Posted tagged ‘garden’

A Visit to Kenrokuen Garden

December 1, 2016

Last month, I took a photography trip to Japan led by the incomparable Sam Abell. Our itinerary was unusual since most of the cities we visited were off the beaten track for most tourists, and I didn’t expect it to include any memorable gardens, especially since we weren’t headed to Kyoto, known for its stunning public and private gardens.

To my delight, I quickly discovered how wrong I was. In almost every city we visited, there was at least one breathtaking garden, often associated with a local temple, whether small or large. And in Kanazawa (located on the Sea of Japan in north central Honshu island), we spent most of a day exploring Kenrokuen, which is considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens.

In 1985, Kenrokuen was designated as a National Site of Special Scenic Beauty by the government (having been merely a “place of scenic beauty” for several decades prior to that). Its construction began in the late 1600’s as part of the feudal lord Maeda Tsunanori’s creation of a garden adjacent to Kanzawa Castle. “Kenrokuen” means “having six factors,” and refers to six attributes considered by the Chinese and Japanese to create a perfect landscape: spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water sources, and a magnificent panoramic view. This garden, which extends over 25 acres in size, has them all.

Although we encountered rain off and on during our visit (not surprising given Kanazawa’s reputation as a “distinctly wet” city with over 190 days of rain a year), we enjoyed taking in the peak fall color of the leaves and watching the gardening staff taking part in yukitsuri. Yukitsuri, which literally means “snow hanging,” is the name for the annual process in which garden staff erect ropes in a conical shape over garden trees and shrubs in order to create structure to keep their branches from breaking in the wet, heavy snow the region gets every year. The resulting structures are not only practically useful but aesthetically appealing – a ‘win-win’ situation for garden visitors. The pine trees, in particular, are carefully taken care of; there is one that is over 200 years old and has many of its lower branches supported by sturdy wooden ‘props.’

Kenrokuen is visited year-round by many people, especially now that bullet train service is available from Tokyo. In the winter, the landscape must be breathtaking in snow. Spring brings cherry trees, azaleas and irises in bloom, and in summer the landscape views are all green and lush. In fall, when we visited, the trees are ablaze with golds, reds and yellows of countless varieties of Japanese maples. And year-round there are ponds to visit, paths to stroll, and teahouses placed for their views and to offer sustenance and contemplation for the visitor. By the time I left, at the end of the day, I had resolved to return in another season, and I hope you will be intrigued by these images to consider a similar resolve.

Kenrokuen Garden is located in Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan. It is open year-round from 7 am to 6 pm during March to mid-October, and from 8 am to 5 pm from October 16th to the end of February. Admission fees vary (free for senior citizens with ID). More information can be found on its website.

Perfect Gardens in Virginia’s Piedmont Area

October 23, 2015

In mid-October, the Association of Professional Landscape Designers held their national design conference here in Washington, DC. In addition to a full day or more of sessions on sustainability in gardens, marketing, design topics and the like, the conference included three full days of visiting gardens, two in the DC suburbs and one in the Piedmont region of Virginia, outside Charlottesville.

I had been involved in helping select the Maryland and northern Virginia gardens conference-goers visited, so I didn’t sign up for those two days. But I was really curious about two gardens scheduled for the Monday ‘Piedmont region’ extension of the conference, and so joined a number of good friends for a day trip to see them.

Our first stop was Mt. Sharon Farm, in Orange, VA. Designed by landscape architect Charles Stick in collaboration with the owners (Mary Lou and Charlie Seilheimer), the garden sits on a hilltop overlooking beautiful vistas that Mrs. Seilheimer described as thinking she is “lucky to come home to” every day.

Association of Professional Landscape Designers, Mt. Sharon Farm, APLD

One of the views from a path at Mt. Sharon Farm.

The garden itself was begun in 2000 but feels as though it has been there for many decades, in part because of the massive boxwoods that help create several ‘rooms’ and which Stick insisted should remain (another landscape architect whom the Seilheimers interviewed recommended removing all the boxwoods on site; he was not hired). Stick designed the garden with the principle in mind that all aspects of it should relate to the surrounding views outward, and it shows, even in spaces like the rose garden and the adjoining boxwood parterres.

Mt. Sharon is probably at its loveliest in the spring, and occasionally has been open to visitors during Virginia’s Garden Week. For more images of it during that time of year, visit Roger Foley’s website or check out his wonderful book, A Clearing in the Woods, which includes a chapter on Mt. Sharon.

