Friday, February 29, 2008

The Garden Photo Essay

Every garden has a story. The land speaks of past experiences if you listen and look. A photographer must use of all of her senses to make nature reveal its full beauty. As a photographer I like to try to make the space tell me its secrets.

At my favorite garden center, I walk up a quiet path and duck under the drooped arched branches of a tree and discover a large rock beneath. How many children have climbed and perched on this rock? How many kids have played hide-and-seek beneath here while mothers desperately tryed to locate them? How many lovers have found this quiet spot? How many photographers have taken photos here? What did this place look like before the proprietor of the nursery built this garden? I peek out between shrubbery and the sunlight glows on a large field of echinacea. This place feels spiritual...dreamlike. Memories I don't have come flooding to me....other people's memories from an active imagination. The place has a lot to say to me about relationships, solitude and peace. How do I convey these words without using them.

How do I convey everything I feel here? How do I make my viewers understand the calmness I feel on this path? Sometimes it can be done in one photograph. Sometimes the photo essay captures the whole story. A series of pictures is a story without words.

Another place... Joppa Hill Farm in Bedford NH is just a few miles from my home. Since we moved here three years ago, my daughter and I have taken trips to see the animals there. We walk the fields in search of wildflowers. We run through the tall grasses and laugh in the sunshine. I want to remember this forever. I dress her for the occasions. She wears pretty dresses that catch the sunlight. Our photoessay is a long running one. Each visit is a photo essay in itself, but each successive visit adds to the story. I will remember my daughter growing up here.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How Does Gardening Soothe Your Soul?

I finished the second draft of my book proposal for The Gardener's Soul: Nature's Path Toward Inner Peace this morning. I am ready to send it on to two new readers. (These are innocent friends who have agreed to take a look without knowing what they are getting themselves into. Or, perhaps they do know, but are too kind to refuse?)

I sat down with a cup of chamomile tea at my side and felt the jitters of possible rejection. Yet, as I dove into my subject I could feel myself relaxing. Was it the chamomile tea kicking in? I think rather it was the thoughts of warmth and the garden calming my soul.

My book's central focus is that the garden is a place to commune with nature and soothe your soul. I know how it soothes mine and I met fourteen other gardeners last summer who expressed how it soothes theirs. Here is what I know:
  • Being out in nature reminds me of a bigger picture and helps me reflect on what is really important in life.
  • Gardening helps many acknowledge a higher power and/or to seek spiritual enlightenment.
  • Feeling the warm sunshine on my face makes me happy. There is no need to explain this further. The sun just makes me feel happy.
  • The vibrant colors of the garden also make me feel happy. I have always been attracted to color.
  • The act of creating a personal space in the garden makes people feel content and boosts self esteem.
  • Gardening encourages creativity in the garden and provides inspiration out of the garden.
  • Growing our own food makes one feel closer to the natural world and more in touch with what we put in our bodies.
  • The sights, sounds and smells of the garden refresh our spirits.
  • The creatures we encounter in the garden also soothe us and make us feel closer to nature.
  • Experimenting in the garden feeds our natural curiosity and encourages more curiosity about the world.
  • Gardening encourages a nurturing instinct.
  • Gardening encourages a playful spirit.
  • In the garden we often feel connections to loved ones and many generations past.

How does gardening soothe your soul?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Children in the Garden

Preparing for spring planting, I'm trying to find new ways to incorporate child friendly activities for the garden. We started last year's growing season with an Easter basket of spring gardening tools. A friend of mine and I gave our girls seeds, garden gloves, garden shoes, and trowels mixed in with their holiday candy. Every year, another friend of mine uses the holiday to welcome spring by planting trees with her girls. Children arrive with an innate appreciation and curiosity for nature. Now is the time to help it along.

Direct contact with nature allows a child to explore and develop a keen sense of environmentalism without even knowing it. This year, one of our projects is to design fairy houses. We have three large peonies in our backyard and recently learned that the Barbie fairy Elina lives in a peony. We will be designing our houses to place under the peonies in the hope that Elina and her friends decide to move in. We will also be planting a sunflower patch where my daughter and her friends can have a clubhouse. Including friends in the process spreads the excitement. Some of the other four-year-olds have been invited to pick things for our garden too. They will all garden together.

Last year, I made a shaded reading garden for my little bookworm. We bought a special bench and animal statues to place by our brook. My daughter helped pick it appropriate plants for the shade. We learned together about what plants like the type of environment we had prepared for them My daughter also helped plan the vegetable garden and chose the types of veggies she wanted from a catalogue. Tomatoes were not on her list. She refused to eat the ones we bought at the store. I planted three varieties so she could learn the difference between fresh tomatoes and store bought. Tomatoes are now one of her favorite foods. The bonus about involving kids in planting food is that they learn from where their food comes, which helps them make more informed choices in the kitchen.

The key to involving kids in the gardening process is allowing them full participation. Activities from choosing plants to picking the harvest awakens a child's curiosity and makes them feel grownup. Another activity we do together is picture taking. My daughter and I love spring and summer nature walks. Last year I bought her a Fisher Price camera that she can drop without worry. We will walk in the neighborhood to discover wildflowers growing on the side of the road with cameras in hand. The camera encourages curiosity and discovery by making us look closer at the world around us. While seeking good pictures, we also find good subjects - bees on flowers, tiny mushrooms in swampy areas, birds nests in trees.

