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

Azalea Blooms Aplenty

From “Azaleas and Rhododendrons” in Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi:

“Most of us think [azaleas and rhododendrons] are different plants. Catalogues list them separately, and gardening journalists clearly distinguish between them, with reason. Rhododendrons are evergreen with large, leathery leaves; azaleas are mostly deciduous and have finer foliage. Rhododendrons like shade, azaleas don’t. Even the pests and diseases that attack them aren’t the same. Such distinctions don’t impress botanists — they count stamens. Azaleas were once thought to have five, rhododendrons ten or more. When this criterion was found not to be invariable, azaleas were summarily moved into the genus rhododendron….

“Classification aside, no gardener is going to confuse the somehow eminently Victorian rhododendron with shiny leaves that roll up like cigars when the cold strikes them and big, globular flowers, with the airier, more fragile-looking azaleas that seem to belong on a Japanese screen. Even the color ranges are different, indeed opposed, as Gertrude Jekyll long ago pointed out…. Rhododendrons are at the blue end of the red spectrum — mauve, purple, blush pink — azaleas at the yellow: peach and copper, hot reds and oranges….

“America has beautiful native varieties of both:
R. catawbiense that lights up the forest primeval in the Great Smokies, the scented azaleas called arborescens and viscosum, and many more. But the most spectacular come from China and Japan. They are magnificent shrubs in their way….”

From “Japanese Azalea in the Tropics” in Out of Darkness Blossoming: Poems by Edward A. Watson:

Beneath the crumbling verandah
a single azalea bloomed.
Against what and for whom
we concluded nothing,
for in the fifteenth year
and after the fifteenth flower,
their presence mystified us.
And as I tended the seasonal rhythms
of that underworld, I knew, finally,
that bees indeed were a kind of myth
for the one bloom strutted its promiscuity
in the clear presence of toads.

From “Cardinals Mate for Life” in Touching Shadows: Poems by Bonny Barry Sanders:

While I am still locked in the tender cage
of your arms and legs, I hear the cardinal call from the oak
beside the deck. I go out with my gourmet blend:
black oil sunflower, raw peanuts, thistle and safflower.
I rattle the seed container and echo
his raspy chipping. I pitch him the same slur
of notes every day. You might think it has to do
with recognition, but it’s more

than that. Back and forth he and I toss
our greeting like a game of catch.
With each response, he comes closer
until he is in a locust tree by the front door.
I hear the clicking lisp of his mate
ahead of him in the azalea bush next to me.
He is guarding her from above.
He will watch until I go in….


I don’t usually photograph azaleas, mainly because in the spring and early summer they’re So Everywhere around Atlanta that I don’t really notice them — the very definition of ubiquitous, a word I like a lot but hardly ever get a chance to use. Then a few weeks ago I came across some azaleas with blooms in very unusual orange or salmon shades that I’d never seen before — which you can see in large formation in the first three photographs below.

At first I thought it was a trick of the morning light — morning light is like that sometimes! — or a color variation cause by reflected white from the building behind them. But those in the foreground of the photo are more salmony orange-pink than those in the background (which are the more common dark pink or red azalea color), and the color change occurs right in the middle of the cluster of shrubs — suggesting that two different varieties were originally planted here and each one spread laterally.

The next nine photos show the color transitions I found on the foreground plants. The unopened buds are mostly orange; the partially opened flowers are a mix of orange and pink; and by the time they’re fully opened, the pink and orange blend together into a salmon color.

After I spent some time photographing these (which are located just outside one of Oakland Cemetery’s notable structures, the 1899-built Bell Tower), a frequency illusion kicked in and I started noticing all the other azaleas I usually ignored. While none of the others exhibited the same unique color scheme, they were all quite striking on their own, showing off shades of pink, purple, red, and white. I took the remaining series of wide-angle photos in several locations where their big bloom-spans created a nice contrast with the fresh greens of various shrubs, as well as the reds of Japanese Maples and flowering Dogwood trees. Perhaps you can also get a sense from photos like these how pleasant a strolling-place Oakland Cemetery’s Gardens can be.

Thanks for taking a look!

