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!

Before and After: Fragments of Color and Light

On Wordless Wednesday a couple of weeks ago, I posted transformed versions of eleven images (see Wordless Wednesday: Fragments of Color and Light) that I had found in my archives — not a mysterious dusty place in the basement, but a folder of older photos on my computer. I selected and processed these as a group because I liked the way the subjects reflected light. I didn’t use any new techniques, but followed processing steps I previously described here:

Before and After: Yellow and Green (and Lightroom Radial Filters)

Select the first image to begin a slideshow and see the results of these transformations. Thanks for taking a look!

Late Summer Color: Mary Ann Lantana (Gallery 3 of 3)

This is probably true: gardeners obsess about the weather, even moreso when it doesn’t seem to behave positively for their gardens. I’d like to understand it better, especially when I find myself wondering if my experience with the same garden for fifteen years has any broader meaning in terms of changing weather patterns or climate change. I also often wonder about how my proximity to a large urban area — downtown Atlanta with all its glassy skyscrapers, concrete, and pavement is just a couple miles away — affects the development of storms in my area, since it seems I can often observe thunderstorms popping up in the distance that skirt the city center and the areas around it. I have a dim understanding of the impact of urban centers as heat islands — but I can’t really explain how those heat sinks are thought to impact weather. Still, a personal unscientific observation is that late summer weather has changed over the past decade and a half: this time of year used to be one of frequent intense thunderstorms late in the day several times a week, but for the last few years that same July-through-September time frame seems more like drought. Gardeners intuitively know that rain supports a garden in ways water from a hose can’t, and that with extended rainless periods — especially during late summer and early fall — watering becomes an exercise in hoping that it’s enough to support perennials as they transition to winter. So while the hot sun seems to be thinning out some plants and bleaching out some leaves, the lantana, hydrangeas, vines, ferns, and hostas should be hanging in there well enough for next year.

It’s late in the gardening season regardless, so I’ve about run out of back-yard flowers to photograph. I have a Rose of Sharon that looks like it might put out a few nice blooms (if it survives this heat), in the next week or so. I’ll be planning some expeditions to other kinds of gardens or some nearby woodlands … so it may be fun to see what I come up with. I also hope to educate myself more on climate change over the next few months — something of a challenge since it’s so difficult to get a handle on useful research versus excessive politicization — but I’ve decided to spend some time with Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything and Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers to get me started. Other suggestions are welcomed (please leave in the comments); book reports lateron!

Keeping with the theme of the past five posts…

Late Summer Color: Mary Ann Lantana (Gallery 2 of 3)

Late Summer Color: Mary Ann Lantana (Gallery 1 of 3)

Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 3 of 3)

Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 2 of 3)

Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 1 of 3)

… here are four before-and-after images from my third set of Mary Ann Lantana:

And here are the fifteen completed images that make up this third gallery.

Thanks for taking a look!

Late Summer Color: Mary Ann Lantana (Gallery 2 of 3)

Keeping with the theme of the past four posts…

Late Summer Color: Mary Ann Lantana (Gallery 1 of 3)

Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 3 of 3)

Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 2 of 3)

Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 1 of 3)

… here are four before-and-after images from my second set of Mary Ann Lantana:

And here are the fifteen completed images that make up this second gallery. Thanks for taking a look!

Late Summer Color: Mary Ann Lantana (Gallery 1 of 3)

It seems hard to believe, but here in the U.S. southeast the days are already shortening, as we move from summer toward a fall that’s not too far away. Of the four varieties of lantana on my property, Mary Ann Lantana is the most prolific bloomer; it continues to add new flowers through late August and well into September (sometimes even October!). After that, I cut it back — almost to the ground — to get it ready for cooler weather so it can rest over the winter.

For these photos, I used the same post-processing approach that I described for images of my Landmark Citrus Lantana (see Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 1 of 3), relying heavily on Lightroom’s radial filters and adjustment brushes to emphasize the blooms and, in some cases, darken or eliminate backgrounds. Here are before-and-after versions of four of the eleven photos, those that I transformed the most. The last one’s my favorite!

Funny thing happened as I was assembling this blog post: I realized that I had written several times about my “Miss Huff” Lantana — but as it turns out, I don’t have Miss Huff, I’ve got Mary Ann. They’re very different; see here versus here. Several blog posts, tags, and brain cells have been corrected…. 🙂

Below is the first set of Mary Ann Lantana images. Thanks for taking a look!