Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 2 of 2)

The galleries below contain the second series of photos I took last week, of signs of spring life that are starting to appear in my gardens.

The first post and a bit about how the photos were taken and processed is here: Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 1 of 2).

Thanks for looking!


Gallery One: Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing Hydrangea is often seen growing as a showcase flowering vine on large trellises, but mine are in two four-foot tall urns with lattice supports on opposite sides of my courtyard. Planting them in pots was one of my gardening experiments: the plant — while producing only a few flowers — grows wonderfully with a few hours sunlight in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Most of the leaves drop off in the fall after turning bright yellow (see the third image here: Wordless Wednesday: Fall, Fading) but then regenerate from these tiny buds every spring, the buds often starting to appear in late January or early February.


Gallery Two: English Ivy

English Ivy has achieved the distinction of being common, pervasive, and often, invasive. Some people believe that if you take cuttings and throw them on the ground, they’ll grow right where you threw them. While I tried that and it didn’t work, I think it could if the soil was damp and soft; I’ve put a few strands in a jar of water and seen them generate long roots in just a couple of days.

Many of the homes in my neighborhood were built above street level on lots held in place by three-foot retaining walls. As you walk through the neighborhood, it’s very apparent that the same landscaping style was established at about the same time, as the retaining walls were created from similar stone that has aged to nearly identical colors and textures. The front yards, including mine, were planted with English Ivy instead of grass, and the ivy is typically encouraged to cascade over the walls. Near my sidewalk, front porch, and front gardens, I keep the vines at bay with pine bark; trimmed back and bordered by the bark, it’s not hard to keep it from consuming the gardens (and the house!) because the sticky fingers it produces are easily detached from the bark chips.

It grows all year round, though much more slowly during the winter, and isn’t a bit intimidated by frost or freezing temperatures. Once a year, in late February or early March, it puts on a show with a blanket of new leaves in luminous green or yellow-green, similar to the smaller leaves in the last two photos. Then, after about a week, the leaves get larger and the colors blend into a darker green, and rapid spring growth begins for real.


Gallery Three: Catawba Grape Vine

The Catawba Grapevine winters with these tiny, hard, darkly colored nubs that are just starting to show signs of growth. The Catawba was previously featured here on my post Secrets Inside a Grapevine.


Gallery Four: Bluebird Hydrangea

Bluebird Hydrangeas — like many hydrangeas — can always be counted on to over-winter some buds and push out new ones as early as January, even if it’s a little cold. It’s almost hard to believe that from a couple dozen stems like this, a fully leaved five-foot wide blooming shrub will fill one section of my garden. Bluebird Hydrangeas were featured on this blog last year, here: Bluebird Hydrangeas from My Garden.


Gallery Five: Honeysuckle

I have one honeysuckle in my garden, due for replanting from a pot to soil this year, or at least to a larger pot. Honeysuckle produces clumps of multicolored flowers in a variety of complex shapes and sizes; this one opens blooms in orange and light purple — colors similar to the bud in the last photo — that look like tiny trumpets suspended from the branches. At this early stage, the new leaves push out from various points along the plant’s woody stems, starting out as sage or blue-gray in color, then gradually changing to contain more and more green as the leaves mature.


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Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 1 of 2)

In the past few days, we’ve bounced from chilly Winter Evening Silhouettes to something that faintly resembles spring. It may not last — who knows what the next six weeks will bring? — but since it’s here for a few days, I spent a couple hours on Friday crawling around in the back yard, poking my camera among the plants and their pots, looking for signs of emerging spring. I do something similar almost every year, periodically getting snapshots of the tiny greenery and flower buds as the garden comes to life and the southeastern winter subsides. I plant mostly perennials and experiment with one or two new plants each year, so there are always some surprises. Photographing the early buds gets me to pay attention to what’s happening in the garden and gives me a chance to practice my closeup photography.