Any more ideas for involving kids in this process are welcome! Please spread the spring planting fever!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Marketing a Perverse Reality

A friend of mine had a copy of Oprah sitting on her counter. Now, I should start by saying I am a supermarket tabloid headline junkie. I love laughing at the absurdity of what I read while online at the supermarket. I actually seek out the lines that have the most tabloids. The fodder is just too much to pass up. Take for instance the headline about Tom Cruise's child Suri that I read last week on Star Magazine's cover. It read "Inside Suri's Strange World! No TV, NO Happy Meals!..." My goodness! Is America so caught up with its junk food and the boob tube that these are the things that concern us most about Scientology?

Anyway, today I glanced through Oprah. I had never before read the inside of the magazine. I only chuckled over the ridiculousness of having the same woman's picture on a magazine week after week. I have nothing against Oprah. As a librarian, I love the way her book club turns people onto reading. I like how she can energize the populace. I admire what she has done with her life and her seeming desire to help others. I admire that she can get away with naming a magazine after herself AND having her own picture on the cover...but I digress...The thing that struck me about Oprah's magazine was the ads inside. I especially loved the obviously photoshopped make-up ad that said "Nothing is too close," as if the pleasantly softened complexion was the model's real skin. The ad about wrinkle cream where some of the model's wrinkles were taken out and only the most attractive laugh lines were left in was a hoot and a half. But I am a photographer. I know that non-photographers know about photoshop, but how many understand exactly what it can do and how it is being used?

At the risk of giving away secrets, here is one of my more popular still lifes:

You may not be able to see it well in this thumbnail. The colors are vibrant. the details blurred and softened. Harsh light and shadows have been altered. Contrast has been boosted. The image has been cropped.

Here is the original:

A pretty image can be polished to perfection. I always keep in the back of my mind that what I see may not be what is real. Photography walks a fine line. As photographers, we have a duty to record reality - to show others the truth that we discover. Sometimes that truth is beautiful, at other times it is painful or horrific. But, as photographers we are also artists. New technologies give us the ability to play with reality to share a personal vision of loveliness. Our viewers must be aware of our abilities to play with reality. Viewers of photographs should be prepared to make informed judgments of the images before them. Photography should not be trickery to sell products or a perverse view of reality.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Garden Diary

I continue reading Joyce McGreevy's book Gardening by Heart. I am wowed by her outlook and pleasant prose. McGreevy's writing prompts my own words. She has wonderful ideas worth repeating and discussing.

This morning I woke to the sun shining before 7AM. It struck me as something special. My husband had not yet left for work and it was not pitch black! When did this happen? When did dark mornings give way to promises of spring just around the corner?

As Kevin showered, I stayed in my warm bed heated by the lovely heated mattress pad he bought for me. (We still must keep the heated mattress pad on because though winter has relented a bit on sunshine, it has not relented enough to let the heat accompany it.) I picked up McGreevy's book and read the cahpter "Summer's Over When You See the Naked Ladies." (Doesn't that chapter title just make you want to run right out to read this book?!) In the chapter, McGreevy discusses the value of keeping a nature diary.

I was immediately excited, recalling the diary I kept of my first garden in Londonderry NH. I gardened on a basically bare plot of land and built something I found beautiful. In the diary I recorded my first stabs at gardening on my own. Luckily this morning I had the presence of mind to wait until my daughter awoke, rather than running right by her door to dig through my office for my treasured gardening journal. I continued to read...

"Keeping a journal is as open to possibilities as gardening itself. There is no one way to do it. It can bloom along the margins of an existing journal or apoointment book. It can command a place of its own, tellising sentences like sweet peas along the blue lines of a notepad or spreading out in all directions on the virgin ground of a blank book..."

The diary can include sketches and photographs. Some days I write essays about my blooms and work. Other days I write one word entries. "HOT!" I skip whole years of my gardening diaries. Sometimes they become blended with my "regular" every day diary.

I have been a journal-keeper just about all my life. In college one of my favorite classes focused on the function of journal writing for women throughout history. I still own my very first diary from 1982 with Strawberry Shortcake on the cover. In it I recorded the wonders of a seventh grader's life.

"My Dad wants me to be on the basketball Team.
I bought some newts today. I named them Harvey, Newton, Freckles and Baseball. I put three guppies in with them.
Should I ask Rob if he wants to see 'Dark Crystals' with me. It sounds like a good movie. With Rob there it would be even better."

(AH! Youth. Luckily, the budding archivist in me had the presence of mind to date the diary.)

As with any diary, a garden diary should record your realizations, whims, and fantasies. It will help you remember important gardening events in your life. It will help you grow as a gardener, encouraging you to experiment, reminding you of past failed ventures and successes. The journal is also something fun to examine on a cold winter day, reminding you why you are so excited for spring to get here, helping you pause to better see the beauty you can create in your own backyard.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


I'm going to grow weeds this summer. In Gardening by Heart, Joyce McGreevy takes a chapter to extol the benefits of weeds as garden fillers and edibles. She discusses how plants generally regarded as weeds, such as the pale blue flax, sometimes have colors that are difficult to find in catalogs. She also discusses how weeds such as dandelions can be used in salads or made into teas for consumption. Many weeds help protect other plants in the garden by warding off bugs, encouraging beneficial wildlife, or offering shelter beneath their foliage for tender seedlings.

