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!
24 thoughts on “Picture This – Changing Places”
I love this post, and what I’ve learned most from this series of photos is FILL IT! I need a lot more plants in my garden to suit my tastes and make the whole area more interesting… I hope things self-seed like crazy this year! Thanks Nan. I hope your polar freeze is over very soon – for you and the boys (and the garden, of course).
Good morning, Clark; great to hear from you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, but you knew well before this that you like the “filled” look (or what others call “busy”). I too am looking forward to seeing how things turn out in your garden this year. Apparently we will be getting a bit more seasonal here in the next few days. I hope the same is true in your part of the world.
Hi Nan I have a question for you.
What do you do for irrigation ? What’s your rain fall like ? Everything always looks so lush!
I can’t easily water any area but the vegetable garden, so I just have to depend on whatever rainfall we usually get here in southeast PA. I think that’s an average of 40 inches a year, though it doesn’t seem to come dependably when we need it most. It helps that the perennials are well established now.
I can see more cards in the future. I love many of these shots. I have so enjoyed sending out pictures of your gardens via your cards this winter since this winter has been so severe. It is nice to be able to send people a bit of summer. I really like the way you have put plant information on your photos what with the hovering mouse. Try to stay warm.
It’s super to hear that you’ve enjoyed the notecards, Lisa; thank you! I wish you some milder weather too.
Thank you for your fantastic inside tips in how to take nice photos in the garden! All of them I will try in spring!!
For the moment everything is covered in drifting snow. We has a minor snowstorm today and have had windy weather for a week now. Terrible – you don´t want to get outside at all. So I´m waiting for the spring in april, when I will plant 20 trees on our “outergarden” and make a small park of it. We will also have a small pool enclosed to our terrace so it will be a lot to do this year too. *ha, ha*
Wow – that’s some serious planting ahead of you, Susie! I guess it’s good that you still have time to rest up before the April planting frenzy, but I’m guessing that you’d be happy to start planting right now if you could. I’m grateful that we’ve had some snow cover to provide a little insulation from our brutal cold, but I’d be very happy to see bare earth again here–at least until it turns to mud.
I like the method of pic posting you’re currently using with the pop-up captions. It works well for me. And as always, thanks for sharing your garden. I always enjoy reading your posts.
I appreciate you letting me know that you can see the captions, Mike. Folks regularly ask for more plant ID information, and I haven’t been sure if they can’t see the details attached to each image or if they just don’t know or don’t remember that it’s there. I may put a reminder in each post from now on.
As always your post is full of beautiful photos and wonderful gardening advice. I especially like the the photographic advice. I love taking pictures of plants. This will help. Unfortunately I can’t see the plant info on my iOS device.
Ah, that’s very good to know, Nancy. It hadn’t occurred to me that the device might be an issue; I can only know what works on my desktop. I’ll make more of an effort to weave the ID info into the text or else add visible captions from now on.
I enjoy your blog very much and wonderful photos.
You incorporate many tropical in your beds. Are those left in the beds to fend for themselves , mulch them heavily or dig them up and bring them indoors over the winter?
Good morning, Lita. A mix of the first and third options; the soil here is very wet in winter (when it’s not frozen), so heavy mulching just leads to rot. I dig the tender bulbs–cannas, dahlias, eucomis, and crocosmias–and overwinter them in bags in the basement. My plant budget is pretty small, but I do indulge in buying a half-dozen or so special things each spring and propagate them by cuttings if I can. For the rest, I grow what I can from seed.
Great tips Nan, and I have two more to add — one fairly easy, and one not. The easy one is to get low, get down on the ground! This is especially effective for smaller plants, or to use close-by tall plants as backgrounds. This is the absolute best way to photograph mushrooms too. :)
The second idea is to take photos from as high as possible. I put my small point-and-shoot camera on a 12-foot pole and shot down with a timer. Some of my favorite shots of my garden to-date! My post on it here
Aw, Alan – you scooped me on the next topic in the series! Experimenting with different heights provided enough variety for a whole separate post. I’ll admit that I hadn’t thought of the 12-foot-pole idea, though. I can only imagine how the neighbors would laugh at me trying that!
What a great lesson in garden photography! There’s nothing like seeing what is being discussed, and your examples are terrific at that. Plus the photos are reminders that maybe this frigid winter will end someday, and we can put your lessons into action!
Hi there, Marcia! Honestly, I feel a bit of a fraud presuming to offer advice about photography, since I know so little about the technical aspects. But I figured that if I sometimes get bored shooting the same garden over and over that maybe other gardeners and bloggers are probably in the same position. If anyone else finds the ideas useful, that’s great. And yes, let cling to the hope that winter will ease its grip on us soon.
I really appreciate all the effort and thought you put into your blog entries. Like many others, I like the format you’re using to capture the various ‘personalities’ of your garden and individual plants.
I think of the content as an educational source, and the photos as a tool to help deliver that knowledge/content. So when I research about growth habit, height/spread, invasive nature, bloom period, plant combination, etc. of a particular plant, it’s this kind of ‘boring’ information that I value the most. As for accompanying photos, I appreciate ‘seeing’ the plant in combination with others, as well as on its own, as it helps with visualizing its natural growth habit.
