Posted tagged ‘trees’

Cylburn Arboretum and the Vollmer Center

November 6, 2015

Several weeks ago, my friend Sarah and I drove up to the Baltimore area to visit the Vollmer Center at the Cylburn Arboretum and walk the grounds. (We were also there to take in an exhibit of photos by my colleague Roger Foley, from a recently published book called On Walnut Hill, about a private garden in Baltimore.)

Cylburn Arboretum, over 300 acres in size, is open to the public year-round, with an historic mansion (available to rent for events) and miles of woodland walking trails. There are some cultivated garden areas up near the mansion, including one small garden space with a gazebo that was serving as the setting for a wedding when we saw it. Cylburn Arboretum

There were also a number of beautiful old dissected Japanese maples on the grounds.

A shot from the inside of an area where four Japanese maples had grown up in a circular planting area, making them look like a single, enormous tree.

A shot from the inside of an area where four Japanese maples had grown up in a circular planting area, making them look like a single, enormous tree.

It was the area nearest the Vollmer Center (and the Center itself), however, that I found most appealing the day we visited. The Center, designed by GWWO Architects, is nestled down in the landscape below the Cylburn Mansion, built into a slope and boasting views into the surrounding trees that were nothing short of spectacular the day we visited. It is modest in both size and aspect but extremely well designed, and has a number of  “green” features, including geothermal heating and cooling and composting toilets. Hope you enjoy these photos of it and its surroundings, and do plan a visit if you’re in the area.

Green Screens for Small Spaces

March 7, 2015

Garden Shoots is on a hiatus while I let my left hand heal. . .  Until I can type again with both hands, I hope you will enjoy one of the blog’s 
most popular posts from the past. Hope to be back in action sometime in April!


One of the requests I hear most frequently as a designer who lives in a suburban area is for screening plants. Maybe your neighbor’s house is a McMansion, or perhaps you just don’t want to look out your porch or the dining room window and see the street or – whatever. If you’re lucky, you have a large enough yard and enough sun that you can accommodate a mixed grouping of trees – some conifers (no Leyland cypresses, please!), a holly or two, and some deciduous but ornamental trees mixed in.

In some cases, however, the space available is more limited. Here is where I make a pitch for a tree that may not be as well known as the American holly or even the Japanese cryptomeria. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata,’ or the fastigiate hornbeam.

Before looking at the slimmed-down version, the straight species deserves its own moment of glory. I first encountered Carpinus betulus on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate outside of Asheville, North Carolina many years ago on a glorious early autumn day. Although the fall color is only hinted at in this photo, it’s a glorious golden hue and a real plus.

Carpinus betulus, European hornbeam

A mature Carpinus betulus starting to show fall color on the grounds of the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina

At the time, I didn’t know what kind of tree it was, but I made it my business to find out later. Since then, while I haven’t had clients with the kind of space needed in their gardens to plant one of these “regular” Carpinus, I’ve discovered the merits of its smaller cousin.

Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata'

Young Carpinus betulus

Fastigiate hornbeams (‘Fastigiata’ or a supposedly even narrower version, ‘Franz Fontaine,’) have a branching structure that is so tight it stops the eye, even when the tree isn’t in leaf. I’ve seen them planted as close together as 4′ on center, although I prefer to space them out six to seven feet apart (measured from trunk to trunk). This photo shows three ‘Fastigiata,’ planted along a six-foot fence in a back yard in the District of Columbia about seven years ago. Today they are fully grown together, about twenty feet high, and the garden owner loves them, especially since she can no longer see the car parked in her neighbor’s back yard.

I have seen them planted more formally (and seemingly “topped”), as a backdrop for a parking area at Muddy Rugs in Connecticut last August on a Garden Conservancy Tour.

Carpinus betulus, fastigiate

Fastigiate hornbeams, looking like lollipops, screening a parking area at a Connecticut house.

They can be kept relatively short and used as a hedge in smaller suburban spaces between houses, although I’m not sure how attractive I find them when treated that way if the height is seriously curtailed.

Carpinus betulus, hedge

These fastigiate hornbeams have been clipped into a kind of hedge between two new houses in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

(Of course, the Ellipse at Dumbarton Oaks is the most famous use of a clipped hornbeam hedge that I know of, but there the height at which the trees are kept is probably closer to 30-40 feet.)

Dumbarton Oaks, Ellipse, Patrick Dougherty

The hornbeam hedge at Dumbarton Oaks (shown here with Patrick Dougherty’s  ‘Easy Rider’ installation).

So you probably get the picture. The added bonus is that hornbeams can “take a little shade,” as designers like to say. That allows them to be used in less than ideally sunny sites, either mixed with other kinds of screening trees or on their own. And the fastigiate varieties can be utilized where space is very tight (a narrow space between two houses, for example); over time you can limb up the lower branches so that they can clear a low fence, or prune them to keep them tight.

But truthfully? I prefer situations where you can give them some breathing room, even when using them for screening. Here’s a perfect example, where local landscape architect Guy Williams has used matching pairs to great effect on one side of a somewhat formally designed back yard, both to screen the house next door but also to set off the space with grace.

Carpinus betulus

Four European hornbeam trees act as a screen but also as a focal point in this garden.

So the next time you’re contemplating how to screen a view – or just add some beauty to your garden – give some thought to a hornbeam. You won’t regret it.

Garden Shoots will take a brief holiday break over the Christmas weekend. See you in the New Year!

Beautiful Bonsai at the National Arboretum

February 6, 2015

In early January of this new year, I was feeling a little stir-crazy at home. So I decided to visit the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, at the National Arboretum. I had drifted through the collections before, on other visits, but this time I went specifically to see these miniature treasures.

