I’ve been a professional writer for nearly 24 years now, and a garden blogger for more than 6, so when I come up with a topic for an article or post, I usually have a pretty good idea of how long it’s going to take me to tackle it. I have to admit that this one tackled me, though, and it’s had me down for a pretty long count. It seemed like a good idea last summer, when I thought it would be interesting to see how many different ways and reasons I could come up with to photograph a garden and put them together for a winter post. But after weeks of going through my archives and picking out many hundreds of images, I finally decided that this was going to have to be a series instead of a single post—if I wanted to get something done before next January, at least. So, here’s the first installment of a rather elaborate, non-Bloom Day excuse for presenting pretty garden pictures.
If you’ve been visiting here for a while, you’ve probably started to recognize the views that I photograph most frequently. At first, that was coincidence: I was just shooting whatever parts of the garden looked the best to me at the time. Then it was convenience: I’d stand at a point where two or more paths came together and quickly shoot in a variety of different directions. The image below for instance, shows an aerial view of what I think of as the Diagonal Path, with three points I use quite frequently. Three paths join at the green- and blue-starred point, giving me three obvious directions for picture-taking.
The red star also marks what’s technically a junction of three paths, but it gives me even more options. Just by turning in a circle, I can get four distinctly different views from this one spot. Looking toward the green star, I get half of the Diagonal Path and some of the house and foundation plantings.
Turning 90 degrees to the left, I’m right at the end of the middle path in the front garden.
Another 90-degree turn (looking toward the blue-starred point) shows the other end of the Diagonal Path.
And one more 90-degree turn to the left gives me a wide view of the side garden.
Choosing a few set points for taking pictures and using them each time you head out with your camera gives you the opportunity to compare similar views and observe the progress of your plants and garden from from week to week, month to month, season to season, or year to year. For example, here’s a series I took looking down the middle path in the front garden toward the red-starred point from the earlier aerial photo. It goes from February through late September of 2013.
Set points don’t have to be at the junction or end of a path, of course; they can be anywhere you want, as long as you’ll remember to stand at the same spot. Some sort of stepping stone can be a useful location marker for a set point. When I added the log path in the side garden, for instance, I found that the two end rounds make handy reminders for exactly where to stand when I want to take pictures in the side garden.
It’s also helpful to have something constant to shoot toward. An ornament or bench can work, as long as it’s something you’ll leave in the same place over a period of time. In the courtyard, for example, I had a watering can sitting on a post, just for decoration, for several years. I changed the can a few times, but the post stayed in the same spot, giving a fixed point for comparing shots taken several years apart (late May 2007 and mid-August 2012).
I tend to move my red glass gazing ball around a bit from year to year, but it usually stays in one spot through each growing season, so it works pretty well as a comparison point from month to month in any given year (this was 2012—late June and early September).
Arbors and trellises can be useful markers too, since they’re relatively permanent. This simple arch is a common feature in my side-garden pictures (the first three are from early August, late August, and late September of 2012 and the last three are from early August, mid-September, and early November of 2013).
Mom built this wooden arbor for me as an entrance for the veg garden area, but it serves another use too, as a set point for photos I shoot across the side garden toward the back (these are from May 2012, June 2013, and October 2013).
A distinctive plant can make a good visual marker, too. Evergreens are especially handy, since they have a year-round presence. Unfortunately, I don’t have much luck with them in the garden here, except for this ‘Gold Cone’ juniper, a narrowly upright selection of J. communis. (These shots are from early May and late October of 2013.)
Perennials and deciduous woodies can work as markers too, as long as they’re large enough and distinctive enough to be visible all year round, or at least through the growing season. My silver willow (Salix alba var. sericea), for example, has changed in size and shape over time, but its color, at least, stays basically the same through the growing season and from year to year. (These shots are from mid-May 2010, early July 2007, early August 2013, late August 2009, mid-October 2008, and late November 2013.)
The Japanese emperor oak (Quercus dentata) out front changes in color from season to season, but its overall shape and size make it an obvious feature at the end of the TDF Border. (Images from mid-August 2008, early October 2008, late November 2006, mid-December 2008, and mid-January 2013.)
Fences and buildings, too, are useful for providing consistent reference points. The post-and-rail fence in these shots is mine, but the barn and sheds are part of the view I borrow from my neighbors across the street. I try to keep both features in mind when I photograph the Easter Border so I get similar views each time. (These are from mid-October 2007, early May 2010, and late August 2013.)
The more obvious reference points you work with, the easier it is to get very similar shots from season to season and year to year. In the series below, I used the shed, arbor, and path to get a fairly consistent view, and a stepping stone to get a relatively consistent distance. (Images from early September 2012, early October 2013, and mid December 2013.)
Granted, without a tripod and an eidetic memory, it’s hard to capture exactly the same view every time, but if you’re pretty consistent with how you shoot, a little cropping may be all you need to get a series of nearly identical views.
These sorts of progressions are interesting to create just for fun, but they have some practical uses, too: letting you easily see where you need to make design changes, for one. When I look at the series from the front garden middle path, for instance, it reminds me that I’d like to find a really interesting focal point for the end of that path. A progression of one view taken every few weeks through one year also makes it obvious where seasonal interest is lacking. You can see when and where something is missing or not working, and then tweak your plantings or add an ornament to fix the problem. Comparing the same views over time is also a fantastic way to get a feel for how your plants grow and change through the seasons, and how they interact with each other in a border.
Next topic: changing places. But before I sign off on this one, I’d like to know what you think about something: When I present two or more shots to make a point, are you ok with scrolling up and down to compare them, or would you rather see them combined into a short video clip? It would look something like this—Front Garden Middle Path on Flickr—but, if I can manage it, embedded directly into the post so you don’t have to click over to another site. Or, I could combine them into a single image, so you could at least see them all on one screen, though they’d have to be smaller to fit. I did try creating an animated GIF, but the image quality at any decent size is awful and the flickering is excruciating, so I’ve pretty much given up on that option. Anyway, if you have an opinion one way or another, or a different suggestion, I’d appreciate your input.