I'm going to be choosy about the weeds I let flourish. I am not a fan of violets. These thrive in my garden. I remember as a child digging them out of a neighbor's garden as an afternoon chore. Perhaps if I did not have that memory, I would favor the violet, but I forever have WEED and violet imprinted on my brain. And, despite the temptation of tasting a dandelion salad, I will not be allowing any dandelions in the yard for obvious reasons. I take my daughter to the local farm, which has a big field, to grab stems with puffy white heads that take flight when she blows on them.

To me, there are also flowers that others do not consider weeds that are weeds in my yard. The long stemmed variety of phlox are a big no-no in my gardens. There was a barrel full of blighted phlox when I moved to this home three years ago. I have been pulling out the stuff ever since. I see its tiny leaves poking out of the ground and I pounce on it. "AHA! OUT, OUT! You are not welcome here!"

I found it funny this past summer when some of the gardeners I interviewed for The Gardener's Soul ranted about ridding their gardens of weeds. The funniest part was that they knew they were ranting and found it funny themselves. I learned that some gardeners attacked the weeds with military might and deliberation. They could not stand to see the weeds in their gardens. And yet, other gardeners were perfectly fine with weeds. Gently removing ones that weren't to their tastes. Some would even leave a whole garden to the weeds for one season, knowing that they could always return to that patch of land to work it the following year. I realized last year that I had been removing "weeds" for years that if left alone they would have turned into something glorious - tomato plants to add interest to the perennial garden or Queen Anne's lace to add a delicate backdrop to my handpicked specimen plants.

Two of my big planned projects this year are to plant a wildflower garden and to introduce a clover lawn to the yard. My daughter and I began our wildflower garden last year by spreading seeds from milkweed pods. I am anxious to see if the plants come up. There is nothing more heavenly than the smell of milkweed and the sight of the monarchs they attract. There is also nothing more luxurious than the clover lawn a gardener showed me last year. (I think I'll write about clover lawns another day.) I am figuring out how I can fit weeds within my garden scheme and I'm changing my perspective about them.

My favorite local garden center Uncanoonuc Mountain Perennials offers many native plants. One great benefit is that they are easy to grow and quickly fill your garden space. Last year I got on the native plant bandwagon and purchased Joe Pye Weed. (I'm sure I have other natives in my gardens that I could name if I thought about, but these I bought with the intention of buying native.) These native plants (aka weeds) should thrive in my yard. They deserve some appreciation for that alone. If I can prize my choosy roses, why should I not prize my less fussy (better tempered?) plants as well? These natives don't demand attention, I should be proud to show them off as one would show off a well behaved child.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Gardening by Heart

I am reading Joyce McGreevy's book Gardening by Heart: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Garden. the book encourages everyone to garden and discusses the benefits of gardening for one's well-being. It offers advice for how to become a gardener, how to learn to stop and "smell the roses" so to speak.

McGreevy's directions and observations make me think of the gardeners I met last summer for my The Gardener's Soul project. McGreevy discusses the same themes that have come up over and over again with my gardeners:
  • A garden brings happiness.
  • Any plant you tend can be your garden.
  • Gardening is a way for us to connect with nature and find respect for the earth.
  • Gardening itself is a process. It is the act of gardening that brings us joy.
  • A gardener's character is seen in the garden he/she creates.
  • Our lives are filled with gardens. We just need to open our eyes and look for them
  • Experience is important in the garden. We need only to pay attention to nature to be a good gardener.
  • Bring all of your senses to your garden to really experience it.
  • "Find what thrives for you and grow it."
  • Find the corner of the garden that speaks to your soul and cherish it.
  • Find a connection to nature every day, even if only for a limited time.
  • We connect to generations in the garden.

When in the garden, I work hard. I sweat. I step back and take a quick look. Then, I dive in again and work some more. When I am all through, I grab my little girl and we walk around the yard together, just like my dad did with me when I was a girl. We examine plants, smells and design. We frolic. (Isn't that a lovely word? Just made for the garden...) For me, the cap on the gardening experience is writing about what I've planted or grabbing my camera to take photographs of my work. From seed to photo completes my gardening experience. The camera helps me stop and smell the roses. I remember the experience better when I had a camera in my hand to record it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Plein Air

I need to send out kudos again to another artist friend. Up until last month I was editor of the Manchester Artists Association newsletter. Artist Sue Whitaker stepped up to take over when I needed to step down. Her first newsletter came out this month and it is wonderful. Sue is a graphic designer and has pushed our humble newsletter to a new level.
Sue is a plein air painter, meaning that she goes on location and she paints what she sees. Plein air artists are generally known for their landscapes. They like communing with nature and trying to express what they feel while they are painting out in the open.

Perhaps I should call myself a plein air photographer. My artist statement reads that I generally enjoy finding my garden subjects through serendipity. I like trying to express the happiness I feel in the garden. Warm breezes, sunshine, rustling leaves, and dewy grass all wake up my senses. My photographs aim to make you feel like you are on the journey with me. I want it to seem as if you can reach out and touch the petals of my flowers. While it is fun to craft a still-life indoors, there is nothing like wandering out-of-doors to seek the perfect photographic subject to share my love of nature and flowers with others.