It’s always a pleasure reading your posts! Don’t change a thing…
Thank you, LJ. You’ve hit on the value of all garden blogs, I think: honest reports of how plants perform for “real” gardeners and un-enhanced pictures of what those plants look like in a home-garden setting, as opposed to glowing press releases and photoshopped promotional photos.
Great ideas Nan, when I go on a garden tour, I walk thru the garden taking pics, then go back the way I came to get a different perspective, guess I should do this in my garden too!
We have gone from -17C last night to 0C today, it may even rain, how weird. This winter we are either in the deep freeze for two weeks to walking outside with our spring coats on. Worried about the plants. Some days its 10, enough for the ground to get soft, yikes.Crossing my fingers!
Have a great day, TTFN…Sue
My goodness, Sue – your weather has been crazier than ours. It’s kind of weird to think that we’re actually used to being so cold at this point. There’s hope of us getting above freezing tomorrow–the first time in almost 2 weeks–but too warm too quickly would be a problem too. I still have a lot of cleanup to do!
As always, Nan, your post has been instructive and oh so enjoyable. The pop-up descriptors are awesome, albeit a bit fussy. If I move away from them it can be a bit tricky getting them back. I, too, had questions regarding your irrigation. Here in Victoria, BC we can reliably depend on 2 months of summer drought so it’s an issue. Happy to hear you will soon be receiving a reprieve from old man winter. Up here we have different concerns. Winter only came for about 5 days in early Dec. and now we are running around trying to keep ahead of the re-awakening perennials, dividing, planting, etc. so enjoy your rest from it all! Thanks for everything. Barbara.
I too noticed that about the captions, Barbara. They also tend to disappear after a while even if you don’t move the cursor, which is a problem for the long ones. I’m going to keep putting the ID info in the alt text, so it stays with the photos when people pin them to Pinterest, but I’ll put it below the photo too, or in the text. I wish I would have thought to ask you all about that earlier. And wow, I don’t envy you having to worry about all that maintenance right now. I haven’t even started sowing seeds yet!
Great pointers on getting the best out of your photographs. I had my own lesson in this area when I took a series of photos of my back and side yard borders from a narrow path between the back of backyard border and the surrounding hedge. I called them my “B-side shots” – and, as everyone familiar with the old vinyl records knows, sometimes the best is on the B-side!
Your pop-up enlargements and descriptions worked well in my view. Thanks for wonderful post.
That’s neat, Kris! Here’s a link to your post for anyone else who wants to check it out: The “B” Side. (And yes, I’m old enough to remember 45’s!)
Hi Nan, a wonderful post as always from Hayefield. So you are getting the snow, would not mind some of that here in NW England where it has rained almost everyday for the last 3 months. The temperature has hardly been below freezing and all the garden thinks it is Spring! I am using a Samsung Pad to view and cannnot see the plant details, is the variegated large leaved plant in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th photos Symphytum ‘Axminster Gold’?
Three months of rain, Allan? Ugh. You must all be feeling moldy by now. I guessed chilled isn’t so bad! Yep, you’re right: that’s Symphytum x uplandicum ‘Axminster Gold’, with Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’, Abutilon x hybridum ‘Yellow Form’, Heuchera ‘TNHEU042’ [Dolce Key Lime Pie], Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’, Melianthus major, and Sporobolus heterolepis.
Hi Nan, I know there are a number of garden blogs out there, but your blog is simply stellar and I look forward to all of your posts. Such eye candy and also filled with great, useful information. Thank you for putting so much time into your posts. It is so appreciated.
When you mentioned to us that you’re not technical with the camera, it makes me think that this is why your photos are so spectacular actually. You seem to look at it more from an artist’s perspective as opposed to worrying about all the technical aspects. Your photos are always so well composed and interesting. I’ve been finding it hard to part with your garden cards, so I’ve yet to send any out! I think I’m going to keep them all to myself! Have you ever experimented with black and white photography? I haven’t, but I figure if anyone would have an eye for cool compositions using light, dark and shadows and textures, it would be you.
I can’t get over how amazing your Heptacodium is. I have visited many public and private gardens near and far and never have I seen such a gorgeous specimen. Glorious!
Thanks again for another wonderful post.
You’re so kind, Susan. I’m delighted that you’re happy with the notecards. You know, I hadn’t thought about photography that way before, but I can see that it’s possible to take pleasing pictures without really understanding the technical aspects in the same way that it’s possible to create a pleasing garden without following all of the traditional design rules (and conversely, that you can have a technically perfect photograph or garden that totally lacks any personality). I’m so color oriented that I’ve never really thought to do much with black and white photography, but I may try that for this year’s experiment.
And yes, for whatever reason, Heptacodium seems to grow beautifully here. There’s an even better one at my parents’ place around the corner too; I planted it back around 1990, so it’s three times the size of the one I have here and the trunks are absolutely glorious. Interesting thing about the one here, though: I found a seedling under it this year, which is the first one either tree has produced in over 20 years!
