Pretty in Pictures

Vernonia, Patrinia scabiosifolia, Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks', and Eutrochium maculatum late August 09

What can you learn from this picture? That ironweeds (Vernonia), golden lace (Patrinia scabiosifolia), ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), and Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium/Eupatoriadelphus/Eupatorium maculatum) can all thrive in the same site. And that purple, pink, and yellow can look as good together in fall as they do in spring. But you can’t tell that the Joe-Pye and the ironweed in the background are in completely separate beds, about 8 and 15 feet away, respectively. Or, that I cut back the Joe-Pye in early summer, so it’s about 2 feet shorter than it would usually be, and it’s just coming into bloom now instead of finishing up. So, if you liked this picture and wanted to try the same combination in your own garden, you might be happy with the results, or you might not.


I’ve enjoyed gardening for many different reasons – the thrill of tracking down unusual plants, the fun of harvesting homegrown edibles, the delight of sniffing great fragrances, the excitement of growing new plants from seed, and so on – but for the past few years, my main interest has been in creating and capturing what I think of as “wow moments”: in other words, pretty pictures. It’s no surprise that this interest coincides with the amount of time I’ve been blogging, because this is such a perfect place to share the results.


Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida, Schizachyrium scoparium, Echinacea purpurea, and Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' mid-December 08

It’s easy to enjoy pictures of colorful flowers, but it takes a real gardener to appreciate the more subtle charm of dried stems and seedheads. [Above, orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) in mid-December]


Truly, I appreciate the many comments I get from readers who enjoy looking at the photos I post of the plantings here at Hayefield. But each time I read them, I feel a little uncomfortable, wondering if I’m doing a disservice by showing these pretty pictures without explaining them fully: how old the plants are, the specific conditions they’re growing in, the pruning techniques I used on them, and whether they’re due to chance or by design.


Hemerocallis fulva 'Kwanso Variegated' with Helleborus x hybridus and Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' mid-May 06

Would I suggest planting a daylily (in this case, Hemerocallis fulva ‘Kwanso Variegated’) in shade? Nope. Would I recommend planting Lenten roses (Helleborus x hybridus) and ‘Looking Glass’ Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) in sun? Um, no. So, is it misleading for me to show you these three plants growing happily together? I don’t mean it to be, but yes, it probably is. What you don’t know is that the site they’re growing in gets sun from dawn until 1 or 2 in the afternoon (7 to 8 hours being close to the definition of full sun), and then heavy shade for the rest of the day. This combination of sun- and shade-lovers technically shouldn’t work, but it did, and it was one of my favorites for several years.


Getting into that level of detail for every image simply isn’t realistic, I suppose, and it probably wouldn’t be of interest to most readers. But for those of you who, like me, drool over gorgeous photos in print and on blogs and wish you could get the same results in your own garden, I thought it might be helpful to explain some of the tricks I’ve learned.

Don’t Try This at Home

I was very tempted to use that as the title for this post, because it perfectly sums up much of my experience trying to copy other people’s pretty pictures.


Tanacetum vulgare 'Isla Gold' with Persicaria affine 'Dimity' mid-November 09

I really like the contrasts of colors and textures in this image, but I have to confess that it’s not real: I was playing around for a Bloom Day post and carrying bits of plants around to try out different combinations. From a practical standpoint, this one could happen naturally, because ‘Isla Gold’ tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and ‘Dimity’ Himalayan fleeceflower (Persicaria affine) grow fine in the same conditions. But it would also take a fair bit of luck to get an effect like this, because the tansy is normally 2 to 3 feet tall and the fleeceflower foliage barely reaches 6 inches. Also, the tansy normally blooms in summer, not in mid-November, when the fleeceflower foliage turns color. Would I suggest that you to try this combination? No, not if you were hoping to reproduce this exact effect. But I did end up putting these two plants together here, and though I haven’t seen a picture like this happen for real, I’ve found that the plants look great together in other seasons, for other reasons.


I won’t even get into the many tricks that photographers can use to “stage” or fake photos: stuffing potted plants into borders to add more color; snipping bits off of one plant and tucking them next to another plant elsewhere in the garden to create instant combinations; and, of course, using photo-manipulation software to change colors, add or remove flowers and foliage, and so on. That’s mostly an issue with catalogs, press releases, and other promotional materials, I think; at least, I’d like to believe it is.