Plein air was popularized by the Impressionists. Look at a Monet and you can practically feel the Giverny sunshine playing across his waterlilies. According to American Impressionist William Merritt Chase, "I don't believe in making pencil sketches and then painting your landscape in your studio. You must be right under the sky." While some artists will complete their preliminary outdoor studies in the studio, others like Chase prefer to address the whole task of painting nature outside.

Out in the open you don't just see nature as your subject. You experience it. Experiencing allows you to add intense emotion to your art. If you don't really experience your subject, the communication of it is dull and lifeless. If some part of you doesn't feel deeply energized while you are creating a piece of art, it is not worth creating. If the natural world energizes you, the art work you do out in the open will communicate your enthusiasm.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fruit Photography and Eating Clean

Food is on my mind today. I'm still in the process of ordering my summer seeds. I've got the bio-dome picked out for my vegetables and have vowed to order it today! As I was footnoting my book this morning, I realized that I had referenced produce related topics a number of times. I am also back on the Zone Diet, which helps regulate my hormone levels and really make me a much happier person. So food seems like a good subject for the days writing...(My friend Regina is also taking me out to lunch today and I am getting very hungry!)

But what does food have to do with garden portraits? Well, beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables can be just as photogenic as colorful vibrant flowers. Strawberries are my own personal favorites for photographing. You can't beat the bright red color, the way the light plays off their sensual form and the bright green tops to cap (no pun intended) the whole thing off. When I plop down a strawberry in the middle of some flowers that really gets my creativity flowing. Slice open the fruit for another view of your fabulous subject. Apples, corn, raspberries, and kiwi are some more favored materials for my artistic endeavors. Pile them high in a bowl or let them stand on their own. Play with lighting - natural or artificial. Make pleasant shadows mimicing nature's enticing forms.

And after you photograph it you can eat it! Check out the work of my friend, fellow gardener, and photographer Lisa Allen. She is the author of Eating Clean (which is available on her web site.) She offers lots of tasty ideas for what to do with fresh from the garden produce. Thanks Lisa! (Lisa is also one of the gardeners who posed for my upcoming book The Gardener's Soul. She is a lovely and fascinating individual.)

Have a great day everyone! I'm off for some Thai food!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Secrets of a Natural Gardener

My book proposal has been edited by a friend and I am busy re-working it now. My mind today is wrapped around chapter summaries. In the proposal I write about each of the individual gardeners I visited last summer. I learned so much from them. Despite the fact that I have been gardening on my own for ten years, there is so much I don't know. Learning in the garden is a never ending process. Everyone has a different method. A good gardener is always experimenting - moving things around, playing with new methods. Here are some of the "secrets" I learned last year. As I start to plan for this year's garden, I am trying to keep all of these things in mind.

- Clover lawns are healthier, easier to care for, and greener than grass lawns
- There are many sources of natural fertilizer from horse manure to sludge from the local waste plant.
- You can dry seeds from your vegetables in the sun and plant them next year.
- Elements of whimsy make a garden special.
- Seating areas encourage others to enjoy your gardens and make them more homey.
- A vegetable garden mixed with flowers encourages more wildlife and makes the garden more beautiful.
- Vegetables can be grown for food and/or for beauty.
- The garden can serve as an inspiration for all creative aspects of your life. You can mimic nature's beauty in paintings, photographs, and decorative arts. You can bring bouquets into your home or dry flowers to decorate your living space.
- The garden should serve as an outdoor room to enjoy in nice weather. Encourage this kind of living by providing decks, walkways, and sheltered spaces. Think of your outdoor space this way and create niches with different atmospheres to enjoy at different times during the day.
- Think of children when creating your space. Make the garden a place to play.
- Add bright colors on a shed, arbor, or other outdoor element to make the space more fun
- Consider all of the space in your landscape. Plant around a mailbox and in out of the way corners to make your space a real nature haven.
- You do not have to save every plant. It is okay to give up on the ones that you have trouble growing no matter where you put them in your yard.
- Phlox can survive disease free in some people's yards.

I think that I am going to order my seed starter kit from Park Seed Company today!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


A fun indoor garden photography project is creating still-lifes. I always use flowers in mine. Sometimes I start with a flower or bouquet from my garden or the florist and build the still-life around it. Other times I start with a favorite personal item, a holiday nick-nack, or an unusual item I find in a gift shop and then find the flora that matches it. I build my still lifes around common colors or shapes.

One trick is to mimic shapes throughout your set up. I favor circular movement or S curves, but sometimes I will create a neat sharp line. Whatever shapes I choose, I try to make them guide the viewer's eye through the scene. My "Coffee Cups in a Row" image to the left is an example of this. In this image I also play with light and shadow/ light and dark. The flower softens the diagonal line, but the single stem does not dominate the image. (My friend, the lovely and talented, Robin Frisella says this is one of her favorite images in my portfolio. It is similar to the type of still-lifes she sets up. Robin is an oil painted, but her work as an outstanding example for any still-life artist. Please visit her web site.)

Still-lifes styles can be very personal. Last year I participated in a two-person still-life show with my friend and fellow photographer Glenn Urquhart at the Wine Studio in Manchester, NH. The exhibit focused on the dichotomy of our styles, emphasizing his more masculine image and my feminine point of view. Though Glenn will sometimes use flowers in his imagery, his still-lifes possess a decidedly bolder feel then mine.

