Seeing Through

Though clear waters range to the vast autumn sky

How can they compare with the hazy moon on a Spring night!

Most people want to have pure clarity

But sweep as you will, you cannot empty the mind.

Keizan Zenji

from The Hazy Moon of Enlightenment by Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi and Bernard Tetsugen Glassman

pub. Zen Center of Los Angeles, 1977

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Clarity is a fine thing, but the haze,

the haze, such

beauty in the haze.

Walk with me.

We’re going back outside the greenhouse,

round the corner.

We’re looking for the place where life pushes

against hazy windows.

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Photographs from the WW Seymour Conservatory in Tacoma, WA and the greenhouse at the Kruckeberg Garden, Seattle, WA.

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Happy Earth Day!

and

here’s to a successful March for Science.

 

A Glass House

“Photography is as much a gateway to the inner world of the photographer/viewer as it is to the beauty displayed in the outer world.  A garden is a setting for having this kind of experience on multiple levels – simultaneously sensual, aesthetic and spiritual.”

Allan Mandell, Photographer

Last week I read about a Victorian style conservatory in a park about an hour south of Seattle. Glass houses, where plants thrive in close proximity and perfume the air with possibility, are among my favorite places to explore with a camera. I love the way they transform the immediate environment – it’s like taking a quick trip to a tropical paradise.

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Years ago a friend’s son got me a temporary job at the New York Botanical Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory – a dream position. I didn’t care about the grunt work hauling cuttings with a wheelbarrow through the houses, or the times my backside was riddled with cactus spines from weeding in the cactus beds. I was happy to be part of maintaining one of the grandest conservatories in the world. But I digress….

I drove down to Tacoma to check out the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. It is quite small, but lovingly cared for.  With a central dome and just two wings, the space is packed with plants. There are tall trees hung with vines, Spanish moss and other epiphytes, flower displays, and the usual suspects  –  orchids, bamboo, tree ferns, agaves, etc.  A water feature is tucked into a corner where a tinkling stream tumbles over fern-framed rocks into a dark pool.  The swirling water flashes orange and white with koi. One elegant cream-colored fish, an ogon butterfly koi, steals the show. Its sail-like fins and tail curl and eddy the water like a magician flicking his wrists.

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I decided to photograph the koi with a long shutter speed to convey the mesmerizing blur of forms and colors churning the water.

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There’s something about conservatories that always inspires me. They keep me focused on something I love – the astonishing, delightful multiplicity of plant forms.

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Bamboo provided an opportunity to experiment with intentional blur. I moved the camera in various ways, while keeping the shutter open for about a half a second.

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Leaves of the ground cover below created a tapestry pattern. I converted the photo to black and white later. Spanish moss inspired me to use an in camera filter called Key Lines – that image is pretty much straight out of the camera. Another in camera filter plus processing in LR, was used for the black and white fern photo.

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Some plants warrant a more straightforward approach.

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Spanish moss (not a moss at all, but an epiphyte member of the Bromeliaceae) is so plentiful in the conservatory that one clump was wrapped around a metal bracket to get it out of the way.  The shop has strands of it for sale!  Spanish moss still reminds me of childhood Easter vacations with my grandparents on an island off the coast of Georgia, where it grows profusely on huge old live oaks. The plant has no roots, absorbing nutrients and moisture through tiny scales on the surface of the strands. I came to love it, and brought a clump home to my apartment the last year I went to the island. I knew enough to keep it near the shower where it could have a humid environment but still, it didn’t last more than a few months. Technically, it doesn’t depend on oak trees (or telephone wires!) for anything but support and closer proximity to the light, but I think something was missing chez moi. Maybe having other plants nearby would have helped maintain more consistent humidity and temperature.  In a similar way, I think conservatory plants benefit from growing together.

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Speaking of growing, I am working on growing my camera skills and focusing my aesthetic. To that end, I’m relying on and paying more attention to the community of other photographers online, and balancing that with time alone. Also, I’m focusing on a few projects – one is a series of photos looking through windows, especially fogged up greenhouse windows.

I walked around the conservatory outside to see if there were any fogged up windows with plants close behind them (pressing against them is best).  Yes! I found a place around back where the jungle of plants pushed up against the windows.

That will be for another post, but here’s one look at the inside, from the outside.

