Monday, March 31, 2008

What is Good Art?

They say art is subjective. I believe that to a large degree, but there are other elements that must be considered when judging art.

Telling good art from the bad art is a matter of

1. understanding an artist’s technique, medium, and competition enough to decide if he has created something that others have not created in the past and/or others would have trouble duplicating.

2. recognizing that the artist makes use of basic tenets of his medium, using compositional theories, lighting techniques, and effects to enhance his final product

3. seeing that the artist has expressed a unique personal vision. The artist has shown us a perspective of the world that includes his view of beauty or the lack of it.

4. Acknowledging whether or not the piece has a subject that affects us on an emotional level and the technique that the artist used makes us feel that emotion strongly.

I find that many who judge art on a professional level do not have all of these basics covered. This is especially true in the area of photography when an artists accustomed to looking at fine art paintings is asked to judge this very different medium. A judge who does not understand the medium must rely on elements 3-4, but will miss the preliminary two critical elements.

Case in point: A photographer stands in the woods and is lucky enough to view an unusual creature scurrying across the forest floor. The creature looks up and the photographer snaps the camera. She has been lucky enough to get a head on shot of the forest creature looking right at her. There are lots of shadows on the ground. The photographer didn't appropriately adjust white balance or meter so that the snow appears white and the shadows appear dark. Rather, the snow in the final photo appears gray. The creature was also moving so fast that he is just a tad out of focus. The image evokes good feelings. There are people who love this creature and would buy this picture to hang on their wall because it makes them feel good. Is this fine art or was this a lucky shot?

As a viewer who is not a judge, it is okay for you to judge a painting on levels 3 and 4. In fact, you should rely more heavily on these points because presumably, if you are trying to decide whether to buy a piece of artwork, you are planning to live with it for a long time in your home. You need to like it, whether or not it is good art in the higher sense. It is the professional or serious critic of art who needs to study and understand the history of art AND the particular art medium he is judging. In my mind, this makes art historians the most capable judges of multi-medium shows and not artists who have mastered a particular medium. (Unless, of course, they have gone out of their way to study the tenets of other mediums that they are judging.) Unfortunately, at art competitions, this is not always what the competing artist encounters.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


One of my personality quirks is that I love organization. I love lists, lists of lists, and all kinds of groupings of information. Perhaps this is why I got a degree in library science. I remember as a child sitting in my room organizing my "collections." My baseball cards were organized and reorganized. My horse dolls were arranged neatly on the shelves. I kept information about everything that interested me in scrapbooks, organized by subject and date (of course.) I found after becoming a librarian that there were others like me. We librarians and archivists love organization. We would like to spend hours upon hours arranging things. Now that I am an adult, the things I organize at home have changed a bit -- tupperware in the cabinet, my daughter's toys (it has yet to be seen if she has the organization gene,) cleansers, mail, my husband's papers, seeds, etc.

I became the "Internet Coordinator" at the first library where I worked in the early nineties. The Internet was just becoming popular and libraries were jumping on board to organize "cyberspace." Of course it made and still makes sense for librarians to play a role in this world. As organizational specialists, we always have new ideas for making lists of lists better and better. And, we don't mind sitting around making lists of lists all day.

I am new to the blogging world and recently joined Blotanical . Tonight is my first night exploring it thoroughly. I am impressed with how far Internet lists have come. Blotanical not only lists great gardening blogs to keep me busy for days on end, they also provide other organizational features to keep an organizational geek like me happy. There are lists of the most popular blogs and lists of the most popular posts. It also seems that those who run blotanical are continually thinking of ways to reorganize. Case in point: In a discussion of how growth will affect their popular posts listings they write "My suggestion would be to create 3 different lists while still retaining the 10 most Popular Posts page." Can it be that the good folks at Blotanical are librarians too?!!! Can it be that twice in a lifetime I have found others like me, but this time they are not only organizational geeks; they are also gardeners!!!!

Thank you blotanical for including me on your list. I look forward to a long fruitful relationship and I look forward to meeting everyone else on your list.

Bring on Spring!

How still this morning is. We had about 6 inches of snow here in New Hampshire yesterday. It was the type of snow that drips off the trees after it settles for awhile. Yesterday, my daughter and I walked down our long driveway to the mailbox when the weather eased a bit. I was wearing my winter hiking boots. She wore her sparkly princess shoes. The snow was mush under my feet. She giggled when the snow got on her tights and into her shoes, until I scooped her up and stomped downhill. She started shouting "Melt Snow Melt!" Our new mantra. I joined in and I'm sure the neighbor who was out plowing got a nice chuckle. At the mailbox I set my little girl down and we walked back up hill. She took giant steps to step in the footprints I made coming downhill. I moved a little in front of her and dragged my feet to make it easier for her to step in a clear spot. We giggled and talked, knowing full well that this snow is just temporary. It made it okay that it snowed on March 28th. After a long winter of over 110 inches of snow -- the most snow New Hampshire has seen in over 100 years -- We are done with it. I have good feelings that this is the last of it. (Famous last words? Have I cursed the weather gods now?) And now the spring morning sparkles before me. The sky is glowing orange through my wooded landscape and fades into a baby blue. The first green leaves that I saw pushing out of the ground two days ago will show themselves again sometime this weekend as the snow melts in the high 40 degree weather. The anticipation of late spring is almost too much for me now. I have visions of flowers in full bloom. I imagine true outdoor garden portraits with smiling children in landscapes of green and vivid colors. Dresses and shorts, bows and sandals. Bring on the garden! Bring on spring!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Blogging about Kids in the Garden

I find that I spend one-half hour to an hour a day on the Garden Portraits blog. I have so many ideas for different types of blogs that I could probably make it a full time venture. I recently started another blog about kids gardening and aimed to give a new idea for things to do with kids in the garden every day. It is unrealistic for me to maintain both blogs and to do it well. So, instead, I will devote one day a month to listing garden ideas for kids. Here are my favorites that I've already listed on "Kids in the Garden" (these ideas are intended for pre-spring weather):

Seeds - Remember planting a seed in a cup as a kid? Remember how exciting it was to watch the seed crack open and the little green shoot sprout out? Buy your seeds today. There are many online catalogs to review with your kids or order catalogs online. Burpee and Park Seeds are great for vegetables. Vegetables are a good way to start. Kids can start thinking about growing their own food. Let kids look through the shiny pictures. Let them see the many varieties of foods. Let THEM choose what to buy. When the order comes, we'll be ready to plant.

