Spring in Black and White

Spring is all about growth and the return of color: fresh greens, sparkling blues, deep purples, cheerful yellows. But black and white can also convey the message of renewal.

These photographs were taken in various gardens and parks in the last month or so, all in the Pacific northwest. It’s been an exceptionally wet, cool Spring, conditions that suit our plants just fine, but we humans tire of the endless days of mist and rain and long for the warmth of the sun.

Still, if you dash out between the heavier showers, the wet conditions can be rewarding for outdoor photography. Overcast skies do not create harsh, distracting shadows. The even light enables you to see shape and form. And if the sun does break through, maybe you’ll catch a ray of light in the forest or a sparkle on the raindrops.

It’s challenging to look over my photographs with an eye towards which ones might work well without color, and we know challenges bring rewards. Sometimes color is the story, and sometimes color can distract from the story.  This selection is a reminder to look for more than color, and enjoy.
































  1. A Trillium (probably T. ovatum, the Western Trillum) at Heronswood, a botanical garden and nursery in Kingston, WA.
  2. A pair of Trillium buds at Heronswood. Heronswood grows many different trillium species, so I hesitate to guess which it is when the flower is still in bud.
  3. A beetle on a woodland wildflower that hasn’t bloomed yet, at PowellsWood Garden in Federal Way. This plant, probably False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) or Star-flowered False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatum), has name problems! Why false? I get that people named another plant (Solomon’s Seal) first but really, honor the plant with its own name next time. It’s not false anything, it is completely itself. And the Latin names for those two plants vary. The genus used to be Smilacina but is now Maianthemum, and not everyone has caught up. And don’t doubt for a second that there aren’t a myriad of common names for both plants –  Solomon’s Plume, Starry Solomon’s Plume, Feathery False Lily-of-the-Valley, Starry Lily-of-the-Valley, etc. Well, there’s work to keep botanists busy.
  4. A fern fiddlehead, possibly a Lady fern (Athyrium Filix-feminia), at Rhododendron Species Garden, Federal Way, WA.
  5. Peering through the fronds of an Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) at the Rhododendron Species Garden. The species name, struthiopteris, comes from the Greek: struthis means ostrich, pterion means wing (says Wikipedia). Obviously the scientific name was given because the fronds rightly reminded someone of ostrich plumes (see the photograph below). That means ostrich plumes had to be pretty well known in Europe back when the plant was given its Latin name. Indeed, Linneaus published his Systema Naturae, the groundbreaking book whose binomial Latin name system for plants and animals enables speakers of all languages to communicate clearly about the natural world, in the mid 1700’s. By then the distinctive flora and fauna of Africa was familiar to Europeans. In fact, Pliny wrote about Ostriches almost two thousand years ago, and sultans are said to have made gifts of them to European rulers. The Ostrich fern grows in northern locations in Europe, North America and Asia.
  6. A large planting of graceful Ostrich ferns at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  7. New Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) tree leaves at Bellevue Botanical Garden. Many readers probably know that Ginkgo trees are the oldest living “fossil trees” in the world, having survived on earth for many millions of years. Rarely if ever found in the wild, they were cultivated at monasteries and temples in China, where they once did grow wild. Now they are planted in many cities as street trees – they survive pollution and rough conditions admirably. Was it all the good training they received in Buddhist monasteries? Here is a terrific Ginkgo website. And here, a scientist argues against continuing to plant Ginkgos for a number of sound reasons – though I am very fond of them!
  8. A Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) fiddlehead at Paradise Valley Conservation Area, Woodinville, WA. Why do Sword fern fiddleheads take that odd turn south on their journey of unfolding? I love it!
  9. Fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) at Kruckeberg Botanical Garden, just outside Seattle. This native beauty blooms in the woods here in April or May.
  10. Bleeding Heart flowers and foliage at O.O. Denny Park in Kirkland, WA.
  11. Unidentified plants grow out of the shallow water of a retention pond in Redmond, WA.
  12. An old Douglas fir tree that split into two trunks early on, at Paradise Valley Conservation Area. The tree’s Latin name is Pseudotsuga menziesii – another “false,”  this time false hemlock – psuedo, and tsuga (Japanese for hemlock). Classified and named in the 1800’s, it is not a fir, a pine or a hemlock, but another kind of conifer. Of course, native peoples had their own names for this grand tree, which can grow to well over 300 feet and live to perhaps a thousand years.
  13. Another Sword fern fiddlehead takes a turn on the dance floor, at Meerkerk Gardens on Whidbey Island, WA.
  14. Tulips at Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  15. A fading tulip at Bellevue Botanical Garden.