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COFFEE: instant

With a nod to Otto von Munchow at In Flow who posts an Instagram image every Wednesday, from time to time I’ll post an Instagram photo here. This one was made yesterday in a local coffee shop. I came in from the rain after a walk in a nearby preserve and ordered a macchiato. I shot a photo of it with my phone. How many photos have you seen of coffee and food in restaurants? Way too many! The afternoon light was nice but something needed to be switched up to make it a little more interesting…

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My Instagram feed

Coming soon…a wander through a botanical conservatory.

SEEING SPRING

The wild cherries and and the plum trees are in full bloom this week. White, cream and party-pink delights are sprinkled along the roadsides near home.  On the forest floor, last season’s leaves feed the soil.

I practice different ways of seeing Spring.  The camera is part of that – when it surprises me, that too becomes part of seeing with new eyes.

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Last week I went to a new-to-me public garden and found more Magnolia leaves that were skeletonized by insects; they make wonderful subjects. The one above must not have been tasty. It will disintegrate slowly and elegantly on a bed of dried ferns.

Pattern on pattern.

 

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Purpleleaf Plum trees line streets with a haze of frothy pink flowers, held aloft by rough, angled branches.

The skin of the blossom, smooth and delicate as a baby’s; the skin of the trunk, gnarled and coarse like a grandmother.

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Plum blossoms are an important symbol in Asian culture, and in particular, in the Zen tradition. The plum tree blooms very early, directly after experiencing harsh, cold conditions. Its simple five-petaled flowers give off a subtle, lovely fragrance. The plum tree has a powerful presence, at once rough, strong, fragile, intimate. Unstoppable.

Standing quietly under the tree

Gnarled, bruised bark,

Uncountable branches laden with pale, delicate flowers.

Fallen petals underfoot,

it’s enough.

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Viewed from three stories up, the early Spring woods is a complex web of intersecting lines.

Tens of thousands of buds

pepper every branch and twig,

moss clings wet and thick.

The forest is softening.

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  1. At the Rhododendron Species Garden (about 30 minutes south of Seattle), an Asian species rhododendron leaf lies on a bed of ferns. From the garden’s website:  “The Rhododendron Species Foundation & Botanical Garden is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the conservation, public display, and distribution of Rhododendron species. Home to one of the largest collections of species rhododendrons in the world, the garden displays over 700 of the more than 1,000 species found in the wilds of North America, Europe, and Asia, as well as the tropical regions of southeast Asia and northern Australia. Conservation has come to be of primary importance in recent years with the destruction of Rhododendron habitat in many areas of the world.”
  2. At the garden, a Magnolia leaf eaten by insects slowly disintegrates on a bed of moss.
  3. Magnolia leaf and moss.
  4. Magnolia leaves and moss.
  5. A Purpleleaf plum tree (Prunus cerasifera) near home. The Purpleleaf plum is common in and around Seattle. I thought they were Cherry trees but I just learned that they are a species of plum (in the same genus as cherries, apricots and almonds). This species was introduced to France from Persia well over a hundred years ago, and many different cultivars exist.
  6. A row of Purpleleaf plum trees glows like pink and white fizz.
  7. Purpleleaf plum blossoms.
  8. Purpleleaf plum flower with stamens full of pollen.
  9. The trees have grown into their own forms after years of neglect. Theirs is an untrammeled beauty.
  10. A softened and desaturated close-up of the woods – another way to see Spring.

 

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A selection of my photographs is available for purchase at lynn-wohlers.pixels.com.

FORAYS

Spring unfolds slowly in the Pacific Northwest. I’m as impatient for it as the next person, but I want to savor every bit of this season, so the measured advance suits me. This week cherry trees paint a delicate pink froth along the roadsides, the first Salmonberry flowers punctuate the woods, and birds riff and prance like it’s never been done before.

Skies are often wet and gray but between showers I make quick local forays: a few hours at the Arboretum in Seattle, a run to photograph the cherry trees that edge a parking lot near home, a late afternoon wander down an unused railroad track.

The resulting images are all over the map, metaphorically if not literally.

