Posted tagged ‘macro’

In the Pink at Summer’s Peak

August 14, 2010

This time of year, many gardens in my region can look a little tired. Still, if you look hard enough, there are bright spots of color to be found. And, interestingly enough, at least three that come to mind are various shades of pink. Last week I wrote about one of them, the lotus flower. This week’s examples are slightly less ethereal but no less useful (and perhaps more commonly found) in residential gardens: Hibiscus and Joe Pye weed.

I first became entranced with the intense color of pink hibiscus right after acquiring my Nikon macro lens (AF-S Micro Nikkor 105 mm/f 2.8) several years ago. On one of my first outings with it, on a hot early August crack-of-dawn trip to Brookside Gardens, I captured this photo.

Hibiscus flower, Brookside Gardens

Hibiscus 'Copper King'? Whatever the name of this hibiscus cultivar, it's gorgeous.

Meet Hibiscus moscheutos, or swamp mallow. The intensity of the flower’s hot pink eye, combined with the pink and white petals and the dark green leaves, was a revelation to me. The blooms, which are quite large, last only for a day, but the shrub (which is what it is, not a perennial), can grow to sizable proportions in the right site. Since then, I have used Hibiscus ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Copper King’ in clients’ gardens where late-summer color is called for. (‘Caroline’ is all pink; check out red ‘Lord Baltimore,’ as well). ‘Copper King,’ which I’ve planted on streambanks of a Bethesda client’s garden, may be the same as the variety pictured above. These plants like moist sunny sites and some of its varieties are hardy as far north as Ontario. Cut them down to about a foot high when you’re putting your garden to bed for the winter and they will come back strong again the following year.

Another late-summer favorite is Eupatorium purpureum, or Joe Pye weed. For years, this American native was neglected in our landscapes, although Europeans discovered it and prized it highly. It will grow in either sun or filtered shade (and flower in both), although it prefers sun (and also, like the hibiscus, moist sites). In August its broad flower heads open up, their scent attracting bees and butterflies.

Eupatorium 'Gateway'

Joe Pye weed in bloom in August

Combine it with a bright stand of Rudbeckia for a nice effect in your late-summer perennial border.

Eupatorum, rudbeckia, Green Springs Garden

Eupatorium and Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm', a tried-and-true combination, at Green Springs Garden in Virginia.

I’ve also seen it grown in a median strip with purple coneflowers, doing remarkably well with no supplemental water.

Eupatorium and coneflowers sandwiched between a sidewalk and the curb in Washington DC

There are many, many more terrific late summer plants, including other pink choices: reblooming roses, Rose of Sharon varieties, dahlias, the coneflowers shown just above, phlox, and even late-summer poppies. I’ll leave it to my readers to suggest others, but for now I will stop with these imposing additions to the garden. Hope you are all “in the pink” as summer peaks this month!

Acres of Sunflowers

July 17, 2010

What’s more emblematic of high summer than a sunflower in bloom? Acres of them.

McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management area, sunflowers

Montgomery County's McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management area attracts photographers like me in mid-summer when acres of sunflowers are in bloom.

A couple of summers ago, a camera club colleague of mine shared a photograph with the club that stunned us. A panorama, it showed lines of sunflowers, stretching for miles, and it hadn’t been taken in Tuscany. Instead, the location was within driving distance in our own county – the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Poolesville, Maryland. Seems that every year, the county plants acres of sunflowers to lure doves for hunting season (kind of sad, actually, at least in my book), which appear after the flowers are mowed down in September.

I’ve been out to the fields three summers running, including last weekend. Photographing the flowers takes sensitivity to light conditions and exposure,  and has given me an appreciation for what a difference the sky and light can make in the success or failure (so to speak) of my images. The photo at top, for example, was taken on this year’s trip. I was there at first light but because the sky was hazy, I had to work very hard in processing the image to bring out any color in the sky at all, and brighten the yellows of the sunflowers. So for the most part, I stuck to images that didn’t show the sky, like this one.


This year's flowers were pretty much at eye level, which helped me photograph them without catching "dead" skies.

Last year’s photos are probably the best of the lot. Amazingly blue sky with puffy clouds set off the color of the flowers perfectly, and they were taller than this year, so I had to shoot upwards (not having thought to bring a ladder).


A tall sunflower with a perfect sky behind it, from last summer's trip to McKee-Beshers.

I also got a few images without the sky, like this one that reminds me of a mother and child duo:


An open sunflower with another one ready to bloom just behind it.

The sunflowers are planted in rows that run north-south but their heads turn towards the sun.