I took 99 shots with my sexy macro lens, using ISO 100 or ISO 200, manual camera settings, manual focus, and no flash for all the photos. No tripod, either, because the three extra legs make me fall down. I’ve learned from practice that with this lens I can use a shutter speed as low as 1/30 of a second and get images I’m satisfied with, handheld and holding my breath, relying on the camera’s continuous shooting of three frames to get me one that’s sharper than the others; and relying on underexposing some and letting Lightroom recover the exposure and detail when I process the RAW images. The continuous advance for macros might be a crutch, though; I may stop doing that since I end out with three times as many images to import and review in Lightroom and I’ve noticed recently that in most cases I keep the first image and throw out the second and third duplicates. It makes sense when you think about it — at least for stationery subjects — that my grip is steadiest on the first of a series of shots taken from a single press of the shutter.

After cranking up Lightroom and reviewing results, I discarded the typical two-thirds of the photos, marveling — as always — about the ones that looked great in the camera’s viewfinder but looked like crap when seen on the monitor. A photographic mystery, that! Adjustments to the photos included some cropping and straightening; basic contrast, brightness, and minor color adjustments; and a quick run through the Nik Collection to add saturation, remove color cast, and shift (your) focus to what I wanted (you) to see. I exported the photos and created nine small galleries by plant type; below are the first four and I’ll share the remaining galleries in a second post.


Gallery One: Clematis

Clematis is a fast-growing flowering vine that turns thin and brittle toward the end of each growing season as the leaves dry and fall from the plant. The spring growth that appears on the woody stems looks like emerging leaves, but is typically the tips of new vines that will stretch their way out of the old ones. You never know where the new growth will appear, so I always leave the hibernating vine intact, only trimming off dead wood when the plant has started blooming. In these photos, the slight purple cast on the plants or in the background comes from the burgundy color of the stairs leading to my back yard, where I have these clematis vines growing in two pots.


Gallery Two: Lamb’s Ear

Lamb’s Ear is a mounding and spreading plant, notable for the soft white fluff on leaves that vary in color from green to blue-green to very light blue. The bulk of the plant dies off with the first frost or freezing temperatures, with new growth popping out from the roots and stems that remain. The red in the backgrounds — especially in the last image — comes from the brickwork in my courtyard.


Gallery Three: Wisteria

The tiny buds below are from one of two wisteria vines in my garden, one growing on a trellis and this one growing in a large pot. The earliest leaves produced by the vine will have a slightly fuzzy texture that is apparent even at this stage. As the vine matures, it grows so fast you can almost see it get bigger as you stand near it; it easily adds six to eight inches of growth every day in June, July, and August. With adequate sun, it will produce clusters of purple blooms in April or May; but even without blooms, the vine grows beautifully.

As a rookie gardener fifteen years ago, I thought it was amazing how the one on a trellis on my deck pulled its way along the trellis and up the side of the house, until I realized one day that it had grown into the attic through one of the roof vents. Pulling out twenty to thirty feet of the vine was quite a chore as it twists firmly around anything it can get a grip on. It’s no longer allowed to grow that much; I keep it trimmed and mostly off the deck, because if I ignore it for even a few days, it tries to take the attic back. It’s sometimes considered an invasive species … why am I not surprised? 🙂

As with the Lamb’s Ear, the background red comes from the bricks in my courtyard.


Gallery Four: Hot Stuff Sedum

Who can resist a plant with “Hot Stuff” in its name? In late summer, sedum produces tiny, delicate flowers in clumps, but for most of the growing season, shows as repeating leaf mounds pushed up from the soil that shrivel and fall off in the early fall. Miniature versions of the mature leaves appear in the fall or early winter, after most of the summer growth has started to die off. They stay pretty much like this all winter, then start to grow out in April or May. I’ve had two of these for about five years, in pots that they’re starting to outgrow, so they’ll get new homes in a few weeks. Individual leaves are barely a half-inch wide and have a thick, rubbery texture, reminiscent of a soft cactus.


Thanks for reading and taking a look! More soon!

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Secrets Inside a Grapevine

Earlier this week, on a hot and sunny morning, I wanted to find out what I would see if I stuck my head and my macro lens into the interior of a Catawba Grapevine, behind the broad leaves and long stems twisted throughout an old iron obelisk trellis in one corner of my garden. The Catawba Grapevine is one of two I planted years ago as an experiment; the other is a Concord Grapevine, growing in a four-foot tall ceramic pot, winding up and through the bars of a fan-shaped trellis. Neither one produces grapes any more, but the Catawba has been returning every year for four years, and the Concord has grown back each spring and summer for eight years. In their first couple of years they both produced grapes, though the grapes never matured beyond the size of a pea: birds loved the tiny grapes and it was common for me to see a flurry of wings and beaks jabbing at the grape clusters until they were picked clean.

