Autumn Daisies (2 of 3)

From Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Iconic Poet by Marta McDowell:

“White daisies with yellow eyes contrast with red poppies. Dickinson associated with them, sometimes taking Daisy as a nickname for herself in letters. The daisies that she grew and that still populate the fields around Amherst are oxeye daisies….

While she adored them, not everyone agreed. One of her relations countered, ‘Why do people rave over the beauty of daisies? They look to me like hard-boiled eggs cut in two.’

Flowers are a matter of taste.”

From What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz:

“Most of us interact with plants every day. At times we experience plants as soft and comforting, like grass in a park during an indulgent midday nap or fresh rose petals spread across silk sheets. Other times they are rough and prickly: we navigate around pesky thorns to get to a blackberry bush on a meander through the woods or trip over a knotted tree trunk that’s worked its way up through the street….

But in most cases, plants remain passive objects, inert props that we interact with but ignore while we do so. We pluck petals from daisies. We saw the limbs off unsightly branches….

What if plants knew we were touching them?”


“What if plants knew we were touching them?” — interesting query, if you think about it. But what I really want to know is:

What if plants knew we were taking their pictures???

If they knew… would they turn their flowers toward more flattering light? or try to stand still in the wind? Would they prefer we dust off their pollen? or get mad if their petals and leaves were blemished? Would they call on some bees and butterflies to come into the frame, or prefer to be solitary subjects? Would they be glad we spend hours bent at their “feet” — or just wish they could shoo us away?

These are all pressing questions, of course, even if no photographer has ever asked them before. 🙂

Those plants that by their nature respond to tactile stimulus (see Rapid Plant Movement) are typically regarded as having a mechanical response to touch; but what if instead they possess rudimentary perception and cognition — and we humans (one of whom just insulted plants by calling them “rudimentary”) don’t understand them yet. I mean, ideas around animal cognition are still in their infancy, and we’re just beginning to grasp wee bits about how animals’ thought processes might work. It wasn’t such a long time ago that people generally believed animal actions were simply ingrained, conditioned, and reactive, essentially mechanical — despite the fact that anyone who has animals in their lives can see that that’s unlikely.

Our mythology, art, literature, and film all often feature sentient, smart plants. In our time, from yapping tiger lilies in Alice and Wonderland to mean-talking trees in The Wizard of Oz, we’ve created fantasy worlds where plants have active cognitive lives and engage in self-directed movements of their own. More recently, plants that seem to act and think make their way into science fiction and horror films; movies like The Girl with All the Gifts, Annihilation, or The Happening — movies I liked, but many people didn’t — all created imaginary spaces where violent behavior of plants was set in the context of environmentalism, as warnings to humans who abuse the natural world. The first two movies (and the books they were based on; see here and here) were excellent sci-fi (in my opinion); The Happening was more like a horror story where a dry summer breeze presaged psychotic and murderous human conduct. Should you watch that movie, pay particular attention to the sound of the wind; you’ll never hear leaves and grass blowing around you the same way again.

I’ve been a vegetarian since 2014; so I’ll admit I’m a little concerned about a discovery that plants are sentient and thoughtful. I’ve elminated dead animals from my diet, but what am I going to eat if we find out that plants have feelings? As it is, when I roast some potatoes in the oven and I can tell that they’re almost done because they start hissing… is that just steam escaping or are they actually screaming at me? Should plants turn out to be animals with leaves, The Silence of the Lambs will have to be rewritten as The Silence of the Yams. And I guess I’ll just end out drinking water with a blob of Soylent Green… oh, wait, that stuff’s made from PEOPLE!

ANYHOW!!

Here are some more daisies, two of which invited a honeybee to join my photoshooot.

Thanks for taking a look!






Autumn Daisies (1 of 3)

From Beautiful at All Seasons: Southern Gardening and Beyond by Elizabeth Lawrence:

“Now that fall is at hand, it is time to think of replenishing the flower borders. I am told that no one has flower borders any more, because they are so much trouble to keep, but it seems to me that mine demand comparatively little attention in return for the blooms they provide from early spring until frost. I keep them as full as possible with perennials that take care of themselves: garden forms of phlox, boltonia, loosestrife, pale yellow daylilies in varieties that bloom from May to September, old unimproved shasta daisies, the kind that stays with you….”


Hello!

I’ve been out hunting for some fall color here in my urban forest, but apparently it’s still a little early as our temperatures are just starting to drop out of the sixties and seventies… so now I’m expecting big things from nature’s leaf painters over the next couple of weeks.