Apricot Blooms and a Ladybug

From The Plant Hunters by Alice M. Coats:

“In 1891-3, James Harry Veitch (1868-1907), elder son of the John Gould Veitch who had died [of tuberculosis] so tragically young, made a world tour, starting in November with Ceylon and India. The first part consisted of a stately progress from one botanic or public garden to another, each of which he mercilessly describes down to the very bandstand; he does not seem to have taken one wild flower in his hand for the first six months of his travels…. After visiting Java and Singapore, he sailed in March 1892 from Hong Kong to Yokohama. In Japan he became much more enterprising and emancipated, and had his first experience of collecting in the wild.

“After looking about him in Yokohama and visiting some local gardens, James Veitch went to Tokio, and was somewhat dismayed by the quantity and extent of the local nurseries, more numerous even than those of Flanders or Holland. The cherries were in bloom, and he was greatly impressed by them, especially the famous mile of trees at Mukojima; though he makes the surprising statement that ‘the species is known scientifically as
Prunus mume; it is really an Apricot’….”

From “Little Rain” by Elizabeth Madox Roberts in Time for Poetry, compiled by May Hill Arbuthnot:

When I was making myself a game
Up in the garden, a little rain came.

It fell down quick in a sort of rush,
And I crawled back under the snowball bush.

I could hear the big drops hit the ground
And see little puddles of dust fly round.

A chicken came till the rain was gone;
He had just a very few feathers on.

He shivered a little under his skin,
And then he shut his eyeballs in.

Even after the rain had begun to hush
It kept on raining up in the bush.

One big flat drop came sliding down,
And a ladybug that was red and brown

Was up on a little stem waiting there
And I got some rain in my hair.


The photos below are blossoms from a tree I believe is an apricot tree, though I’ve never been completely sure of my identification. It’s definitely a member of the genus Prunus, which includes a variety of spring-blossoming shrubs and trees whose undifferentiated common names — variations of cherry, plum, apricot, almond, and peach, often modified by “Japanese” or “Chinese” — create a lot of confusion in the plant identification world. Until I learn otherwise, I’m going to stick with calling these flowers apricot tree blossoms — mainly because this tree is unique among many of the blooming fruit trees I find at Oakland Cemetery’s Gardens, and I can typically identify cherry, plum, and peach blossoms on other similar trees.

It’s only partly apparent from my photographs, but the tree’s branches — unlike typical upright flowering fruit trees or shrubs — hang almost like vines from a central trunk structure that’s about fifteen feet high. It may have been cultivated to grow this way — shaped over the years to be reminiscent of some bonsai — and its general “design” reminds me of a fleur-de-lis waterfall or fountain or a sparse version of a weeping willow. The individual branches are thin and pliable, waving to match the wind flow of even the slightest breeze. And, as it happens, there are variations of apricot and cherry trees called weeping apricots or weeping cherry trees whose appearance is very similar.

The flower clusters at this stage were quite small, and I didn’t realize at first that I had a ladybug posing in some of the photos. The first five shots below show the ladybug’s travels along one of the blossoms, just before I got a little too close and it opened its wings and twizzled away.

Thanks for taking a look!

Crabapple Trees, a Bit of History, and Two Poems

From “The Cincinnatus of the West: George Washington’s American Garden at Mount Vernon” in Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf:

“By the summer of 1776, Manhattan had been transformed into an armed camp. American soldiers drilled in the wide tree-lined streets and troops took over the elegant brick mansions normally occupied by the New York elite. Huge wooden barricades were erected where fashionable women had promenaded only weeks earlier, and forts were built around the tiny hamlet of Brooklyn to defend the city. New York faced 32,000 British troops — more than one and a half times the city’s entire peacetime population and the largest enemy fleet ever to reach American shores….

“[As] the British troops were preparing their ferocious onslaught, Washington brushed aside his generals and his military maps, sat in the flicker of candlelight with his quill and wrote a long letter to his estate manager and cousin Lund Washington at Mount Vernon, his plantation in Virginia. As the city braced itself, Washington pondered the voluptuous blossom of rhododendron, the sculptural flowers of mountain laurel and the perfect pink of crab apple. These ‘clever kind[s] of Trees (especially flowering ones),’ he instructed, should be planted in two groves by either side of his house….”

From “The Crabapple in Flower” in Zero Meridian: Poems by Deborah Warren:

The crabapple tore through the house one week in April,
boughs in armloads — room after room — in vases,
jars from the cupboards, jugs from the cellar, urns….

The long sprays dazzled us,
but their beauty pierced us, too, with a desire
to know them, to possess them, in some way
five pale senses could never satisfy.

