"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
 

President Clematis

From 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells:

“The most popular clematis grown is the gorgeous purple C. ร— jackmanii. It was bred in the [George Jackman] nursery in 1858 and is generally believed to be a cross between three other varieties.”

From The Clematis as a Garden Flower by George Jackman:

“[They] rank amongst the noblest of ornaments for low walls, trellises, etc., to which they must be necessarily in the first instance be nailed or tied; but once firmly fixed, they should be allowed to fall down in rich picturesque masses. Probably, however, the simplest and grandest use that could be made of them would be to plant them on large masses of rockwork, giving them a good depth of rich, light, and sandy earth, and allowing their shoots to fall over the face of the blocks without any training or pruning….

“When grown in this fashion… the
Clematis should receive every encouragement, so that it may not in any way be checked in its development.”

The never-ending thousands of purple flowers of the Clematis… form a rich combination of flower and foliage, the beauty of which no words can express.”


The galleries below feature three blooms from a President Clematis vine growing in a pot near the pond in my back yard. It’s due for replanting — and movement to a sunnier spot — since it only produced a few flowers this year. It’s a very-early-spring job to relocate most flowering vines and plants here in the southeastern U.S. — in part because if you wait much past the end of April, there’s a good chance of a large temperature spike in May that will turn you into a perpetrator of plantslaughter.

It can be a puzzling balancing act to figure out when to relocate plants here: a freeze in April isn’t unusual, but neither is a heat wave in May. I think you actually only have about 20 minutes (possible exaggeration!) in April-May to move plants successfully, and it’s still a bit of a crapshoot. But I’ll give it a try in early 2022.

Here’s the first flower.

Despite dodging frequent rainstorms over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been alternately working in the garden, taking pictures of my own plants and flowers, and making trips to Oakland Cemetery to photograph whatever has come into bloom (I found tons of fresh-faced irises over the weekend; stay tuned!) — and I’ve again accumulated quite a backlog of unprocessed photos. Every now and then — say, for example, when I see I’ve got several hundred photos to work through in Lightroom — I get a little nostalgic for the days when you took pictures with a film camera, dropped the rolls off at the nearest pharmacy, then picked them up and stuck a few prints in a photo album before cramming the rest in a drawer.

On the other hand: it’s probably true that if I still shot film, I’d have built a darkroom by now, and I’d be spending my evenings bathing print paper in developing chemicals instead of poking at a keyboard, patiently picking tiny bits of pollen, bugs, and spiderweb filaments off flower petals and adjusting exposure sliders and colors. Someday, though, I’d like to learn more about how analog (darkroom) photo processing compares with digital, and how the capabilities of both line up with each other.

Here’s the second flower, a flatter and larger bloom.

The flowers in this post exist in the real world among a tangled mass of clematis vines and leaves, their clay-pot home, and a surrounding village of other stuffed planters. So even though these were close-up photos, I still did a lot of cropping and background darkening to eliminate the visual clutter and focus on the petals and the flower’s central structures, despite having positioned the lens as close as I could (about a foot from the subject).

Handheld macro photos at such short distances can be a challenge, because the slightest movement pushes the image out of focus. One trick I learned that helps address that is to focus manually, move slightly forward so the subject is just out of focus, then move slightly backward and take several shots (in burst mode or using exposure bracketing) just as the image comes back into focus. Sounds weird, maybe, but I think it works because you’re not trying to force yourself into a stiff position and are instead matching your movements to the movement of the camera and to the rhythm of the camera exposing the shots. Try it, you’ll like it! ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s the last flower; it was missing one petal, so I posed it to show its best features.


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

What Remains: Clematis Transformations

Clematis Season has pretty much come to an end here in Southeastern America; that is, the version of it that goes on in my back yard is almost over. I had written earlier about hoping to get another shot at taking some other shots of my President Clematis, since — when I wrote that post — there were a few unopened buds that looked like they would bloom up real nice. Unfortunately, however, we had several over-the-top hot-hot days in a row in April, and one afternoon when I wasn’t looking almost all of the buds … melted.

One did remain for a few days after the heat blast, so I got these three photos for a final presidential gallery … until next year:

The two Bernadine Clematis vines I added to my garden this year continued to bloom for a few weeks after the President dwindled. I had already taken quite a few photos of those blooms, so didn’t spend too much more time on that … except to assemble these three as a last look at Bernadine for 2019:

Every clematis bloom that appeared and drifted away since early April has been replaced by a tiny mophead. All of these seed pods — there are a dozen or more on each of the Bernadine vines — have a diameter about the size of a quarter or half-dollar, and they’ve already outlasted the flowers. The filaments are highly reflective, transitioning in color from silver to gold as the sun rises and moves to its noon-time high.

I took these photos the day after a couple of thunderstorms, which washed away most of the pollen that had collected on the filaments. My first attempt at a photo gallery — a few days before those storms — gave me a couple dozen photos so full of pollen dust that they weren’t usable. Normally I don’t mind spot-removing flaws and re-blending colors on my macro photos, but picking hundreds of pollen spots from these thin strands didn’t seem like a good way to spend my time. I deleted that first batch of images once I saw how much more photogenic they were after the rain.