Both vines continue to grow and develop new leaves, stems, and tendrils until cooler fall weather sets in, when the leaves turn pale yellow, light orange, then brown as they begin to fall off. I looked for some of the tinier subjects to photograph; the photos below show some of the emerging leaves and the lines and curves of the tendrils as they search for places to attach. Sunlight, while very bright when I took these pictures, was filtered through the leaves, caused some harshness and clipping that I adjusted out of the photos as much as possible. At the same time, the sunlight also created some interesting background shapes and colors. Where you see a lot of white in the new leaves, that’s because they’re white on the bottom and shades of green and yellow on the top side.

The tendrils were a challenge to photograph, as the slightest breeze pushed them out of focus, and I’ll likely make another attempt at similar shots on a calmer day. The white clipping on the last photo was driving me crazy: I kept trying to de-emphasize it but couldn’t get it right without creating distracting artifacts in the image. I ended out emphasizing it instead by blurring and darkening the background, so it looks like a little flame instead of a … flameout.

These tendrils seem delicate but in reality are quite strong. The Catawba attaches itself tightly to the iron bars, and frequently latches onto the branches of Chinese fringe flower bushes that are growing nearby. I always thought it was just wind, coincidence, and a bit of stickiness that prompted the tendrils to attach to something, but I learned while researching this article that the plant follows a chemical and physiological process called thigmotropism to seek out and hook to attachment points. The tendrils can discriminate between the plant itself and other attachment points, favoring external attachments over self-attachment. This process can occur quickly: according to The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird:

“When the tendril … finds a perch, within twenty seconds it starts to curve around the object, and within the hour has wound itself so firmly it is hard to tear away. The tendril then curls itself like a corkscrew and in so doing raises the vine to itself.”

There is a description of this process, and some of the research behind it, at The Guardian, here: Scientists unwind the secrets of climbing plants’ tendrils; and an illustrated guide to the parts of a grapevine here: Grapevine Structure and Function (pdf).

Select any of the images below to begin a slideshow. As always: thanks for reading and taking a look!

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Quotes from My Library

Hello. This is the first in a series of posts that will feature quotations from books in my library, accompanied by a few photographs. Today’s selections have something to say about photography and gardening: as creative processes and as ways of seeing and interacting with the world.


From the introduction to The Writer in the Garden by Jane Garvey:

“It’s amazing how much time one can spend in a garden doing nothing at all. I sometimes think, in fact, that the nicest part of gardening is walking around in a daze …  wondering where on earth to squeeze in yet another impulse buy…. Of course, gardening is time-consuming, repetitive, and, at times, quite discouraging. But precisely because making a garden means constantly making choices, it offers almost limitless possibilities for surprise and satisfaction.”

“Since nothing ever really gets finished in a garden and everything is always in a state of flux, it is usually the process itself that fascinates.”

From the introduction to Macro Photography for Gardeners and Nature Lovers by Alan L. Detrick:

“For anyone who loves nature, whether admiring the flowers in a garden, watching a butterfly, or examining nature’s patterns, the desire to capture these images is as natural as taking the next breath. Macro photography is the visual portal to a world most people walk by without a glance. Plants, animals, and parts of plants and animals never before imagined enter the camera’s viewfinder. Best of all, close-up photography does not require trips to Alaska, Africa, or any other exotic locale to capture visually compelling natural images. A walk in the backyard garden or a neighborhood park can provide a wealth of material to photograph close up.”

From On Photography by Susan Sontag:

“No one would dispute that photography gave a tremendous boost to the cognitive claims of sight, because — through close-up and remote sensing — it so greatly enlarged the realm of the visible.”

Quoted in On Photography by Susan Sontag:

“I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” — Garry Winogrand

“Photography is a tool for dealing with things everybody knows about but isn’t attending to. My photographs are intended to represent something you don’t see.” — Emmet Gowin


Here are three views of an ostrich fern, from my garden — views that you wouldn’t necessarily see by casual observation, but only if you took a closer look:

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