Posted tagged ‘plants’

A Visit to Chicago’s Lurie Garden

September 25, 2015

In late July, I made a short visit to some friends in Chicago whom I hadn’t seen in many years. High on my list of sights to take in were two iconic but very different gardens – the Chicago Botanic Garden about twenty miles north of the city, and the Lurie Garden, sited downtown on the south side of Millennium Park. Happily, I was able to work in a visit to both, but let’s take a look in this post at the award-winning Lurie Garden, built about ten years ago on top of the Lakefront Millennium parking garage – right, a parking garage – smack in the middle of downtown, next to the Chicago Art Institute and a stone’s throw from the famous “bean” sculpture.

Visible from the second floor of the new modern wing of the Art Institute, the 3-acre public ‘botanic garden’ adjoins a bandshell ‘headdress’ sculpture designed by Frank Gehry that anchors the Great Lawn, a public venue for concerts and other events. The garden is divided into ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’ Plates, separated by what is (somewhat preciously) called ‘the Seam,’ a boardwalk boundary between the two.

Lurie Garden

A view of the Lurie Garden’s Light and Dark Plates, separated by the Seam, from the modern wing of the Chicago Art Institute.

Two outer edges of most of the garden are visually enclosed by what is called the ‘Shoulder Hedge,’ taking its name from the Carl Sandberg poem which referred to Chicago as the “city of big shoulders.” The hedge is big indeed, fifteen feet high (there are metal girders that act as frame and guide for pruning) plantings of dark evergreens, designed to protect the lower perennial plantings from visitors leaving the Great Lawn after events there. When I visited, mid-summer plantings of ornamental grasses, Amsonia hubrechtii, coneflowers and daisies were in full bloom in the Light Plate area.

The Lurie Garden won the 2008 American Society of Landscape Architects General Design Award of Excellence, honoring the Seattle landscape architecture team of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. and the planting genius of Piet Oudolf (who was responsible for the perennial planting design). The following description of the garden comes from the ASLA website:

Chicago built itself up from marshy origins and continues to rise ambitiously skyward. A refinement of nature and natural resources has accompanied Chicago’s willful development. Similarly, the site of the Lurie Garden has been built up over time. It has been elevated from wild shoreline, to railroad yard, to parking garage, to roof garden. Lurie Garden celebrates the exciting contrast between the past and present that lay within this site.

The strong grid layout of Chicago’s streets highlights striking physical features that are not orthogonal. Railways form sensuous braids that merge and swell through the grid. Angled roads radiate out of Chicago like crooked spokes from Grant Park’s location in the center of the city. The paths and other forms of the Lurie Garden, and their relationships to the formal grid structure of Grant Park, are inspired by these patterns and by the strong forms of Chicago’s bold, urban, and Midwestern landscape.

Although I visited in mid-summer, the garden’s website photographs demonstrate clearly the beauty of the landscape year-round. If you’re visiting downtown Chicago in the coming year, I urge you to stop by the Lurie Garden and experience its pleasures for yourself.

Hoorah for the Blue Danube

June 26, 2015

Last year most of my hydrangeas were no-shows (or no-blooms, to put it more accurately). The culprit was a late spring frost which did in any hope of flowers from my mopheads (the H. paniculata ‘Limelights’ were fine).

This year I am overwhelmed with hydrangea blooms. And although I do love my ‘All Summer Beauty’ hydrangeas,

Hydrangea macrophylla 'All Summer Beauty' , Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘All Summer Beauty’ flowers next to variegated Hakone grass foliage in my front yard.

my favorite mophead is Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blue Danube.’

'Blue Danube 'in bloom in 2008 in my back yard, before I lost the wooden arbor at left.

‘Blue Danube ‘in bloom in 2008 in my back yard, before I lost the wooden arbor at left.

I probably bought this variety of hydrangea over ten years ago, by order two gallon-sized shrubs from an online source, Wilkerson Gardens, which apparently no longer offers them. Several years later, in a fit of horticultural ingenuity, I read an article on how to grow hydrangeas from rooted cuttings, and voila – I had two more ‘Blues.’ The photo below shows one of them growing next to an ‘Endless Summer’ – if you look carefully you can see the difference in leaf texture as well as in the appearance of the blooms. Although the web descriptions of this shrub describe it as ‘compact’ and good for containers, my experience is that it becomes fairly large (although not as large as ‘Nikko Blue’ or ‘All Summers Beauty.’)

'Blue Danube' is on the left, with 'All Summer Beauty' on the right. The latter's flowerheads have smaller flowers and in my experience are less likely to color pink in my soil.

