Epic Lilies (3 of 3)

From Lilies by Naomi Slade:

“The Victorian passion for botany is legendary. Daring chaps dashed around the globe and new species poured into gardens to the delight and amazement of all who beheld them.

“But gather plants together and, sooner or later, hybrids will emerge; sometimes naturally but often as a result of an irrepressible human desire to improve on nature. While fabulous, lilies had gained a reputation for being challenging and capricious to cultivate. They were exciting; they were expensive; and they were quite likely to die on you after a couple of years. Inevitably, they attracted a certain type of well-heeled horticultural brinksmanship, right up until amenable Lilium regale emerged, bringing down both prices and the level of skill required to cultivate this most desirable of flowers.”


Below is the last batch of photos of my Tiny Epic Asiatic Lily, a few more black-background renderings. The previous posts are:

Epic Lilies (1 of 3)

Epic Lilies (2 of 3)

Coming soon: more lilies!

With spring winding down, the summer varieties are starting to appear — and I’ve made several trips to Oakland Cemetery’s gardens to hunt down and capture some of the rather astonishing varieties that grow well there in large, cultivated spaces (as opposed to pots in my back yard). With a tropical rainstorms hitting my area over the next few days, I’ll be sticking pretty close to home, so will be sorting and processing white ones, yellow ones, red ones, orange ones, and blends of pink and red lilies that (I think) are new to the garden — or at least new to me. Stay tuned…

… and thanks for taking a look!





Epic Lilies (2 of 3)

From Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi:

“The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the golden age of plant collectors: David Douglas who brought the Douglas fir, the Monterey pine and many other conifers to England; John Jeffrey who followed Douglas to the American West; E. H. [Ernest Henry] Wilson who gave us the Chinese dogwood, the Regale lily and the dazzling Davidia or dove tree that in bloom seems to be aflutter with white birds; Reginald Farrer, George Forrest and dozens of others who changed the face of our gardens….

Plant collecting was a dangerous business then. Douglas was torn to pieces by a wild bull in Hawaii; Farrar met his end in Upper Burma; Jeffrey vanished into the California gold rush; Forrest died of heart failure on his seventh expedition to Yunnan. And since that time the floral storehouses of western Asia have become if anything more difficult to penetrate….

“We hear no more of famous botanist-explorers or newly discovered specimens for the garden. Today it is the hybridizers who revolutionize our plantings, and of these none has wrought more changes than the American lily breeders in the last thirty years. We can now be said to dominate this field, though the lilies themselves have come from every part of the earth.”

From 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells:

Ernest Wilson, called ‘Chinese Wilson’ because he explored so extensively in China, just escaped sacrificing his life to lilies. He went twice to China, the second time in 1910, to collect the regal lily. He had gathered an enormous load of lily bulbs and was on his way home with them when his mule train was caught by an avalanche. He jumped out of his sedan chair just before it was hurled down a precipice. His leg was shattered by a falling rock. There was a mule train coming the other way, and the only way it could pass without, perhaps, causing another avalanche was for Wilson to lie on his back while more than forty mules stepped over him. He reached safety but was left with what he called a ‘lily limp.'”


I don’t normally repeat quotations from one blog post to another (in fact, it’s a “thing” for me to double-check my blog to be sure I’m not repeating quotes) — but I did this time because of the references to Ernest Wilson, a British explorer and plant collector active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The first quote expresses the risks such explorers took as they scoured the world botanically; the second describes in more detail an occasion where one of them almost lost their lives in search of flowering plants.

I honestly never knew such things had occurred; it’s becoming a fun learning experience for me to begin seeing the historical through-line represented by the lives of botanists and naturalists. What I began by simply looking for neat quotations about the flowers I was photographing seems to be morphing into a new (for me!) view into history from an unfamiliar (and unexpected) perspective. I always start a new post by looking for quotations, and now end out digging a little into the lives and times of people I come across, gathering bits of new information in the way I like to learn — a rather messy accumulation that I don’t worry too much about sorting out but just pile on instead.

