“Study a book on wild flowers… or for that matter walk out into the woods and fields, and you wonder why you go to the trouble of sowing seed, ordering plants, when the countryside is alive with flowers that are identical with or sometimes superior to their domesticated cousins.
“Wild flowers are never vulgar. [They] have an elegance and restraint to their design that ought to give the hybridists pause as they go about their work….”
So I went exploring for a little fall color yesterday, but unsurprisingly found that it’s way too early for any of the trees to have started that transition here. Yet I was just as happy to come across a nice big batch of late-summer/early-fall blooming wildflowers … all busy attending to bees and butterflies going about their pollinating business. The galleries below include the images I took, a variety of different colored blooms followed by pictures of a particular butterfly that seemed to like posing (though not sitting still!) for the camera.
“The hydrangea, with good reason, has always been a favorite inmate of the garden. It is true, that in the old days we had only Hydrangea Hortensia; but it had several places in the garden and a big one in the heart….
“On Long Island it was seldom winter-killed, and it may now be considered a hardy plant in the latitude of New York City, except in an unusually cold winter. The plant itself is rarely winter-killed. The buds on last season’s grown, however, are sometimes either killed or badly injured as to destroy the bloom; for it is on this growth that we depend for flowers. It was a more or less common practice, therefore, to drive stakes around the plant on the approach of winter, and cover the plants loosely with dead leaves when the ground began to freeze hard, but not before….
“With a simple protection of this kind, all the Japanese hydrangeas might be grown considerably north of New York.”
“The garden hydrangea was named Hortensia by Philibert Commerson, who accompanied Louis Antoine de Bougainville on his voyage around the world in 1766 (see ‘Bougainvillea‘). It is usually supposed that the name “hortensia” was after Mlle. Hortense, daughter of the prince of Nassau; the latter had joined Bougainville’s expedition in order to escape his creditors. But it is worth noting that the woman named Jeanne Baret, who had sailed on the voyage disguised as a boy (called Jean), changed her name to Hortense when she settled in France. We will never really know why. Anyway, in 1830 the name was changed to Hydrangea macrophylla (large leaved), by which it is now known.”
Here are the last of the summer 2021 hydrangeas, at least from me. I took a few of my favorite images from the previous three posts and painted the backgrounds black.
I selected the quotes at the top of this post after poking around on Google Books for references to hydrangeas in 19th-century publications. The first one (from a long-running gardening journal published in the mid- to-late-1800s) interested me by being situated in New York City and New York State, which — even in the far northern and short-summer part of the state I’m originally from — has gardens with giant hydrangeas blooming from late spring to early fall. A testament, I think, to the hydrangea’s hardiness and its ability to adapt to and tolerate a wide range of weather and soil conditions that it does so well in a region where summer lasts about twenty minutes.
That quote also mentioned “Hydrangea Hortensia” — which I knew to be an early hydrangea name, one that’s still not uncommonly used to describe hydrangeas, especially the large mophead varieties. As I have written about before, our gardens are populated with plants and flowers discovered and named during the 1800s and early 1900s, and hydrangeas are no exception. I started digging into the source of the “Hortensia” name variation and quickly fell into a Tiny History Rabbit Hole (should I trademark that phrase?) and found that while the story had similar characteristics wherever I read about it, it was not exactly clear which “Hortense” (referred to in the second quote above as “Mlle. Hortense, daughter of the prince of Nassau”) was the actual Hortensia Hortense.
Several hours and many Hortenses later, I landed on Hortense van Nassau from 1771, asked Google to translate that web page from Dutch to English, and had something I’d already expected more-or-less confirmed: the typical reference to “Hortensia” as named after Hortense de Beauharnais — she of Napoleon-adjacent breeding and briefly a Dutch queen — was unlikely since she wasn’t born until 15-20 years after Commerson dubbed hydrangeas with their early European name. Commerson’s Hortense was more likely the daughter of Karl Heinrich von Nassau-Siegen, who did join the Bougainville-Commerson expedition and was the dude “escaping his creditors” by spiriting himself away with the plant explorers. That dear Karl was a fortune-teller apparently didn’t include actually earning (or, I suppose, inheriting) a fortune. (Note to self: if you disappear into the woods for a few weeks, you’ll still have to pay your mortgage.)
Haha! I spent most of my Friday on this research … and of Hortenses and Hortensias you now know everything I know, which may or may not be enough.
From “How the Hydrangea Got It’s Name” in Hydrangeas by Naomi Slade:
“The name ‘Hydrangea’ is derived from the Ancient Greek words hydor, meaning ‘water’ (and from which comes the root-word hydr-, meaning ‘pertaining to water’, as in ‘hydrant’) and angeion, meaning a container such as a pitcher.
“People love a good story and are quick to infer meaning, so it is sometimes stated that the name is an indication of the plants’ thirsty tendencies and love of moist ground. It is even surmised that the name actually comes from Hydra, the snake-haired mythological monster, which the stamens could, with a modicum of imagination, be said to resemble.
“But the real answer or, at least, the most widely accepted one is that the buds of the flower, before they burst, are the same shape as an ancient Greek vessel that was used to carry water.”
The galleries below show a mixed batch of hydrangea blooms from my garden, those that had been planted in my garden by previous homeowners and have come back to see me every spring and summer for the past fifteen years.
“[Many] hydrangeas have a ‘preferred’ colour, and they will lean towards this, regardless. Simply, some would rather be … blue….”
