Rose of Sharon: Three Views

Below are three views of a Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) growing in a large pot in my garden, that just produced a cluster of flower buds at the end of July. I took the first image last night, as the sun was setting; the other two are from this morning, when clouds from an incoming storm produced some soft shadows and a bit of luminous backlighting. If the remaining buds withstand August heat for a few days, I’ll post a few more shots after the rest of the flowers emerge.

Click the first image to see larger versions; thanks for taking a look!

Secrets Inside a Grapevine

Earlier this week, on a hot and sunny morning, I wanted to find out what I would see if I stuck my head and my macro lens into the interior of a Catawba Grapevine, behind the broad leaves and long stems twisted throughout an old iron obelisk trellis in one corner of my garden. The Catawba Grapevine is one of two I planted years ago as an experiment; the other is a Concord Grapevine, growing in a four-foot tall ceramic pot, winding up and through the bars of a fan-shaped trellis. Neither one produces grapes any more, but the Catawba has been returning every year for four years, and the Concord has grown back each spring and summer for eight years. In their first couple of years they both produced grapes, though the grapes never matured beyond the size of a pea: birds loved the tiny grapes and it was common for me to see a flurry of wings and beaks jabbing at the grape clusters until they were picked clean.

Both vines continue to grow and develop new leaves, stems, and tendrils until cooler fall weather sets in, when the leaves turn pale yellow, light orange, then brown as they begin to fall off. I looked for some of the tinier subjects to photograph; the photos below show some of the emerging leaves and the lines and curves of the tendrils as they search for places to attach. Sunlight, while very bright when I took these pictures, was filtered through the leaves, caused some harshness and clipping that I adjusted out of the photos as much as possible. At the same time, the sunlight also created some interesting background shapes and colors. Where you see a lot of white in the new leaves, that’s because they’re white on the bottom and shades of green and yellow on the top side.

The tendrils were a challenge to photograph, as the slightest breeze pushed them out of focus, and I’ll likely make another attempt at similar shots on a calmer day. The white clipping on the last photo was driving me crazy: I kept trying to de-emphasize it but couldn’t get it right without creating distracting artifacts in the image. I ended out emphasizing it instead by blurring and darkening the background, so it looks like a little flame instead of a … flameout.

These tendrils seem delicate but in reality are quite strong. The Catawba attaches itself tightly to the iron bars, and frequently latches onto the branches of Chinese fringe flower bushes that are growing nearby. I always thought it was just wind, coincidence, and a bit of stickiness that prompted the tendrils to attach to something, but I learned while researching this article that the plant follows a chemical and physiological process called thigmotropism to seek out and hook to attachment points. The tendrils can discriminate between the plant itself and other attachment points, favoring external attachments over self-attachment. This process can occur quickly: according to The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird:

“When the tendril … finds a perch, within twenty seconds it starts to curve around the object, and within the hour has wound itself so firmly it is hard to tear away. The tendril then curls itself like a corkscrew and in so doing raises the vine to itself.”

There is a description of this process, and some of the research behind it, at The Guardian, here: Scientists unwind the secrets of climbing plants’ tendrils; and an illustrated guide to the parts of a grapevine here: Grapevine Structure and Function (pdf).

Select any of the images below to begin a slideshow. As always: thanks for reading and taking a look!

Lantana Bonanza! The Sequel

This is true: I often buy plants for my garden based on how I think they’ll look in photographs.

When I saw these Landmark Citrus Lantana at a nearby garden center and knew I had a couple of open medium-sized pots on my back-yard steps, I snapped them up and gave them a good home. I figured their flowers would start opening within a few days – given that the steps get plenty of sunlight during the day – and they didn’t disappoint. The overall shape of the flower is very similar to the Chapel Hill Yellow Lantana, of course, but in addition to variations of yellow and orange colors, these flowers also show purple and magenta in the emerging and center buds, surrounded by yellow and orange petals as the flowers open.

I followed a similar process for selecting images for this post, choosing these sixteen from about 80 that I took and reviewed for adequate exposure and focus. On most of the photos, I used several Lightroom graduated filters – tools that are now among my favorites to apply during closeup and macro work. In those photos showing a single flower bud, for example, I created separate graduated filters from all four sides of the photo through to the center, adjusting exposure and reducing clarity on each of the four filters to dim and soften the background.

