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

Snowdrops and Snowflakes, Daffodils and Tulip Leaves

From “The Onset of Spring” in A Garden of One’s Own by Elizabeth Lawrence:

No matter how closely you watch for the snowdrops, you never quite catch them on the way. One day the ground is bare, and the next time you look, the nodding buds are ready to open!

From “February (Winter Blooms)” in Through the Garden Gate by Elizabeth Lawrence:

English snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), called Candlemas bells, or Mary’s tapers, are the emblem of hope. They are not often seen hereabouts, as their place is taken by the snowflake, which grows so much better with us, but I have had them in my garden by the second of February or before….

“One of the stories of the garden of Eden is that it was snowing when Adam and Eve were driven out, and the Angel, touching the flakes, turned them to flowers as a sign that spring would come.

Below are five views of a snowdrop I found growing in the filtered light provided by a large maple tree, at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. I couldn’t decide if I liked the partially darkened background (in the last three shots) better than the others … so I included all five photos.

I took the photos below in the same area, thinking they, too, were a kind of snowdrop … yet imagine my surprise to discover that they aren’t.

I’ve mentioned before here that I often use a site called Plantnet Identify to help me figure out the names of various plants and flowers that I photograph. I typically use the site as a research-starter, since it takes a picture you upload and returns the names and images of possible matches, which I then chase down some googly rabbit-holes to see if I can confirm the plant’s identity. I uploaded one of the three pictures below, and here’s what Plantnet said:

Loddon-lily? Spring snowflake? — what? not a snowdrop?

Turns out many people (!!) get confused by these two plants, enough that there are articles describing how they’re different. See, for example: What is the difference between snowdrops and snowflakes? Or just remember this: snowdrop flowers have petals that look like helicopter blades with only one flower on a stem; snowflakes look like tiny bells and will often produce multiple flowers, clustered near each other, at the tip of each stem.

If you would like to learn more about the differences between these two plants, see Galanthus (the snowdrop’s plant family) and Leucojum (the snowflake’s plant family). The history and cultural references for the snowdrop, in particular, are interesting to read.

Here are the first three snowflake photos:

Here are three more snowflakes, produced with a little more grain in the images because they were nestled in a very shady spot so I used I higher ISO — which rendered the images a lot softer in focus, but not entirely unpleasant to look at. 🙂

Here are five views of one of the early daffodils I found, one of the few hardy enough to produce two large flowers during these late-winter, early-spring days. The five views were taken at decreasing focal lengths; and for the last two, I used a shallower depth of field to blur the backgrounds more but retain some of the surrounding purple, gold, and blue colors highlighted by a bit of reflected sunlight. The background colors in all five photos come from pine bark and leaves that fell around the hibernating daffodils during late fall and early winter.

Sometimes nature just likes to surprise me with its deceptively simple yet elegant forms. Here’s a batch of tulip leaves, just a few inches high, soaking in some mid-day sunlight, probably waiting a few more days to send up some blooms.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Winter Shapes and Forms (3 of 3)

From “The Prelude or, Growth of a Poet’s Mind” in Selected Poetry of William Wordsworth, edited by Mark Van Doren:

When I began in youth’s delightful prime
To yield myself to Nature, when that strong
And holy passion overcame me first,
Nor day or night, evening or morn, was free
From its oppression. But, O Power Supreme!

Without Whose call this world would cease to breathe,
Who from the fountain of Thy grace dost fill
The veins that branch through every frame of life,
Making man what he is, creature divine….

From “The Thorn” in Selected Poetry of William Wordsworth, edited by Mark Van Doren:

[What] lovely tints are there
Of olive green and scarlet bright,
In spikes, in branches, and in stars,
Green, red, and pearly white!

This is the last post in a three-part series showing some natural shapes and forms revealed by winter. The first post is here: Winter Shapes and Forms (1 of 3); and the second post is here: Winter Shapes and Forms (2 of 3).

What can you say about sticks?

While the tree these branches hung from was winter-stripped — and just beginning to create new leaves for spring — I had an autumn version of the same tree (see the first gallery here: Autumn in Atlanta: Photo Mash-up #2) and was able to use those photos to identify it as Cercidiphyllum japonicum, or, more pronounceably, Japanese Katsura.