Here you go:

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This unusual mix of images reflects what I’m seeing these days. Here are the details:

  1. Parking lot Cherry tree blossoms. Shot with an Olympus M. Zuiko 60mm macro lens at f 4.5, processed in Color Efex Pro (CEP) and Lightroom (LR).
  2. At the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, a bamboo fence protects the Camellia tree in #4 and #10. I used the macro lens again at f 6.3 and processed the image in LR with a preset and tweaking. I could probably get a nice result in Silver Efex, too, but I thought I’d try the LR presets.
  3. Parking lot cherry trees, towards sunset. Taken with a vintage lens (using an adapter). The Asahi Pentax Super-Takumar 50mm 1.4 is a well-built but heavy prime lens; mine was made between 1966 and 1971. It’s supposedly slightly radioactive due to a  coating on one or more of the elements. It produces lovely color and bokeh but it’s very difficult to focus. Of course, there’s no automatic focusing – we’re talking old school here. You’ve got to be able to squint and look hard to see if you’re in focus. I mostly miss, but it’s fun to take the lens out and see what happens. I need to do that more! Processed in LR & CEP.
  4. The Camellia trees are dropping their blossoms at Washington Park Arboretum. Taken with the 60mm macro lens. Processed in CEP a bit, then LR where I reduced the saturation of the greens, which can be overpowering this time of year, and added vignetting.
  5. Interesting things happen on the ground in gardens, especially when blossoms fall. I think this is a rhododendron flower. Olympus 14 – 150mm zoom lens, f 8, 67mm. Only a tiny bit of processing was done in LR. It’s satisfying when you don’t need to do anything to your photo but I really enjoy processing.  I don’t make perfection out of the camera a goal – if you do, I admire you!
  6. This old wagon falls apart more each year, too bad. It sits by the side of the road near a small town called Duvall. Duvall sits in an agricultural valley about 45 minutes east of Seattle. When I first photographed the wagon five years ago, it stood on all four wheels. Tempus fugit!  Shot with a Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 prime lens at f 4.5. I could have used a smaller aperture for more detail but it was very cloudy. I needed extra light and wanted the background to blur out a bit. Processed in Silver Efex Pro.
  7. On the same day, I visited this old structure on Cherry Valley Road in Duvall. I love this building for the simple, almost Shaker-like lines and the soft patina of its peeling paint. There are “No Trespassing” signs around but the building is unused. Shot with an Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm, f 1.8 prime lens, at f 9. This is a new lens for me and it’s going to take a while before I’m comfortable with it but I’m sure it’s going to be very useful. Processed in CEP, where I applied a blur vignette. I also increased the luminosity of the yellows in LR, just a little.I find the luminosity sliders for individual colors to be invaluable.
  8. A window on the side of building, same lens, f 6.3, processed in LR.
  9. Forsythia at the Arboretum with an orange haze of Red twig dogwood behind it. This is in the Winter Garden, which is nicely planted with contrasting colors, textures (in peeling bark, for example) and patterns. Shot with a 14 – 150mm Olympus M. Zuiko zoom lens at f 5.5. Processed mostly in LR, where I softened it a little more by slightly decreasing the contrast and reducing clarity towards the edges.
  10. A pretty Camellia at the Arboretum. They have a collection of Camellias and this is my favorite, for the color, grace of form, and the way the flower is set off by the glossy, dark leaves. Shot with the 60mm macro (which works well for plenty besides macro) at f 6.3. Very little processing.
  11. Every year, insects feast on the Arboretum’s Magnolia tree leaves. I think it mostly happens after the leaves fall to the ground. What’s left after the bugs depart are thousands of intact leaves with no “flesh” and just a fine tracery of veins. Here a tree flower is seen behind a skeletonized Magnolia leaf. I held the leaf in front of the lens (14 – 150mm zoom lens at f 5.5) and focused on the leaf veins rather than the flower behind. I may go back and experiment more with this.
  12. The same leaves are seen here layered on the ground with other leaves, making an endless array of patterns. Shot with the 60mm macro lens at f 5, processed in CEP and LR.
  13. A similar shot to the one above, this one was taken with my phone, an older Samsung, and cropped and processed in LR.
  14. More parking lot cherry blossoms at sunset. 60mm macro lens at f 5, lightly processed in LR.
  15. The diminutive Cyclamen coum, native to Bulgaria and Turkey but happy across the globe, at the arboretum. Thanks to the camera’s flip screen, I didn’t have to lie on the ground to get this – just placed the camera there! 60mm macro lens at f 6.3, processed in LR with a bit more softening, and blur added to the edges done in CEP.

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BTW – An inspirational TEDx talk can be found here, where Danielle Hark talks about the Broken Light Collective, an inspiring photography collective where people with mental illness show their work and often discuss how photography helps them cope with the everyday challenges of living with mental illness. Broken Light is also a WordPress blog.

 

A selection of my photographs is available for purchase at lynn-wohlers.pixels.com.