Some leaves have started to fall, but only from those trees that shed their leaves early without even bothering to change their colors first — a seriously deranged behavior from those trees, if you ask me. But I did find these delightful batches of daisies that I had looked for earlier in the year, having forgotten that they make their appearance in October and November rather than spring or summer. I posted some similar pictures in November, 2019; if you would like to look at those see Autumn in Atlanta: Photo Mash-Up #2 and Autumn in Atlanta: Photo Mash-Up #4.

This is the first of three posts featuring photos where I tried to take advantage of a nice sunny day to get some fancy lighting on the individual flowers, and the last photo below shows where many of the white daisies spend their time. The second post will feature additional images with color backgrounds … and the third….

For the third post I’m working on black-background variations (of course!) — using a new Lightroom capability that Adobe just released today with version 11 of the software. Adobe has redesigned Lightroom’s masking capabilities, and the program now includes a “Select Subject” function that automatically creates a mask around the photograph’s main subject. Having practiced on some of these daisy photos, I can say that I’m jazzed about the new tool: it works better than I imagined it could and will virtually eliminate my time-consuming brushing around tiny edges of flower petals — reducing what sometimes took several hours to three seconds of clicking a couple of buttons. What will I do with all that saved time? Take more photos, of course!

If you would like to read more about Lightroom’s new masking tools (from What’s new in Lightroom Classic), see…

Experience enhanced editing with Masking; and

Automatically select subject and sky in an image; and

Masking Reimagined, for an overview of the new feature across Adobe’s products.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!






Bears Breeches and Angelica (and Plants and Philosophy)

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

Acanthus includes around 30 species of shrubby and herbaceous plants from the Mediterranean region, down into northern and eastern Africa and across into western Asia. The name is from the Greek for ‘spiny’; Acantha was a minor figure in Greek mythology, a nymph who got turned into a plant by Apollo after she fought off one of the unwanted sexual advances of which ancient mythology is so full….

Acanthus is most famous as being the model for the ornamental leaves found on the capitals (pillar tops) of the so-called Corinthian order of ancient Greek architecture. Given the popularity of Classical architecture, the acanthus leaf has reappeared ever since as carved or printed ornament, in both buildings and paintings….

“The rather odd common name of bears’ breeches is obscure in origin, without any recorded explanation.”

From The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants by Anna Pavord:

“[Theophrastus] is the first to recognise, in the 500 plants that he includes in his Enquiry, many of the characteristics which eventually helped to determine how plants were to be classified. He notes that some plants are annual, completing the whole of their cycle of growth in a single year; others are perennial, springing up each year from the same rootstock, and dying down to the ground in winter. He sees how some plants seem to fall into natural groups or families, especially those plants which have tiny white flowers arranged in wide flat heads on top of hollow stems.

“Later, when a more specialised language began to emerge to serve this demanding new discipline, flowerheads of this kind became known as umbels….


The term was then used to label all plants that had this characteristic flat head of flowers – the Umbelliferae: angelica, carrot, celery, dill, fennel, parsley, parsnip, cow parsley, hogweed, Queen Anne’s lace, sweet cicely, alexanders, ground elder. And the deadly poisonous hemlock. There was a clear and pressing incentive to understand the difference between this plant and its similar wild cousins.”


Hello!

Dig into the names of plants for a while, and you’ll invariably encounter characters from Greek mythology, and, as I recently learned, Greek philosophers. Actual human beings! The philosophers that is.

My knowledge of Greek mythology never advanced much beyond watching The Mighty Hercules cartoons as a tyke (my favorite character was Daedelus, portrayed as an evil wizard); but I did spend a couple years dabbling in philosophy back in the twentieth century. I eventually switched my studies from philosophy to history, after discovering how dwelling in the minds of philosophers was a bit too much like never getting out of my own head… and history, at least, led me to explore the world around me and try to connect the past with the present, even in my own neighborhood and at historical sites like The Atlanta History Center and Oakland Cemetery.

The Greek philosophers were especially fond of sorting things — their mythology also reflects that — in the sense that they were compelled to observe the external world and try to classify and organize what they saw. Pummeled with all sorts of information the way us “moderns” are, we easily forget that those oak trees or dandelions encountered on a walk through our ‘hood once had no names, and, as important, no explicit differentiation from each other.