Forsythia viridissima var. koreana 'Kumson' mid-October 08

Wow, a fall-blooming forsythia? Yep, this is a for-real shot of ‘Kumson’ forsythia (Forsythia viridissima var. koreana) in mid-October of 2008. I ended up selling it to a publication that requested it to accompany another writer’s article. If I remember correctly, the piece was about the shrub’s brightly variegated spring foliage, not its quirky habit of sporadically throwing out blooms at odd times of the year. So if you read the article and were swayed by the text to try the plant for its variegation, you’d be understandably confused by the photo showing pink leaves during what you’d reasonably assume was the spring bloom. If you realized that you were looking at flowers and fall color together and were tempted to buy ‘Kumson’ for a fall display exactly like this, there’s a chance you might see it for yourself someday, but there’s just as good a chance that you wouldn’t.


With books and magazines, you never know, but in my experience, it is (or at least, it used to be) easier and more cost-effective for publications to find existing pictures than to play around with a lot of in-house photo manipulation beyond cropping and maybe color enhancement. That doesn’t mean that “real” photos can’t be misleading, though. You have to rely on the editor and/or designer to choose images that show what you can realistically expect a plant or combination to look like, even if those images aren’t as dramatic as some “by chance” pictures. (You also have to hope that the plants were correctly labeled when acquired, that the gardener managed to remember their names, that the photographer thought to get the IDs and label the image, and that the publication got that information and conveyed it in a caption or label.)

I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that blogs are probably the best source for gardeners who want to see real pictures of home gardens,  combinations, and individual plants. We bloggers want to show off our best, of course, but beyond doing some simple cropping, I can’t imagine any point in a blogger spending loads of time at a computer faking photos of his or her own garden. Much better to actually be in the garden, don’t you think?

Still, even straight-out-of-the-camera photos seldom tell the whole story. The truth is, many lovely images are purely a matter of chance: things blooming out of their normal season, tall plants sprawling onto low ones, foliage or flowers changing color depending on unusual weather conditions, and so on.


Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra' with Solenostemon 'Floricolor Gold Ring' and Symphyotrichum novae-angliae 'Hella Lacy' late September 10

Spotting this grouping in the front garden late last September gave me a wow moment. The blood grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’) and ‘Floricolor Gold Ring’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) had been growing next to each other for months, but this bit of normally-5-foot-tall ‘Hella Lacy’ New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) just happened to keel over their way due to a storm the previous evening. So, this specific combination was purely a matter of chance, but you could likely create a very similar image simply by substituting the much lower, bushier S. dumosum ‘Sapphire’ for ‘Hella Lacy’.


If you have a lot of gardening experience, you can often spot combinations that are due to anomalies. But if you’re more of a beginner, it can be very disappointing when you put those plants together and never see anything like the image that inspired you.


Celosia argentea var. spicata 'Cramer's Amazon' with Salvia 'Mystic Spires Blue' mid-October

How fun is that? I tried to recreate this combination of ‘Cramer’s Amazon’ spike celosia (Celosia argentea var. spicata) and ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ salvia for several years, but for whatever reason, the celosia’s spikes never did this swirly thing again.


By the way, one clue to the likeliness of combination being worth trying to copy is how much of it you can see. A close-up of one flower against a few leaves doesn’t tell you much at all.


Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Taurus' with Tanacetum vulgare 'Isla Gold' early August 08

I wish there really were a perennial with lacy yellow foliage and spiky, reddish pink flowers like these. If I had seen this photo 20-some years ago, I wouldn’t realized that it’s simply a lucky intermingling of ‘Isla Gold’ tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and ‘Taurus’ mountain fleeceflower (Persicaria amplexicaulis), and I’d have searched long and hard to figure out what it was.


A wide garden shot gives you a lot more information, but then the setting itself can make a big difference as to whether or not you can realistically replicate the effect, and the sheer number of plants can be overwhelming.)


Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Taurus' with Solidago, Zinnia 'Profusion Orange', Symphyotrichum, lettuce 'Merlot', Solanum quitoense, Solenostemon 'Sedona', Chrysanthemum, Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum', and Berberis 'Helmond Pillar' early October 08

There are at least 10 different plants in this picture. You could buy them all and plant them together in your own garden, but there’s no way you could reproduce this image exactly. You probably wouldn’t even want to, because some of them – the goldenrod and the little white aster, and yeah, the bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) too – are actually rather weedy. But maybe you’d enjoy copying the basics: the spiky ‘Taurus’ fleeceflower with mounded ‘Profusion Orange’ zinnias and/or orange mums, and with ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod instead of a weedy one.