After a too-short stay at Mt. Sharon, our bus took us onward to Warrenton, where we visited Marshfield, a 40-acre estate whose 12-acre garden has been designed by C. Colston Burrell. The current owner’s grandmother, Mrs. Samuel Appleton, was a founding member of the Garden Club of America, and so the gardens have been named the Appleton Gardens in her honor. The modest brick house at the top of the drive is tucked in among old oak trees and Japanese maples, but it was Burrell’s magic farther away from the house that drew me and my camera. We had plenty of time here, and ate dinner outside in the outer reaches of the garden. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but this was for me the highlight of the trip.

The Guests That Won’t Leave the Garden

June 12, 2015

Now that I can work in the garden again, I am overwhelmed. Spring’s abundant rains here have encouraged lush new growth not only of hydrangea buds (which were sadly absent last year)

Hydrangea 'All Summer Beauty,'

Hydrangea ‘All Summer Beauty’ began to bud last week.

but also of what I call “garden rogues” – plants I planted in small numbers (or not at all) which have become travelers all over my garden. There used to be a modest bed in my side yard between my arbor and a thriving Styrax tree, originally planted with selected shrubs and hostas, Carex, a few Heuchera, and a couple of toad lilies purchased from a local nursery. The other day I photographed it stuffed full of those plants and a million ‘volunteers.’

Mayhem in the borderl

Mayhem in the border

The toad lilies have gaily seeded themselves everywhere, as have a species Geranium (G. maculatum). Both have the good grace to be easy to remove (once the temps drop below 92, I’ll think about it . . .). What bugs me most is the constant proliferation of spiderwort (Tradescantia), which spreads by runners all over the damned place. It’s the blue-flowered perennial below. You can’t get rid of it without digging out the roots, which is an almost impossible task. I’ve settled for cutting it back at the base, knowing it will come back.

Tradescantia (spiderwort) and Indian pink have spread in this border without any encouragement from me.

Tradescantia (spiderwort) and Indian pink have spread in this border without any encouragement from me.

I’m happier about the spread of the Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), shown above with the red blooms. I ordered three plants of it many years ago from an online nursery. Today I find it throughout the garden. It likes shade – what a surprise to see such a strong red color in a shade garden!

Felix-femina 'Lady in Red'

‘Lady in Red’ fern has red stems.

Another perennial with a little red in it that has spread unexpectedly in my garden is the fern ‘Lady in Red’ (Athyrium felix-femina ‘Lady in Red’). It was a new introduction when I splurged on it (having lots of deer who wander through the garden has increased my interest in and respect for ferns, which they avoid). But now I’ve found it a hundred feet away from where I first planted it. No problem for me.

Other plants I’ve been happy to see self-seed in my garden include dwarf goats-beard (Aruncus aesthusifolius), another stalwart for the shade, and – to my great delight – the lacecap hydrangea H. macrophylla ‘Blue Billows,’ which has appeared in two locations other than the two where I originally planted it. Now there’s a real bargain.


Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Billows'

‘Blue Billows’ in my back yard, with ferns and a variegated boxwood in the background.


High Summer at Green Spring Gardens

July 18, 2014

It’s high summer. Hot as you know what. Here in the metro DC area, gardens are starting to struggle (including mine). So  recently I decided to venture out to Green Spring Gardens, in Alexandria VA, a  Fairfax County public garden known for its great plantings (as well as its excellent educational offerings for gardeners). I wanted to see what was blooming, or otherwise looking good, despite the challenging summer climate. Here’s what I found – an impressive mix of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. If you live in the area, take a road trip for yourself!

 Garden Shoots will be on vacation until after Labor Day. See you in September!

New Year, New Horizons

January 17, 2014
Fall impressions in my neighborhood.

Fall impressions in my neighborhood.

A new year stretches ahead. I’ve shifted gears again. In late December, I left my position as a landscape designer at Landscape Projects, where I’d worked for almost twelve years. Taking early retirement has been a dream for a long time, and suddenly here I am. Now I will work as a part-time marketing consultant to my old firm and some designer colleagues who want a little help with media sites. But mostly I will be a photographer, of gardens and other subjects.

This blog has helped me sell photos, now and again. In 2013, I sold images to White Flower Farms (have you gotten the spring catalog yet? Look on page 57 and 132 for photos of Hosta ‘Elegans’ and Dutchman’s Pipe), Phaidon Press (a half-page image of Opus 41 in New York for their tome Art & Place, and some landscape architects across the country. Another image sale for the cover of a book on California gardening is in the works.