Nature Visualization - Create a nature visualization for children. Have your child close his eyes and create a nature story. Have the child imagine that he is a living thing in your yard. You may want to try the following words. "Imagine that you are a tiny bulb who hibernated beneath the ground all winter. Imagine your first days pushing out of the soil in spring. As the earth warms while we look toward summer, it warms you. You tingle and stretch yourself awakening to the warmer weather. You feel the strength of your stem, through which you will suck up water and nutrients to make you grow. Imagine that you have grown into a tiny new flower swaying in the spring breeze. The wind gathering beneath your petals and making you flutter like a butterfly." Create your own imagination stories about kids being birds, bugs, and trees. Also have the child imagine that he is himself playing out in nature, lying in the grass, running his toes in fresh dew, etc. This exercise can also be done with movement. I find that the quiet, eyes closed (meditation) version is great to use after a nightmare. It helps calm the child.

Books - As a librarian, I tend to turn to books to help teach me about any subject. And while the best way to learn about nature is by experiencing it, there is a lot a child can learn about the subject through the world of books. One can be drawn into a character's world and become excited about a topic by experiencing it through another's stories. I highly recommend The Secret Garden. It's poetic language and charming story about the adventures of three children interacting with nature is magical. On a cold rainy day, a nature book is the perfect prescription for a little sunshine. For more nature books see Suggested Readings on Children and Nature.

Photography - Around age two a child can begin to play with a camera. If she is old enough to look through a viewfinder, she is old enough to take pictures. Use a disposable film camera or one of the new durable digitals made especially by kids. Take your child outside and let them point and shoot. You'll be amazed what they come up with. You can help out by pointing out things such as the melting snow in a rushing brook or moss growing on trees. Using a camera helps one better learn to see the world by forcing the photographer to scout out the details. Consider taking the camera with you on a nature walk.

See more ideas at Garden Portraits Kids.
What nature activities do you like to do with your kids this time of year?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Garden Meme

I had never heard of a meme until Robin from Robin's Nesting Place visited my site. She left a comment yesterday and I then visited her site where she mentioned she had been asked to do one. After a quick Google trip, I learned from "The Daily Meme" that a meme in blogspeak is "some kind of list of questions that you saw somewhere else and you decided to answer the questions. Then someone else sees them and does them and so on and so on." Robin was asked to give ten weird or random facts about herself. What fun! I think I'll try to do this, but challenge myself to stick to random gardening facts. (I prefer not to think that I am narrowing my options of weird facts because there are too many general ones to report!)

1. One of my first memories is eating seeds from a Mimosa tree after my best friend at the time convinced me this was a good idea. My mother then had to remove said seeds from my belly with Ipecac syrup.

2. My sister spent her childhood chasing butterflies and told people that she wanted to be an entomologist who specialized in lepidoptery - Perhaps this is more her story than mine, but she grew up to be a medical doctor who specializes in pediatrics. I always think of my sister when I see a butterfly.

3. I don't like bell peppers, but I grow them in my garden with the hope that one day I will come to like them as much as I like tomatoes.

4. I don't like phlox in my garden. I have trouble keeping the tall phlox healthy. I ripped them out of the garden the second year I lived in this house after inheriting them from the previous owner. I think about my garden every time I see phlox in someone else's yard and always have to comment about it. Though I am very open-minded on most issues, I have very strong opinions about some things. Once something manages to get on my bad side there is little chance it will get back to the good side. (See #3 bell peppers)

5. I enjoy weeding, sweating and hauling rocks in the garden. I try to coordinate my gardening time with my exercise time in the summer so that I only have to take one shower that day.

6. Last summer I was taught by a gardener I met to prefer clover lawn to grass. It is easier to care for, more beautiful (the softest lawn I ever felt,) and better for the environment.

I vow to convince others of the merits of clover lawn. First up - My husband.

7. I have a goal to turn all of my friends into gardeners someday.

8. I first took my daughter into the garden when she was two days old. My husband held a lavender blossom for her to smell. It was the first time I saw her wiggle her nose.

9. I have been composting for two years and still have nothing to show for it, but icky smelling rotting vegetables. I vow to learn to do it properly this year.

10. As a child, my husband once took a trip with his father to visit all of the major roller coasters on the Atlantic coast. I dream of taking a similar trip to visit the major gardens.

Thanks again Robin. This was fun! I'd love to hear other people's random gardening facts.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Filters Fix Oops

Here is this year's corsage photo. I mentioned the other day that every year I get my daughter a corsage for the Easter Holiday. I picked the silliest picture we have to post here. (Why is it that all kids make this face when a camera is turned on them? I remember a photo of my brother, when he was around this age, making the same face at a birthday party.) The florist brought my daughter into the cooler to pick what flowers she wanted for her corsage last Thursday. She chose red spray roses. Easter morning we pulled Grandma's new dress from the closet. My daughter wanted to wear her fancy piano recital dress (think wedding dress) to wear to a friend's Easter dinner. I had visions of food stains and children stomping on hems, so I was able to talk her into this one. PHEW! Dress and corsage coordinated...I lost out on the red hat. She wanted pink and we have to pick and choose our battles.

I am thoroughly thankful that she didn't pick a blue hat because that would have made my job as a photographer more difficult. The original photo of my daughter is dark. We were rushing out the door and I didn't have time to stage a full-blown photo shoot. I use PaintShop Pro for most of the photo editing that I need to do. I lightened up the picture and everything was gray and drab. Even after tweaking colors using tools supplied in the program, the picture was dull. For the non-photographers out there, this is where filters come in. Once upon a time we had to use filters directly on the camera lens to soften or otherwise alter images. Now it can be done on the computer. There are many filters available online that "plug" into whatever photo editing software you use. Some of them are available for free, others have a nominal charge and others are quite expensive. I have yet to purchase any of the expensive filters, yet I have played around extensively with others and will use them regularly while editing pictures.

My favorite filter tool is called Virtual Photographer. It has THE most wonderful filter for my little red head. Virtually any "Oops" photo I take can be corrected (not usually perfected, but corrected) with this filter. The "mountain " filter adds just the right touch of red and contrast to make my little darling's red hair and ruddy cheeks come to life. In this case, it also made her corsage and dress just the right shade of red. This picture also makes use of a porcelain filter that does just what it sounds like it would do. It adds a slight blur and a touch of blue to give the photo a porcelain like feel. This filter works great on children with their smooth soft skin. It also works well on fine china still lifes and floral blues.

