"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Let’s Pretend It’s Spring!  (Photo Set 1 of 2)

Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 1 of 2)

In the past few days, we’ve bounced from chilly Winter Evening Silhouettes to something that faintly resembles spring. It may not last — who knows what the next six weeks will bring? — but since it’s here for a few days, I spent a couple hours on Friday crawling around in the back yard, poking my camera among the plants and their pots, looking for signs of emerging spring. I do something similar almost every year, periodically getting snapshots of the tiny greenery and flower buds as the garden comes to life and the southeastern winter subsides. I plant mostly perennials and experiment with one or two new plants each year, so there are always some surprises. Photographing the early buds gets me to pay attention to what’s happening in the garden and gives me a chance to practice my closeup photography.

I took 99 shots with my sexy macro lens, using ISO 100 or ISO 200, manual camera settings, manual focus, and no flash for all the photos. No tripod, either, because the three extra legs make me fall down. I’ve learned from practice that with this lens I can use a shutter speed as low as 1/30 of a second and get images I’m satisfied with, handheld and holding my breath, relying on the camera’s continuous shooting of three frames to get me one that’s sharper than the others; and relying on underexposing some and letting Lightroom recover the exposure and detail when I process the RAW images. The continuous advance for macros might be a crutch, though; I may stop doing that since I end out with three times as many images to import and review in Lightroom and I’ve noticed recently that in most cases I keep the first image and throw out the second and third duplicates. It makes sense when you think about it — at least for stationery subjects — that my grip is steadiest on the first of a series of shots taken from a single press of the shutter.

After cranking up Lightroom and reviewing results, I discarded the typical two-thirds of the photos, marveling — as always — about the ones that looked great in the camera’s viewfinder but looked like crap when seen on the monitor. A photographic mystery, that! Adjustments to the photos included some cropping and straightening; basic contrast, brightness, and minor color adjustments; and a quick run through the Nik Collection to add saturation, remove color cast, and shift (your) focus to what I wanted (you) to see. I exported the photos and created nine small galleries by plant type; below are the first four and I’ll share the remaining galleries in a second post.

Gallery One: Clematis

Clematis is a fast-growing flowering vine that turns thin and brittle toward the end of each growing season as the leaves dry and fall from the plant. The spring growth that appears on the woody stems looks like emerging leaves, but is typically the tips of new vines that will stretch their way out of the old ones. You never know where the new growth will appear, so I always leave the hibernating vine intact, only trimming off dead wood when the plant has started blooming. In these photos, the slight purple cast on the plants or in the background comes from the burgundy color of the stairs leading to my back yard, where I have these clematis vines growing in two pots.

Gallery Two: Lamb’s Ear

Lamb’s Ear is a mounding and spreading plant, notable for the soft white fluff on leaves that vary in color from green to blue-green to very light blue. The bulk of the plant dies off with the first frost or freezing temperatures, with new growth popping out from the roots and stems that remain. The red in the backgrounds — especially in the last image — comes from the brickwork in my courtyard.

Gallery Three: Wisteria

The tiny buds below are from one of two wisteria vines in my garden, one growing on a trellis and this one growing in a large pot. The earliest leaves produced by the vine will have a slightly fuzzy texture that is apparent even at this stage. As the vine matures, it grows so fast you can almost see it get bigger as you stand near it; it easily adds six to eight inches of growth every day in June, July, and August. With adequate sun, it will produce clusters of purple blooms in April or May; but even without blooms, the vine grows beautifully.

As a rookie gardener fifteen years ago, I thought it was amazing how the one on a trellis on my deck pulled its way along the trellis and up the side of the house, until I realized one day that it had grown into the attic through one of the roof vents. Pulling out twenty to thirty feet of the vine was quite a chore as it twists firmly around anything it can get a grip on. It’s no longer allowed to grow that much; I keep it trimmed and mostly off the deck, because if I ignore it for even a few days, it tries to take the attic back. It’s sometimes considered an invasive species … why am I not surprised? ๐Ÿ™‚

As with the Lamb’s Ear, the background red comes from the bricks in my courtyard.

Gallery Four: Hot Stuff Sedum

Who can resist a plant with “Hot Stuff” in its name? In late summer, sedum produces tiny, delicate flowers in clumps, but for most of the growing season, shows as repeating leaf mounds pushed up from the soil that shrivel and fall off in the early fall. Miniature versions of the mature leaves appear in the fall or early winter, after most of the summer growth has started to die off. They stay pretty much like this all winter, then start to grow out in April or May. I’ve had two of these for about five years, in pots that they’re starting to outgrow, so they’ll get new homes in a few weeks. Individual leaves are barely a half-inch wide and have a thick, rubbery texture, reminiscent of a soft cactus.

Thanks for reading and taking a look! More soon!


  1. Wow! You really did have fun. I am jealous. These shots are so beautiful and I love this time of year when the little green buds start popping out.
    I passed a popcorn ball tree in full bloom on my way home yesterday but could not stop to take a picture. Spring is on, baby!

    1. Dale

      Thank you very much, I had a blast! It’s still early, but with a fairly warm winter, buds are popping out everywhere already. I have a flowering shrub called Eastern Snowball — which puts out flowers like the popcorn ball tree — but it hasn’t started to do anything yet. A few more weeks and it will push out some really neat looking leaves, so I’ll put together a gallery of those when it does. Thanks for commenting!

    1. Dale

      “I went yesterday and took shots of snowdrops in an attempt to lure Spring out of the ground.” — did it work? ๐Ÿ™‚ I liked the Sedum also; after posting the photos, I thought it would be a good subject to use for some more macros, experiment with depth-of-field to see if I can get all of the buds in focus even close up. Thanks for commenting!

      1. If the heaps of rain we got the next day are an indication, perhaps I did…
        I would agree that Sedum would make for a good subject for depth of field experimenting, maybe because Sedum has an interesting texture that would make the focus, or lack thereof, naturally interesting.

  2. Yea! Proof of Life! Nice to see these sprouts and something green.
    There’s Chinese Wisteria at the house I grew up in, and you really have to keep an eye on it, the “scout” tendrils would reach out ten or fifteen feet, seemingly overnight, and it would sometimes try to strangle the apple trees.

    1. Dale

      From about May on, I have to keep an eye on those tendrils … it does seem like one day I cut them back, and a few days later I’ll find a couple growing halfway up the house. There’s a Japanese Maple about five feet from mine also; the wisteria definitely tries to take it over, sneaking in quite a few vines that are almost invisible among the maple’s leaves. It’s a cool plant, though, despite having to discourage it from choking things, and I’m thinking about putting in another one. We’ll see … I’m sure I’ll post pictures of it if I do. ๐Ÿ™‚

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