"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Ten Days to Christmas: Peace

From “A Christmas Carol” (attributed to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) in Our Holidays in Poetry by Mildred P. Harrington:

Then peace was spread throughout the land;
The lion fed beside the lamb;
     And with the kid,
     To pastures led,
The spotted leopard fed
     In peace, in peace
     The calf and bear,
The wolf and lamb reposed together there.

As shepherds watched their flocks by night,
An angel brighter than the sun
     Appeared in air,
     And gently said,
“Fear not, be not afraid,
     Behold, behold,
     Beneath your eyes,
Earth has become a smiling Paradise.”

Back by popular demand (!!), here is the first post in 2023’s “Ten Days to Christmas” series, a series that I started a few years ago — originally beginning two days too late to name it after the more well-known and traditional moniker “Twelve Days of Christmas.” I started it in 2019, as a way of learning more about photography, trying new setups and experiments as each year’s project progressed. For those unfamiliar (or those feeling nostalgic), here are links to posts with all the photos in the previous years’ series:

Christmas 2022
Christmas 2021
Christmas 2020
Christmas 2019

Christmas baubles, glittery whatnots, and holiday lights are great subjects for photography experiments, fun and suitably challenging. You can learn a lot about lighting, depth of field, color, and exposure; and — as you can see in the second trio of photographs below — sometimes you can just unfocus the camera and work with whatever you get!

Each year I add one or two items to my photography gear to help with this project. In 2020, for example, I bought an inexpensive boom to hold foil wrapping paper as backgrounds; and the next year, I bought studio lights and stands to hike up my glitter game. You can seem them both in use below, in a photo I took showing the process of taking photos, last year.

The completed images from this setup are at Six Days to Christmas: Angels and Nutcrackers and Wintry Blues — where the confusing mix of lights and cords and paper became something different entirely.

I’ve also been using star filters (sometimes called starburst or crosscut filters) occasionally, though there use is somewhat more limited than I had expected since lights only “burst” pleasantly when they’re in focus. And this year I acquired a Plamp — a rather clever gadget that you can use to suspend things in the air in front of Christmas trees, which I used in several of the photos below to give the impression (maybe) that the doves and angels are floating around on their own.

I have an assistant, also, one who follows me from room to room, picks up whatever I drop, and steps aside when I swear out loud about things that looked so much better in my head (as things often do!) than when I set them up and took the photos. Here he is earlier today, taking a break in his safe spot, right after I knocked over a light stand….

This year, I made a commitment to starting the project early — since I had most of my Christmas decorating done shortly after Thanksgiving — so that I wasn’t scrambling around every day for ten days taking photos, post-processing them, finding poems and quotes, and creating blog posts. Here’s how that worked out:

I took these photos today, found the poem today, and wrote this post today. So much for starting early….

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Thanks for taking a look!

Canna Lily ‘Cannova Orange Shades’

From “An Introduction to Cannas” in The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Cannas by Ian Cooke:

“Big, brash, bright and gaudy, cannas could be described as the clowns of the plant world. Most are not discreet; they flaunt their big floppy leaves in the breeze, and their huge flashy flowers stand proud and bold at the top of giant ramrod stems….

“If we could take a time-machine back a hundred years, we would find that cannas were highly fashionable and widely grown in both large and small gardens. Times and fashions changed and they lost their appeal but once again they have regained their popularity and are now talked about and grown by keen gardeners in many countries. Their exotic foliage and multi-coloured flowers have awarded them a new and well-deserved status as easy garden plants with instant appeal.

“The name is derived from the Greek
kanna, meaning a reed-like plant. Cannas are sometimes referred to as ‘canna lilies’, although they have no relationship to the lily family: the word is merely used here to suggest a large, exotic-looking flower….

“Cannas are tropical plants, essentially natives of the West Indies and subtropical areas such as South America, where they are found in both mountainous and lowland areas. However, as ornamentals, they have been developed mainly in the temperate climate of Europe. As such, they have, over the years, been selected to be tolerant of a wide range of conditions and, provided a few basic requirements are understood, they are easy and rewarding to grow.”


Last year, I posted a few photographs of Canna blooms from Canna Lily ‘Cannova Bronze Scarlet’ — plants named that way, I imagine, because of the bronze/gold stripes in their leaves and deep scarlet/red flower petals (see Scarlet Red Canna Lilies). They grew and bloomed well into December 2022, but then mostly melted away during our winter deep freeze. I had four of them at the time, two in large pots in my courtyard and two in my pond. One of those in the pond survived — surprise! — and is still growing though did not produce any flowers this year. That Cannas will grow in ponds is perhaps not as well-known; but one of my nearby garden centers was selling some as pond plants, and they seem to do well in plastic pots filled with aquatic planting media, submerged just below the surface of the pond’s water.