From a Western or European perspective, the period (roughly) from 1800 through the early 1900s represent the culmination of the “Age of Exploration” — which also coincided with expanding European empire, the rise of the United States as a world-influencing power, the explosion of technological and scientific inventions, and the gradual (though debatable) increase in leisure time. Botany, as a science, has undoubtedly ancient roots; but it coalesced and connected to consumer culture and leisure time during the 1800s as more people became capable of outfitting their homes and gardens with new, and even exotic, plant species discovered by the plant explorers or developed by horticulturists. You may have never thought about it this way, but the fact that you (if you’re a gardener, or even if you’re not) can acquire plants in handy packaging to populate your garden or feature in a kitchen window has a direct historical connection to the plant explorers of the past.

Or, in other words, your trips to a nursery or Home Depot to buy plants and gardening supplies are actually a late-Victorian era invention. Isn’t that something?


With a thankful nod to Ernest Wilson: The photos below are a second batch of Tiny Epic Asiatic Lilies from my garden (the first photos are here: Epic Lilies (1 of 3)), rendered with black backgrounds rather than bricks from my courtyard.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!






Epic Lilies (1 of 3)

From Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi:

“The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the golden age of plant collectors: David Douglas who brought the Douglas fir, the Monterey pine and many other conifers to England; John Jeffrey who followed Douglas to the American West; E. H. [Ernest Henry] Wilson who gave us the Chinese dogwood, the Regale lily and the dazzling Davidia or dove tree that in bloom seems to be aflutter with white birds; Reginald Farrer, George Forrest and dozens of others who changed the face of our gardens….

Plant collecting was a dangerous business then. Douglas was torn to pieces by a wild bull in Hawaii; Farrar met his end in Upper Burma; Jeffrey vanished into the California gold rush; Forrest died of heart failure on his seventh expedition to Yunnan. And since that time the floral storehouses of western Asia have become if anything more difficult to penetrate….

“We hear no more of famous botanist-explorers or newly discovered specimens for the garden. Today it is the hybridizers who revolutionize our plantings, and of these none has wrought more changes than the American lily breeders in the last thirty years. We can now be said to dominate this field, though the lilies themselves have come from every part of the earth.”


Last year the pandemic shut everything down right about the time those of us with gardens in the Southeast would have just started hauling our donkeys to garden centers, stocking up on plants and flowers, dragging home bags of garden soil and pine bark … to begin the spring planting. With so many uncertainties and so much conflicting information flying around, I decided during the first shutdown to stay away from stores as much as possible — and so acquired nothing new for my garden, simply maintaining it and rearranging plants I already had.

But this year: a different story. On the day I hit two weeks after my second COVID-19 vaccine dose, I bought my first batch of new flowering plants in two spring seasons, including the delightful lilies featured in the galleries below (and in the next two posts). On that first and subsequent trips, I also acquired some new begonias, a hydrangea for a large pot, a hibiscus with orange flowers, four canna lilies (two of which joined the goldfish in my pond), bee balm, balloon flowers, and a couple of hostas. Most of them posed for photoshoots while still flowering (and the cannas are just starting to flower now), so will make appearances here over the next few weeks.

This plant is a Tiny Epic Asiatic Lily — whose flowers are a mix of yellow and orange in various saturations, with the centers of each bloom liberally sprinkled with cinnamon colors. The name cracked me up — I mean, isn’t “Tiny Epic” almost like describing something as “Small Big”? — but I think it’s named that way to differentiate this and other Asiatics from larger variants like the Regale lily mentioned in the quote above, or those lilies with big, trumpet-shaped flowers like those I photographed last year at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens (see Summer 2020: Lily Variations (7 of 10)).

Thanks for taking a look!