 

Seasonal Blend

The blend is uneven, barely mixed

as winter cedes to spring in

fits and starts:

trumpeting geese over barren

fields

dangling buds

of red-flowered currant,

willow’s thin yellow curtains, last year’s

dry curls of dead grass among

discarded leaves.

Fits and starts of lime-green

moss inviting

touch

on a fresh morning, chill rain

slicking the boardwalk,

fallen

camellias and collapsed cattails,

their tough green shoots stabbing

at the sodden air. It is an uneven blend

of dark

mixing with light moving

slowly, the

doe settling into wood’s edge for its

evening chew.

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Spring is moving slowly here, with colder and wetter weather than normal. I dart out between rainfalls – it’s often just hours before the drizzle begins again.  I took these photos on forays to a local botanical garden, a park, and at the side of the road. They are a mix of wild and cultivated – the camellia tree was planted, the red-flowered currant, and many of the grasses and trees were not. Wild Cackling geese (relatives of Canada geese) fly high above power lines and the doe forages at the botanical garden. It all draws my eye, whether wild or not.

It’s between seasons and I’m feeling in-between myself, unsure where to go next, literally and figuratively. Patience.

Patience too, during this just-before-Spring time. Gardens and fields are still mostly under last year’s detritus but cherry blossoms are about to pop, narcissus and forsythia are out, birds are singing and the grass is greening up. My favorite season is a breath away…

Bamboo Variations

Bamboo:

leaves stems rustle and

whir, elegant in

motion.

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Some of these images use intentional camera movement, either moving the whole camera or zooming the lens with the shutter open. One (the 7th, with bluish leaves) records leaf movement by using a slow shutter speed and narrow aperture (1/60, f22) with a (more or less) steady, hand-held camera. One was taken on a still day with a macro lens, and only after seeing it on the monitor did I notice the spider webs.

The first three photos and the 6th one all derive from the same shot: 1 second at f8, zooming the lens a little bit while the shutter was open. The 3rd of that series is very close to the original shot; the others were processed using Color Efex Pro for a variety of looks; the 7th one (with bluish leaves) shows a solarization effect.

The 4th and 5th images were processed just in LR. I reduced the contrast and saturation, added haze and made subtle selective adjustments (e.g. to the largest and middle stalks in the 4th) for a more painterly look.

That begs the question, why use a camera when you’re moving towards the look of a drawing? Good question. Is there any more reason to make a photograph look like a drawing than it would be to make a drawing or painting look like a photograph? Each exercise is probably of limited value. And must a photograph clearly be a photograph, taken with a camera?

Sometimes it’s interesting to explore the edge where a picture created with one tool begins to look like it was created with another. I’m not interested in gimmicks though, and I respect the the integrity of the tool, so I hesitate.

Still, it was a pleasure to explore the subject by making big changes in processing and using unorthodox techniques like camera and lens movement – and I like the results, so I may do more.

Flowers emerge, snow falls…

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…flowers emerge,

and we may not be done with the snow! I understand that Meteorological Spring* began a few days ago, but judging by the looks of things where I live, we’re still betwixt and between, alternately charmed by early flowers and frustrated by cold, wet days.

A few weeks ago fragrant Witch-hazel bloomed at the botanical garden, then just Monday morning a generous helping of wet snow graced the woodlands. The bright, lime-green Osoberry buds that are tiny beacons in late winter woodlands here sported snow caps for a few hours on Monday – but no worries, they survived. March may swing our hopes abruptly back and forth but we know that underneath the daily changes, light is moving back in. And we are grateful.

*Meteorological Spring, a date meteorologists and climatologists use for easier record keeping, begins March 1st.

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It’s an unsteady time of year. It seems there are more dark and dreary days than promising ones, but there is still much to see, much to gape and wonder at.

  1.  Witch hazel (Hamamelis X intermedia ‘Jelena’) at the Bellevue Botanical Garden, shot at f 3.5 with a 60mm prime macro lens.
  2.  A snow-bedecked Douglas fir and Big-leaf Maples behind my home, shot at f 8 with a 20mm prime lens.
  3.  Witch-hazel again; this one still gripping last year’s thickly-veined leaves. Shot at f 6.3 with a 60mm prime macro lens.
  4.  More Douglas firs, shot at f 8 with a 20mm prime lens.
  5.  The ground beneath the fir trees. The Doug firs are like fussy ladies during storms, flicking their wrists and tossing branchlets down to the earth, far below.
  6. Witch hazel (Hamamelis X intermedia ‘Pallida‘) with a well thought out backdrop of Bloodtwig Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’) at the Bellevue Botanical Garden, shot at f 10 with a 60mm prime macro lens.
  7.  New leaf spears of the native understory shrub, Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) shot at f 2.8 with a 20mm prime lens.  Osoberry, aka Indian plum, grows along the Pacific coast (and inland to the mountains) from British Columbia to California. The unsweet but edible fruit was mixed with other fruit and eaten by indigenous people; bees rely on the very early flowers.
  8.  These trees are covered with invasive ivy, a common sight in suburban woodlands in the Seattle area. It does make a handsome image! Shot at f 8 with a 20mm prime lens.
  9.  Another Witch hazel, Hamamelis japonica, at the Bellevue Botanical Garden, shot at f 7.1 with a 60mm  prime macro lens.