I always learn so much from your writing–I hope you know how much we all appreciate the time and effort that goes into your posts. You know what’s blowing my mind right now? That you live on a regular road. For some reason I assumed you were tucked off a rural route, with just the llamas for neighbors!
That’s great to hear, Heather. I’ve spent so much time going through the pictures for these posts that by the time I’m done, I can’t help but think they’re excruciatingly boring. And yep, though it’s rural out here, I do live on an ordinary road–right at the crossing of two roads, actually–with loads of traffic and non-camelid neighbors as well.
It’s very (as always) generous of you to give tricks to get the best of our gardens photos!
I especially recognize that it’s important to create beautiful changing scenes for us to see from our kitchen, office or living room windows.
Wish you a brigth sunny week despite the cold!
Hello Jasmine! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed the post. And thank you for the cheerful weather wishes. I like your forecast much better than the snow we’re actually getting today…and supposed to get tomorrow night…and this weekend…
Oooooo! You grow Melianthus? That is awesome. How long have you had it (guessing not long)? Have you found it to be hardy/do you expect it to do okay in your zone?
I’m in z5 (technically z6 by new usda map) and have always longed to grow Melianthus!
Love the plant partners you have chosen in that vignette btw….
Don’t be too envious, Christin; I can grow it only as an annual here in mid-Zone 6. That photo was from back in 2005, and I haven’t found a plant to buy locally since. Now I’m thinking that it might be worth mail-ordering one so I can grow it again this year.
Thanks for the info Nan! ;-)
You’re welcome, Christin. Good luck if you decide to give it a try!
I enjoyed looking at your plant assemblages again. I’m trying to get more plants growing but my beds tend to look more like isolated plants. I’m working on trying to find more natives and plants that will resow and fill in, so I’m starting a lot of seeds this year again. It’s tricky getting some of them to grow, but some are already doing well.
We had some warm January weather but it is cold and snowing again today. Spring cannot come fast enough for me, but at least I get to look at my plants under lights. Are you going to post sometime on your seed starting areas?
That’s one of the biggest challenges, isn’t it: trying to plant closely enough for the garden to look full but not so close that the plants are overcrowded (or that you go broke in the process)? Good for you, having some seedlings started already! It’s been so consistently cold here that I’m trying to resist indoor sowing until early March, though it sure would be nice to have the extra light, warmth, and humidity here in the office. My seed-starting areas are nothing to brag about, but if you’re really interested, there’s a picture or two in this post: The Science of Seed Germination. I wish you warmer weather soon!
I enjoy your post so much, it is a gold mine visually and chock full of great info. Got many of the seeds I bought from you going, c’mon spring.
I am looking for Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ and thought I saw one on your site. Do you have it, and if so, where did you get it? Only seems available in England. Judy Z
Hi there, Judith. I can’t remember at the moment where my catalpa came from, but I see that Forestfarm has it listed here: Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’.
Kudos on yet another refreshingly informative post, Nan. Garden photography, especially when it’s not micro close ups of a particular bloom or single specimen, isn’t easy and such tips as you offer are truly helpful to us beginners.
There are a few points I’d like to add, the first being about how helpful it can be to incorporate man-made images into the photos. For instance, in your two Aster path shots, the first one which includes an Adirondack chair as the terminus of the pathway seems to be the more compelling image to my eye because the viewer naturally places her/himself into the scene by virtue of understanding the scale of that chair.
Another thought, some photos are simply more journalistic (providing a clear understanding of the color and habit of a plant) while others create special mood or magic through effects of light or composition. I think the 2 images of the Japanese burnet show that quite well. Which one is better depends on your purposes for using the photo.
And my last advice to your readers is to suggest we all learn from out efforts to compose good photographs by subsequently making changes to our gardens. For instance, learning from your photos of the Maori dock, perhaps this year you plant it directly in a groundcover of golden creeping thyme or Sedum angelina. Or if a photo would be improved by moving a planted container or garden ornament into the composition, perhaps it’s time to consider rearranging some of those portable elements within our gardens to better serve the overall effect even when our eyes come out from behind the camera’s viewfinder.
Hi Eric! Great to hear from you. I really appreciate your thoughtful and helpful comments and suggestions. I’d been thinking of “adding accessories” as a separate topic, but you’ve managed to cover the main points in a way that’s much more concise than I would have managed!
Rare for anyone to accuse me of being concise!
Hah – but remember, it’s coming from someone who probably would have spun that out to 1000 words. You’d think I was used to getting paid by the word instead of by the job. (Or in this case, not getting paid at all.) Good luck getting through the next snow, Eric–and let’s pray that it’s the last!
So much wonderful information! I struggle with taking the same shot time after time, on one hand it’s nice to have a photographic record of yearly changes but on the other hand it does get boring. And I know that I am also missing things by walking the same way, the same paths.
Thanks so much for visiting and commenting. It’s so easy to fall into the habit of shooting from the same places, in the same directions; we want to capture what looks best, after all. Trying to come up with ways to add variety has been an interesting challenge. Some of the results were quite silly, but I think some have turned out well and given me more options to try this year. I have many more results to share in future posts. I wish you a wonderful year in your own garden!
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