Keep in mind that even “real” pictures can be impossible to replicate, because they’re just one second of time in one location. All of the plants may be blooming at their normal bloom time, but no matter how much you can see, you can’t tell by looking exactly what the growing conditions are like in that site, what the weather has been like, how old each plant is, how long it’s been growing in that spot, where exactly the plants are growing in relation to one another, what pruning/fertilizing/watering techniques the gardener used, or …well, you get the idea. You also can’t see what that combination looked like a week or month later.


Stachys byzantina 'Big Ears' with Salvia 'Caradonna' late May 10

I happened to spot this pairing – ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) against ‘Caradonna’ salvia with a few Knock Out (‘Radrazz’) rose blooms in the background – when I was weeding the front garden on May 27th last year. (Many sources claim that ‘Big Ears’ doesn’t produce flower spikes, but it does.) Below is same spot on June 14th: definitely not so pretty.

Stachys byzantina 'Big Ears' with Salvia 'Caradonna' mid-June 10


So, when you’re looking at pretty pictures, sure, go ahead and enjoy the captured moments for all they’re worth. If a particular image really strikes you and you want to try to reproduce it, then it’s time for some critical thinking. Do some research to learn about the individual plants: are they suited to your climate, and to the growing conditions your garden can offer? Can you find a source for them? What are their normal heights and bloom times?


Eutrochium maculatum with Stachys byzantina 'Big Ears' and Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' late August 10

It would be useful to have a Joe-Pye weed that naturally reaches 30 inches tall, but as far as I know, there aren’t any. This one planted itself here, but it would be way too tall if I left it alone (note the 7-foot J-Ps in the background), so I cut it completely to the ground in late May, and it ends up quite short in this relatively dry site.


If you can’t track down the exact plants in a picture you like, or if they’re not suited to your garden, look for substitutes that can possibly provide the effect you found so appealing: the bloom or foliage color, or the contrast of texture, or the interplay of shapes or heights.

Hmmm. That all sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it?


Symphyotrichums and Solidago late September 10

Spotting this scene gave me a happy chill last September, but looking at the picture now also gives me a bit of a chuckle, because I didn’t actually plant any of these asters or goldenrods. The asters are self-sown seedlings of ‘Harrington’s Pink’ and ‘Hella Lacy’, and the goldenrod and the little white asters (Symphyotrichum ericoides and S. pilosum) seeded in from the meadow. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to plant the LWAs in a border, because they tend to be vigorous spreaders and self-sowers. Every spring, I pull out all of the seedlings and shoots I can find. But I always manage to miss a few, and I’m always rather glad I did, because they look great no matter where they pop up.

Symphyotrichum mid-October 10


After giving you lots of reasons to think twice about trying to copy other gardeners’ pretty pictures, it seems only fair to share some ideas for creating your own. As usual, though, this post is already ridiculously long, so I’ll save those for another day.

On to Part 2

27 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Teshia O. on May 31, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    Oh.. thank you, thank you! I am in awe of you and have been telling so many about your blog and books. I think this was well said and important to point out – it seems to be a fundamental piece of information one must acknowledge and accept before moving forward??

    I look forward to learning so much from you. To be fair, I will wait to bombard you until I read your books — I’m sure most of what I am curious to know you have already covered.

    I have to say, I absolutely love that you are so informative with your blog. I’ve been reading many blogs and not many compare to how thorough and comprehensive yours are. It is very refreshing to go to a site and have information at your fingertips. You very clearly identify your plants and seem to be very honest in your opinions, which is something I am very grateful for. Your blog is intriguing to me, the newbie gardener bitten hard by the bug, and seems to be just as satisfying to the most experienced gardeners that are very familiar with your style. Thank you once again! :)

    I really appreciate your patience, Teshia. I’ve mentally written many posts full of things I’d like you to know as you start gardening, but some of them ended up getting preachy and some drifted into sappiness. This, at least, was one of the more easily tackled aspects that I really wish I had understood when I was a new gardener, and I hoped you’d find it helpful. Much of it may not make sense to you now, but over time, it will (at least, I hope it will).