America has four native Witch-hazels but the winter-blooming species are native to China and Japan. The hybrids above (Hamamelis x intermedia) derive from Asian species. They’re a pleasure to see each year when little else is blooming, and when the fragrance is full they can draw you in like a magnet.

I find that photographing heavily fragrant plants often intoxicates me into forgetting to pay attention to what I’m doing. In the midst of the overwhelming sensory experience, as I click the shutter over and over, I think I am capturing the whole of it. The same thing happens at waterfalls, with their powerful noise and negative ions. When I get home the images disappoint, because they don’t – they can’t possibly –  approach that feeling of being carried away.

It’s more to be grateful for though, and gives me another challenge: remember to come back down to earth a few times in the midst of those experiences. Pay attention to the camera a little bit, too.

 

 

 

Using Another Lens

Metaphorically, that is. For the photos below I used a 60 mm prime lens on my camera. The aesthetic lens I used was more intentionally abstract and experimental than what usually goes on in the mind behind the camera.

 

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This group of Red alder trees was photographed using an in-camera art filter called Key Line (Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera) –  then lightly processed in Lightroom. What I like about the Key Line filter here is the way it emphasizes the linearity in the fine network of branches, last year’s heaps of dried grass and the bark markings.

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These images were also photographed using the Key Line filter, looking out a window that had a blue-violet object placed in it. The object went out of focus; the trees outside are in focus, but radically altered by the filter. Cropped and minimally processed in Lightroom.

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I’m attracted both to detailed linear images, and to fields of pure color without detail. Here I was photographing a small potted iris (Iris reticulata) indoors. There wasn’t much light, causing the camera’s automatic focus to search, sometimes unsuccessfully, for a focus point. Instead of switching to manual focus, I pressed the shutter when the image was out of focus to record the glowing colors. Minimal Lightroom processing.

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In the first photograph I focused on the raindrop-spattered window and let the light shining through the trees outside go soft. For the second photograph I didn’t do anything unusual as far as camera settings go, but I looked for a simplified, more abstract image. I found it along the edge of a marshy bay.  Later, I made very subtle adjustments in Lightroom.  All the photographs were taken in the last few days, in and near home in the Pacific Northwest.

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This week I made a big decision: I left my (more-than-full-time) job. With increased responsibilities at home, a full time job isn’t practical. The benefit is that I have more time – much more time – for photography.  I’m already enjoying it. More posts should be coming soon…

IT’S COMPLEX

We have a joke that comes up a lot – in response to anything puzzling, or in situations containing contradictions, we just say, “It’s complex.”   Long before the brain storm that struck four weeks ago today this phrase was shorthand for the shared knowledge that when contradictions arise, you acknowledge them and find a way forward, through and with the discrepancies. Or, maybe you set aside the conundrum and return later for another look, but there’s no getting around it – complexity is all around us.

So here we are. I go out

with my camera.

I see

dark and sad things, and

I see

beauty, which itself

is overlaid with

subtle

opacities,

somber films.

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And

I have

no doubt,

light abides too.

 

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1)  Home – a foggy Pacific northwest woodland morning.

2) Chewed and fallen, a Cottonwood leaf at Quitobaquito Spring in Organ Pipe NM, Arizona.

3) Hydrangea bloom from 2016, still gathering the light at Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, WA.Japanese wood Buddha, ca 1130, from Kyoto, now in the collections of Seattle Asian Art Museum, which will soon close for a major renovation.

4) Japanese wood Buddha, ca 1130, from Kyoto, now in the collections of Seattle Asian Art Museum, which will soon close for a major renovation.

5) Bamboo in the breeze, Bellevue Botanical Garden.

6) Camelia bud in black and white, Bellevue Botanical Garden.