I prefer to get it right the first time - perfect lighting = perfect photo. When the light is directed and low in the sky or when two corner windows come together indoors on a sunny day, the lighting gives life to the scene's colors automatically. But in less than perfect conditions or in the fine arts when you sometimes want to enhance an element of your image, filters are extremely useful and fun. Search online for "photography filter plugin" and play with what you find.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Creativity and Inspiration

Tonight I will be speaking publicly for the first time about my upcoming book The Gardener's Soul. I will be presenting to the local Craftworkers Guild. I am focusing my talk on creativity and finding inspiration. The gardeners whom I interviewed for the book all find inspiration for their lives in the garden. Many are artists who also find obvious creative inspiration for their artwork. Others find creative inspiration for other aspects of their lives. One teacher brings what she learns from nature into the classroom, such as the milkweed seedpods she found in a field of wildflowers. They reminded her about her trip to Mexico to visit her brother and the waves of monarchs that hung from the trees there. She shared this with her students. Another gardener brings the meditative peace she feels in the garden to the troubled teens she counsels as an adolescent psychologist, teaching them about how to connect better with themselves and their world.

Creativity and Inspiration go hand in hand. When something excites us, a passion is ignited inside. When we connect with that passion and allow it to propel us we can release a burst of creativity. Creativity is expressing our passion to others. I see it as using your inspiration to try to ignite a passion in another soul no matter what the means. The arts, education, and even politics can offer a creative release. When something influences me I want to share it because I feel lucky (or wealthy) every time I discover something that gives me pause. If I am creative enough, I can find a means of expression that will allow me to share my insights in a profound way. I often use photography or writing as my means of expression. But I also garden, teach or talk publicly to announce my creative views.

Most of the craftspeople to whom I will speak tonight are not photographers. I imagine they are textile artists, seamstresses, knitters, and painters. Perhaps there will be a few gardeners (I hope.) We are all bonded by this desire to reach for our creative selves and to find inspiration. If my audience is not made up of gardeners, perhaps I can convince them that this is a worthy avenue for their creative expression. Or to at least, I can encourage them to look to nature for additional creative inspiration for the current work that they do.

Creativity is assisted by camaraderie. As humans, we learn from each other and are motivated by the things our fellows have to express. I have been motivated by all of the gardeners I met last summer for the writing of my book. As I plan my gardening season, my thoughts about my space are very different from what they were this time last year. I have previously written about the new vegetable and herb gardens I have planned, my new clover lawn, and my children's sunflower patch. All of these creative ideas were born from the things I learned from others over the past year. Their gardens and their views are my current inspiration. I hope to spread the wealth.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring Gifts

The heralding of spring for me is similar to a child's anticipation of Christmas. I've declared today the unofficial start of good weather. Yes, there is still snow on the ground. Yes, last night the window was howling and the wind chill made it feel like it was in the teens...but this morning the trees in my woods are calm as the sun slowly brings its orange glow over their tops. It feels like Christmas eve.

We have been invited to join our closest friends at their home for the holiday tomorrow. I am on a mission today to find the perfect plant for them. I want one that is easy to keep indoors and then transplant to the garden when the weather warms up a little more. A hydrangea might be in order. I will also be bringing the kids some seeds to plant - flowers? vegetables? Ah yes, and I should bring a pretty little pot so they can watch the seeds grow on the windowsill. I also hope to get some small plants for my closest friends in the neighborhood. I think Easter lilies may be the perfect spring inspiration. Most of my friends are non-gardeners, but I'm determined to convert them. After all, what makes the anticipation of spring more excited than the idea of getting out to watch the plants push their way out of the ground toward that orange glow? I want to share the passion.

Last year my daughter's easter basket contained gardening gloves, seeds, a trowel and gardening shoes (with kitties on them.) This year we started seeds in a biodome to begin the spring celebration. This year, at age four she eagerly awaits the gardening season as much as I. The passion is being transferred to the next generation. This year too, I have offered my daughter's closest friends a space in our garden. Each child gets to pick her own vegetable to care for. They will also help us grow a sunflower patch to make into a clubhouse for their play dates.

There is joy in knowing that a gift plant will give beauty, happiness, and learning opportunities. There is a joy in welcoming spring with friends. Thank you nature for the gifts.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Annuals versus Perennials

I have never liked to cook. I've always been more of a baker. When I cook, it takes an hour or two to prepare the food. The family sits down to eat and my creation is gone in 20 minutes. At least when I bake the food will last for a few days. I know that we won't eat a whole plate of brownies in one sitting (even on the worst of days!)

This is also how I feel about annuals. I could spend days planting beautiful little plants that will be gone by the end of the season. Everyone tells me that they are great for filling blank spaces in the garden. They also add color at time when the perennials do not in the garden. I don't care. I'm stubborn. If I care for something, I want it to last for more than five months.

There are three annuals that grace my garden - the lovely little pansy, marigolds and basil. The pansy reseeds itself so effectively that, in my head, it is a perennial. Marigolds keep nasty bugs away from my veggies. Basil is just heavenly, easy to grow and prolific. In fact, it took me a long time to add the veggies themselves to the garden. It seemed like a chore to plant them year after year. But I finally convinced myself that growing my own food, returning to a simpler way of life, producing healthy organic produce, and teaching my daughter about fresh foods and where food comes from is worth the work. (Of course, I've always had a perennial herb garden.)

I have never considered myself lazy, -- I own and operate two businesses, am raising a four-year-old, am writing a book, am making my own curtains and considering reupholstering my own furniture -- but I have always been attracted to things that last for the long term. This is probably why my first business was as an archivist. Archivists care for historical records and what lasts longer than history? I have a mental block for cooking and annuals. I like the idea of planting something with figuratively long roots. I like knowing that nature is strong and will survive a NH winter.

Perhaps there is something else going on here? Perhaps it is the idea of spending money on something that won't last? Maybe I need to convince myself that spending on garden annuals will provide equal enjoyment as say...that short term bar of chocolate? Maybe I should just dive in and try some annuals this year. I do have a favorite. Osteospermum, which is an annual in some parts of the country, is short-lived in my part of the country. I ADORE osteospermum with its daisy shape and delicate petals. The white petals remind me of porcelain. The orange and yellow versions are like a burst of sunshine. Can osteospermum change my bad attitude?

I know some people grow exclusively perennials. If you do, will you please explain why?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Corsage

As I remember grandfather would visit every weekend. He walked in the door, took off his hat, and sat down for his lunch - sandwich meat on toast. My mother had hat boxes lined in the closet. I don't remember the hats, but I remember the boxes. These days my hat boxes come with pajamas in them (from pajamagram.) They have lots of pretty hats in the store this time of year, but I never see anything like them on a woman's head. When I was young, Dad would dress in a tie and suit every day. Just ten years ago my husband dressed for work too. Now if he goes to work "dressed up" people ask him who died or where he is interviewing.