This year I hope to work with at least three or four landscape designers to photograph their work for their websites, Houzz sites, or whatever else is needed. But what I’m most excited about is the chance to stretch myself as a photographer by trying new techniques and visiting new places. Cuba is on my itinerary for February – so I’ll have to overcome my reticence about photographing people I don’t know. I chose the trip because of my love of photographing architecture and colorful street scenes, like I was able to capture in Mexico in 2009. Stay tuned for a report and photos when I return.

In the meantime, I want to share a couple of images inspired by a fellow photographer (a real pro) named Sarah Salomon, who specializes in “motion” images. First, here’s the “straight shot” – of a gorgeous Japanese maple I happened upon one day while out visiting a client.

An enormous dissected Japanese maple in front of a house in northwest DC.

An enormous dissected Japanese maple in front of a house in northwest DC.

Well, OK, I thought after viewing it in the camera’s LED screen. Kind of ho-hum. So I experimented:

My first attempt – a bit shimmery but not quite what I felt I was after.

I also didn’t like the little white streaks marching along the bottom edge of the image. And I wanted more of the house visible on the left, as an anchor.

That's better. Tweaked a bit in Lightroom and Photoshop.

That’s better. Tweaked a bit in Lightroom and Photoshop. The white streaks are still there but don’t bother me as much for some reason.

Since then, I’ve experimented more with this technique, discovering along the way that for every “keeper,” there are many, many shots I delete (thank God we’re in the digital age, I can’t imagine doing this with film). And on Veterans’ Day, on my way to the office, I stopped in a mundane residential neighborhood and took this, which I quite like.

At Sarah's suggestion, I desaturated the yellows so they wouldn't overwhelm the rest of the image.

At Sarah’s suggestion, I desaturated the yellows so they wouldn’t overwhelm the rest of the image.

So, head’s up that the coming year’s posts may be a bit different than before. Although gardens will always be my first love, I’ll be traveling down some new roads. Five years plus after my first post (December 2007), maybe that’s not such a bad idea.

The National Sculpture Garden

October 12, 2013

Recently I ventured into downtown DC (something I hope to do more frequently next year when I take early retirement), camera in hand, to visit the East Wing, the National Gallery, and the National Sculpture Garden. I saw a wonderful exhibit at the East Wing, “Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes,” which has enchanting costumes and film clips of revivals of some of the ballets from that time. (Barishnikov! Nureyev! But I digress . . .)

My afternoon ended with a stroll through the National Sculpture Garden, full of amazing works of art, carefully manicured shrubs, large trees and some annuals, and a large fountain great for people-watching. Here are some of the images I captured. Plan a visit on your next trip to Washington!

The Gamble Garden, Redux

September 7, 2012

In mid-June, I found myself back in Palo Alto for my younger son’s graduation weekend. Since my body was on East Coast time the day after I arrived, I decided to head for the Elizabeth Gamble Garden, which I’d last visited in February several years back. I’d loved the garden’s “bones” and its topiary bunny, as well as its impressive collection of succulents, which can get through Palo Alto winters easily.

This time the area was awash in unusual heat, reaching up into the mid-90’s, but the garden looked beautiful and didn’t appear to be suffering. The bunny was still there.

Gamble Garden, Palo Alto, topiary bunny

A sunflower admires the topiary rabbit in the Gamble Garden in June.

Even though it was only a little after 8 a.m., the sun was already very bright, so I chose my shots carefully. Verbena bonariensis, scattered throughout the garden, looked especially nice in the rim lighting.

Gamble Garden, Palo Alto gardens, Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis, acting as a see-through scrim in the Gamble Garden with pink Agastache behind it.

Moving away from the harshest light, I found some other great plant combinations. The first one was a contrast of Santolina ‘Lemon Fizz’ (my thanks to the thoughtful volunteers who had labled it) combined with a blue-purple annual verbena. I loved the pop of the colors.

Elizabeth Gamble Garden, Palo Alto gardens

Santolina ‘Lemon Fizz’ and purple annual verbena in the Gamble Garden, contrasting nicely with a broader-leaved perennial in the upper right corner.

In the “let’s do monochrome” category, I liked the way some pink alstroemaria had been planted in front of red barberries.

Gamble Garden, Palo Alto gardens, Alstroemaria

Pink alstroemaria (variety unknown) in the foreground of a planting of red Berberis thunbergii.

In the end, one of my favorite images ended up being this one, where all the colors, despite their differences, seemed to work together. The small path light on the left works to balance the smoke bush on the upper right, I hope.

Gamble Garden, Palo Alto Gardens

A path through the Gamble Garden in the early morning light.

And though my son doesn’t go to college here any more, I hope my travels will bring me back to revisit this garden in the future. Do see it if you’re in the area.

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