or any semblance of a lawn.

Enter the concept of the dry streambed. We decided that creating a “channel” of large (5″ – 8″) river jack stones and boulders (and adding the same material to the bare county culvert at the bottom of the property) would slow down rainfall when storms hit and allow me to design planting beds around it with plants that could withstand periodic flooding.

The contractor had already built a mortared flagstone walkway over the portion of the “gully” area right in front of the steps, so we had to excavate underneath it and place perforated black pipe that would facilitate the water draining from one section of the dry streambed to the next and down to the culvert.

dry streambed

The dry streambed snaking under the pre-existing walkway. Yellow paint lines outline the planting beds on either side of the streambed and the foundation of the house.

The streambed was designed to funnel water down to a county culvert, at the foot of the hill, that parallels the side street.

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

The owners wanted a front garden that was as appealing as the makeover their home’s interior – and exterior – had received. They also knew solving the drainage problem was paramount. Next week: the garden, five years on.


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