It’s frigid and snow-covered here in
the Arctic Pennsylvania, and the new growing season seems very far away, so it’s a good time to dip back into my photo archives and hunt for examples of different ways to keep a visual record of the garden. In the previous post–On the Spot–I discussed the idea of choosing set places to stand and reference points you could use to capture similar views at different times. But it’s just too cold to stand around right now, so let’s think about moving around a bit.
(As usual, you should be able to see plant ID info by hovering your cursor over each image. If you’d prefer that I use proper captions from now on, feel free to speak up. And FYI, I tried a new way to handle the photos this time, instead of letting Windows Live Writer upload them automatically. They’re still not full size, but I think they’re much clearer this way, and if you click on them, you can see larger versions. I hope you enjoy the better quality. I just ask that if you pin any of the images to Pinterest, you do it from here–at hayefield.com–and not from the enlarged versions at hayefield.files.wordpress.com; thanks. Now, back to the point.)
It’s natural to shoot a bed or border straight on…
…but taking just a step or two in different directions can give surprisingly different views of the same plants.
That slight change of position takes just a few seconds but can make a big change in the view, as some plants are hidden and others are emphasized.
Stepping, leaning, or twisting just a small distance in another direction after you take one shot can give a single plant a distinctly different background, as well. The more you move, the more the foreground and background change, and the more likely you are to end up with at least one really nice shot. The simple combo below—of a pink summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) seedling and Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum subsp. maculatum)—is ok…
…but I’m glad I walked past it and shot from the almost-opposite direction as well, because I like this one a lot better.
Here’s another example, with Japanese burnet (Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Purpurea’). The green background is all right…
…but taking just one step to the right and turning a bit to the left gave the same plant a very different background (‘Swift Creek’ Chinese privet [Ligustrum sinense]) and a distinctly different look.
This simple trick often makes for much prettier pictures. It also lets you capture a variety of combinations without having to actually move plants around, giving you many more photo opportunities even in a small garden. And, it may help you find a way to get a decent photo of a not-especially-photogenic plant. Below is Maori dock (Rumex flexuosus), which I grow from seed pretty much every year because it’s such an interesting color. I don’t have many flattering photos of it, though, because it’s kind of open and sprawly, and it blends right into the soil or bark mulch.
Below is a nicer shot of the same clump, taken from an angle about 75 degrees counter-clockwise. (See the narrow, bright green leaves and the bit of weedy oxalis along the left edge above? They’re behind the dock in the shot below.) Giving the brown leaves a brighter background, and getting some green (English thyme) around the base, too, to cover up some of the mulch, helps the dock foliage to stand out more.
Where space allows, walking around a bit more—toward, away from, or around a particular plant or combination—can help you to discover additional photo opportunities. The picture of seven-sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides) above, for instance, is fine for showing the tree’s habit but otherwise isn’t all that interesting. The two shots below, taken from different angles and farther away and shot over the top of a separate border, give the tree more of a garden setting. They also tell more about the plant: in this case, how it looks in a landscape and what other plants are blooming at the same time.
Standing at the end of a border and shooting along its length is another way to get different views of the same garden. Here’s a head-on shot from one of the middle borders out front, for instance…
…and the same border from the southern end. (That’s the same clump of cardinal flower [Lobelia cardinalis] and dark-leaved ‘Australia’ canna above and below.)
Below is another example: a part of the side garden from almost straight on, showing a section that’s about 5 feet across. It’s basically just a combination of plants (Mexican feather grass [Stipa tenuissima], ‘Flying Dragon’ hardy orange [Poncirus trifoliata], aromatic aster [Symphyotrichum oblongifolium], and ‘Jolly Bee’ hardy geranium in its red fall color), without much setting.
One step forward and an almost 90-degree turn to the right shows the same area from a much more shallow angle. The total length of this section is only about 10 feet, but it looks larger and shows more of the plants and the setting this way.
If you’re taking pictures of a path or border from one end, it can be worth trying some shots from the opposite end as well. If you use a lot of repetition in your garden—multiple clumps of the same plants or the same colors—you might not notice a big difference. It took me a while to find these two opposite shots of the outer path in the front garden in my files because the views don’t look all that different: basically just lots of green with spots of yellow, chartreuse, blue, and pink. (These were both taken on June 28, 2011.)
But if you’re more of a drifts-of-one kind of gardener, or if you tend to be easygoing about letting plants seed around where they like, the views from opposite ends of a path or border can be rather different.
These two shots are from opposite ends of what I call the Aster Path. There are lots of both pink- and purple-flowered seedlings of New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) in the middle of each shot, but a bunch of Brazilian vervain (Verbena bonariensis) gives the above view much more of a purple theme, while golden lace (Patrinia scabiosifolia) and orange coneflowers (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida) makes the yellow more obvious from this end.
As you take lots of pictures over time, you’ll get a really good idea of the best views your plants and your garden have to offer, and you’ll probably end up shooting from the same angles just out of habit, or because they are convenient. If you start getting bored with that, challenge yourself to find something new each time you head out with your camera. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of turning around and looking behind you.
Back in mid-October, I was wandering along a path in the lower meadow and noticed that the hemp dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) had dropped its leaves, revealing a huge drift of bright red stems. I tried different angles from this side, but all the shots included the pasture fencing, which detracted from the plants. Eventually I switched off the camera and wandered straight through the patch to say hello to the boys.
As soon as I reached the fence, they promptly headed in the opposite direction, of course. When I turned back around to return to my walk, I found this much more flattering view of the dogbane’s red stems, echoed by some red winterberries (Ilex verticillata) and accented with the rich purple of New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)—seedlings from the dried heads of ‘Hella Lacy’ that I toss out there each fall.
Within your garden, try stepping into, or behind, a bed or border and shooting toward the front to get a different perspective on the rest of your yard. Will it give you any useful insights? Maybe, maybe not…but it’s an interesting experiment. Below is a view of the front garden through the stems of ‘Skyracer’ purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea). How’s that for a “see-through” plant?
Stepping just 6 feet to the right of the grass gave a different view of that area. I like how shooting over the lower plants in this border obscured the near end of the path: a variation on how I normally see it.
Instead of taking pictures only within your yard, see if you can find a way to shoot into it from outside, to get an idea of how it looks to visitors, neighbors, and passersby. For me, that means wandering around outside the fence and shooting into the garden from the pastures (the alpaca view)…
…from the meadow (the deer view)…
…or from the road (the car view). Looking at your property from the outside perspective may give you ideas for some “curb appeal” projects–even if you live where there are no curbs. Below is the 40-miles-per-hour view of Hayefield: in mid-October 2007 and then in 2009, when I replaced my pathetic attempt at planting a hedgerow with the Long Border because trimming around all those tiny trees was driving me crazy and not trimming around them wasn’t an option for such a high-visibility area.
And don’t forget what’s possibly the most important view of your garden: what it looks like from inside your house, in the places where you spend most of your time. For you, that might be the view through a glass door in your family room, or the kitchen window you’re near as you’re cooking or washing-up. For me, it’s the view from my home office: definitely the best office view I’ve ever had!