We have lost many attire formalities in modern day society, along with many social graces. People no longer wear hats when they go out. Few men wear ties. Men and women often don't even "dress" to go to a fancy restaurant or to worship. We have lost traditions that I think add a little something special to our often mundane lives.

Last year I gave my daughter her first corsage and plan to give her another this year. This will be one of our "dress up" traditions. To celebrate the Easter holiday with friends (and for me the welcoming of spring,) I bought all four of the girls at the Easter party their own corsage. I called the local flower shop a couple of days early and had them make up special pink ones for the girls wrists. As all the girls were 5 and under, the florist took special care to ensure their were no pins sticking out. The flowers came, as they traditionally do, in little clear plastic boxes and smelled of refrigerated roses - fresh, clean and special to my nose. My daughter stood by the window (you can see the snow still on the ground) admiring her accoutrement. Her spring dress was not quite right for the still winter-like weather. The satiny pink brim of the hat -- yes, note that she is a hat person. We are bringing back that tradition too! -- perfectly matched the smooth, glossy petals. I'm not sure the other girls were enchanted with this unexpected surprise that brought a little nature and early summer to their ensemble. But I know that my little nature lover was enthralled.

I remember two occasions when I received corsages, my sixth grade graduation and the prom. There may have been other times, but these two are burned in my mind. I remember the pins being stuck into my dress. I remember the roses flopping against my body. I remember that fresh refrigerated rose this day the rose is still my favorite flower...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Child's Play

I am "babysitting" and watching the Curious George movie with a little friend of mine as I write this. The opening scene is a beautiful, colorful interpretation of nature. Animals are frolicking and playing with the things they find. I am struck by George blowing a blade of grass. I remember back to my childhood... We looked for the fattest pieces of grass to hold between our thumbs to make the funniest noises possible. Acorns became hats for our thumbs. Fox glove blossoms became doll dresses. Rocks were split open to play jewelry store. Nature was our playground. Plants were our playthings.

Do you remember running through a field just to feel the wind on your face? Do you remember rolling down a hill just to feel your body move in tune with its surroundings, lying on your back at the bottom of hill, and watching the world spin around you? Do you remember climbing a tree just to see if you could do it and enjoying the view once you got to the top?

I am watching a little monkey with a child's eyes. The little boy's giggle reminds me of when the world was shiny new. I remember when the sky was the bluest thing I could imagine and the grass was green like emeralds. Tree bark was rough. Mimosa blossoms were soft. I noticed when the ants were in a big hurry even when I was too...I noticed everything. I was part of nature. The awareness of the world around me made me content with my place and eager to explore it.

Stop to see things through a child's eyes. Stop to see nature as something new and precious. View it as a companion. It is a playground that can keep you occupied all afternoon or for a lifetime.
Show it the same reverence you would give a favored playmate and allow its friendship to harbor you through all your years. For over sixty years, the Curious George series of books have reminded us about child-like curiosity. H.A. and Margret Rey said that they always remembered what they liked as children and created stories to appeal to that. It would do us all a little good to reach inside of us to find those little children (and curious monkeys) peeking out.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tulip Dreams

Do you dream of tulips this time of year, but find yourself still huddled inside over a cup of hot tea? Though spring is only days away, we are still buried in snow up here in NH. In March I am eager to get outside and apparently in 2006 I did venture out with my camera. To the left is a picture of what I saw: Gray snow. This year is a little different. We still have gray snow. We just have more of it after an unusual winter. 100+ inches of the white stuff is slow to melt.

Last year I smartened up and just stayed inside. I'll stick with still-lifes this time of year. Still-lifes and a cup of tea sounds much better than old melting snow and a cup of tea. The spring flowers are being thrust upon me every where I turn -- in the grocery store, at Home Depot, on my neighbors kitchen table -- everywhere that is except in my garden where their arrival still seems painfully far off. I gather the blossoms from the store and place them along side my mug. I jack up my tripod and get to work in my sun room. I'm working hard and willing spring along with sheer determination.

How I love the anticipation of the time of year when we welcome color back to the garden! Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. The new flower season collides with the ending of the hot tea season. What better way to celebrate than to bring the two together for a portrait session?

I'm currently reading Barbara Kingsolver's new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This is a must read! I hope to learn from Ms. Kingsolver's observations that modern man has trouble just accepting nature as is. We must conform to the weather and not fight it. (If only I had that greenhouse I mentioned last week) I am anxious to finish the book to share thoughts about it. Any others out there reading it? I'm up to the part about heirloom vegetables...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Garden Textures

Yesterday I discussed color in the garden. Today I would like to talk about texture.

When I started to write about this topic, I realized that perhaps I needed to define "texture" to best make my point. The best definition I found was on Web Dictionary: Texture - "the characteristic appearance of a surface having a tactile quality."

Texture on a plant is about the surface of the leaves and flowers. Are they smooth? Are they rough? But the garden as a whole has its own tactile quality. The garden's texture is about leaf shape and size, varying heights of plants AND the actual physical structure of the leaf. All combine together to give the garden its characteristic appearance. The garden's "tactile quality" can be viewed when standing outside viewing the scene in person, but it is even more apparent in a picture. The pictures I've included here are good examples of this. (These pictures, as yesterday's, were taken at Uncanoonuc Mt. Perennials.) The light in the garden weaves through the plants, playing off the different forms and making the textures come alive. In a 2-dimensional photo, the shaded areas give the forms strong shape and highlight their variety. Rocks, petals, grasses, thorny spikes - all add variability in the garden's texture to create interest. the way light plays off of them is of particular interest.

Even a garden with mainly one color can be attractive if you create it with texture in mind. In the green garden in the middle (above) notice how the light weaves in and out of the leaves to create strong shadows. When you add a little color to a very textured scene, the interest value is peeked. Here a little blue increases the appeal of the texture with just a dash of color.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Color Harmony

The following is excerpted from my September 2006 Garden Portraits Newsletter:

According to Vincent Van Gogh, “Color in a picture is like enthusiasm in life.” The vibrant colors found in my images demonstrate the beauty of the natural world and aim to provide an uplifting visual experience. Color can elicit powerful emotions. I believe that a fusion of colors promotes well-being. Mixing festive warm colors such as red with appropriate quiet cool tones, offers up a harmony that is felt in the soul. Color harmonies encourage a “joie de vivre,” making us feel alive and happy when we view them.