From “Crabapple Blossoms” in Poems of Inspiration and Courage by Grace Noll Crowell:

This morning as I climbed a golden hill
I came upon a slim crabapple tree:
A pink-white cloud of glory… I stood still —
For like a runner, breath was gone from me….


The crabapple tree I photographed for this post is located just inside the main entrance gate to Oakland Cemetery, in a section called “The Original Six Acres” — because it was just that, the original six-acre plot that established the cemetery in 1849, a size it remained at until 1867 when it was expanded to 48 acres.

Imagine my surprise to discover that despite having visited the cemetery countless times over the past few years, I had no photographs of the gate itself. But you can see one at Oakland Cemetery’s history page, scrolling down to “1896” when the gate was constructed. There’s also a fun photograph of the gate from the HBO series Watchmen — where it was featured in a flyover for a funeral scene. You can see that photograph at the Oakland in Film page. Scroll down to “Watchmen 2019” — where the iconic gate is shown, with the name of the cemetery changed to “Tartarus Acres” for the series. I remember watching that series, not knowing that it was partially filmed in Atlanta — but instantly knew it was when I saw the gate in this scene.

Now picture yourself walking through the gate and immediately looking to your right in early March of any year — and there you will find this crabapple tree, sporting some of the first seasonal color among the garden’s bushes and trees.

I wonder if it’s been growing there since 1849….

Thanks for taking a look!

Clematis Reincarnated

From “Tangled Garden” by Janet Clarke in Oblique Strokes: Poems, edited by Barbara Myers:

Two angels reside in the garden.
One dark,
hands tucked, wings folded behind her head,
she crouches, brooding into a murky pool.
One light,
wings unfurled, serene among the ferns,
she holds a baby bird.

Messy untamed greenery reaches
for space and sun,
perennial flowers and ferns checked only
by the wooden fence
vined over by clematis, honeysuckle, ivy….

I am comfortable here
with my coffee and my solitude
and my messy untamed soul.

From “The Garden of Eros” by Oscar Wilde in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde: Volume 1, edited by Bobby Fong and Karl Beckon:

Yon curving spray of purple clematis
     Whose gorgeous dye outflames the Tyrian King,
And fox-gloves with their nodding chalices,
     But that one narciss which the startled Spring
Let from her kirtle fall when first she heard
In her own woods the wild tempestuous song of
          summer’s bird,

Ah! leave it for a subtle memory
     Of those sweet tremulous days of rain and sun,
When April laughed between her tears to see
     The early primrose with shy footsteps run
From the gnarled oak-tree roots till all the wold,
Spite of its brown and trampled leaves, grew bright with
          shimmering gold….


Here we have a couple dozen photos of a clematis plant and its flowers, currently growing in a tall pot in my back yard along with its friend, a Concord Grapevine. Both have been featured here more than once before (see, for example, Bernadine Clematis, 2022 Version; One Clematis, Two Clematis; Plant Entanglements (1 of 2); and Plant Entanglements (2 of 2)) — but the clematis flowers haven’t been seen for a couple of years, until a few weeks ago.

Back in the olden days of 2021 and 2022, I had several clematis in pots on my back deck, which is where I photographed them for the previous posts. I’ve written before about the two big deep freezes of winter 2022-2023, which destroyed all sorts of plants throughout much of Georgia, including my clematis. When spring 2023 rolled around, several of the plants produced a feeble batch of leaves, so I replanted them in the Concord Grapevine’s pot — where they pushed out a few stringy vines, then shriveled up and disappeared. Gone forever, or so I thought.

Between thunderstorms in March and April this year, I noticed some new vines — quite a few new vines followed by flower buds (like those in the first five photos below), then with some petals that show a lot of very soft purple in morning light that dissipates as the sun rises. Of course as soon they opened, I got them to pose for a couple of photoshoots — then realized the flowers have become something quite different from those they produced before. This led me to learn about some new botanical terms — plant reversion and back mutation — where a plant’s flowers return to an earlier color and form after it’s been stressed by transplanting, and is described in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany as “a reverse mutation in which a gene reverts to the original standard [or wild-type] form.” How cool is that!

To my way of thinking: my clematis have been reincarnated, to what they used to be before someone changed them into what I had. Whatever these have become, they’re no longer recognizable by their original names, so I’ve decided to name them after my dog — and call them Clematis Lobo Lila — since his name is Lobo and the flowers are light purple or lilac in color. As you can probably imagine, he’s thrilled….