    The fact is, passionate gardening is more like an extreme sport than a pleasant pastime. You’re going to be sweaty and tired and muddy and bug-bitten and frequently wonder why you ever thought it would be a good thing to do. You’re going to be frustrated, and you’re going to be disappointed, and that’ll keep happening as long as you garden. But whatever drew you to gardening in the first place will keep you going, and you’ll get reinvigorated by all sorts of things you have no idea about at the moment. Seriously, think about starting your own blog so you can have a record of your adventures!
    -Nan

  2. Nan, as someone who spends a good deal of time making “pretty pictures” for her blog, I want to tell you that this is one of the best posts I’ve ever read on the subject. It really resonates with me because just this week I had readers asking me about two plant combinations in which I’d paired a thirstier plant with a xeric plant. They questioned how that worked, and I tried to explain the idiosyncrasies of my garden that made it work: more sun to the left, extra water running off a big rock over there, etc. It’s impossible, of course, to explain the circumstances of the garden for each photo one posts, and yet those very reasonable questions made me want to put a disclaimer on my photos.

    It’s good to be reminded that each beautiful photo of the garden is a moment in time – and a moment that may be captured from a non-ordinary point of view to make it look its best. I’m posting a view like that tomorrow – um, yeah, if you get down on your belly, that’s what you’ll see. Is it misleading? Only if you take a photo as a gospel image of what any given plant combination will look like every day in your own garden. But as experienced gardeners know, it’s so much more complicated – and out of our control – than that.

    I really appreciate that, Pam. It’s a relief to know that this all made some sense, at least. I like the idea of adding a disclaimer to each image, but that would also be kind of a downer, wouldn’t it? Kind of like finding out how a magic trick works. And gee, imagine how long our posts would be (and how little else we’d get done) if we explained every single variable we could think of about each image. Forget about actually *doing* any gardening.
    -Nan

  3. Posted by linda scott on June 1, 2011 at 12:07 am

    Spectacular photos! Color photography is about color, and you have nailed it!

    Thanks, Linda. It’s easy when there’s plenty of colorful stuff to shoot. Even if, as Pam said, you sometimes have to look for an unusual angle to turn it into a pretty picture.
    -Nan

  4. Posted by brenda on June 1, 2011 at 5:59 am

    I love your blog! I feel we are such kindred spirits. I’ve been a hardcore amateur gardener for almost 2 decades now.
    “passionate gardening is more like an extreme sport than a pleasant pastime” Sometimes when I’m working in the rain or fighting the bugs or wrestling with a giant shrub or tree I wonder why I am doing such crazy things. When I read your blog I know someone else feels the same way.

    I love your photos, and a picture is worth a thousand words. I don’t really try to copy other people’s gardens, but occasionally I’ll see a combination I want to try. I know in advance that just because it worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for me. But I love moving things around and trying new plants.

    The September shot with the asters is drop dead GORGEOUS! And it has that certain “uncopyable” aspect to it as well.

    Also love the winter seedhead photo. As a novice gardener I wouldn’t have appreciated it, but over the years I’ve learned to find the beauty in all seasons.

    Don’t worry about explaining everything, adding disclaimers. Many times I’m simply looking for some eye candy. I always get my fill here :-)

    Aren’t we absolutely crazy, Brenda? Sometimes I wonder how it is that anything I plant grows, when so often my mind is thinking “I’m so hot/cold/wet/muddy/tired/achy/itchy” and other negative things instead of happy thoughts during the spring planting rush. But then, something pretty distracts me and all is well again.

    I’m definitely getting into the importance of moving plants around in the follow-up post!
    -Nan

  5. I love all the information you provide. Your posts are never too long for me!

    As a new gardener going for the wow moments, I don’t want to copy what I see on other blogs as much as I want to replicate something great in my own garden, but it’s rare. A chance combo that gives me a wonderful plant vignette looks like your floppy lambs ear and caradonna sage the next time I try to shoot it. I’m finding gardening to be changeable, variable, never the same, a mystery and a constant surprise when something works, if only for a moment in time. You’ve explained beautifully why that is so!

    I’m so happy that this spoke to you too, Laurrie. Isn’t there something about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? With gardening, we can plant the same things together year after year expecting the same results and be repeatedly surprised at getting very different results. That’s a different kind of insanity, I suppose. Perhaps it’s somewhat akin to gambling, where the thrill of the occasional win keeps us trying again and again. Come to think of it, gardening is also a good way to lose lots of money. Hmmm. I don’t like where this analogy is going and will stop it now.
    -Nan

  6. I wish I heard an advice like this some years ago!
    Now your words just make me think that yes, a good pic is a memento and when we kneel down (or crawl…) amongst shrubs looking for the perfect point of view, we are kind of altering the real perception of the garden but it’s just a smart trick to show off our skills. It is quite different when pieces of plants are cut and moved around just to make a picture look pretty. Images on a blog should look more like a garden chronicle.