I then emphasized the flowers as focal points by increasing overall exposure slightly, adding a touch of light, and increasing saturation and luminance for purple, magenta, and orange to pop those colors. For some of the photos that show wide-open buds in bright yellow, I dropped yellow saturation a bit, as the yellow caught a lot of light and looked a little harsh and over-exposed with raggedy edges. The light was pretty good when I took these shots – which helped with depth-of-field and focus – but I did apply additional sharpening to give some of the flowers a bit of extra punch. As a final step before exporting the images from Lightroom, I removed a few spots where pollen on the leaves caught a sharp jab of sunlight, though there wasn’t much of that kind of spot removal to do since recent rains left the leaves sparkly clean.

Before uploading the images, I always rename them with sequence numbers at the beginning of the names (like 01-DSC04636.jpg, 02-DSC04549.jpg, etc.) so that they’re names represent the order I want them to appear in the blog post or slideshow. That way I can preview the slideshow before uploading – using Adobe Bridge or another photo viewer – simply by having the viewer display the images in file name order. This always saves me some time when creating a media gallery for the blog post, since I’ve already decided on a sequence for the slideshow images and I can easily add the images to the gallery by file name.

This slideshow is loosely arranged by similarity, and you can select any of the photos below to begin viewing larger versions. My previous lantana slideshow is here: Lantana Bonanza!

Thanks for taking a look!

Quotes from My Library

Hello. This is the first in a series of posts that will feature quotations from books in my library, accompanied by a few photographs. Today’s selections have something to say about photography and gardening: as creative processes and as ways of seeing and interacting with the world.


From the introduction to The Writer in the Garden by Jane Garvey:

“It’s amazing how much time one can spend in a garden doing nothing at all. I sometimes think, in fact, that the nicest part of gardening is walking around in a daze …  wondering where on earth to squeeze in yet another impulse buy…. Of course, gardening is time-consuming, repetitive, and, at times, quite discouraging. But precisely because making a garden means constantly making choices, it offers almost limitless possibilities for surprise and satisfaction.”

“Since nothing ever really gets finished in a garden and everything is always in a state of flux, it is usually the process itself that fascinates.”

From the introduction to Macro Photography for Gardeners and Nature Lovers by Alan L. Detrick:

“For anyone who loves nature, whether admiring the flowers in a garden, watching a butterfly, or examining nature’s patterns, the desire to capture these images is as natural as taking the next breath. Macro photography is the visual portal to a world most people walk by without a glance. Plants, animals, and parts of plants and animals never before imagined enter the camera’s viewfinder. Best of all, close-up photography does not require trips to Alaska, Africa, or any other exotic locale to capture visually compelling natural images. A walk in the backyard garden or a neighborhood park can provide a wealth of material to photograph close up.”

From On Photography by Susan Sontag:

“No one would dispute that photography gave a tremendous boost to the cognitive claims of sight, because — through close-up and remote sensing — it so greatly enlarged the realm of the visible.”

Quoted in On Photography by Susan Sontag:

“I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” — Garry Winogrand

“Photography is a tool for dealing with things everybody knows about but isn’t attending to. My photographs are intended to represent something you don’t see.” — Emmet Gowin


Here are three views of an ostrich fern, from my garden — views that you wouldn’t necessarily see by casual observation, but only if you took a closer look:

Stalking the Baja Daylily

Sounds exotic, no? This is where the elusive Baja Daylily lives, in its own pot in front of my Chapel Hill Yellow Lantana.

I took several sets of similar photos over a period of three hours yesterday, to see (and capture) the variations in morning sun on the lily’s flower, and to learn how the shutter speed and aperture could be changed based on the intensity of the light. Lighting is optimal at the center of my courtyard from about 8:00 AM until 11:00 AM this time of year: it brightens the area without creating harsh shadows or causing blowout of detail surrounding the subject where something in the background catches too much light (which can be difficult to adjust out of the image).  The light also helped, I hope, with focus: one trick I use when taking closeup or macro photos is to set the camera’s shutter to continuous advance, to increase the chances that I’ll end out with a sharp image — since camera shake or a little breeze can easily throw a close subject out of focus. When doing this, I usually end out with four or five nearly identical images each time I take a shot and have reasonable success of being satisfied with one or two. I could use a tripod, but I have fears of knocking it over, and it’s harder to flower-stalk while having to reposition a tripod.