The subjects of still-lifes can also be intensely personal. Incorporating personal objects or creating a story with your picture can be very satisfying. To the left is the series of photos entitled "Not My Breakfast," which relates to my Celiac Disease and inability to properly digest the gluten found in wheat, barley and rye. Relating a serious issue, I chose to incorporate flowers and present my subjects (the wheat products) in a beautiful way. The matted versions I have of this photo are labeled "Breakfast," because I thought more people would be able to identify with that title. My friend, watercolorist Lillian Christmas, ordered a copy with the "Breakfast" title. She claimed it was because breakfast is one of her favorite meals. (My four-year-old thinks this is not right and tells everyone, "This picture is really called 'Not My Breakfast!'" She then goes on to tell anyone who will listen that mommy can't eat wheat.)

Still-lifes are a fun way to play with light, concept and color. Have a little fun with your camera and give it a try!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Weather, Mood, and Creativity

It is 50 degrees in New Hampshire today. We have lots of fog and rain here in Bedford. While driving from a doctor's appointment this morning I began to think how much weather affects my picture taking. I generally prefer taking photographs on sunny days. I like playing with light and shadow. And as weather greatly affects my mood, I am more apt to want to be outside with camera in hand on a sunny day. Other photographers prefer unusual weather including foggy days like today when you can get cool shots of mist off a lake. Some like thunderstorms or snow. Others prefer overcast days to cut down on the shadows I love so much. On days like that I stay indoors. I prefer to take still-life photos or pictures of my cat.

But the garden can be a great place to take unique pictures when I drag myself out on a non-sunny day. When I decide to leave the kitten whiskers behind to seek raindrops on roses, I find that the weather can be my friend. It is just another part of nature that I need to accept and work with. My camera has a raincoat and so have I. I'm not going to melt. I've taken some of my best photos out on rainy spring days, but what about winter? We are covered with white and I feel uninspired, whether or not it is 50 degrees out. My creativity must plummet in February and March. Every year after New Year's I am ready for spring. Why do I live in New England?

As I stop to gaze out my sunroom windows as I write this, I notice that my junipers and pines have lovely droplets hanging from their tips. Large lovely icicles hang from my holly bushes. The red branches of my Japanese maple are dotted with water. Brown rose leaves hang delicately above the snow... Maybe I need to brave this weather I so dislike and seek some opportunities? Before I go, maybe I'll grab a cup of tea!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Onward and Upward

I received my copy of Katharine S. White's Onward and Upward in the Garden yesterday. I am enjoying it immensely. As I simultaneously read Eleanor Perenyi's Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, I am struck by the strong voices of these women. Gardening never struck me as an opinionated arena until now.

I have a strong opinion about organic gardening. I also have strong opinions about clearcutting and massive overly green lawns. I am particularly annoyed when my neighbors water the road in the middle of a drought, especially on the one day of the month when it is raining...perhaps I do have strong opinions. And maybe now I am just finding my voice to express them. (With my apologies for any comparison you are making of me to Hillary Clinton...perhaps finding one's voice is in vogue at the moment, but I didn't think about Mrs. Clinton until after I wrote that sentence!)

It would do me good to follow the examples of Perenyi and White. Perenyi's book contains short essays about everything garden related. She gives historical information about gardening, provides practical information about growing, and relates advice that has to do with her own personal gardening experiences. She is blunt, funny, and informative.

White's book reviews garden catalogs. As an editor for the New Yorker, she wrote her annual Onward and Upward column to impart information about the products available for the upcoming growing season. Evaluating catalogs, White also analyzed the writing within them and the service of each company. She relates her own gardening experiences and discusses her preferred plants and planting methods. (Her writing is so personal that I am drawn to her. I feel almost as if her garden is mine. It helps that she seems to favor the traditional plants that I too favor and we are both New Englanders and writers.) This book is a compilation of her columns and reflects a remarkable woman.

Once again I am thinking about the camaradarie among gardeners. If you are a lone gardener, make an effort to reach out to others who share your passion or read about others who throughout time have been drawn to this remarkable past time. Realizing that your passion is shared gives you the courage to express yourself in new and profound ways. What you have to say is important. Your little garden is important. Your gardening methods and creations are unique and worth sharing. Our opinions help others learn, as their opinions help us.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Yellow Roses

Did you get flowers for Valentine's Day?

My favorite flower is a yellow rose. Yellow is my favorite color and I have a passion for the rose. I love lavender. No other smell soothes my soul in quite the same way. I have a new adoration for hydrangea, which are prolific and long lasting. I like delicate pansies with their little faces...but their is nothing in this world more perfect than a rose. Visually speaking, The rose is also the one flower I feel unable to properly capture in a photograph. No matter how beautiful my rose portraits are, I am unable to beat the beauty of nature itself. (A Rose's Last Hurrah, the pink rose above, is the one that I feel has come closest to the perfection I seek. It's colors are delicate and also vibrant. The details of the petals are visible with fine lines that add a porcelain quality the flower. The iamge shows the petals unfolding, their curves and slight imperfections. The image include leaves and thorns, showing the rose's whole character.)

My husband once paid me a great compliment...he is not really a flower person. He enjoys my gardens, but doesn't feel a connection to them really. He told me that my flower photographs are more beautiful than the flowers themselves. He said that my photos make him see beauty that he never would have otherwise noticed. My husband doesn't say things like this unless he means them.