I started out assembling photos for this post with this image of two very blue hydrangea blooms. At first I didn’t mind the green leaves behind the petals, but after a while they got on my nerves and the hydrangea bones in the background made me nauseous (exaggeration alert!) … so…
… I removed the background, ending up with two floating flowers…
… and then created five virtual copies in Lightroom so I could crop the blooms as four separate photos at different sizes, plus a fifth large crop (of the first, most symmetrical bloom). Notice that in the fifth image, it’s more apparent that these blue blooms have purple-brushed petals… which is almost always the case with blue flowers of any type.
Side-eye note: These five images demonstrate one of (to me) the best things about shooting raw files, that you can crop out large sections of an image with little or no loss of detail, which is well maintained even after exporting the photos for uploading to a blog or website. As you may know, WordPress blogs compress images and reduce quality slightly; but if you click here to view the last image at full size, you can see that despite selecting only about a third of the image during cropping, it’s full of sharp detail.
Such was my delight at these big blue blooms that I thought it might be fun to do something else to the images.
I passed them in and out of the Nik Collection a few times, and while they looked fine with filters that converted them to sepia tones, or an antique look, or to an old film style, none of those renditions appealed to me that much. Funny how that works: you have an idea you want to do something creative with an image (without necessarily knowing what), and certain things strike you but many do not.
I then took several different approaches to converting them to black and white in Lightroom; and again didn’t like the results at first as they just looked like black and white variations of blue flowers.
Tools like Lightroom and Nik Collection of course provide the potential for endless possibilities and results. Yet I always try to think of that differently, as a way of exploring how we create and how we sense that something we create has reached a satisfactory “end state” — “end state” in itself being an ambiguous condition, never quite answering the question: am I done yet?
Whenever I feel a little stuck, I try two different mental tricks to change the way I’m thinking. First, in Lightroom, I try extreme changes for various exposure and color settings — which basically means moving Lightroom sliders to the far left or far right in different combinations to see what happens. Second, I consider what I usually do to an image, what changes I typically make (we tend to follow similar patterns or processes when creating pretty much anything), and try to break out of that pattern. In my former tech life where part of my job consisted of software quality assurance, such an approach would have been considered exploratory testing of edge cases to try and break the software; in photography post-processing it translates (for me) to experimenting with methods I don’t usually use to see what new potential is exposed.
Black and white conversion in Lightroom is initially a button-push, which typically renders a fairly flat (as in dull) variation of the original image — but many of the same exposure and color options (color in this case meaning the red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple, and magenta colors in the original image) are still available. Adjusting the black-and-white renderings of those color channels not only teaches you more about how color is represented in photos, but it can also produce surprising effects. For all five of these images, I discovered that the tiny pin-buttons at the center of each four-petal flower cluster — which initially appeared as dark black dots — actually contained red, orange, and yellow; and increasing those three colors to their highest value (an experiment with “extreming” the settings) changed the overly prominent black dots to white or light gray instead. Before adjusting the red, yellow, and orange, my eye kept getting drawn to the dots; afterward, the dots blended with the rest of the flower and weren’t such a distraction.
In addition to the Sharpening tool, Lightroom has two other tools for enhancing detail: Texture and Clarity. With a black and white image, a bit of extra sharpening (even though I had already applied sharpening to the original color image), adds a little sparkle to highlights around edges without creating jagged traces that you sometimes see in over-sharpened images.
While I use the Texture tool frequently, adding more than was in the color image didn’t have much of an effect. I hardly ever use Clarity to add detail (preferring Texture’s more subtle enhancements instead); but in this case, I broke from my typical approach and played around with Clarity to see what would happen. Lowering clarity reduced detail and produced a uniform softness in the flower petals, while also adding a bit of brightness — and the combination of softness and brightness appears as a bit of glow throughout the blooms. An illusion, perhaps; but your eyes will see what they want to see… or maybe what I, The Photographer, want them to see. Ha!
Finally, I used Color Grading to add a bit of blue color back into the shadows, highlights, and midtones; that produces a light silver effect on whites that I like and, to me, is more appealing than flat white.
If you read all that, bless you! Treat yourself to some ice cream!
“The first mention of hydrangeas in any text was in 8th-century Japanese poetry, with it being noted that the flowers have different colours in different places; doubles were noted too. Wild forms with mopheads are known from various places in the country, and it is likely these were first taken into cultivation during the Heien period. Over time the plants became more popular but were never a major subject of interest: possibly because wild plants were so common and easy to grow, they lacked any real cachet. The irony is that it was only after World War II, with introductions to Japan of plants from the United States, that hydrangeas have become really widespread in Japan.”
“[Many] hydrangeas have a ‘preferred’ colour, and they will lean towards this, regardless. Simply, some would rather be pink….”
Wow, it’s September 12 already; I must have dozed off at the end of August and woke up in a new month!
There are some hydrangeas in my garden that were planted before I bought the house over a decade and a half ago, that surprise me every spring with a new batch of blooms. Colors vary — as hydrangea colors like to do — and this year one of the plants produced a couple of the most intense pink blooms I’ve seen so far. I didn’t do anything to encourage this color (though we did have an inordinate amount of rain, especially in the spring and early summer), so, apparently, the hydrangea decided to pink itself out.
When processing these photos in Lightroom, these two blooms are interpreted as magenta — magenta being the dominant color in the pink-to-red range accessible in the raw image file. Most white, blue, or purple hydrangea blooms will contain some green mixed among the petal colors, yet these pink ones didn’t — so, in the first gallery below you can see how I could shift green colors from dark to bright without any change to the pink in the flower petals. I often reduce luminance on green in my flower photos to blend the leaves more into the background and give the colorful flowers prominence; but in the third photo below, I did the opposite: I cranked the green all the way up to make the leaves look like they were lit separately.