    I have just a simple question for you that has been wandering in my head for a while: how could you always have that quiet-before-the-storm light in your pictures? I love it, it makes pattern combinations look at their best and cold colours become vibrant…

    Hi Alberto! Yes, the word “memento” is perfect – thanks for that.

    You have a very interesting question about the light. I mostly shoot very early in the morning, just before the sun is over the trees, or in the early evening, to get some backlighting from the setting sun. The only time I shoot during the day is on overcast days. That eliminates the shadows and washed-out colors. I have to remember to include those tips in the follow-up post.

    And hey, congratulations on your new blog!
    -Nan

  7. What a great post! I felt like you were in my head. As a newbie gardener I follow a lot of blogs and have been frustrated to no end of why does my garden not ever look like theirs. I have felt as if I was doing something wrong. After reading this post, it has enlightened me and made me feel more capable on the fact that I need to just enjoy my accomplishments in my own garden. I will still read and be inspired by other gardeners. It is so enjoyable to read and see beautiful photos from other gardens. I will definitely keep reading yours, Thank you! Thank you!

    Thank you, Kim! It’s so easy to get depressed by comparing your own efforts to the results others get, isn’t it? If you can turn that disappointment into the determination to keep trying and not get bitter and resentful (trust me, I’ve been there at times), you’ll have a whole lot more fun with your own garden. Enjoy the process, not just the results.
    -Nan

  8. Your informative posts are never too long–go ahead and write a book on this topic!

    As for disclaimers on photos in every post, that would be a bit too much. Every gardener who attempts to recreate a vignette or grow something in their garden is responsible for due diligence — research the zone and growing conditions or face the consequences! LOL

    I put a disclaimer on my blog at the bottom about my experience with deer and rabbit resistance. I am thinking of adding drought to that as we are already in the 95-98 degrees season! Next up, Japanese beetles. My garden is faced with truly harsh conditions.

    I have seen some magazines touting combinations where I KNOW that I couldn’t grow the plants together — one wanting full sun and another wanting shade or one needing more water.

    BTW, my Big Ears sprouted bloom spikes for the first time after 5 years (and lots of divisions from the mother plants). I nipped them off as I have enough already.

    Another thing about photographs that can be seriously tricky is the time of day and the amount of sun, leading to color issues and over or under exposure. I try to get my husband to stand over the plants to reduce the glare, but … For those situations, I adjust the photos to try to make the colors true (not fake) to what I see in person. I think I did a story in the past showing the same grouping of plants photographed in full sun versus a cloudy day. When I visited Monet’s Gardens in 2009, I made sure it was on a cloudy day for best color! :-)

    Keep up your great posts!

    Oh, gracious – I love the thought of you moving your poor husband around the garden to block the sun when you’re taking pictures. Gives a whole different slant to the phrase “You make a better door than you do a window.” (Why, thank you, dear!)

    Being able to control when we take pictures gives gardeners a much easier time than professional photographers have, because they need to know how to compensate for difficult lighting conditions. We can (usually) simply wait until the light is right.
    -Nan

  9. Great post! It is so true that pictures can be unintentionally misleading and that they are just one moment of time captured and may never be replicated. I think pictures though are extremely important for inspiration, for an overall effect. Whether or not you have commented as fully as you would like to on your pictures I’ve always found them to be very inspirational to help find different combinations for my garden. In fact it’s more of the way of thinking the pictures inspire that teaches gardeners to think in terms of contrasts and how things work together!

    Thank you so much for those seeds, they are growing great! I can’t wait to see the cotton as a full grown plant in the garden!

    Thanks, Dave! And hey, I was thrilled to see that you’re having fun with the seeds. I too had great luck this year with the cotton seeds, and if the rest of the summer is anywhere near as hot as this late spring has been, there should be plenty of new seeds to share around this fall.
    -Nan

  10. Nan,

    My favorite post of yours yet. I think there could be a book in this: combinations that REALLY work . . .or the scoop behind magazine photos. I often look at your photos for design inspirations–so it’s great to hear what is replicatable and what is happy coincidence.