“In visual experiences, harmony is something that is pleasing to the eye. It engages the viewer and it creates an inner sense of order, a balance in the visual experience. When something is not harmonious, it's either boring or chaotic. At one extreme is a visual experience that is so bland that the viewer is not engaged. The human brain will reject under-stimulating information. At the other extreme is a visual experience that is so overdone, so chaotic that the viewer can't stand to look at it.” (See Color Matters) It is the job of an artist to create color harmonies to engage and delight the viewer.

As a garden photographer, I seek pleasing color compositions that speak to one’s heart. I want my viewer to identify with nature, to feel a passion for the earth and what it has to offer. I want the viewer to either see things and feel calming emotions that he has never experienced or I want to bring him back to a familiar place of peace. Nature is a source of healing and viewing its harmonies should help us commune with all it has to offer.

Recently, my good friend and naturopathic doctor Dr. Sara Thyr wrote about the color green. According to Dr. Thyr, “Green is restful and energizing at the same time. When we spend time in nature, not only are we getting away from the harried craziness of our daily lives, we are soaking up the essence of healing.” In the garden, green combines with vibrant yellow, orange, red, purple, pink, and blue for a showy display celebrating life itself. Follow the changing colors throughout the year and experience the vitality of life alongside the passing of time. Profuse harmonizing colors make me feel grounded and alive.

• When choosing colors — whether decorating your home, planning your garden, or putting your kids in complementary outfits for their next photo session — choose contrasting colors. Yellow and purple, red and green, and blue and orange offset each other to create color harmony.

• Mix different tones of color to create fresh textures .

• Don’t be afraid of vivid color. Use accents of hot pink, bright orange, or sunny yellow to
brighten your face or walls. A brilliant blue scarf can make the color come out in your cheeks and a painting with passionate red can make your living space more welcoming.

• When trying to create color harmonies, start with a color that really appeals to you —one that
speaks to your soul. Add on complementary colors in many different shades.

• Don’t be afraid to experiment with color and you may stumble upon a combination that speaks to you on a base level.

The photos in this entry are from Uncanoonuc Mountain Perennials in Goffstown NH. Owner Nettie Rynearson plays with color in the garden more effectively than anyone I know.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

First Sign of Spring: The March Pessimist

Yesterday, I saw the leaves of a pansy within my foundation plantings. My daughter and I were returning from a walk and the green leaves glistened at us. I find it strange that this is the first sign of spring I have seen. We still have a foot of snow on the ground, yet it slowly melts away from the driveway and walkways. Wasn't I supposed to see a crocus first? I was left excited and at the same time unsatisfied with my first sign of spring. The ground is still cold -- brown and white predominate. When I looked closer at it, small green leaves were sprouting up. Weeds?!!!! I get to start with weeds?!!!! "Well, weeds do mean I will be able to work the soil soon," I tell myself.

Then I start thinking about chemicals...I was up last night thinking (worrying?) about the new vegetable garden I'm planning. As the snow creeps away from the driveway I notice that the grass is green. It is not supposed to be green yet! In autumn, I canceled the lawn service my husband convinced me to get a year ago. I imagine the chemicals infiltrating the lawn, my perennials, my (organic?) gardens. I worry about those chemicals in the vegetable garden that doesn't exist yet. When I turn over the grass to prepare a plot, surely I will not find worms in there. Surely they have run to the neighbors brown lawn, making the soil beautiful for any organic gardening he has planned. I have ruined my plan for expanded chemical free goodies that will feed my family all through the season. Curses chemical lawn services! And what about all of the salt we dumped on the driveway this winter? What about those invasive vines that were strangling the trees in my forest? Did I get rid of them? Did I kill the trees too with the chemicals I felt I had to use to get rid of those rotten things that I couldn't pull up?

The snow won't melt fast enough. I"ll never get the gazebo repainted this year. Now what were those new bulbs I planted and where did I put them? I"m sure that the chipmunks will get to them before I ever get to see them....maybe that is why I haven't seen a crocus yet. They ate them!

The March pessimist comes around every year. My gardens will never be perfect. Last year 8 grasses that decorated my yard died. I almost lost the hollies. The gardens still went on. I replaced the grasses with other plants. I anticipate the growing season with great excitement, but I must wait almost another two months until things are really under way. It gives me time to reflect on the past mistakes and worry about their effects on the future of my garden. I learn more every year. Come mid-April the snow should be totally gone. It's really not the long from now. (Then again, a month is 1/12th of a year. when you look at it that way it does seem like a long time. HARUMPPPH!)

I promise beautiful colorful sunny pictures tomorrow. I"ll put the March pessimist in her place.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I want a greenhouse!

Today I want a greenhouse! I want it now! The snow came back. It wasn't supposed to come back. This past weekend, I told my husband that spring was on the way and he laughed at me. "There will be more snow," he said. We had some nice melting going on, despite the two feet remaining on the ground. I was hopeful...Then, I opened my eyes this morning. SNOW! And to top it off, it snowed all morning. Okay, so it didn't stick well and we don't have to plow. But it did snow and I am incensed. I am done, done, done with snow. (Do not laugh at me mother! You who live in Florida. Just wait until August and then I will be the one laughing. HA!)

So, I want a greenhouse. My husband says that it is cheaper than moving. (I've been hinting at wanting to move to Hawaii, but he refuses to respond to me on that one. Perhaps though this "hint" was what made him more open-minded to a greenhouse...hmmm)

I received my bio-domes from Parks Seeds last week, but they are certainly not the same as a greenhouse. The idea of the bio-dome is lovely and in actuality I'm sure it will be remarkable, starting my veggies indoors this year and giving them a leg up on the growing season...but imagine walking into a glass house, ripe with the scents of soil and plants. This house would be filled with the aura of happy plants, growing despite the snow on the ground. The sun would always shine on my greenhouse. I could grow herbs all year long! I could even put a rose bush in there (couldn't I?)

I've heard of a wide variety of greenhouses and methods for getting one:

1. salvaging old windows to fabricate one's own design from scratch (I'm not talented enough to do that, but maybe my ever-so handsome and talented husband could if I can pull him away from his plane building. Did I mention how handsome he is and what a wonderful husband he is? Flattery will get one anywhere.)

2. acting too busy to even consider finding my own greenhouse / acting sooo busy that my friends feel sorry for me and decide to surprise me one day when I get home with a greenhouse that they bought and put together for me. (One of the gardeners I interviewed for my book said this happened to her, but I think she really was too busy and she was away from home a lot more than I am....hmmm.)