As many of you probably already know, bonsai is the Japanese art form of growing minature trees in containers (bonsai literally means “planting in tray,” according to Wikipedia). It is over one thousand years old. A similar practice grew up in ancient China, where it is called “penjing” and includes creating miniature landscapes as well as trees.


National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, National Bonsai Foundation,  US National Arboretum

Part of the collection at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum.

Because it was winter, some of the bonsai specimens were leafless – but not all of them. A conifer is a conifer, after all, regardless of size. So the Chinese and California junipers, as well as the camellias, still sported their leaves – and one camellia was even in bloom. It was a quiet afternoon, well-suited to enjoying the charms of these beautiful specimens. Here are some of my favorites. If you’re ever fortunate enough to visit the Arboretum, don’t overlook this hidden gem. The museum’s hours are more limited, however, so plan your visit between 10 am and 4 pm most days.


A Visit to a Memorial in Downtown DC

May 24, 2014

Several weeks ago, on a visit to the National Building Museum with a friend, I came across the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial for the first time. Located in the Judiciary Square area of downtown Washington DC (in the 400 block of E Street, N.W.), the memorial honors law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

The memorial occupies a large plaza space in front of the National Building Museum and is reachable by Metro’s Judiciary Square stop.

The circulating pool in the center is a popular site for birds refreshing themselves, but the most striking feature of the memorial is two long curving walls of blue-gray marble walls, carved with the names of over 2000 officers killed in the line of duty (new names are added regularly).

National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

A portion of one of the walls carved with names. Flowers are left as tributes, and sometimes photos.

From a design standpoint, the curving walls also provide a place for rest, reflection, and a respite if it is sunny thanks to the carefully pruned linden tree hedges that reminded me somewhat of the hornbeam hedges at Dumbarton Oaks. You can choose one side or the other of the plaza to avoid the sun if it’s very bright.

National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

One of the curved pathways. There is a seatwall on one side of each of the paths on either side of the plaza while the other wall is carved with names.

At the entrance to each of the curved pathways, there are sculptures of an adult lion protecting its cubs – symbolic of the protective service provided by law enforcement officers to the public.
National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

The day I visited, there were flowers bedecking all of the lion statues.

The center of the memorial is a large plaza, planted with honey locust trees, which cast high, light shadows in summer – perfect for sheltering people walking across the plaza.

National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

The center plaza part of the memorial.

The memorial is about three acres in size and apparently is filled with daffodils in bloom in the spring. For more information about its history and events that are held there periodically, please visit its website.



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.

Love Letter to the Live Oaks

September 6, 2013

The first time I visited Charleston for a photography workshop, in 2009, I didn’t fully appreciate the grandeur of the live oaks (Quercus virginiana) that seemed to be everywhere. Spanish moss dripped from many of their branches, and even wisteria could be seen rambling through them along the roadside. This year, the oaks themselves became actors in the scenes I saw, and I came away quite overwhelmed with their size, appearance, and place in the landscape.

The largest and most stunning specimen we saw was Angel Oak, located on Johns Island near Charleston. The City of Charleston has owned both the park where it is located and the tree  (which is estimated to be between 400 and 500 years old) since 1991.

Angel Oak

Angel Oak (or most of it) on Johns Island.

The day we visited, there were a moderate number of visitors around. You’re asked not to climb on the tree, set up tripods under its canopy, or walk around in  high heels, so the root area is protected (I didn’t see anyone wearing heels!) So we stayed back a respectful distance. Some of our group shot panos, while I stuck with an HDR approach to capture the image above. But I think I like it in black and white (below) almost as much.

Angel Oak

The same image of Angel Oak, rendered in black and white with an infrared treatment in Nik’s Silver Efex Pro.

Another destination of ours, Old Sheldon Church in Beaufort County, is the ruined remains of a stone and brick church surrounded by live oaks. We were there in the late morning, so the light wasn’t the greatest. Since I didn’t have an infrared camera, I made do by shooting and color and converting to black and white to minimize problems with the strong light. Without the surround oaks to add an air of mystery, I think the scene would have been far less interesting.

Live Oaks, Old Sheldon Church, Charleston SC

Live oaks surround the ruins of the Old Sheldon Church.

A short drive away, our leaders took us to photograph the live oaks lining the drive to a private home, Tomotley Plantation. Before we set off, Alan and Colleen stressed that we would be photographing on private property, and that the gates might be closed or we might need to leave if the owners asked us to. Since returning, I’ve done a little on line research and read that the owners are quite gracious about photographers. We didn’t linger too long, but what we saw was beautiful indeed.

Tomotley Plantation, Charleston, live oaks

Tomotley Plantation’s allee of live oaks, viewed from the side.

The line of live oaks was apparently planted in 1820. The original plantation, burned by Sherman’s troops, was rebuilt in the late 1800’s. The view down the driveway from the front gates (kindly left open by the owners), was gorgeous. With no wind to disturb the moss on the oaks, we shot to our hearts’ content.

Tomotley Plantation, Sheldon SC

Looking down the allee of live oaks at Tomotley Plantation

It was at our last stop on the trip, Middleton Place, that I found myself once again appreciating the beauty of these trees in a more “garden-like” setting. Their majestic size and the way their branches bend and arch make them a perfect foil for a waterside setting.

Live oaks leaning over a pond at Middleton Plantation

Live oaks leaning over a pond at Middleton Plantation

And in a more intimate setting, their presence lends just the right air of mystery and enclosure.

live oaks, Middleton Place

Live oaks and Spanish moss sheltering a bench and statue at Middleton Place

For more information about live oaks, including their usefulness in shipbuilding in the past, check out the article in Wikipedia. And if you have an opportunity to visit Charleston or other Southern states, keep an eye out for them in the landscape. They’re quite a sight to behold.

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.

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