If I could make up my own names for plants (I sometimes do!), I would have called these Reindeer Hooves. Take a closer look at any of the images — especially the fifth one — to see what I mean. 🙂

Here’s a wider view of the branch I took the closeups from. When we move a bit later into spring, I’ll go back and see how this beauty is progressing. Is it weird to be fascinated by sticks?

This giant oak or elm grows not far from the entrance to Oakland Cemetery; and it’s one of the widest and tallest on the property. Here you are seeing only the top half of the tree, because (without a wide-angle lens, and perhaps not even then) there is no vantage point on the property from which the camera can capture the entire tree. It seems even more impressive with no leaves, and if you would like to see the intricate branch detail, select the image, then select “View Full Size” … or click here.

I got photo-bombed by a jet while taking snaps of the tree; select either image to see the “tiny” plane.

Here’s a variation I had fun with, by removing most of the blue color and adding saturation to purple and magenta. Or, this is a picture of the tree dreaming it was in a snowstorm….

… and here it is, dreaming of blizzards.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Winter Shapes and Forms (2 of 3)

From “If Thou Indeed Derive Thy Light From Heaven” in Selected Poetry of William Wordsworth, edited by Mark Van Doren:

If thou indeed derive thy light from Heaven,
Then, to the measure of that heaven-born light,
Shine, Poet! in thy place, and be content:–
The stars pre-eminent in magnitude,
And they that from the zenith dart their beams,
(visible though they be to half the earth,
Though half a sphere by conscious of their brightness)
Are yet of no diviner origin,
No purer essence, than the one that burns,
Like an untended watch-fire on the ridge
Of some dark mountain; or than those which seem
Humbly to hang, like twinkling winter lamps,
Among the branches of the leafless trees.
All are the undying offspring of one Sire:
Then, to the measure of the light vouchsafed,
Shine, Poet! in thy place, and be content.

From “The Recluse” in Selected Poetry of William Wordsworth, edited by Mark Van Doren:

“[The] gates of Spring
Are opened; churlish winter hath given leave….”

This is the second post in a three-part series showing some natural shapes and forms revealed by winter. The first post is here: Winter Shapes and Forms (1 of 3).

With daytime temperatures here in the southeast reaching the sixties and seventies over the past couple of weeks … spring is sprouting all over the place! I’ve already accumulated batches of daffodil, plum blossom, cherry blossom, snowdrop, and unidentified flower photos — all in the early stages of post-processing. With fabulous weather, though, I’ll admit it’s a little hard to sit still and work indoors in Lightroom, when every day ever more plants are just screaming at me to take their pictures. But I’ll try to balance my indoor and outdoor time to get some work done while still adding to my backlog….

Some of the photos in this post were experiments … like these two shots isolating one branch of what might be wintering baby’s breath, followed by a single “blossom” from the same branch. I took them just to see if I could pull it off: the branches waved in the slightest breeze, even moreso as I moved back and forth while taking several dozen photos to get something in focus. The images that worked best — the scene was lit with full sun — were actually over-exposed with high ISO, a high shutter speed, and a shallow depth of field — which rendered most of the background as shadows and highlights, that I reduced as far as possible in Lightroom to produce the dark backgrounds.

Capturing these bead-sized white flowers was a similar experiment — and a challenge! — though in this case I kept the backgrounds intact (slightly softening them in Lightroom) to retain the impression that the buds were suspended among a mass of twisted vines — exactly how I saw the scenes in real life.

I think the first two photos here are a tiny rose, that started to open on one of the warmer February days, then got zapped by some freezing weather. No idea what kind of plant that is in the third photo; I just like to contrast between the stone wall in the background, the orange/yellow leaves, and the tiny dark blue berry clusters.

New growth on old wood in nature is always interesting; here you can see three views of the same petal and leaf cluster just making its late winter or early spring appearance. I plan to go back and check on this same batch of shrubs on a later visit; there are quite a few buds just getting ready to open, and once they do, I might have some luck identifying the plant species.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Winter Shapes and Forms (1 of 3)

From Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit:

“We tend to consider the foundations of our culture to be natural, but every foundation had builders and an origin — which is to say that it was a creative construction, not a biological inevitability. Just as a twelfth-century cultural revolution ushered in romantic love as first a literary subject and then a way of experiencing the world, so the eighteenth century created a taste for nature without which William and Dorothy Wordsworth would not have chosen to walk long distances in midwinter and to detour from their already arduous course to admire waterfalls….