    Your photography is some of the very best in terms of its detail in combinations. The combinations in your garden often make me see plants (some I know very well) differently. That is your artistry. Hearing your disclaimers does not undermine that artistry, but instead supports it. Perhaps sometimes the camera creates an impression that is different than one experienced in the garden. But you are a great plantsman, not just a great photographer. Behind every photo of your combinations–even the ones I know are not replicatable–there is an original thought.

    That’s why I keep coming back to your garden. It’s to see your artistry–be it staged or real. Either way, it’s your original creation. You do the unexpected with color, foliage, and bloom. And you mix plants that I never thought would go together. The rest of us delight in it.

    You’re so kind, Thomas. I’ll admit that deliberately mixing plants that normally wouldn’t grow together is one of my delights, but it’s even more interesting to see where the plants put themselves if I let them creep or seed around a bit. It’s kind of hard to be smug when you can’t take credit for anything more than finding the photo.

    I’ve been thinking some about a combinations book: explaining the seen and unseen details of each photo and giving suggestions of ways to create a similar effect with different plants and in different settings. Oh, there’s just too little time!
    -Nan

  11. Posted by balsamfir on June 1, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Your very honest post underlines why just going to Lowes will not produce a lovely garden. The photos are inspirations, and then you start getting addicted, and yes, twenty years later after learning a few things you end up with your own photos if you’re lucky and good. I’m somewhere in the middle of the process, myself. I find that actually reading garden books(not magazines) helps a lot if you pay attention to the little surprise tips that pop up here and there in the text. Also reading more scientific books about ones plants helps as well. Both good things to do in November through February(depending on where you live). And, as you point out, learning the idiosyncracies of each place.

    Absolutely, I’d be the last person to discourage folks from enjoying gardening books. Reading gives us something to do while our plants are doing whatever they darn well please (just kidding – sort of).
    -Nan

  12. Posted by Kate Patrick on June 1, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    A very thoughtful blog! I have often looked longingly at photo combos and wondered how to reproduce them. Thanks for giving us some insight into how some of your vignettes were produced/planted, whether by your own hand or an act of nature. Maybe you’ve written about this before but I would appreciate some (very) basic tips about photographing the garden. The shots I’ve taken on overcast days look dull and lifeless. Is there some kind of trick to making the color pop? I have a Canon digital camera but always use the auto setting because I know so little about it. I enjoy documenting my garden each year so I can compare growth, see where I planted things and where the gaps are come mid-summer. BTW, I chuckled over the flopped lambs ears flower spikes! Thanks for showing the “imperfect” stuff too. Now I know you have a real garden just like me!

    Quite real, I’m afraid, and currently very sad and wilted. Didn’t imagine two weeks ago that we’d be desperate for rain now.

    I do plan to cover some picture-taking tips in the follow-up post, though they will indeed be very basic. My own camera has been on Auto since I got it five years ago! Still, I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way and am happy to share.
    -Nan

  13. Posted by Sheri M on June 1, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Hi Nancy,

    I’ve been lurking a while, but had to pipe up and say your blog is really phenomenal. I love the honesty of your advice, and your wonderful eye for creating and photographing your gardens.

    I’m working on creating a garden on our 50×100′ city lot. It feels like my whole yard is a holding bed where I am figuring out what grows well here and what pairs well with what. You’re right that so many published photos are misleading and I’ve had many frustrating experiences trying to duplicate them.

    Your indepth posts are so refreshing and instructional. Though I am quite angry with you for helping to put a serious dent in my budget this year. Your post on Cut Back Shrubs made me realize I can grow many shrubs I thought too large for my yard. I went to the nursery for one shrub and came home with five!

    I’m not at all sorry about that, Sheri. We all have to do our part to support the nursery industry, you know.

    Nothing wrong with your whole yard being a holding bed; I’m a big believer in holding beds myself. In fact, “holding bed” is a very good description of my previous garden, which was just about the size of yours. It’s a very good lesson in learning to work with “drifts of one.”
    -Nan

  14. Nan, As usual, you’ve put things out there that others are not so willing to acknowledge or (like me), may be simply too naive to realize.

    I had no idea how much “staging” goes on in garden photography until recently. I have to admit, I felt not just disillusioned, but cheated. Like you, I am more likely to trust a photograph posted by a blogger than a grower’s catalog.