Four of my clematis vines (all except the President) are in pots on my back steps, so I see clumps of these vibrant mopheads through my back door and every time I head into the garden. They make me smile quite a bit: they remind me of Truffula Trees from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss or the spiky clover from Horton Hears a Who. And yes, you guessed it: If I sit for a bit on the steps and lean in, I can just barely hear “We are here! We are here!” as the tiny residents of Whoville try to get my attention.

This may or may not be true. ๐Ÿ™‚

Select the first image for a slideshow; thanks for reading and taking a look!

Clematis Variations: Gallery 2 of 2

Hello! Below is the second of two galleries featuring clematis blooms from my garden. The first gallery included photos of a Bernadine Clematis; this gallery shows a President Clematis — previously posted as buds and vines on a chair, here.

I learned something new while processing the photos for this gallery, as they came out of the camera looking like this:

WTF? What color is this!?!

I loaded about fifty images of the flower into Lightroom and deleted those that were out of focus, then started making adjustments to get better contrast and color out of this over-saturated blue. I’ve owned several Sony digital cameras and have often found that, regardless of white balance settings, the cameras render cooler-than-actual colors — which usually show up in the photos as bluish cast that’s easily stripped out using Lightroom or other tools, and often doesn’t need to be adjusted at all. Still… this blue seemed over-the-top and as I was working on the fourth or fifth photo, a question popped: is the President Clematis blue? I was already indoors of course so I did a search for President Clematis images… only to find a mix of blue, purple, and violet flower pictures along with a few of unrecognizable color. So I did what I should have done in the first place: I went outside and looked at the actual flowers.

Imagine my surprise: the flower is definitely not blue, but a mix of purple, violet, and blue, with colors in the purple and violet ranges most dominant on the petals and blue gradients (on the larger flowers) toward the edges. Funny that I didn’t know that without physically looking, but apparently color memory is not that reliable.

So… a fine side-effect to manually choosing exposure characteristics and white balance (instead of using the camera’s automatic settings) is that you know what you did, and, more or less, why you did it. Outdoor light changes constantly and with macro lenses the changes can have a significant effect; but it’s also true that the photos in both galleries were taken on the same day, at around the same time, with about the same lighting, and with similar camera settings. I didn’t have any problems with the Bernadine Clematis colors, only those on the President Clematis.

Some folks reading this may already know the punch line, but I didn’t. I kept the photos I had already taken, and went back outside to figure out what had happened. It was a little disconcerting: my right eye, looking through the camera’s viewfinder, saw blue; my left eye, peeking around the camera, saw purple. I was pretty sure my eyes weren’t broken, so I started changing camera settings and found that the only way I could get the camera to render the flowers as purple was to manually set an extremely warm white balance — getting an almost exact match for the purple in the flowers, but also casting yellow over everything else in the photo. Corrections in Lightroom didn’t fix that: adjusting white balance there to try to compensate simply slid the flowers back from violet and purple to blue. What a hoot!

As it turns out, digital cameras can be color-challenged when reproducing colors in the purple-to-violet range, and the color shifts even more toward blue as the intensity of violet color increases. See, for example, Why are My Purple Flowers Blue? — which shows an image with a nearly identical color misinterpretation as mine. After trying numerous color adjustments, I learned from The Color Purple and the Digital Camera to start by adjusting the blue hue first…

… and decreasing purple saturation since the color was so intense. These adjustments got me closer to the original color as my eyes saw it, and I could then keep the flower color in check while making additional exposure and color adjustments so that the background elements still looked right. The President Clematis blooms don’t last very long; all of the blooms in these pictures have since blown away so I was glad to have gotten it sorted. I still think a few of the photos in this set ended out with some slightly unnatural colors; but let’s just say that was a creative choice. ๐Ÿ™‚

Select the first image to begin a slideshow; thanks for reading and taking a look!

Oh, and another surprise. I usually only get a handful of blooms from this plant, all at about the same time in mid- to late-April… but this year it looks like there may be more!

Clematis, Preparing to Bloom: Gallery 2 of 2

The gallery below contains the second set of images of clematis plants and their early spring vines and buds. These are photos of a President Clematis — whose colors, at this stage, include dark green in the leaves and a distinct purple vine. The leaves will fade to a lighter green as the plant grows, but the vine keeps its purple color throughout the growing season as it stretches on and on and gets thicker in width.

This one is fond of attaching itself to a nearby chair, which certainly adds interest to the chair but limits its usability for sitting. I normally (and carefully!) detach the vine from the chair and twist it back on itself or the supports in its pot … but just for fun this year, I think I’ll let it be. And, of course, my photo-brain is already wondering how the deep purple flowers will look on the blue-green background. ๐Ÿ™‚

The previous gallery is here: Clematis, Preparing to Bloom: Gallery 1 of 2.

Select the first image to begin a slideshow … thanks for taking a look!