‘Blue Danube’ is on the left (flower buds not fully colored), with ‘All Summer Beauty’ on the right. The latter’s flowerheads have smaller flowers and in my experience are less likely to color pink in my soil.

I think I love this variety so because of the strong purple-blue and purple-pink hues that the flowers have (at least in my garden). ‘All Summer Beauty’ and H. macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ have softer blue blooms.

'Nikko Blue' in my side yard

‘Nikko Blue’ in my side yard

‘Blue Danube’ has colors that can’t be ignored.

That may also explain why it’s my favorite hydrangea for cutting – and for photographing when cut.
Blue Danube Hydrangeas1_20130708002

If all this has whet your appetite for a ‘Blue Danube’ or two of your own, I’m happy to report that Hydrangeas Plus offers them for sale online.

Garden Spots in Havana

February 28, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I returned from a week in Cuba with the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. I went to see Cuba before (as one of our group members put it)  “there’s a Starbucks on every corner.” It was an incredible trip, and I’m already planning to return next year if I can.

I didn’t go to photograph gardens, and the photos I took for the most part fell into other themes – architecture, people, cultural events, and the city itself. More of those images later. But to my surprise, there were plants and parks everywhere. Plants on balconies in pots. Lushly planted pocket/plaza parks. Bougainvillea growing up the sides of buildings. And in some cases, ferns sprouting out of cracks in the facades of some of the older, crumbling  but still magnificent edifices that serve as businesses or in-town tenement apartments. While I work on my other images (too many!), here are a few photos of green spaces in Havana.

Inside the US Botanic Garden

February 14, 2014

Several weeks ago, before the DC area became inundated with snow, a photographer friend had some business to attend to at the U.S. Botanic Garden in downtown DC. The visit entitled her to a parking pass right in front, and she was kind enough to invite me along.

I had forgotten how nice it is to see plants in the winter without having to freeze any part of one’s anatomy off in the process. The Botanic Garden doesn’t allow tripods, so we went armed with high ISO’s and explored various parts of the building, starting with the entry hall.

US Botanic Garden

Azaleas and cyclamen in bloom under a canopy of tropical palms in the entry hall of the US Botanic Garden.

The Garden’s interior spaces are designed to mimic various kinds of climates, ranging from tropical jungles to desert spaces. Along the way, I saw orchids, lots of air plants, misting water (in the jungle area), and birds of paradise. The Children’s Garden and the “Southern Exposure Garden” were “closed for the winter” but would be worth a return visit. If you’re in the DC area, don’t miss this gem, tucked away up near the Capitol. It’s a great place to forget winter and enjoy yourself.

The Luminous Lotus

July 12, 2013

With my computer still out of commission, here’s an encore appearance of another one my favorite posts. Hope you enjoy seeing these lotus photos again.

Garden Shoots

Lotus plants (Nelumbo nucifera) fascinate me both as a landscape designer and a photographer. They start blooming in mid-summer just when you would give your right arm for something new to unfold in the garden. And they arise out of muck and mud, looking pristine and otherworldly at the same time. The Confucian scholar Zhou Duryi once said, “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained.”

Did you know that a lotus’s flowers, seeds, young leaves and rhizomes are all edible? (Thank you, Wikipedia.) You may have seen the dried cups, below, used in flower arrangements.

The tightly-furled buds of the flowers are magnificent,

as are the backlit leaves when the photographer gets lucky.

Lotus flowers can range from 4 to 12 inches when open.

Once fully open, their seed heads are bright yellow with tiny hairs that attract bees and other insects almost…

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The Best Camera

May 18, 2013

There’s an oft-repeated saying among photographers that the best camera is the one you have with you. In March, I went on a fabulous photo workshop in Charleston with two first-class photographers and teachers, Alan Sislen and Colleen Henderson.  I took along my new Nikon D600 and soon I’ll share some of the photos I took with it. But today’s post is about my other “best camera,” which now accompanies me everywhere, the one in my iPhone 5. Colleen taught us some pointers on great apps to use, and now I find myself reaching for the iPhone more often than ever. Here’s a good example of what you can do with it.

iPhone photos, Clematis 'Dawn,' Camera+, Over app

This trio of Clematis ‘Dawn’ was taken and “framed” with Camera+ and captioned in the Over app.

And another recent favorite:

iPhone 5 photos, Camera+, HandyPhoto, Over, Echevaria

Echevaria ‘Morning Light’ photographed in Camera+, edited with Handy Photo, and captioned in Over.