    And it’s not just photographs that can be misleading. We stopped attending the Boston Flower Show for a few years because the staging in the exhibition gardens had gotten so out of hand, it not only bordered on the impossible, to seasoned gardeners, it was ludicrous.

    Huge beds of tulips and daffodils bordered by rose hedges and geraniums, forsythia growing next to late summer flowering perennials and roses…. it made me nutty when I would see people scribbling down the names of the plants so they could buy them to plant at home. Daffodils paired with delphinium was the combination that pushed me over the edge. We attended this year and it was much improved; the gardens were for the most part seasonally accurate. Maybe someone listened to my complaining for a change?

    Thanks for pointing out that one should be aware that appearance is not always reality, and also for letting me vent LOL!

    The flower-show thing drives me crazy too, Cathy. But then I wonder: if it gets someone excited about growing something, then maybe it’s not so bad after all? Faking or enhancing photos to sell specific plants (or to sell photos, for that matter) qualifies as cheating to my mind. But if it’s simply to create a pretty picture meant to be pleasing, not necessarily informative, then well, I don’t think that’s so very bad.

    To be honest, I’ve been involved in a fair number of photo shoots over the years, and I’ve helped stage plenty of photos for books, magazines, and catalogs (for garden stuff, not for plants). I’d like to believe that there’s a difference between staged photos that *could* be real and those done completely without regard to horticultural accuracy, but maybe I’m just splitting hairs.
    -Nan

  15. That weedy bronze fennel? Grows in my garden. And was in the Best in Show at Chelsea. Definitely going to make more use of it.

    Vita Sackville West used to walk around the garden and try a bit of this there. If it worked she would plan to do that!

    You and Pam both – plan plant and photograph – with knowledge and skill at all three steps.

    That’s funny, Diana – I spent a good few minutes deliberating about including the bronze fennel in my comment about the weeds in that combination, because I really do love the color and texture, and the good bugs adore the blooms. But at the moment, I’m looking at my bark-mulched garden paths supporting a thick crop of bronze fennel seedlings, and I’m not loving it quite so much.
    -Nan

  16. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on June 1, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    There is never a want of color, form or texture in your garden. I love coming here to see what could be.

    Thanks, Lisa! It makes me happy to hear that you enjoy the wow moments as much as I do.
    -Nan

  17. Posted by John Drexel on June 1, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Nan,

    I hope when you lay your lovely imaginative head on your pillow tonight you realize how much happiness you bring to we mortals. Worry less and post more.

    Thank you

    Aw, John, thanks. It takes me so long to put each of these posts together that I’d never be able to pay my bills if I posted as often as I’d like. Wealthy patrons are so hard to find nowadays….
    -Nan

    • Posted by John Drexel on June 2, 2011 at 7:43 am

      Nan,

      I understand. How about just worrying a little less about us reproducing your artwork. Did Michael Angelo fret over how was the Pope going to repeat this?

      Heh. I promise that henceforth, all Hayefield posts will be guilt-free!
      -Nan

  18. Posted by Shirley Fox on June 2, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Great post! Pam’s link sent me here and I’ve got you bookmarked now. I love ornamental grasses and am always adding them to my garden.

    Welcome, Shirley! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. You’ll see lots of grasses here, for sure.
    -Nan

  19. Posted by Teshia O. on June 2, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Hehe. You know what would be great??? A blog entry of garden plans and/or combinations that would work well together (if you’re trying to achieve a specific garden type, like a cottage, butterfly, etc.).

    I would love to send you pictures of what I’ve done so far… it would be so great if your followers could post pictures on your blog to share w/ others!

    On a side note, I have my first MAJOR infestation of aphids (the somewhat big, green ones). A post someday on how to battle unwanted pests, etc. would be wonderful (in all your spare time, I know). Thank you once again! :) :)

    By happy coincidence, your idea is basically the premise of the book I’m working on right now. Once that’s done, maybe I can do some more combinations posts here.

    I really dread writing about pests because the whole topic is kind of depressing. I usually ignore them in my own garden; eventually, the good bugs seem to take care of them. With aphids, especially, they’re not a big problem in a few weeks from now, once the juicy new growth gets toughened up. For now, you could squash them by carefully pinching the stems and leaves with your fingers. Or, if you think they’re really that bad, you could try an insecticidal soap spray.
    -Nan

  20. Thanks for the inside scoop. I’ve learned to run & grab the camera if I see something, because it might look completely different tomorrow.
    I have Eupatorium ‘Phantom’ which is a dwarf cultivar. In my very well-drained soil, it restrained itself to a modest 30 inches in its first full season in the ground. It will be interesting to see what it does this year.