“This is not to say that no one felt a tender passion or admired a body of water before these successive revolutions; it is instead to say that a cultural framework arose that would inculcate such tendencies in the wider public, give them certain conventional avenues of expression, attribute to them certain redemptive values, and alter the surrounding world to enhance those tendencies….

It is impossible to overemphasize how profound is the effect of this revolution on the taste for nature and practice of walking. It reshaped both the intellectual world and the physical one, sending populations of travelers to hitherto obscure destinations, creating innumerable parks, preserves, trails, guides, clubs, and organizations and a vast body of art and literature with almost no precedent before the eighteenth century.”

From The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals by Dorothy Wordsworth:

“What a beautiful thing God has made winter to be by stripping the trees & letting us see their shapes & forms.”

This is the first post in a three-part series about … what Dorothy Wordsworth wrote above!

I was a little puzzled at first about the phrase “shapes and forms” since my dictionary and thesaurus seemed to treat the words interchangeably; but, guess what, shape is shape and form is form! See The Difference Between Shape and Form or Shape and form (visual arts) if you, too, would like to be unpuzzled about these words.

These desiccated hydrangeas (probable either oakleaf or bigleaf hydrangeas) seem to keep many of their spent petals for the entire winter season, at least here in the southeast. I took these photos in late February, after quite a few winter rain and windstorms, yet their dried blossoms are mostly intact. Hard to shake the feeling the one of more of these is a cluster of moths (or bees!); and I half expected them to flitter away before I finished taking the photos.

The five photos below show the remnants of bluebird and blue billows hydrangeas, plants with fragile flowers that barely make it through the dog-days of summer here yet keep a few bleached-white, slightly shiny petals hanging around through fall and winter. These are from my garden (which is why I know their names) and it was fun to position them suspended in my macro lens against the muted backgrounds.

I’ve not yet identified these tiny yellow flowers, one hanging near the tip of a branch … and one in a black hole!

Japanese Maple trees and shrubs produce the most delightfully shaped leaves throughout the year, even in winter when they keep their fall color for a couple of extra months, shrivel up a bit, yet are still fascinating enough to capture my camera’s attention. The third photo below shows where the first two closeups came from: the branches of one maple hanging over a thick batch of English Ivy, which covered the length and height of a long, four-foot high stone wall. English Ivy is everywhere in my neighborhood (and much of Georgia, including many homeowner’s yards (like mine)), and is often used in place of grass (especially on homes built in the early 1900s) as a hardy, low-maintenance alternative to grass. Many people say you can take some cuttings, throw them on the ground, and they’ll root and grow — though I did try that and it didn’t work.

The leaf color below may appear a bit unnatural, but it’s what English Ivy looks like here in the early morning, after a night with below freezing temperatures. It will stay that way for a few hours, unfazed by the cold except for the color change, until the sun warms it back to a brighter, greener-green.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

The Quinces of Oakland (3 of 3)

From Through the Garden Gate by Elizabeth Lawrence:

“In old gardens through the South there is a beautiful white quince…. It has bloomed out-of-doors as early as New Year’s Day, and can be forced very easily. The nice thing about these strong-growing varieties is that they can be cut ruthlessly. The white-flowered quinces in the trade are ‘Candida’, ‘Nivalis’ and ‘snow’, all forms of Chaenomeles lagenaria, and all vigorous. ‘Snow’ grows taller than wide, is almost thornless and has pure white flowers to two and a half inches across…. The way the quinces grow, thick and thorny and close to the ground, makes for a good hedge plant.”

This post is the third in a series with photographs of Japanese quince that I took at Oakland Cemetery. The first post is The Quinces of Oakland (1 of 3); and the second post is The Quinces of Oakland (2 of 3). I took extra photos of a few of the white quince blooms, specifically to convert the backgrounds to black; you can read a bit more about that and see before-and-after versions just below this gallery.

Here are the before-and-after versions of the same five photos. As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve gotten in the habit of using exposure bracketing to generate three images of each scene: one recorded at the manual exposure settings I’ve selected, one underexposed image, and one overexposed image. A surprising benefit of the overexposed image — which renders the entire scene brighter and with lightened colors — is that it’s easier to paint the background black, since it’s colors are less intense and therefore easier to blacken with Lightroom’s brushes. The camera still captured enough detail in the white blossoms that even though they look “washed out” in the before versions, they come through quite nicely by adjusting the images’ highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks, and adding a bit of texture to each one.

Select the first image if you would like to compare the before and after versions in a slideshow.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!