I love capturing a flower's essence. When I hang my flower images on my walls, they brighten the room and remind me of spring. My pictures can make me as happy as seeing the real thing...but not my pictures of roses. It's not just my pictures though...I can't think of any rose image I've seen that evokes the same mood from me that a real rose does. Delicate soft petals, rich colors, curvaceous blossoms gently unfolding...sometimes we just can't improve or match nature's best.

My husband gave me a dozen yellow roses yesterday. These are extra special because they have coral edging. I walk by the kitchen counter and have to stop to smell them. They are exquisite. The flowers are about half open now and I'm toying with the idea of creating a still-life with them. Is it a useless endeavor? Perhaps if I keep at it and keep creating photos that unsatisfy me, the rose will become my nemesis and my passion for it will suffer. How do other artists deal with this? Do you keep trying to capture the elusive subject or do you eventually give up and move on?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Indoor Garden Portraits

We had a few inches of snow last night. It is now raining and ice is hanging from the trees. I am SO not a winter person. By New Year's eve I have had enough of winter. By February and March I am dragging. I am ready for gardening, outdoor garden portraits and sunshiny pictures!
While stuck inside I try to bring a little sunshine indoors. I sometimes head to my favorite local flower shop, The Flower Cart, here in Bedford and purchase a nice bouquet to play with and photograph. I set up still lifes (which I'll talk about tomorrow) and use some for self portraits and portraits of others. I always try to include flowers in any portraits I do, either indoor or out. It's becoming a trademark of sorts I suppose.

When including flowers in portraits, I try to pick ones that match the season or the mood of the photographs. Kids with great big sunflowers are fun in the late summer. Dark roses for a romantic feeling indoors are nice. Perhaps I should try including the symbolism of the flowers, which I talked about a few days ago, in my portraits too.

When photographing portraits indoors, I try to use natural light. I like using two corner windows as a backdrop to light both sides of the subject. I do not have a traditional light set up and on dark days I use a flash and/or my sunlamp. The light emits a soft yellow when it is covered with a see through white cloth. I find this ideal for dramatic lighting. I've included today a portrait of my daughter, taken for her first piano recital, using the sunlamp.

To further enhance the garden portrait feel, I set the scene with appropriate cloth backdrops and wraps and "garden" clothes (which can be anything from a fancy dress to overalls). One doesn't necessarily need a fancy studio setup and props for portraits. Pay attention to details. Check out your background. Make sure there is no clutter and that the background is not busy. Add elements (such as flowers) that evoke the mood you are trying to capture. To bring in the feel of the garden, pay most attention to your light. A dark portrait or one that has obvious flash burn screams "indoor portrait" and does not make one think about gardens.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Gardener's Soul

"Gardeners approach their landscapes with passion and purpose. We garden because the aroma and sight of fresh colorful flowers make our senses tingle. The taste of fresh vegetables eaten as soon as they are plucked from the vine makes our mouths sing. We plant because the feeling of dirt between our fingers soothes our spirits. Our flexed muscles from tilling the earth and hauling rocks feel strong and vibrant. Gardening is exercise. It is relaxation or a chance to be out in the sunshine. The garden is a place to meditate, to party, to sit and read, or a place to enjoy with our loved ones. Gardening is a way to commune with nature and to explore what it means to be human. It is a way to form a bond with our surroundings and the living beings in it. In the garden we learn to gain an acceptance of whatever life offers. The act of gardening gives us time and inspiration to ponder about ourselves and to explore our own souls. It makes us feel more alive...."

And so I begin my book, The Gardener's Soul: Nature's Path Toward Inner Peace. I finished my book proposal yesterday and a friend is reviewing it today. Last summer, I visited 14 female gardeners and took photographs of them for the project. I found these women through my local garden center and was very surprised how enthusiastic everyone was about the project. I continue (is it okay to quote myself?)...

"In this book, I present fourteen stories about diverse women with very different personalities, occupations, and gardening styles. The common bond is that the women are all strongly tied to their gardens and their identities as gardeners. They are also deeply respectful of, or attuned to, nature. Each gardener has her own unique style that is reflected in her handiwork. Each finds inspiration for her life from her garden. Tales of creativity, peace, simplicity, energy, beauty, strength and deference are woven throughout this book."

I have spent the past autumn and winter writing about these women and my visits with them. I wanted to write a draft of the book before I wrote the proposal just to see what I had to say. This is my second book, but my first in this field. Additionally, for my first book I was approached by the publishing company to write it. I was working as the archivist at the Waltham Public Library and Arcadia Publishing Company was seeking to publish a local history about the City as part of their Images of America series.. I controlled the records. They wanted access. It worked out well...but it was a very different experience than what I am going through now. After spending so much time on this book, I feel like I am now putting myself out there to see if anyone likes me or my writing. A friend reminded me yesterday that it took J.K. Rowling about twenty submits to publishers before she found one willing to take her on. So, I'm plugging away and remaining hopeful.

I have also been doing a lot of garden reading this winter. One topic that has come up a few times in book reviews I read relates to garden writers. They say that anyone who gardens and also writes will one day eventually try to write a gardening book. I hope that I become one in a line of writers who actually gets her book published...though I think if need be, I will consider self-publishing. (Does anyone have experience with either publishers or self-publishing?)

