Epic Lilies (3 of 3)

From Lilies by Naomi Slade:

“The Victorian passion for botany is legendary. Daring chaps dashed around the globe and new species poured into gardens to the delight and amazement of all who beheld them.

“But gather plants together and, sooner or later, hybrids will emerge; sometimes naturally but often as a result of an irrepressible human desire to improve on nature. While fabulous, lilies had gained a reputation for being challenging and capricious to cultivate. They were exciting; they were expensive; and they were quite likely to die on you after a couple of years. Inevitably, they attracted a certain type of well-heeled horticultural brinksmanship, right up until amenable Lilium regale emerged, bringing down both prices and the level of skill required to cultivate this most desirable of flowers.”


Below is the last batch of photos of my Tiny Epic Asiatic Lily, a few more black-background renderings. The previous posts are:

Epic Lilies (1 of 3)

Epic Lilies (2 of 3)

Coming soon: more lilies!

With spring winding down, the summer varieties are starting to appear — and I’ve made several trips to Oakland Cemetery’s gardens to hunt down and capture some of the rather astonishing varieties that grow well there in large, cultivated spaces (as opposed to pots in my back yard). With a tropical rainstorms hitting my area over the next few days, I’ll be sticking pretty close to home, so will be sorting and processing white ones, yellow ones, red ones, orange ones, and blends of pink and red lilies that (I think) are new to the garden — or at least new to me. Stay tuned…

… and thanks for taking a look!





Epic Lilies (2 of 3)

From Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi:

“The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the golden age of plant collectors: David Douglas who brought the Douglas fir, the Monterey pine and many other conifers to England; John Jeffrey who followed Douglas to the American West; E. H. [Ernest Henry] Wilson who gave us the Chinese dogwood, the Regale lily and the dazzling Davidia or dove tree that in bloom seems to be aflutter with white birds; Reginald Farrer, George Forrest and dozens of others who changed the face of our gardens….

Plant collecting was a dangerous business then. Douglas was torn to pieces by a wild bull in Hawaii; Farrar met his end in Upper Burma; Jeffrey vanished into the California gold rush; Forrest died of heart failure on his seventh expedition to Yunnan. And since that time the floral storehouses of western Asia have become if anything more difficult to penetrate….

“We hear no more of famous botanist-explorers or newly discovered specimens for the garden. Today it is the hybridizers who revolutionize our plantings, and of these none has wrought more changes than the American lily breeders in the last thirty years. We can now be said to dominate this field, though the lilies themselves have come from every part of the earth.”

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

Ernest Wilson, called ‘Chinese Wilson’ because he explored so extensively in China, just escaped sacrificing his life to lilies. He went twice to China, the second time in 1910, to collect the regal lily. He had gathered an enormous load of lily bulbs and was on his way home with them when his mule train was caught by an avalanche. He jumped out of his sedan chair just before it was hurled down a precipice. His leg was shattered by a falling rock. There was a mule train coming the other way, and the only way it could pass without, perhaps, causing another avalanche was for Wilson to lie on his back while more than forty mules stepped over him. He reached safety but was left with what he called a ‘lily limp.'”


I don’t normally repeat quotations from one blog post to another (in fact, it’s a “thing” for me to double-check my blog to be sure I’m not repeating quotes) — but I did this time because of the references to Ernest Wilson, a British explorer and plant collector active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The first quote expresses the risks such explorers took as they scoured the world botanically; the second describes in more detail an occasion where one of them almost lost their lives in search of flowering plants.

I honestly never knew such things had occurred; it’s becoming a fun learning experience for me to begin seeing the historical through-line represented by the lives of botanists and naturalists. What I began by simply looking for neat quotations about the flowers I was photographing seems to be morphing into a new (for me!) view into history from an unfamiliar (and unexpected) perspective. I always start a new post by looking for quotations, and now end out digging a little into the lives and times of people I come across, gathering bits of new information in the way I like to learn — a rather messy accumulation that I don’t worry too much about sorting out but just pile on instead.

From a Western or European perspective, the period (roughly) from 1800 through the early 1900s represent the culmination of the “Age of Exploration” — which also coincided with expanding European empire, the rise of the United States as a world-influencing power, the explosion of technological and scientific inventions, and the gradual (though debatable) increase in leisure time. Botany, as a science, has undoubtedly ancient roots; but it coalesced and connected to consumer culture and leisure time during the 1800s as more people became capable of outfitting their homes and gardens with new, and even exotic, plant species discovered by the plant explorers or developed by horticulturists. You may have never thought about it this way, but the fact that you (if you’re a gardener, or even if you’re not) can acquire plants in handy packaging to populate your garden or feature in a kitchen window has a direct historical connection to the plant explorers of the past.

Or, in other words, your trips to a nursery or Home Depot to buy plants and gardening supplies are actually a late-Victorian era invention. Isn’t that something?


With a thankful nod to Ernest Wilson: The photos below are a second batch of Tiny Epic Asiatic Lilies from my garden (the first photos are here: Epic Lilies (1 of 3)), rendered with black backgrounds rather than bricks from my courtyard.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!






Epic Lilies (1 of 3)

From Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi:

“The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the golden age of plant collectors: David Douglas who brought the Douglas fir, the Monterey pine and many other conifers to England; John Jeffrey who followed Douglas to the American West; E. H. [Ernest Henry] Wilson who gave us the Chinese dogwood, the Regale lily and the dazzling Davidia or dove tree that in bloom seems to be aflutter with white birds; Reginald Farrer, George Forrest and dozens of others who changed the face of our gardens….