The rows look pretty cool from the back as well as the front.

Here are my two favorite images from the 2009 trip, one cropped from the other.

sunflowers, McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area

A group of sunflowers rising high above ground level.


Cropped from the image above. I like the graphic feel of the single sunflower against the blue sky and clouds.

One of the things I do with my photography is to make blank note cards, which I sell or give to friends. Here’s an image I’ve used in a “pano” card, from 2008:


As a card, this is cropped a little differently, more like my "slice" headers.

The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas. It’s also practical, tough – and beautiful in bloom. I don’t grow them in my garden, but I’m glad the county makes up for that lack of foresight on my part. Some day, I hope to make it to Tuscany to photograph them there, but until then, I can always find them just up a county road.

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And now, it’s time to announce the winner of the custom header design I offered several weeks ago. My son Adam chose the following piece of paper, from the four entrants, and here’s the winning slip:

And Jean is the winner!

Congratulations to Jean of Jean’s Garden. I’ll be in touch with her to start work on the design soon.  Thanks to everyone who entered!

Tulips for A Shutterbug

March 13, 2010

As a landscape designer, I tend to plant daffodils for clients who have deer problems, or who prefer bulbs that can be depended upon to return for many years, if the site is right (mostly in terms of adequate sun and not too much ground moisture).

But as a photographer, my heart belongs primarily to tulips. Here is one of my first images of a tulip taken just for the pure joy of the color. I was trying out my new macro lens at the Cylburn Arboretum, near Baltimore. I have to say the composition isn’t great – your eye doesn’t really know where to rest. But the color probably made me a little crazy.

Parrot tulips

Parrot tulips at the Cylburn Arboretum near Baltimore, MD.

Brookside Gardens is a great place to photograph daffodils in the spring (my next header, going up in April, is a “slice” of tulips from one of their beds a couple of years ago).  In this shot, I went for the repeating line of the bulb heads. I think this is probably ‘Princes Irene,’ one of the most fabulous of the orange tulips. Wish I’d gotten a little more of the stem in the shot.

Tulip Princes Irene, Brookside Gardens

Orange tulips at Brookside Gardens

Another great place to photograph different varieties of tulips is the Tulip Library in downtown DC,  near the Tidal Basin in view of the Jefferson Memorial. You have to catch it just right, but if you do there are countless varieties to enjoy, all of them labeled.  Here’s ‘Banja Luka’ from an early-morning visit several years ago. This time, I went for a cropped profile shot, close up to capture the dew still on the petals.

Tulip Banja Luka, Tulip Library

Tulip 'Banja Luka' at the National Tulip Library can't be checked out except visually.

Finally, here are two more recent photos, both taken at my house with the tulips in vases, so I was able to control lighting and was able to get shots without contorting my body or groveling in the dirt. Special thanks to Brent and Becky Heath, whose bulb company sent me (as a member of the Garden Writers Association) some extra bulbs to trial. So here is ‘Perestroyka’, followed by a closeup of an unknown pink tulip.

Tulip Perestroyka, Brent and Becky's Bulbs

A clutch of Tulip Perestroyka, their stems bending over the side of a vase.

macro photography, tulips

This shape on the side of the tulip is what caught my eye as a photographer.

One final note: if you love tulips and want some that do come back (unlike the Darwin hybrids and the other stunners shown above), try some species tulips, like the Kaufmanniana or Greigii cultivars. I have a small group of  ‘Stresa’ tulips (yellow and red) that have been blooming reliably for me for over six years in a sunny, well-drained site. More on these another time!

Sweet Amaryllis

December 17, 2009

Every year for Christmas, a friend from Los Angeles sends me an amaryllis from White Flower Farms. While I have a decent track record for keeping most plants in my own garden alive, indoors my thumb is not green. But it’s hard to fail with this plant. All I have to do is provide it with water (not too much), stake it up as it starts to grow, and step back and admire. Most of the amaryllis she has so kindly sent over the years have been beautiful, but last year’s offering was truly spectacular. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Amaryllis ‘Monaco.’

By the time this beauty was in full bloom, I was dying to get out my macro lens. Photographing flowers close up is difficult outdoors, what with wind, lighting issues, and finding a specimen that hasn’t been nibbled on by various insects or damaged by some kind of leaf or petal blight. Here, however, was perfection. What I really wanted to capture was the velvety texture of the red petals, the Christmas-y juxtaposition of the green throat against the red blossoms, and the flawless line of the stamens. The single white stamen tip positioned just inside one of the petals was the icing on the cake.

This ‘Monaco’ is royalty indeed. Hope you enjoy the view.

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