    I’m sure I didn’t say anything you didn’t know, MMD. Thanks for sharing the info on ‘Phantom’. Last year, mine was easily 4 feet (was in the ground 3 years at that point, I think). But then ‘Little Joe’, which is billed as being 3 to 4 feet tall, regularly tops 5 feet here.
    -Nan

  21. As usual you have nailed it! I have always said that most gardens looks better in photos than live. The way to arrange or to remove things around the motive and also to edit the photos play a huge roll. Which sometimes are very nice!
    For example; I will have a reporter and a photographer here in a couple of weeks and because of the late spring the garden are not so nice this year. But I know you will not see that in the photos! Good!!

    How exciting, Susie! I know just what you mean: even a photographer not used to shooting gardens can capture gorgeous images, though in that case, they’re most often tight closeups. It’s very enlightening to watch experienced garden photographers to see how they can find lovely wider shots that the gardener didn’t even see.
    -Nan

  22. An excellent post, I really respect the way you have been so honest and straightforward about the traps in falling in love with a particular picture on a blog – or in a book for that matter. You’ve done a great job of explaining your “viewer beware” warning. I will always take inspiration from combinations I find appealing on yours and other people’s blog, there really isn’t a good substitute for combining research with experience. Probably why a part of my brain now seems to be permanently puzzling over plants and planting combinations! And thank you for the insight re cutting Joe Pye Weed back hard in May, I may have to try that when I want the foliage and flowers but not so tall. And be willing to experiment with other plants in a similar fashion.

    “Experiment” is the ideal approach, Janet. Pruning intensifies the effects of variables such as temperature and rainfall, so it adds an extra level of complexity to creating pretty combinations. Last spring, for instance, I cut many of my perennials back harder than usual at the end of May because the spring had been very wet and they were getting too large. The rain stopped right then and we had many dry weeks. Some perennials regrew pretty much as usual anyway and others had a very time recovering. We had the same weather pattern this year, so I’ve put off the pruning a bit, and when I do cut, I’m cutting by just a third to half instead of half to two-thirds. Still, you never know how they’re going to turn out until fall arrives.
    -Nan

  23. Second every comment above! Love your blog – it contains actual content! And your pictures are fabulous, I study them!

    What drives me crazy about catalogue pictures is the ones with dozens of blooms, looking like they are all on one plant. You know, so many daffodils in the picture that to get a clump that dense the bulbs would have to be 1/4″ wide to pack them all in. And we won’t even get into all the ‘blue’ flowers…..

    Oh no, let’s not! Or how about all those gorgeous shots of foliage in incredible colors? Even if they’re real and not Photoshop-enhanced, they may show a color that appears for only a few days the whole year, if the weather conditions are just right. Same thing for flowers that change color dramatically depending on the temperature. When I’m tempted by a seemingly stunning new plant, I wait for more-adventurous gardeners to post pictures on their blogs, so I can see what it *really* looks like.
    -Nan

  24. OMG…what a great post, Nan…I’ve seriously had similar thoughts before! I constantly wonder if people suspect that I’m carefully composing shots to leave out the riff-raff and the rabble! You’re only guilty of inspiring us and opening our eyes to new plants and combinations. If it weren’t for your blog, I don’t think I’d have been brave enough to embrace my love of orange with other colors…somehow, seeing them on your blog was vindication enough! Keep up the good work :-)

    That’s so great, Scott – thanks for sharing! I just came in from planting lots of orange (nasturtiums, calendulas, and zinnias), so there’s going to be a lot of it around this year too.
    -Nan

  25. Per usual, gorgeous, gorgeous photos of your gorgeous, gorgeous garden. You have a real gift for combining colors and textures.

    Thanks, Kelly. Good to see that you started blogging again, too.
    -Nan

  26. Hey Nan – Been meaning to catch up on Hayefields for a while and after reading this post today I must comment. Wow ! Your photos are great, full of life, well composed, tell a story. Sure you may feel a little guilty that the camera always lies and a photo may mislead a casual viewer to try something they can’t do, but that is part of the fantasy spell you weave. This is how you inspire folks to try their own combinations. You are inspiring us all on many levels. Keep up the great work !

    Thanks for stopping by, Saxon, and for the lovely comments!
    -Nan

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