The phone takes really sharp closeups (no wonder, with an f-stop of 2.4). My favorite app for capture is Camera+, which gives me at least a 7 MB image to work with. That’s what I used on the first photo, adding the “border” with the same app and then importing the image to “Over” to add the text overlay. In the second photo, I actually did some cloning to remove spots on the Echevaria with another app called HandyPhoto. (This is an amazingly versatile app, although it is very large and I recommend using it on the iPad rather than the iPhone unless you have incredibly nimble fingers!)

iPhone 5 photos, Camera+

Tree peonies at dusk around Dupont Circle

Even in low light, Camera+ does a great job capturing a wide range of tonal values. This was taken around 7 pm a week or so ago in downtown Washington DC. (Copyright added in Over; no copyright symbol on our keyboards yet!) And it works well with azaleas, provided you don’t ask it to capture loud pink hues up close.

iPhone 5 photos, Camera+

A ‘Madame Butterfly’ azalea at LPI’s shop in Poolesville.

iPhone 5, Camera+, Over, azaleas

Part of my back yard, taken just around dinner a couple of weeks ago, when both the flowering dogwood and azaleas were (finally) in bloom

Like to experiment with black and white? My other often-used app is Hipstamatic, when I want to capture patterns and shapes, or color isn’t the most important aspect of the image.

iPhone 5 photos, Hipstamtatic app, black and white garden photos

A group of variegated Solomon’s Seal in my back yard.

With Hipstamatic, although the app itself isn’t all that expensive, you can spend a bunch of money adding “packs” to shoot with (the one above uses the “James W + BlackKeys B+W” pack).

Another advantage of working with these iPhone images, especially for gardeners, is that they take up so much less space on your hard drive than images captured with a DSLR. Particularly now that I have a D600, which takes 24MB images, my computer is slowing down and filling up really fast. To work on iPhone images, I usually download them to Dropbox, open them on my iPad if I want to add a caption or work with HandyPhoto, and then I can delete them or save them to my computer if I like them. Otherwise, they may end up on my Facebook page (or my company’s FB  page) and there it stops.

I’ll close with another favorite closeup, of a tree peony. I took this one in a client’s garden last month. The iPhone was the only camera I had with me (although I usually have my Canon G11 around, for some reason it wasn’t with me that day). So glad I had it.

iPhone 5 photos, Camera+

Tree peony, courtesy of the “best camera” I had with me.

The Hinoki Falsecypress – Gold for the Garden

April 6, 2013

Recently, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society announced its most recent Gold Medal Awards for garden plants. I was excited to see that my own excellent taste in plants had been validated by the inclusion of Chaemacyparis obtusa ‘Nana’, or dwarf Hinoki falsecypress.

Hinoki falsecypress, Gold Medal plants, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

My very own dwarf Hinoki falsecypress, about 12 years (I think) after planting. It’s in a sunny but occasionally windswept spot on the eastern side of my yard. (iPhone 5 photo, taken with Camera+ and captioned in Over app).

I fell in love with this shrub/tree during my education as a landscape designer. I love(d) its evergreen presence, the somewhat loose (but not out of control) way its branches and needles grew in a whorl-like manner, and the idea that you could include it in a mixed border or small garden and its slow-growing nature meant it wouldn’t eat the yard/house.

As both a gardener and photographer, I’ve found other aspects of it to admire.

Hinoki falsecypress, Gold Medal plants, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

A close-up of the foliage. This image (taken at the National Zoo) wound up being used as the front page of our landscape company’s brochure.

The bark exfoliates if the plant has been mislabeled (as sometimes happens in nurseries) and it’s not a ‘Nana’ after all. See this example from Filoli.

Hinoki falsecypress, Gold Medal plants, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

The bark of a non-‘Nana’ Hinoki falsecypress on the grounds of Filoli Gardens in Woodside, California.

And last but not least, it produces these adorable little mini-cones.

Hinoki falsecypress, Gold Medal plants, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Look closely or you might miss the cones!

The PHS chose this plant because, as my friend and colleague Jane Berger wrote in her blog post announcing the awards, “it is sorely under-used compared to dwarf Alberta spruce”, which is planted in so many housing developments.” (Don’t get me started on Alberta spruces . . .). The wood is rot-resistant and in Japan has been used for building temples, shrines, palaces, Noh theatres, and goodness knows what else. But if you  aren’t in the market for hardwood to build with, plant it for its beauty. It’s hardy from Zones 5-7, and possibly into Zone 8A.


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