3. Finding a greenhouse on Craig's list that someone is so anxious to get rid of that they sell it to me dirt cheap AND offer to put it up for me.

4. Winning this week's powerball that is valued at over $200,000,000 and moving to Hawaii...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Garden Decoration

As the snow melts, my garden statues and decorative items reappear. I'll know that spring is here when my little bunny in the front garden is visible. The bunny was left by the previous owners and has become a friend to our family. He belongs more to this landscape than we do since he has been here longer. I often wonder what stories he can tell me. I wonder why he was left behind while the previous owner told us that her birdbath was coming with her and was not part of the house deal. Why was this little bunny discarded? Is he just a poor cheap bunny with which she never formed a connection?

Three garden statues came with me from my previous home. None of them were expensive, but they have all become part of our family. I have a geisha woman who is supposed to be hooked up to a fountain so she can pour water from a leaf in her hands. We attempted a pond at my last house by sinking a small one in the ground, but we never got as far as running the electricity. I also have two Buddhas, denoting my garden as a meditative space and welcoming visitors. We also have small new statues in my daughter's shade "reading" garden. We bought a little duck, bunny, and other child-friendly characters so she can talk to them or play with them while she is enjoying her very own quiet space. I"m sure she will grow attached to them as I've grown attached to my statues.

The snow has melted just enough so that now I can see the decorative, rusty metal wall hanging that I leaned up against a tree last year. It stands about 4 feet tall and next to my gazebo like a discarded used tire. Last year I decided to add more whimsy like this to my garden and move away from just "traditional" statues. I have tree faces (the latest public craze I think) -- two plastic eyes, a nose, and mouth hung on trees with nails. The four faces have definite personalities and we go check on them once in awhile. One is always sleeping with his eyes closed. And the one that looks like Granddad Bob with his tickly mustache always makes us remark on the fact that he looks like Granddad Bob...None of them ever answer our questions "How are you today?" Anything new happening in the garden that we should know about?"

My garden decorations are rarely planned in any meaningful way. I usually just say something like "Hey, let's go get some garden animals to keep you company!" or I admire something at a garden center and bring it home. I never really thought deeply about decorating beyond plants until last summer when I visited the gardeners for the book I am writing. From whimsy to fine art, garden decoration really set a tone for the gardens and reflected the owners personalities. Garden decoration is much like the decor for a room. The rooms in my home also contain things I've picked up through my life travels. I don't usually design my whole living space. I'll bring home a clock I love and find a place for it. Or, some pictures I fall in love with on vacation will come home with me and the room will be rearranged to fit them in. If I form a connection with it than it warms up my space for me.

At the beginning of this entry I've included some pictures of garden decorations I encountered last year. I'd love to hear about your garden decorations. Please leave comments and share ideas.

Monday, March 10, 2008


One of the things I love to do is to stand in front of a crowd and speak. This was not always the case. I once dreaded getting in front of people. My voice would shake because I would forget to breathe. I'd forget what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it no matter how many times I practiced. When I was through making a presentation I couldn't remember if I said what I had planned. I wouldn't know if my audience enjoyed the talk. I would just know that I had not and that I made a complete fool out of myself.

The first talk I clearly remember giving was at an undergraduate research conference at CalTech during my Senior year of college. The wonderful thing about it was that we were all cut a little slack. At least that is what I told myself. (It's all about the little voice that you play over and over again in your head.) We were students after all and this experience was meant for learning. I made it through just fine. But the next few years of presentations were not so easy. After schooling, as a professional, I told myself that I was getting paid for my talks. I asked myself what would happen if people hated what I had to say. I never answered that question. The open ended query reverberated in my head leaving me nervous and certainly not at my best. Perhaps I was worried that they would shoot me on the spot. Maybe they would fire me? Maybe no one would ever show up to hear me talk again? After one presentation I made with a colleague at another institution a man in the audience (who was one of the biggest supporters of the library where I worked told me) "Don't quit your day job." That surely did a lot for my confidence, but I was not fired nor did they shoot me on the spot. But maybe he never returned for another one of my talks.

It wasn't until I began teaching that I started to enjoy speaking. First I began teaching computer classes to small groups of three or four at the library. Then, I moved on to teaching computer to Seniors at a local college. I became a young adult librarian and led book discussions. I then became a self-employed archives consultant and had to speak to large groups about all things related to historical records. The little voice in my head started saying, "They are interested in what I have to say!" Instead of screaming negativities that little voice edges me on. I love the art of "presentation" and like to think of it as a forum to exchange ideas with others. I am now asked to speak at many professional conferences in my field. Feedback on what I have to say is usually good. (Nobody's perfect.) I have often been told that the passion for my subject comes through and this is most important to me for I am nothing if not passionate.

So...what does this have to do with gardens or the arts? (It took me long enough to get to this point today didn't it?) This morning I was writing a presentation for the local Craftworkers Guild who have asked me to speak at their upcoming meeting this month. I will be presenting The Gardeners Soul for the first time. Someone was interested enough in the topic to invite me to speak so that's a good start. I am a little anxious about revealing my idea to the world, but I think I am more excited than anxious. That is what I am trying to get the voice in my head to repeat anyway. I am passionate about this subject. I am passionate about my work. I am passionate about nature. I am passionate about the act of creating, whether it is crafting or making "fine art." I am excited to share my passion with other to help elicit their passions. Maybe the audience will have a lot of ideas to share with me.

Now I need only to get over me fear of sending manuscripts out to publishers...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Tiny Dancers

I sometimes turn my photographic attention indoors to tiny dancers. This past week I photographed my daughter's ballet class, which has become an annual tradition. What a pleasure it is to see the kids' tiny pointed toes and great big smiles. The girls remind me of tiny blooming flowers. Every year with their growth comes greater poise. It is amazing how little ones who otherwise run and play with great vigor, but often little grace, can stand so beautifully in ballet shoes. They mind their teacher and reach up their arms like beautiful sunflowers facing the summer sun -- shoulders back and heads held high.

I look forward to April (more likely May in my yard, where the snow is still two feet high) when my tiny floral dancers begin to peak their heads out of the ground. Daffodils and Tulips will sway in the spring breeze reminding me of my tiny dancers in the studio.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Depth of Field

I love to play with blurring portions of floral images to create a soft, romantic feeling. In a field of flowers, I focus on a blossom that catches my eye and allow the rest of the image to blur. For those who are not accustomed to using the manual settings on your camera, this is a great way to try it out. You can also try this using the aperture priority setting if you are not comfortable with the fully manual mode. There are many web sites that explain how to do this, so I won't go into detail or use any more jargon here to explain it. (Here's a good detailed explanation if you want to learn more.) A macro lens will intensify the blur of the background. I use a 1:1 100 mm macro lens for my images. In a field of flowers, I can get in very close, focus on a small detail and blur out the rest. I use a Canon 30D digital SLR (DSLR) camera. Many "point and shoot" cameras also now offer macro settings and a variety of modes for shooting. I have a point and shoot that I carry in my purse for "emergencies" when I don't have my "fancy" SLR with me.