Initially, through Aristotle, plants got separated from animals; then his student Theophrastus documented 500 species of plants within the spaces he explored, extending Aristotle’s plant-and-animal distinctions by naming plants and defining plants-as-plants with descriptions of their individual parts. As Anna Pavord tells us in The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants:

“Theophrastus is the first in the long list of men who fought to find the order they believed must exist in the dizzying variety of the natural world. He lays out the puzzle, nudges together a few pieces that he thinks might fit. Fitfully, over the next 2,000 years, the puzzle is taken up by a series of philosophers, doctors, apothecaries, each of whom adds to the picture, links a few more pieces together, until finally, by the end of the seventeenth century, the whole picture begins to make sense….

“We now have written descriptions of 422,000 plant species. Theophrastus knew about 500, half of which had already appeared in Greek poetry, plays, essays…. But Theophrastus was the first person to devote serious attention to the business of naming plant names….

“He was the first person to discuss plants in relationship to each other, not just in terms of their usefulness to man. Magic and medicine both provided powerful practical incentives to know more about plants, but Theophrastus wanted to know them in a different way, just for the sake of knowing. From that knowledge, connections between plants gradually emerged which helped to make sense of the natural world….”

If you’ve ever tried to explain a plant’s parts — the leaves, the stems, the flowers, the parts of a flower, as you (or I) might do when writing about a photograph, or painting, or drawing one — you’re pulling from a philosophical tradition that goes back at least to the Greek philosophers and creatives, and probably even further into Eastern traditions of regions like China and India that had an equally vibrant culture of learning about and making use of the things growing from the ground around them. That “oak tree” and “dandelion” look a little different now, don’t they?


The photos below have been hanging around in my Lightroom catalog for a while; I took them while hunting down other flowers at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens — especially the lilies and irises. It wasn’t until I found out what they were called — and how far their botanical names went back historically — that I decided to post my photos of the Bears’ Breeches and Angelica. I mean, who can resist those names, especially “Bears’ Breeches”! And “umbel” by the way — which is a description of the Angelica flower’s form, connects it to the plant family Umbelliferae, and whose word history gives us “umbrella” — also describes the flower structure of lantana in photos I previously posted.


Here are the Bears’ Breeches, growing at the border between a shaded and sunlit area next to some old urns… enough breeches for several (very small) bears!


The Angelica stood tall in a large bunch near the base of an oak tree, looking like two different plants depending on the age of the flowers. The older flowers — like these two and the three immediately following — were dry to the touch and lively with dozens of tiny bees flitting among the red or rust-colored buds. I couldn’t quite get a sharp shot of the bees in motion — they wouldn’t stay still! — but here you can see three of them coming in for a landing, and then… landed.


From the same plant, here are some younger blooms, just beginning to open. A bit of the red color that will eventually appear as the plant ages and dries out is visible on some of the tops of the blooms. The bees, for whatever reason, seemed uninterested in the white blooms, a little something that might be worth learning more about on its own.

There were only a few fully opened flowers, since it was late in the summer season when I took these photos. Here’s one of them; the detail is quite fantastic. Select the picture to view it in a slide show and then choose Info/View Full Size (or click here) if you’d like to get a closer look.


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Late Summer/Early Fall Lantana (4 of 4)

From The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (1917 edition) by Liberty Hyde Bailey:

“The culture of the florists’ lantana is relatively simple. It is grown under glass for bloom in cold weather and also in the open in summer. It has been improved in its usefulness as a bedding-plant of late years, largely through the efforts of French hybridists. The older varieties were mostly rather tall and lanky, later coming into bloom, and dropped their flowers badly after rain-storms, but were showy in warm and dry weather. The new varieties are dwarf, spreading and bushy in habit, early and free-flowering, and the heads or umbels of bloom average much larger, with florets in proportion; nor do they drop from the plants as did old varieties in bad weather….

“These newer kinds are not so well known as they should be. They are very desirable for any situation where sun-loving bedding plants are used, in groups or borders, window boxes, baskets and vases.”

From “Bedding Out” in Colour in My Garden (1918) by Louise Beebe Wilder:

“Lantanas were favourite bedding plants of yore….

“I remember that my father alway stood out for two lozenge-shaped beds of Lantana on the terrace in front of our old stone house, and how he gloried in their vivacious colours….”


Hello!