I tried to find the same variety again (because I really liked the bronze-striped leaves), but wasn’t successful so bought these orange-flowered ones instead. They’re called Canna Lily ‘Cannova Orange Shades’ and feature dark green leaves with yellow highlights, and various shades of orange and yellow throughout their flower petals. Even the blooming youngsters — as they start to emerge in the shape of some alien’s claw — show the bright mix of orange and yellow that will eventually fill out their flowers.

As a photographic subject, Cannas can be challenging. The blossoms are large, complex, top-heavy structures that tend to flop around in the slightest breeze and will bend the entire plant nearly to the ground after a rainstorm. To represent them at various blooming stages, I’ve included photos of unopened flowers below, along with some that are (mostly) fully opened, and a couple of photos at the end where unopened petals are revealed from a lower angle below a partially opened flower.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (3 of 3)

From The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (Vol. 4) by Liberty Hyde Bailey:

“[Lantana] is not particular as to soil, provided the exposure is sunny, and also that the soil is well supplied with moisture at least until a fair growth has been made. When well established the plants do not seem to mind drought, and continue bright and attractive in the hottest weather. They should not be transplanted out in the open before danger of frost is over. If the old plants are wanted for propagation, cut them back and transfer to pots early in September, and when they start into new growth the soft wood will furnish cuttings that root easily. Keep young stock in a warm position through the winter months, and repot in April….

“Save the old plants, after frost has nipped their freshness late in autumn, prune severely back, remove them indoors, giving them a temperature anywhere above 40 degrees, and with a little attention and fresh soil, every plant will be a perfect specimen, covered with blooms in May.

“Gardeners train them into fine standards, as prim and shapely as need be.”

From “Verbenaceae” in Flowers of the Veld by Kay Linley:

“This family consists mainly of shrubs and trees, and many herbaceous members of the family are slightly shrubby in growth. Most of them have square stems and leaves in opposite pairs, and most of them are distinctly aromatic, having a strong smell when handled or crushed, sometimes a pleasant scent, and in some cases a disagreeable odour. One of the best known species in this country is Lantana camara, a straggling, very prickly bush, originally introduced from America; this has spread widely over large areas of the country and is now declared a noxious weed. It has quite pretty, circular heads of orange and red flowers followed by black berries, but it is held responsible for a number of cases of cattle poisoning. It is also encroaching rapidly onto grazing lands, and an effort is being made to eradicate it entirely.

Lantana angolensis is an erect, unbranched plant of up to fifty centimetres in height, flowering early in the year, and common in woodland clearings and on waste land. The stems are square, hairy, and woody towards the base, and the leaves grow on short stalks, either in pairs or in whorls of three around the stem. They are narrowly oval with a slight point, evenly toothed around the edges and hairy on both surfaces. The tiny, bright mauve flowers are borne in axillary and terminal clusters, half a dozen or so in a cluster surrounded by a ring of green bracts, the whole on a short, hairy stalk. More noticeable than the flowers and more attractive are the juicy, bright purple berries which follow them; these are much enjoyed by many kinds of birds.”


This is the last of three posts featuring lantana from my garden; the first post is Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (1 of 3) and the second post is Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (2 of 3). Here I adjusted cropping and recast some of the previous photos on black backgrounds. They always look like colorful pieces of candy to me when rendered this way; and, as it turns out, there are lantana varieties with “candy” in the name — including cotton candy, candy crush, and candy-candy!

Thanks for taking a look!

Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (2 of 3)

From “Invaders of the Plant World” in The Plant Hunters by Carolyn Fry:

“One unwelcome side effect of the myriad transfers of plants and seeds around the world is the translocation of ‘invasive’ species. Plants arriving on foreign shores with an agreeable environment and a lack of predators have often quickly become naturalized. Those also encountering a ready pollinator or suitable means for dispersing seeds have been able to spread rapidly. In some cases, the new conditions have made the plant much more successful in its new locale than in its indigenous habitat. When a plant becomes disruptive to native flora in a particular location, it is deemed invasive….

“The brightly colored flowers of Lantana camara made it a popular garden flower in Europe when it arrived there from Central and South America. As the colonial powers expanded into the tropics it, too, became widely dispersed. Today, it is considered a problem in at least 50 countries. Since it was introduced to South Africa in 1880, it has invaded natural forests, plantations, overgrazed or burnt veld (grassland), orchards, rocky hillsides, and fields….