An "emergency" may involve passing a wildflower flower field that I didn't expect while driving, doing a quick U-turn, and checking my glove compartment to make sure that I have Tecnu before I wade into a field of wildflowers. (Tecnu is a product that you rub on your skin to prevent a poison ivy rash.)

The image on the left was taken in my own garden. The one on the right was taken in a wildflower field across from my local Target. I'm sure many people pass it every day and don't even notice it. You can find beauty in the most unexpected places. Become familiar with the features on your camera. This will allow you to better use it as an artistic tool to express your creative vision. The famous photographer Dorothea Lange said "The camera is an Instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." The more you practice with a camera, the more you will spot natural wonders all around you. The more you practice, the better you will be able to work with nature to express its awe.

Friday, March 7, 2008

More on the Outdoor Art Exhibit

Okay, during the writing process yesterday I think I realized that I don't want to do outdoor art shows this year. I bet you garnered that from my negative comments about the experience. There are some positive aspects to showing your work outdoors.
  • You can gain a lot of experience by watching the well-seasoned exhibiters.
  • You meet a lot of great people. Artists in general (like gardeners) are very willing to share their knowledge. (Some extra special people may even help you set up your tent!)
  • Many shows offer awards in many categories for exhibitors. Winning awards looks great on a resume, can help you gain some confidence, and might even give you a little pocket cash.
  • Some photographers are very successful in shows. With keen marketing skill and the right subject, you can be one of these people.
Here are some pointers if you do decide to do an outdoor show. There is a lot of heavy work involved with doing art shows. They take all day, or all weekend, or a few days. You must be prepared to buy and set up your own tent and your own racks. You must hang your own work. This process takes an hour or two. Expect to spend the same amount of time on cleanup too. If possible, bring along a helper.

Be prepared with marketing material -- postcards, brochures, business cards, an artist statement. I use VistaPrint for great prices on printing. They do a nice job on reproducing color too. For information about writing an artists statement see Online Art Magazine or see my artist statement as a sample. I don't include my awards online since I dedicate a whole page to them, but I do have them in my printed version. Be prepared to talk to interested visitors to your booth. Don't be shy if someone asks you a question. Viewers want to know more about you. If they make a connection with you they are more likely to buy. If possible, have a web site to which you can refer people, but try to make the sale while they are visiting. Don't tell people if they are not prepared to buy now that they can go to your site and think about it. They usually don't come back. Do make your exhibit space look great and professional. Set it up at home first as a trial if possible.

Be prepared with incidentals too. Bring your own food and water. Be prepared for the port-a-potty with sanitizer and bath tissue. Be prepared for anything with tape, rope, scissors and first aid. Feel free to bring along music, your art, or a book to keep you busy during slow times.

If nothing else, your art show will give you experience and help you feel out your market. Everyone should try at least a couple. Who knows? You may really like it and make some money from creating the work you love to do.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Fine Art Photography and the Outdoor Art Exhibit

As the art show outdoor season gears up, I am deciding whether or not I want to sit it out. I've done local shows for the past two years and honestly have not had much success with them. Photography is a funny kind of art. Many people think that they can just pick up a camera and take their own "fine art" pictures because with a click of the camera anyone can have an image of some sort. They wonder why they should pay for someone else's images. "Why should I pay Melissa for a picture of a pansy when I can just go out and photograph the one in my garden?" In other words, many people see painting as a fine art, but don't see photography as such.

The favored "fine art" photographs in my area are images of the country lifestyle - wagons on a hill, barns, fences running through lupine meadows, ducks in a pond. If the location of the spot is identifiable, It makes the image all the more marketable. But do people consider these fine art? (Probably some and not all are deemed fine art by the purchaser. Other people I suspect buy these images because they give them prideful feelings about New England or evoke memories a a specific time in their lives unrelated to the artistic merit of the image itself.) These are not my kind of photos. I don't feel the warm fuzzies looking at rolling hills that lead to a horse in a pasture. I don't feel some sense of nostalgia looking at a picture of the statue of a mill girl with the local Manchester mill yard in the background. I feel as if I've seen them all before. But this is my bias, I suppose. With the risk of offending a few of my fellow photographers, these are the kinds of images that I picture on a postcard, not hanging on the wall of my home. Or, maybe I feel this way just because I know landscape photography is not one of my forte's?

What should a fine art photograph be? Most of the photos that grab me are not the ones I would hang on the walls of my home. I like provocative newsworthy photos. Dorothea Lange is a personal favorite. Her Depression era photographs of people with intense blank stares and hard lined faces capture me. The many textures captured in black and white are nothing short of beautiful fine art. The work of Alfred Stieglitz also captivates me. His great use of line and his ability to make an every day subject something to think about is poetic. Imogen Cunningham is my other favorite historical photographer. I relate best to her probably because she spent so many years in the domestic sphere, fighting to keep her art alive by taking photos of her surroundings. (She also has the fine distinction of producing art that I would hang on my walls.) No one can capture a flower or figure more sensually than she did, yet her news work was just as thought provoking as the rest of her colleagues when she was able to get out there and do it.

In my mind, a fine art photograph should have outstanding composition and should be thought provoking. If you look at my florals and have nothing to say about them, they are not for you. If you look at them and begin to discuss their vibrant color and composition then I've done my job. Better yet if you look at them and say, "I've never known that flower could be so beautiful," or "I've never noticed the detail on those tiny petals," I have made you think about nature. I have chosen the subject of florals because I have a lot to say about it. I just happen to be lucky that it looks good as a decorative object on a wall too.