Tales of Two Grapevines (4 of 4)

From “The Appeal of Black & White” in Black & White Photography by Michael Freeman:

“[Far] from a universal march towards more colourfulness, there is now a significant and growing reverse flow in photography, towards the new black and white. It’s new because it’s created from colour with processing software that makes the experience a delight, which means that you don’t even need to decide at the start that it’s a black-and-white image you’re after. You can even trawl your archives with a reconsiderate eye and look for images that might work more powerfully, or at least differently, in the single range called grayscale.

“So … what is this persistent appeal of black and white? There are some semi-practical answers, and a trawl of internet opinions throws up emphasis on form, shape, line and texture, as you might expect. Basically these all have the root argument that removing the distraction of colour allows you, actually compels you, to concentrate on other things. There is also the corrective argument — when the colour is somehow spoiling your idea for the shot, just switch. However, it seems to me that there must be deeper reasons, maybe not all of them easy to pin down. In fact, the underlying appeal of black and white ought to be difficult to describe, because surely any art form that has the potential to move people must have some enigma to it.”

From “Black & White Craftsmanship” in Black & White Photography by Michael Freeman:

“One recognised darkroom master was Ansel Adams, and he also wrote extensively on the subject. His 1982 book The Print is not just a classic of photo instruction, but peculiarly relevant to contemporary black-and-white digital processing. Peculiar because it confines itself to the wet darkroom and shows none of the technology that we now all use. Relevant because it deals with the fundamentals of turning [an] already-taken shot into a final image….

“Adams was at pains to insist that this wasn’t all about technique by any means. There is, he wrote, ‘great latitude for creative variation and subjective control’, and the process involved ‘endless subtle variations which are yet all tied to the original concept’.

“The reason why Adams and other serious printers made plans — actual physical plans on paper or on a work print — was that the clock was running, literally, whilst the paper was on the easel under the enlarger. Any dodging and burning had to be done in a finite and short space of time. In his book … Adams details the printing of one of his best-known photographs, ‘Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park’, shot in 1944. The basic exposure was 10 seconds, during which time the dodging had to happen — holding back areas that needed less exposure to make them lighter. Burning was always easier — adding exposure to darken areas — although it meant taking care not to let light leak onto any other part of the image….


Burning was done in stages — a few seconds concentrating on one area, followed by another few seconds somewhere else, all of this typically done with a timer on the floor with a foot-operated pedal…. Dodging tools were typically metal circles, ovals, and oblongs at the end of thin rods, often painted red, to which colour the silver bromide paper was insensitive. Burning tools were most commonly your hands, cupped and shaped. Otherwise you cut holes in large sheets of black paper or card. Adams made a distinction between the umbra (shadow) and penumbra (the soft surround), as the latter helped smooth the transition during dodging or burning so that this manipulation would not be noticeable in the final print….

The modern digital equivalent is called feathering, as on a radial filter.”


This is the last of four posts featuring two grapevines growing in my garden. For the first post and more on the series, see Tales of Two Grapevines (1 of 4). For the second post, see Tales of Two Grapevines (2 of 4); and the third post is Tales of Two Grapevines (3 of 4).

For this post, I selected nine photos of each type of grapevine and converted them to black and white. I’ve done a little bit of black and white work before, but converting these grapevine photos seemed like a new experience nonetheless. Because green and yellow colors dominated both the foreground and background of these photos, there was little to differentiate the main subject from the background once the photos were changed to grayscale. So I used Lightroom’s radial filters to remove most of the background, allowing its feathering to leave mostly subtle hints of light around or behind the subject. In some cases, eliminating the background meant that the subject was quite small for the size of the image frame, so I cropped the images to enlarge the subject (though not enough to create excessive noise or loss of detail).

Once I was satisfied with the background appearance of each image, I used Lightroom’s brush tool to add highlights to the more prominent leaves, along with a bit of extra texture and sharpening to increase details. I don’t do that very often with color photos (I typically reject and delete photos that require sharpening to make them look like they’re in focus), but I’ve noticed that when working in black-and-white in Lightroom adding a bit of texture and sharpening has a neat side effect: it brightens the highlights further, creating tiny pixels of light without giving the subject an over-sharpened look. As a last step for each photo, I used Lightroom’s color grading tool to add a bit of silver tone (emulating the matte-finish side of a sheet of aluminum foil) — which is actually done by just slightly increasing the color blue in shadows, midtones, and highlights.