Since I was taking these at home, I headed back inside after each set and imported the photos into Lightroom. I reviewed these sets at least twice. First time through, I deleted any that struck me as out of focus or had some other problem (like my dog’s tail in the frame, lol). I tried not to dwell on any of them during the first cut, but just reacted to an immediate impression of the focus quality. On subsequent passes, I took a closer look at those remaining and threw out a few more based on their lack of clarity or sharpness. Since I wear eyeglasses with progressive lenses I have to be careful to look at the photos on screen at the correct angle, otherwise I end out convincing myself that an image is clear when my glasses are causing an illusion of sharpness that isn’t there. Out of four trips into the back yard and about 200 shots, I ended out with 75 photos to mess around with in Lightroom. That’s surely one of the big advantages of digital photography, how you can just keep trying and learning, trying and learning … and the only thing it costs (well, except for the gear and the software) is your time. For me, it ends out becoming a workflow or process not unlike creating the draft of a piece of writing: you start by letting your ideas flow, capture them as best you can, then begin iterations of reworking and improving based on the skills and tools you have.

And then … and then….

After lunch, I started picking through the 75 remaining photos, with the general idea that I wanted some for this blog post viewed from straight-on, left side, right side, then zooming closer and closer into the center of the flower. I ended out eliminating two-thirds of my photography work from earlier in the day. The remaining photos required some spot removal, a bit of cropping and straightening, minor adjustments to exposure or color, and sharpness adjustments to guide your eye to the focal point of the image. This is only the second time I’ve taken a set of RAW photos instead of JPEGs and I could definitely see the advantages for shots like these, especially when I intentionally under-exposed some photos to get a longer depth of field and when I cropped some with negligible loss of detail.

That was fun! Thanks for reading and enjoy a slideshow by clicking on any of the images below.

Lantana Bonanza!

Earlier this spring, I added some Chapel Hill Yellow Lantana to a large pot in the center of my courtyard garden. It didn’t grow much at first, but as the daily rains we were getting in Georgia subsided, the plants started getting more sun and the blooms are now popping. My garden is mostly a shade garden with lots of ferns and hostas — in the ground and in pots — but I’ve learned over the years how to take advantage of those areas where the sun does get through for a few hours each day. I’ve experimented quite a bit with flowering plants like lantana, some sun-loving vines (and even a couple of grapevines) that may not flower but grow well anyway, hydrangeas placed to catch early morning or late day sun, and a mix of sun annuals that make it through the summer pretty well.

The Chapel Hill Yellow Lantana, I learned, is a cross between Miss Huff and New Gold lantana varieties, all popular in southern gardens for their hardiness and persistent flowering throughout late summer and even into autumn. The floral symmetry of lantana flowers fascinates me; I learned that this type of flower shape is called an umbel — evocative of umbrella given that it’s overall shape is supported from a single point by “umbrella like” ribs. As the flowers first emerge, they look to me like tiny pillows arranged in concentric circles, changing from pale to brighter yellow as they grow, then developing into a rich yellow with a dark orange center. Using a macro lens and some cropping, I’ve tried to show that transition in the images below, as there were suddenly plenty of flowers at different stages of growth to show the early buds, mixtures of buds and emerging flowers, and some clusters that were fully in bloom.

Select any of the pictures below to see larger sizes in a slideshow … and thanks for reading and taking a look!

Bluebird Hydrangeas from my garden

A couple of years ago, I planted three small Bluebird Hydrangeas in an area of my courtyard garden that gets filtered sun in the early mornings and an hour or so if low-angled, more direct sunlight in the afternoons. I always liked the lacecap blooms, and the three small plants have easily tripled in size since I planted them. Below are a few pictures I culled from dozens I took over the weekend; the flower petals are just beginning to open and it was a good time to get a look at the structure of the emerging blooms.

Taking closeup and macro photos of blooms like this can be challenging, especially getting the blooms and the unopened cluster of flowers in reasonably good focus. I didn’t use a tripod for any of these, but I think I will when I take another round of pictures as the buds continue to open — to allow for greater depth of field in these low-light conditions. The bud clusters have both purple and blue scattered throughout them in real life; the color mix tricks the eye (and the camera) and sometimes it’s hard to decide whether the original colors were blue, purple, or a variation of both. With more sunlight, the blue became more purple (or did the purple become more blue?), and it was fun to play around with white balance and shift between the two colors. Many of the leaves and blossoms were also dotted with spring pollen; it was also fun to pick out and remove little pollen spots from the leaves, wherever they seemed distracting when the camera caught them as little circles of white light scattered throughout the photos.

You can start a slideshow by clicking on any of the images below. You can read more about Bluebird Hydrangeas at Gardenia.net and the Royal Horticultural Society. And for a historical perspective, take a look at this article about hydrangeas from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica (one of my favorite research resources).

Bye for now!