“It arrived on Floreana Island in the Galapagos Islands in 1938 as an ornamental. Since 1970, it has replaced Scalesia pedunculata forest and dry vegetation of Croton, Macraea, and Darwiniothamnus. Two of the three populations of Lecocarpus pinnatifidus and one of Scalesia villosa, both endemic to Floreana, the smallest island in the Galapagos, face elimination if the invader continues to advance. If Lantana reaches the crater area of Cerro Pajas, it will endanger the last remaining nesting colony of dark-rumped petrels on the Galapagos Islands. Thorny thickets of Lantana are so dense they would prevent the birds from making their nesting burrows at the breeding site.”


This is the second of three posts featuring lantana from my garden; the first post is Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (1 of 3).

If you spend any time researching lantana, you’ll quickly find that in various parts of the world, it’s considered a seriously invasive species — owing in part to its rapid growth, entangling brush, and how its brush becomes woody and hard to cut as seasons progress and it spreads. The quotation above from Carolyn Fry’s The Plant Hunters above is one example, where she describes how it has impacted the Galapagos Islands flora, and it was my first encounter with a description of the plant’s potential impact on a avian species, the seabirds known as petrels.

As I’ve photographed and written about lantana each year, I’ve tried to learn a bit more about it with every post. If you’d like to peruse my other coverage of its invasiveness, its appearance in literature and film, and different ways I’ve photographed it, this tag — lantana — will take you to all my prior posts.

Thanks for taking a look!

Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (1 of 3)

From “Bring on the Bling” in A Gardener’s Guide to Botany by Scott Zona:

“The first order of business for a flower is to attract the attention of potential pollinators…. To attract pollinators, flowers use visual and/or chemical bait, or often both. Both chemical and visual cues can be outside our human perception, but technology can help us ‘see’ and ‘sniff’ like a pollinator.

Visual cues include flower color and movement. Often the contrast of the color against the foliage is important, along with the contrasting colors within the flower. The vision of the animals plays a role in the evolution of flower colors. Hummingbirds have vision similar to ours, but bees do not. Bee vision is shifted toward the shorter wavelengths, so they see UV but not red. Research has shown that bees have a preference for blue flowers, which they see very well. Hummingbird-pollinated flowers are often in shades of red, which means that the flowers are mostly ignored by bees (although honey bees can learn to forage on red flowers). Hoverflies prefer yellow flowers. Flowers pollinated by nocturnal animals (bats, hawk moths) are typically white, which shows up well in the dim moonlight….

”Some plants supplement the color display of their inflorescences by surrounding their flowers with colorful bracts as in poinsettia (
Euphorbia pulcherrima) and dogwood (Cornus florida)… Others supplement the display by holding onto old flowers, but to prevent pollinators from visiting these spent, unrewarding flowers (and depositing precious pollen), pollinated flowers turn a color different from that of virgin flowers. Pollinators quickly learn the difference….

“Lantana (Lantana camara) and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) are well known for their color changes.”


The word “lantana” always reminds me of the word “banana” — but I’m not convinced that there are any members of this plant family properly called “Lantana Banana” even if it seems there should be. I did purchase two shrubs of an almost-banana annual variety called Lantana Bandana Red in May and potted them both, but they never produced any photographically suitable flowers. It may have been too bloody hot for too long, even for heat-tolerant lantana. Maybe they’ll try again next year; annual lantana sometimes comes back here, often for two or three seasons before they decline to return.

If there was such a thing as “Lantana Banana”, I could imagine it being incorporated into The Name Game song, as “Lantana Banana bo-bana, fee-fi-mo-mana” and so on. You’re probably familiar with The Name Game — originally written and performed by Shirley Ellis — which was incorporated into an American Horror Story episode by the same name. A delightful song-and-dance performance by the cast took place in an insane asylum, led by Jessica Lange as her character was prompted out of a stupor by another character — one named “Lana Banana!” I mean, that’s SO close!

These lantana are from one border of my courtyard, in a spot that gets plenty of morning sun and some filtered light in late afternoon to early evening. They’re Mary Ann Lantana (officially Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’) — and I’ve had them for more than a decade. I didn’t know if they’d survive the freezing temperatures we had over the 2022 Christmas holidays, but the plant did bounce back if a bit smaller than usual, producing about a dozen clusters of their late summer blooms.

I was intrigued to find the quotation above about lantana color changes and what that means to pollinators. I always wondered why some of the flowers faded from multicolored to soft pink (reducing the number of colors and making sterile or previously pollinated flowers less visible to pollinators) — and now I guess I know!

Thanks for taking a look!