An artist doesn't want you to take the world around you for granted. She wants you to see things you might not notice if she hasn't communicated it to you through a picture. The camera is just a tool to present a vision, just as a paintbrush is a tool. If you have something to say with a camera, go ahead and do it. There are a lot of talent artists out there with vision and I hope that you are one of them. But, if I do decide to do an art show this year, please don't tell me you could take a picture like mine if you haven't even tried.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Mom is an "indoor" plant person, mostly. When I was a kid, African violets were her main interest. The den connected to her bedroom was filled with shelving and grow lamps for her indulgence. She belonged to an African violet club and would regularly show her best blooming plants. She would coax and cajole as she spent much time watering and caring for them. I loved attending shows with her and seeing all the wonderful color -- plant blossoms intermixed with colorful ribbons. She encouraged us to grow our own violets and other houseplants on the windowsills of our bedrooms so we could learn sensitivity and the responsibility that comes with caring for another living thing. I had a great deal of fun growing and sharing in mom's passion. Today Mom fancies orchids, but she lives in Florida so they are as much outdoor plants as indoor ones. She now belongs to an orchid club and still brings home many colorful ribbons.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Judith Handelsman's book Growing Myself and I discussed my problem with forgetting to water or over-watering. This winter I have made a concerted effort to showcase my plants, talk to them,. move them around the house, and water them properly. Most of them have doubled in size. Their leaves are shiny. I must say that they really look happy. Treating indoor plants like beloved pets has brought me happiness as well.

One thing that I have always known. Houseplants can be fun to photograph. I regard every photograph I take of a plant as a portrait. Every plant has a best side and a unique personality that I hope to bring out in my pictures. (I provide a few samples here.) When you photograph a plant, look for unique angles, lines, and colors. I will usually take ten or more shots of an individual plant before I feel that I've captured its character. I spend time walking around the plant looking through the camera and shooting. When I get the "perfect" shot I usually know it. I get a satisfied feeling that is difficult to explain. I feel as if I have bonded with the plant or blossom and that we understand each other - like we have become good friends.

One of the gardeners that I visited this summer said that gardening to her is like becoming friends with nature. You learn to trust each other and acknowledge a mutual dependence. All plants offer us a piece of nature. It is something special when we can bring nature indoors. That is what a houseplant has to give.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Senior Portraits

It certainly helps to have a super-photogenic model for any photo shoot (like my friend Taylor here,) but an outstanding setting also adds to the memory. What was most important to you when you had your photo taken for the yearbook? You wanted to look good and you wanted to be remembered looking good.

Way, way back when I was in high school, seniors did not have a choice about photographers. They gave us a time to report to school at the end of the summer. The photographer handed us a plastic comb, had us step on stage, snapped the photo and yelled "NEXT!" Now, first of all, summer time is never a great time for me to look good. The humidity doesn't agree with my hair. And that little plastic comb certainly does nothing to help the situation. Also, as I recall, I had an allergy attack on the day of my scheduled appointment. Not wanting to be one of the blank spaces in the yearbook that read "no photo," I dragged myself down sneezing and puffy faced. Not the ideal me.

Today seniors want to be shown in their most perfect state. They want to be shown doing the things they love, with sentimental objects, and in memorable locations. As an on location photographer, this is a great scenario for me. If the senior is A. the type who either enjoys having his/her photo taken and is willing to model OR B. shy, but has an intense interest in something and would like to incorporate that something into the shoot, my job is almost easy.

Taylor's session was ideal. She enjoys the outdoors and is an avid horsewoman. With these things in mind, I took her to the local farm and shot her pictures among wildflowers and horses. We climbed over fences together and spent the better part of two hours chatting and having a good time. The warm autumn day had the perfect lighting with the help of some farm buildings to shield the sun's rays and just a tad and a line of trees to help direct that gorgeous yellow light. The wildflower blossoms off-set Taylors eyes. She brought a few changes of shirt so that we could play with color. Above I've including just a few of our favorite shots from the session.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Garden Cemeteries

I was driving behind a funeral procession today and it made me think to write about this topic. I have always had a fascination for cemeteries -- ever since I was a little girl and my dad took me to Robert Fulton's grave in the Trinity Churchyard in New York City. I looked forward to going to work with Dad so that we could walk through the cemetery and so that I could raid the drawer full of Trident gum hidden behind the counter where he worked on the floor of the American Stock Exchange. I like to think that the history of the church was the more exciting of the two enticements...but I'm not sure about that...

In college, I was fascinated by my American Art History class. Professor Witzling at the University of New Hampshire introduced me to gravestone iconography. The art and history of gravestone carving called to me and I spent a semester on stipend to study the graveyards of New England. My dear, dear, patient boyfriend (now my husband) traveled up and down the coasts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire with me to visit graveyards. He carried a stick to scrape away the earth when gravestone images were blocked by dirt and grass that I still have in a memory box somewhere. My Senior Thesis, Gravestones: A Reflection on American Lifestyles, was accepted for presentation at an Undergraduate research conference at CalTech University...okay, I digress...

Besides the imagery on the gravestones themselves, graveyards also hold a fascination for me. I feel that there is no location that better emits a sense of place than a graveyard. When you walk into the graveyard landscape, you immediately feel the serenity and spirituality of your surroundings. The graveyard allows me to feel in touch with nature and humanity in a way that no other place can, with the exception of a garden. And luckily for all of us, humanity decided in the nineteenth century that the cemetery should itself become a garden.

America's first "Garden Cemetery" was Mount Auburn in Massachusetts. Rolling landscapes, monuments, statues, and bountiful plantings at Mt. Auburn allude to English styles of gardening. In this garden, man and nature are one. Nature welcomes man back to his beginnings and the cycle of life is complete.

Twenty years after my formal gravestone studies, I visit graveyards with my camera. There are three local graveyards of which I am aware that follow the Mt. Auburn example. Friends of the Valley Cemetery in Manchester New Hampshire is particularly worth of note. Here garden walkers will find labels with names of tree species along with an inspiring landscape design.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Garden Photoessay Collage

One fun thing to do with a series of portraits and garden images is to combine them in a memorable collage. The images to the left were taken at the home of a local garden enthusiast. At the top of the collage it says "A childhood in a garden can grow a lifetime of happiness." The portrait of Meghan missing her front teeth will forever bring back memories for her mom. Dad stood behind me making his daughter laugh so we could see that lovely toothless grin. A green blanket was used to keep Meghan's lovely white dress clean. All of the flower images were taken in mom's garden and since the garden is something really special to her, the end-product of our garden portrait session is extra special.

I love telling garden stories and I advertise it using some of my favored floral images in the collage to the left. The image of my daughter dancing in black-eyed susans can tell the whole story - nature is beautiful, flowers are fun, girls love to dance...But all of these images together show my style of photography while really showing off the loveliness we can behold in the garden and incorporate into our daily lives.

Try to think of your photos in groups and create something with deep personal meaning. If you are not using a digital camera and/or not adept with photoshop, try printing your photos and using a scrapbook technique.