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White Lilies (1 of 2)

From Lilies for English Gardens by Gertrude Jekyll:

“If one might have only one Lily in the garden, it would have to be the beautiful old White Lily that has been with us since the end of the sixteenth century. Although we may take it to be the oldest of its kind in cultivation, we do not by any means know all about its wants and ways. For of all Lilies known in gardens it is what is called the most capricious. When we say a plant is capricious, it is, of course, a veiled confession of ignorance, for whereas we may well believe that the laws that govern the well-being of any plant are more or less fixed, and with most plants we can make sure of the right way of culture; in the case of this Lily we cannot find out what those laws are; and though it has been more than three hundred years in our gardens, we can only give general advice as to where and how it will do well.

“A plant so lovely should be tried in every garden.”


From a multi-day lily hunting expedition at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens, I separated out photos of white lilies and “painted” their backgrounds black. Below is the first to two batches.

Thanks for taking a look!






Seven Magnolia Blooms

From Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

“Named for French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638–1715), Magnolia is a famously old genus. It is also hard to define; current thinking suggests 200-plus species. Some botanists favour splitting it, others dumping the entire Magnoliaceae into it. The fossil record is rich, with family members dating back 98 million years, and Magnolia itself being of Cretaceous origin, i.e., contemporary with the dinosaurs but before bees: it is thought the first magnolias were pollinated by beetles.

“Magnolia flower buds are used for treating sinus problems in Chinese herbalism, and the bark… is prescribed for a wide range of conditions, although it does contains high levels of alkaloids and concerns have been raised over its safety. Flowers are used for flavouring, or at least ornamenting, certain Chinese teas, while buds are deep fried and eaten as a spring delicacy; they are somewhat tasteless, but the petals make an attractive addition to a salad….

“Wreaths of
M. grandiflora foliage are traditional in the American South (they dry slowly and can be kept for months), and the flower, an emblem of the Confederate army in the U.S. Civil War, remains a potent symbol of the white American South…The 1989 film Steel Magnolias conjures up an image of something beautiful but also very tough; the tree symbolised the character of the women in the film….”


Despite making over sixty trips to Oakland Cemetery’s gardens over the past year, I hadn’t previously turned my camera toward any of the large magnolia trees growing on the property, some originally planted in the late 1800s and still thriving. They tower in height second only to the gigantic oak trees for which the property was originally named (see Early Landscapes: The Trees of Oakland), produce an enormous volume of blooms, and shed leaves as large as footballs that drop in a circle surrounding each tree’s trunk. The circles are as wide in diameter as the trees are tall, and as thick and bouncy as the beds of discarded pine needles you might find in any ancient forest.

Magnolia tree branches are some of the densest and most twisty-looking structures in the plant kingdom, I swear, making it a challenge to find a focal point for composing a photo. It’s also true that very few of their flowers are at a height I can get too without a ladder, which of course doesn’t fit in my photo bag. Nevertheless, with a zoom lens and the luck of finding a few branches hanging low to the ground (like the fourth photo below) I took a few dozen photos of the blooms that I could zoom in close enough to “fill the frame” — expecting I could figure out how to isolate the blooms from the entangled branches once I got at them in Lightroom.

Here are the first three, where I kept most of the leaves directly attached to the bloom stems in the frame, while blacking out all the rest.

Here’s one of the few flowers I found close enough to the ground (about five feet up) that I could get a shot that included the Internal structure of the flower, conveniently framed by an old and highly photogenic stone wall. If you’d like to get a closer look, click here.

Here are the last three, where I isolated just the flower — or, in the last photo, isolated the flower with a few of the leaves that (for reasons only the tree understands) were all reversed, showing the yellow-gold backs of the leaves instead of their dark green fronts.


Here are before-and-after versions of the seven photos, with most of the adjustments complete in both versions, but where I turned off the black background mask to show the blossoms in their original context: a mass of leaves and lots of blown-out highlights from sunlight filtering through the branches. It was a fun experiment to see if I could get results I wanted from the originals: creating the illusion that I’d taken macro photos of the magnolia blooms when, in reality, I used a zoom lens and stood about twenty feet from the trees to get these photos. It was also a lot of work — about two days of brushing black over the backgrounds and fine-tuning the mask — but I’m glad I gave it a shot.

Select any image in the gallery if you would like to compare the before and after versions in a slideshow.


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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!






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