This is the last of four posts featuring photos of lantana plants in my garden. The previous posts are:

Late Summer/Early Fall Lantana (1 of 4)

Late Summer/Early Fall Lantana (2 of 4)

Late Summer/Early Fall Lantana (3 of 4)


Whenever I see the word “yore” (as in the second quotation above) — which is of course not often! — I can’t help but think about the Friends episode called The One with the Apothecary Table, where Rachel Green tries to convince Phoebe Buffay that the apothecary table she bought from Pottery Barn was anciently manufactured in historical White Plains and purchased from a flea market for the “old time pricing” of “one and fifty dollars”. There’s a short clip of the episode here, where the first three and a half minutes include two of the apothecary table scenes.

If there’s such a thing as post-consumerist humor, The One with the Apothecary Table is a great example, where the characters as a group simultaneously love and hate mass-produced products, yet respond to the subtle (or not so subtle) advertised messages by opening their wallets and stuffing their apartments with objects from a catalog-created theme.

The episode is a fun play on history also. Subsequently asked to identify an historical era other than “yore”, Rachel adds “yesteryear” — and “yesteryear and yore” briefly re-entered American vernacular as a way to describe ambiguous time periods in the past. I’ve used them myself sometimes, sometimes together and sometimes separately; and the cultural pervasiveness of a series like Friends is so strong that almost anyone who hears the terms knows they’re actually a reference to the comedy of the apothecary tables.

Yesteryear — for example, in 2018 or 2019 or 2020 — I wouldn’t have even tried to convert some of the lantana photos from the previous three posts to images with black backgrounds, because the tiny spaces embedded in the central portion of the blooms were too difficult to brush out without bleeding black onto the flowers themselves. Until I spent several weeks practicing — especially on the Lilies on Black Backgrounds series from this past summer (where I describe my black background technique) — I didn’t have enough experience with Lightroom’s brushes to fill these areas with black where the surrounding structure was as intricate as it is on these lantana flowers.

With macro photos like these, depth is largely a contrast and shadow illusion, an illusion that overlooks the fact that all photographs are two-dimensional renderings of what our eyes would perceive three-dimensionally. Bright-to-dark transitions typically register in our minds as front-to-back perspective, and shadows around edges (as muted as they might be) contribute to that recognition. In other words, if I didn’t leave some of the shadows around the edges of the pink flower buds, those image elements would look flat to the eye, and, as a result, the entire image would look unnatural and artificial.

If you look at one of the original images — say this one, of the first photo below — you will see green color from the plant’s stems and leaves surrounding most of the pink center buds. On my “first draft” of these photos, I kept that green intact, but since most of them had no other green, it seemed distracting so I decided to try and get rid of it.

To remove the green without brushing around each of the little pink pillows, I used a Lightroom feathered and circular brush the size of the pink section only and clicked on a bit of green color toward the center. The feathering setting for the brush kept the pink color intact, retained most of the shadows at the edges of each pink bud, and replaced the green with a black that matched the rest of the background with a single press of the mouse button. No more green — and Voila! — the blossoms themselves totally look like they’re suspended in mid-air!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!







Late Summer/Early Fall Lantana (3 of 4)

From The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (1917 edition) by Liberty Hyde Bailey:

“Lantana have been long in cultivation, and it is difficult to refer the garden forms to botanical species. The species themselves are confusing. Most of the garden kinds are of the L. Camara type….

“In recent years, a strain of very dwarf varieties has become popular as border plants. The lantanas are free-flowering in winter and summer, but an odor of foliage and flowers that is disagreeable to many persons prevents them from popular use as cut flowers. They are very useful in window-gardens and the dwarf kinds make good subjects for hanging baskets….

“From the window they may be transferred to the open in summer, where they bloom profusely.”


Hello!

This is the third of four posts featuring photos of lantana plants in my garden; the first post is Late Summer/Early Fall Lantana (1 of 4) and the second post is Late Summer/Early Fall Lantana (2 of 4).

The botanical confusion allusion in my quotation from the Cyclopedia above made its way into my researching around the web for quotes about lantana. The short version of the story, which I finally got a handle on, is this: the plant’s colloquial name as lantana was co-opted from the name of an unrelated plant — viburnum lantana — and older books will sometimes refer to garden or wildwood lantana as viburnum instead of lantana. And, to stumble my brain even a bit more, garden lantana is a member of the verbena family of plants — and some references in historical sources simply refer to lantana as verbena, especially references to wilder variations as opposed to varieties cultivated for gardens.

Make sense? haha! If it’s in someone’s garden, and it looks like my photos, it’s lantana camara. If not, it’s not!

Botany is a hoot!

Thanks for taking a look!