Plant collecting was a dangerous business then. Douglas was torn to pieces by a wild bull in Hawaii; Farrar met his end in Upper Burma; Jeffrey vanished into the California gold rush; Forrest died of heart failure on his seventh expedition to Yunnan. And since that time the floral storehouses of western Asia have become if anything more difficult to penetrate….

“We hear no more of famous botanist-explorers or newly discovered specimens for the garden. Today it is the hybridizers who revolutionize our plantings, and of these none has wrought more changes than the American lily breeders in the last thirty years. We can now be said to dominate this field, though the lilies themselves have come from every part of the earth.”


Last year the pandemic shut everything down right about the time those of us with gardens in the Southeast would have just started hauling our donkeys to garden centers, stocking up on plants and flowers, dragging home bags of garden soil and pine bark … to begin the spring planting. With so many uncertainties and so much conflicting information flying around, I decided during the first shutdown to stay away from stores as much as possible — and so acquired nothing new for my garden, simply maintaining it and rearranging plants I already had.

But this year: a different story. On the day I hit two weeks after my second COVID-19 vaccine dose, I bought my first batch of new flowering plants in two spring seasons, including the delightful lilies featured in the galleries below (and in the next two posts). On that first and subsequent trips, I also acquired some new begonias, a hydrangea for a large pot, a hibiscus with orange flowers, four canna lilies (two of which joined the goldfish in my pond), bee balm, balloon flowers, and a couple of hostas. Most of them posed for photoshoots while still flowering (and the cannas are just starting to flower now), so will make appearances here over the next few weeks.

This plant is a Tiny Epic Asiatic Lily — whose flowers are a mix of yellow and orange in various saturations, with the centers of each bloom liberally sprinkled with cinnamon colors. The name cracked me up — I mean, isn’t “Tiny Epic” almost like describing something as “Small Big”? — but I think it’s named that way to differentiate this and other Asiatics from larger variants like the Regale lily mentioned in the quote above, or those lilies with big, trumpet-shaped flowers like those I photographed last year at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens (see Summer 2020: Lily Variations (7 of 10)).

Thanks for taking a look!






Late Spring Blues (2 of 2)

From “Planting” in Tall Bearded Iris (Fleur-de-lis): A Flower of Song by Walter Stager:

“Light and shadow should be considered. Most irises look best in full sunlight, but a few (as, those with bluish color) look equally well in light shadow….

“The point of view should receive attention. Some irises are very beautiful when seen close at hand, but much less so when seen from a distance, and colors should therefore be chosen which will carry well the distance from which they will usually be seen….


“Delicate colors will be effective at a greater distance if they have a solid background to be outlined against.”


While there are no references to photography in Walter Stager’s 1922 book Tall Bearded Iris (quoted above), I thought it was interesting that his planting advice strikes such a visual chord: what he recommends for stylized planting of irises works equally well for photographing them.

Most of the images in the galleries below are from the same photoshoot as my previous post (Late Spring Blues: 1 of 2) — but processed with black backgrounds and cropped (in some cases) to embiggen the flower. The first two are new to this post: other random iris and shrubbery bits had photo-bombed the pictures, so these two worked best blacked-out.

Thanks for taking a look!





Late Spring Blues (1 of 2)

From “Some Questions You Might Ask” in Blue Iris: Poems and Essays by Mary Oliver:

“What about the blue iris?”

From Irises: Their Culture and Cultivation by Gwendolyn Anley:

“As for the blue irises there is greater variety still, and a base of colour more susceptible of beauty. There are the shades that suggest blue fires and should be discussed in synonyms of fire or flame, the ice blue, sky blue, those derivative of the blue waters, campanula and delphinium blues, and many others. Among them a particular place is due to the irises that are of orchid or cyclamen colours, for they have a subtlety and delicacy of their own and can be among the most beautiful of the whole genus. They can be as rich and rare as orchids, or possess that especial cyclamen quality which is as though they were growing in an enchanted woodland … above a blue promontory or island-studded sea.”


I’ve written before about how interesting it can be to work with images of flowers where the dominant colors are in the blue-to-purple range (see Clematis Variations: Gallery 2 of 2) — and these batches of iris photos (from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens) proved to be no exception. Even as I was preparing to take the photos, I noticed that the apparent color varied depending on where I stood, and on the direction or intensity of light: stronger light made the flowers appear more purple than blue, the effect actually created by warmer color tones in brighter sunlight.

If you look at these photos (especially those in the first two galleries below) on a device that offers “night shift” — a setting that reduces blue light emanated by the screen — the colors in each of these pictures will shift toward purple because the blue color is muted. Sunlight variations produce a similar effect, as does selecting different white balance settings in the camera or in Lightroom.

Here, for example, is a screenshot of the second photo in the first gallery, with a warmer white balance applied to the image:

One approach I’ve adopted when working on photos where the subject is blue or purple is to pay attention to other colors in the scene as a clue to the “correct” (though highly personal and subjective) tones for the whole image. In this screenshot, for example, the green leaves look too yellow to me: iris leaves are a very rich green that typically doesn’t appear to have much yellow color when the plants are in their prime. And since green doesn’t “trick” the camera (or the eye) in the same way that blue or purple do, I know that the overall color of the image is too warm (or too yellow) so make adjustments to remove yellow tones from the photo — which in turn shifts the purple pixels to blue.

Flowers, of course, aren’t made of pixels. The flower petals have far more colored cells than my camera can individually pixelate — real life being infinitely more complex, nuanced, and detailed than its digital representations. In post-processing, I chose to emphasize the blue color in these images over the purple also because that’s how I remembered them; and because that provided greater tonal range (deeper blues with subtle purple highlights, instead of purple-purple) that better emphasized each blossom’s shape and texture.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!