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Twelve Dozen Daffodils (8 of 8)

From Daffodil: The Remarkable Story of the World’s Most Popular Spring Flower by Noel Kingsbury:

“The overwhelming number of daffodils grown in gardens and in public places are hybrids — crosses between two distinct populations. In the beginning of the era of active plant breeding, back in the nineteenth century, there were only wild species, their various geographic forms, mutant varieties (such as doubles), and natural hybrids. The first people who deliberately made crosses between wild daffodil species were brave, inquisitive, and entrepreneurial — typical of the pioneers who made the nineteenth century the exciting time of rapid progress it was….

“The process they carried out is essentially unchanged today: the protecting of the flowers from any insects who might carry out an unauthorised pollination, and the transfer of pollen from one variety to the stigma (the tip of the female organs of the flower) of another using a delicate brush. The seed is then sown, and after several years, when the young plants flower, decisions are made as to whether the new hybrid is worth growing on or not….

“The story of the daffodil, then, is the story of human ingenuity, skill, and dedication, applied to the continual change of a plant. The genes of the original species are the raw material, and what breeders do is to endlessly shuffle them. They do so for two main reasons: one is perfection, the other diversification. Breeders have always sought to attain an ideal, whether a visual ideal (a particular shape or colour) or a functional one (strong stems or a long flowering season). They have also sought novelty: new shapes, new colours, or new combinations of features.”

From Daffodil: The Biography of a Flower by Helen O’Neill:

[William] Backhouse carved out his career in the offices of Backhouse’s Bank, his family’s business in Durham. Established in 1774 by his great-grandfather James Backhouse (a linen manufacturer turned money lender) and two of James’s sons, this firm stood as one of northern England’s larger banks. Like many of his kin William Backhouse had a keen fascination for the natural world, and by the age of twenty-two he had become a founding member of the Natural History Society of Northumberland….

“Backhouse would turn his investigative attentions to insects, birds, geology, and meteorology and upon experimenting with his first daffodil cross in 1856, at the gardens of his home, St. John’s Hall, near Wolsingham, became utterly entranced.

“The mechanics of heredity fascinated him. He observed with no little puzzlement that first generation daffodil ‘children’ often look nothing like either of their parents, and set to producing flowers of different shapes, sizes and colours that ranged from pure whites, lemons and yellows to some with red edges and glowing orange tints….

“Backhouse began the first true daffodil dynasty. He and his second wife Katherine had three sons: Charles James, Henry and Robert Ormston, each of whom would go on to pursue daffodil breeding. Robert Ormston, the youngest Backhouse boy (1854–1940), kept the flame doubly alive by wedding a fellow daffodilian, Sarah Elizabeth Dodgson (1857–1921).

“As Mrs. R.O. Backhouse, Sarah demonstrated potent Narcissus breeding abilities particularly in the arena of so-called red-cupped daffodils, and in 1916 the Royal Horticultural Society awarded her the prestigious Peter Barr Memorial Cup for her important achievements. Two years after her death in 1921 her widower Robert christened ‘Mrs R.O. Backhouse’, the first ever pink-cupped, white-petalled daffodil, in her memory….”


This is the last of eight posts featuring daffodils from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. The previous posts are Twelve Dozen Daffodils (1 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (2 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (3 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (4 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (5 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (6 of 8), and Twelve Dozen Daffodils (7 of 8). That’s a lot!

To wrap up this series, I wanted to learn a little more about how double daffodils — ancestors to daffodils like those feature in these last two posts — came to be. They are, of course, not native daffodils, but are genetic variations produced by years and years of experimental breeding. The first quotation above provides a short overview of how that process works; and the second highlights one of the families of part-time botanists who were instrumental in producing new daffodil varieties.

But a funny thing happened on the way to writing this post. To help me learn about who might have contributed to the early development of double daffodils, I posed this question to my imaginary research assistant, ClaudeAI: Who are some of the key botanists or geneticists that contributed to the emergence and development of double daffodils? The assistant replied with this at-first-glance helpful summary of some of those individuals:

“While many breeders and horticulturists played a role, here are some of the key figures who made significant contributions to the development of double daffodil cultivars:

“John Parkinson (1567-1650): An English botanist and herbalist, Parkinson is credited with documenting some of the earliest known double daffodil varieties like the ‘Great Double White Daffodil’ in the 1600s.