Meeting my fourteen women gardeners has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. There is such a feeling of camaraderie among gardeners. I am very grateful to these special people who shared a little bit of their passion and their soul with me by sharing their gardens. Each of these women let me into a very personal space and helped me to see that my little garden is part of something much bigger.

I hope to share more about my book and experiences with it in the coming months. I am including a few photos from the project for you to see.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Memories of Trees

Yesterday I mentioned how I remember the trees in my life. I thought today I'd talk about them a little bit.

- The first trees I remember having special meaning to me were the weeping willows in my neighbor's yard. The older neighborhood kids ran their "club" under those trees When I was invited to join the group, I felt like I was something special. The willows sheltered us from the grownups. Their sweeping branches were the perfect hideout.
- In my backyard we had a weeping cherry that we cut down. The mud pit left in its wake was a favorite spot for playing, especially for a tomboy.
- In my yard we also had a mimosa that was cut down when it suffered from disease. The spot it left behind was empty and sad. As a young child, the cherry's mud pit was much more exciting than the cherry tree. As an older child, the fuzzy pink flowers of the mimosa made a greater impression.
- In my yard we also had crab apple trees from which we would garner the gruit and make applesauce for winter. Picking the apples up from the ground was an annoying chore as we picked through a never ending pit of rotting fruit before it burned out the lawn.
- Finally, I fondly remember the dogwood in front of my bedroom window. Its perfectly shaped flowers greeted the spring. As an adult I have sought the perfect dogwood to plant up here in honor of my fond childhood memories.
Humans can form a special bond with the trees. To me, they each seem like characters in my life play. With some we develop special attachment -- friendships that can last a lifetime.

My sister spent her childhood climbing the mimosa tree in a neighbor's yard while chasing butterflies. I did not have a special fondness for that particular arbor. It was Liz's tree until new neighbors bought the property and put a fence around the backyard. This effectively cut my sister off from one of her best friends. She was very sad to lose that tree from her life.

My first home as an adult was on a corner plot of land. We owned the property up to the woods and the woods themselves were actually on the corner. We lived in that house for six years and felt somewhat buffered from the busy streets that surrounded us because of the woods next door. We were told or we assumed when we moved in that the land that held the woods was too small to accommodate houses. Then, one day the wrecking machines came it, clearcutting the woods to put up three houses on tiny little plots. I was devastated. I cried as the machines did their dirty work. I told my husband that I needed to move.

We found a property surrounded by trees, but it took time. The first house the realtor showed us was new construction on clearcut land. The developed showed us around. I asked him why they clearcutted to build their houses. Why didn't they work around the trees? He said that people wanted large grassy spaces and did not want trees. I find that hard to believe....I find that very sad. I love living among swaying trees that shelter my family and harbor wildlife. They create an atmosphere of warmth and compassion. I am at one with nature in my house on the hill surrounded by woods.

My photography generally focuses on macro views of flowers, but once in awhile I change the lens to stand back and take a look at the trees. My favorite trees to photograph are birch trees. They are quintessential New England - very Robert Frost and elegant. I am also particularly fond of a unique tree at Greeley Park in Nashua NH. I go back every season to photograph this ancient looking tree with twisting boughs. (I've included its photo here.) I am also fond of the trees in front of the Manchester City Library. They also have an ancient look about them and must have been planted when the library was first built. Back then we had foresight to incorporate regal plantings into our construction projects. What have we lost? Frederick Law Olmsted would be horrified by our current building efforts. He worked so hard to incorporate trees and we work so hard to take them out.

If you want to read something wonderful, check out photographer James Balog's Tree: A New Vision of the American Forest. The book contains Balog's fantastic tree portrait collages. The trees he photographs are so large that he takes many photos of their parts and pastes them together to show the whole. He swings from ropes on each tree to pull himself into the best positions to capture the tree's unique personalities. His writing about his work is powerful, but the photos themselves are awe inspiring.

Hug a tree today. (Or at least take a look at one and smile!)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Personal Connection to Nature

I have been reading a lot of gardening books this winter. My favorite books are about people's personal experiences in the garden. I began reading these books as research for the book that I am writing. (This summer I interviewed 14 female gardeners about their gardening experiences and am writing about them. I will talk more about this in later postings.) I am finding myself deeply fascinated by these personal stories. One in particular touched me very deeply and made me reconsider my own connection to my landscape -- both indoors and out.

Judith Handelsman's Growing Myself addresses how all life is interconnected. The author talks about how she learned to better care for her plants by relating to them on a personal level. She discusses how talking to her plants helps them grow. She talks about how our positive and negative thoughts and actions affect our plants growth. She explains how it is important to respect nature for our own personal growth.

I started thinking about my houseplants. I have always considered my gardening talents to lie in my outdoor garden. I tend to kill houseplants. I forget to water them or leave them in obscure corners of the room in an attempt to "brighten" the corner. Before reading Handelsman I chose whatever houseplant struck my fancy, without consideration to how the plant would fit within my home and lifestyle. But now I understand my folly. I have begun strategically placing houseplants in spots that will make them happy -- near bright sunny windows, near each other, in places I frequent and won't forget to water them. I talk to my plants and stroke their leaves almost every day. I live with my plants and have welcomed them into my home as living entities rather than inanimate objects. My houseplants are thriving and I feel much calmer about getting through this usually dreadful winter season.