Here are the Catawba Grapevine images…

… and here are those of the Concord Grapevine.


Thanks for reading and taking a look! Next up: Irises!! 🙂

Tales of Two Grapevines (3 of 4)

From The American Gardener by William Cobbett:

“There are many different sorts of grapes, that grow in the woods, climb the trees, cover some of them over, and bear and ripen their fruit. How often do we meet with a vine, in the autumn, with Grapes, called chicken grapes, hanging on it from every bough of an oak or some other timber-tree! This grape resembles, as nearly as possible, what is, in England, called the Black cluster; and, unquestionably, only wants cultivation to give it as good a flavour.”


This is the third of four posts featuring two grapevines growing in my garden. For the first post and more on the series, see Tales of Two Grapevines (1 of 4). For the second post, see Tales of Two Grapevines (2 of 4).

I crammed a few extra photos into this post, having decided after playing around in Lightroom that some of these grapevine images look great in black and white, so I’m working on that for the final post in the series instead of splitting these color images between two posts.

On March 24 and April 21, I swooped into a nearby pharmacy and got my first and second Covid-19 vaccinations, so as of May 5 was considered “fully vaccinated” according to the CDC guidelines. While I’ve not attended any rock concerts or orgies (!!) yet, it’s been nice to get out a bit and not feel alarmed at the prospect of being in the vicinity of other human beings. Visiting a garden center seemed like going to an oasis at this point, and with another trip or two, I’ll have completed flowery acquisitions for the neglected garden I added nothing to when the pandemic first hit.

I managed to avoid going to any physical stores since February 2020, having decided early on I’d try not to be another disease vector and have everything delivered. And though I’ve gotten a bit spoiled by placing grocery store orders online and waiting for bags of food plop on my front porch, it was nevertheless a pleasant experience to do something as mundane as grocery shopping on a lovely spring day. I donned my trusty dinosaur mask …

… and headed off with a long list of whatnots to pick up. Entering the grocery store felt like a bit of sensory overload; for someone who studies colors and shapes and lines, there sure are a lot of them in your average market — and they’re especially intense when you haven’t seen them for over a year. Color, especially, kept distracting me; I briefly wished I had brought my camera with me, then I thought maybe posing the tomatoes for a photograph would be frowned upon.

Having become something of an online grocery shopping expert and critic, I have to point out that buying groceries online — while certainly convenient — is so linear and stale in its web design that it completely misses the boat on a key shopping experience: browsing! The tech guy in me has always imagined it could be a lot more captivating, like allowing you to zoom up and down the aisles of a virtual reality version and pick stuff off shelves with your VR fingers. Instead, all you get is lists and tiny pictures that vaguely resemble what you’re buying, and you miss out on the spontaneity of stumbling across something you didn’t know you wanted.

Such was my experience today in the frozen foods aisle. I was barreling toward frozen veggies and frozen pizzas, when the word “Tillamook” caught the corner of my eye. I had forgotten about Tillamook ice cream for over a year, and stopped my cart so hard its wheels actually squealed and I pulled a partial donut. Behind the glass door, I found glorious Waffle Cone Swirl, threaded throughout with caramel so fabulous it actually glows. The only reason I’m eating dinner tonight is to have a big blob of this ice cream for dessert. (Their cheeses are excellent also, especially when they’re on sale.) Am I a product photographer now? 🙂

I get ice cream, you get grapevines … sorry (not sorry). Here are the last of the Catawba Grapevine color photos; I’ll post the black-and-white versions in a few days.

Occasionally I like to take pictures of just the tendrils, for some reason. These are from the Concord Grapevine. As you may be able to tell from the photo, the hooks shown in the second image tried to snatch the camera from my hands, a fact which may or may not be true.

Here are the rest of the Catawbas.


Thanks for reading and taking a look!