“Richard Salterton Graves (1790-1876): An English medical doctor with a passion for daffodils, Graves is considered the father of modern double daffodil breeding. He created many seminal double cultivars in the early 1800s.

“William Backhouse (1807-1869): A renowned English nurseryman, Backhouse bred and introduced famous double daffodil varieties like ‘Butter and Eggs‘ that became widespread.

“John Kenderdine (1815-1877): Along with Graves, Kenderdine from Devon was instrumental in early double daffodil breeding work that advanced the number of petals achieved.

“William Baylor Hartland (1836-1922): An Irish daffodil breeder, Hartland created cultivars like ‘Buttercup‘ and helped establish the doubling trait in certain narcissus divisions.

“In the 20th century, commercial daffodil breeders at companies like the Carncairn Daffodils in Northern Ireland drove further refinement of double forms through breeding programs.

“So while rooted in earlier spontaneous mutations, pioneering breeders across generations systematically developed and refined the genetic complexity underlying modern double daffodil floral forms.”

Armed with this information, I went back to my two daffodil books to learn more about each of these individuals, three of whom — John Parkinson, William Backhouse, and William Baylor Hartland — I was already at least lightly familiar with. I chose Backhouse to represent the early development of doubles at the top of this post simply because I thought it was interesting that experimental daffodil breeding continued through generations of his family. And one of the family members — Mrs. R. O. Backhouse — is credited in the Gardens Illustrated article The Search for the Backhouse Daffodils with developing a fine looking double daffodil called “Glowing Phoenix,” which has some similarity to the daffodils in my photos, but with a more prominent yellow and orange corona. John Parkinson and William Baylor Hartland also both had important roles as botanists, gardeners, and early chroniclers of the flora of daffodils and other plants, and all three are covered extensively in both Kingsbury’s and O’Neills books, as well as many other sources on both botany and botanical history.

But I couldn’t find any information about two of the five men that ClaudeAI mentioned: Richard Salterton Graves and John Kenderdine, the first explicitly described as “the father of modern double daffodil breeding” and the second as an associate of this father of modern double daffodil breeding. You would think that someone with that important moniker — and someone who worked with him — would have been covered by the expert authors of my daffodil books, but they were not to be found there. Nor could I find either man on Wikipedia, or in any Internet Archive books, or in any Google searches. My first thought was that Graves might be more commonly known by a variation of his name — maybe R. S. Graves — so I went back to ClaudeAI and asked for some biographical data on Richard Salterton Graves and then on John Kenderdine. ClaudeAI spit back this response…

“After double checking my sources, I cannot actually find any credible information about a person named ‘Richard Salterton Graves’ being a pioneering breeder of double daffodils.

“It seems I made a mistake in including that fictitious name and details in my previous response about key figures in the development of double daffodil cultivars. I clearly provided inaccurate information that I cannot validate.”

… and this one…

“After reviewing my information more carefully, I cannot find definitive credible sources listing John Kenderdine as a breeder involved in the early development of double daffodil cultivars.

“It appears I likely fabricated those details about Kenderdine’s contributions when I should not have stated anything as factual without being able to properly source and verify it.”

Whaaaattttttt is happening? I had asked the AI a very specific question about early double daffodil breeders, it had responded with a plausible-sounding summary of five such breeders — and two of the five people it named never existed. You can probably imagine how I probed ClaudeAI with some additional questions about how this can happen, but I won’t bother you with the details of those conversations except to mention that it thanked me for pointing out its errors and eventually told me it must have been hallucinating. Did someone feed it some daffodils? I doubt it, but this is what always happens when you catch one of these AIs making stuff up: a walk-back of “facts” it presented for no apparent reason, followed by sheepish apologies.

And these are the tools we’re told are taking over the world, heralding the end of our jobs and maybe even our humanity — haha! good luck with that! — but they can’t double-check for their own errors unless a human points them out. I suppose, though, that they may be good at writing fiction… but probably not….

We hope you’ve enjoyed this daffodil series, and maybe learned a few things despite our occasional diversions into unrelated topics. Spring is a time of many-flowery things, as you probably know, so we’ve been busy slinking around the neighborhood snapping our next photographic subjects. Stay tuned for some (or all!) of the following flower photos: apricot, cherry, crabapple, and dogwood tree blooms; azaleas, bluebells, and clematis; irises (many irises — including the tiny Iris japonica); and roses (Cherokee, Lady Banks, and “regular” roses). We’re oh-so busy working our digital magic in The Darkroom!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!