I realized that I have always felt a connection to outdoor plants. Trees especially have always been friends to me. I remember most of the trees in my life, but houseplants never impressed me in quite the same way. Handelsman talks about bringing outdoor trees in and using them to make nature a part of your life wherever you are. One story about a large sickly tree that she took on, lovingly placed in a corner of her apartment, nursed, and hung a hammock from was inspirational. For a plant is a plant whether indoors or out. I've been buying large pots to transplant my houseplants. I spread newspaper out on the floor and dip my hands into bags of potting soil. It's not quite like digging in the dirt outside, but it can warm my soul until the snows melt here in New Hampshire.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Symbolism of Flowers

I have an undergraduate degree in art history. Since my studies, I have been fascinated with symbolism - the "hidden" meanings people attach to images and objects. As a student, I wrote a thesis about the images on gravestones, but these days I am more interested in the perhaps less morbid imagery of flowers. (Perhaps one can see a connection between the two... I went from images of death to ones that represent life and rebirth.)

In my fine art photographs, I focus on flowers in full bloom. I began taking floral photos after the birth of my daughter. I had struggled with infertility for a long time before she came along. After my greatest joy, it was easy to associate my beautiful flowers with the idea of a woman blossoming.

I now try to include flowers in all of my fine art images. I have photographed myself holding flowers and children dancing in flowers. I include flowers in still-lifes setups. Recently I began reading about the symbolism of particular species. I am fascinated with the idea of exploring how flowers can be used in portraiture in more unique ways.

During the Victorian era, the symbolism attached to flowers reached its pinnacle when people gave gifts of flowers to express sentiments they felt they could not utter. For example, forget-me-nots meant true love; Lobelia symbolized ill-will; Campanula represented thankfulness. (I'd like to meet any of the persons who sent or received Lobelia. What would your reaction be if you received a delivery of Lobelia from the florist?)

One of the oldest flower symbols and my personal favorite is the lotus, which in Buddhist tradition is representative of enlightenment. The lotus rises from the muck to reveal something beautiful. It symbolizes that even if we are stuck in a bad situation in our lives, we can overcome it. We can rise from the mess and make a new beginning for ourselves. I love that idea.

So when you say it with flowers this Valentine's day. Make sure you say the right thing! BTW, red roses do many true love, but perhaps you can be more creative this year and deliver forget-me-nots instead. I saw on a talk show the other day that most women do not like red to me... though I do prefer yellow roses myself. One of the Victorian meanings of yellow roses is infidelity, so maybe I had better not hope to get these!

See the Language of Flowers for more information.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Garden Catalogues

They're here! They're here!

I went online a few weeks ago and ordered all of the free gardening catalogs that I could find. Many places charge for their catalogs, which is understandable considering the expense to them. The prices are reasonable at only a buck or two a piece, but I figure if I don't know the garden company I don't want to spend money on their catalog. The costs could add up fast. My mom says now that I will be on everyone's mailing list, getting junk mail from obscure places. But I don't care ...except for the twinge of guilt about the trees that are being killed by my living large, covered in catalogs. Hopefully it's at least recycled paper and I'm told that's mostly what they use these days anyway...I am dreaming of spring. I am moving my vegetable garden this year to a larger, flatter piece of my property. I also plan to go crazy with hydrangea and flowering perennials to fill in my garden spaces.

We moved to this property three years ago. There were many established and very large plants, but the landscaping was not cared for by a true gardener. I have slowly been moving and reshaping the backbone of my garden. I now know exactly what I want to do here. I have visions of great English Victorian-like spaces. There will be hidden hideaways where my daughter and her friends can play with large expanses of green between. (I'm trying to convince my husband that the green should be clover and not lawn.) There will be flowers blooming continually. There is shade and sun and will be wild mystical gardens with waist high wild flowers. There will also be a tame formal herb garden that even include boxwood. I am not a fussy gardener, so tame is relative...

In my old house I ordered three burning bushes (when they were still allowed in these parts) from catalogs and received sticks in the mail. By the time I left the property seven years later, the sticks each had about three branches and grew from a foot high to two feet high. So, this time, I'm taking my time making my choices. I've read that mail ordering perennials is not always a great idea, so I'm going to start with a few.

These are the catalog I have in hand. More I expect will be trickling in:
Park Seed Company
Thompson and Morgan
White Flower Farm
Bluestone Perennials
Dutch Gardens
and of course the obligatory Burpee. I've been on their mailing list for years.
I am so excited about Bluestone with its unusual flowers and awesome prices.

I have been a shameless garden store junkie in the past, wandering through the aisle and spending my self-given "allowance" every week on whatever catches my eye. As a floral photographer, I have visited garden centers almost every week during the growing season over the past couple of years just to take photos. I never walk away empty handed though. There is always something new, beautiful, bright and tempting. It seems like it will be easier to control myself while catalog shopping. HA HA!

My interest in catalogues was awakened by the book "Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters" about Katherine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence. The book is an archivists dream. (In my other life I'm an archivist, managing historical records.) We get a peak into the personal lives of these personable women and the camaraderie they form through their shared gardening passion. Both women were famous garden writers. Katherine S. White was also the wife of famous novelist E.B. White. One of the things for which she was best known was her catalog reviews. She spoke about catalogs with passion. What a fascinating history these glossy colored booklets must have. I can't wait to learn more!

Any advice about mail ordering perennials will be appreciated.