  1. These are all gorgeous without exception, Lynn. I’ve also been playing around with monochrome flowers but with a slight sepia tint. Your straightforward approach is just beautiful.

    • I like hearing straightforward, as that’s a concept I’m all for, in life, relationships, art…you get the drift. The sepia tint works so well with flowers and leaves; I look forward to seeing yours soon! Meanwhile, I’m feeling a bit swamped with more “Spring in general” that I want to put together before it’s over, more photos from Arizona, and a batch from Oregon. A nice problem to have though.

  2. Excellent post Lynn!!! I love you B&W compositions and the way you have related them to one another in this series. The footnotes are an added bonus. I plan to do some B&W wildflowers and these photos make me feel excited to get started.

    • Nice! I’m glad you’re inspired. I was a little unsure about the different toner shades, the different moods, etc. Some work together better than others, but overall I’m pleased with what came out of the effort. It’s a good exercise to work in black and white, isn’t it?

  3. Lynn, these images are exquisite – form and pattern suffused with light. The gingko image is stunning – delicate and ethereal. I’m in awe of your work here – simply beautiful portraits of light.

    • How nice to hear, especially from someone who I know loves and lives color. Thank you very much, and keep the garden updates coming because they keep me going! 😉 .

  4. The ferns above the ginko leaves look like frost patterns. And the ginko leaves themselves might be my favorite. No matter the season, their shape appeals, and I think they lend themselves so nicely to this treatment.

    • Interesting about the resemblance to frost patterns…I guess it’s that overexposed, or high key look – so much white/light. And both ginkgos and ferns are all about pattern, aren’t they? I have been enamored of Ginkgo trees since I first saw them in NYC when I was 17 or so, and I still always seem to have a few dried leaves around.

  5. the softness of the monochrome does wonders for the new growth of these plants – some exquisite details in these captures and am fawning over the fawn lily. One for the photo frame I would say

    • Fawning over the fawn lily – so I’m smiling now. There’s another one in an earlier post, similar but in color. That day I managed to take a number with that look, with the camera a ground level and nice light. Spring is magic! Thank you, Laura!

  6. Color so often dominates the world of flowers; take it away and another beautiful new world appears…lovely collection, Lynn.

  7. Oh I like these, this b+w experiment of your’s has worked really well! I did my usual thing of working down through your pictures to see which I like best – the second down is very special, and I like the third too >>> and then I just kept admiring most of the rest so I can’t list them all. A thing I really like here are the differing styles of many of the images.

    • It’s good that you like the different styles – I’m not very good at settling into one look, as you know. 🙂 The second photo I thought worked really well – the light was just right for those even tones, and trilliums have such simple shapes that they tend to compose themselves. Thank you Adrian, as always!

  8. Those trilliums are extra special. Your thoughts on black and white reminded me of long ago when I was teaching art in lower elementary school. Several students, working in color, were very weak with their colors. Everything was mid-value, and I’d say, “Take this to the office and ask them to make a black and white copy for you…” The results spoke for themselves, and the young artists quickly grasped the importance of light, medium and dark values.

    I’m about to go visit a friend who is harvesting a shrimp pond. She’s an artist but rarely has time to work on art.. I’m hoping that with her help, we can find a space to give a few lessons and do some workshops with people like Marcos, and maybe they can create things from bamboo or wood scraps from the earthquake – mobiles or incense holders – painted in bright colors – perhaps in working with art, they will also find some emotional comfort?

    Will be writing you, probably tonight with an update.

    Thanks Amiga, for your kind and sensitive heart, which shows in every image!

    • That’s a cool story about having kids copy their color work in black and white. It can be hard to see those values and that was just the right trick to make them apparent. You’re a born teacher, no doubt about it.
      Art therapy is a very powerful tool. Yes, do a workshop! I would keep it lose and informal. Use anything, and give everyone plenty of space and freedom. They must have a lot of difficult feelings that need to be expressed. Using materials destroyed in the earthquake and repurposing them in an artistic, creative way (not necessarily functional) could be very helpful. Some people may even want to incorporate items that belonged to the departed. From a clinical point of view, the PTSD in that area is probably off the charts. It will be a gift to relieve the suffering, even a little, by allowing people to explore where the materials take them, with a few strong-hearted folks (that’s you and your amiga!) at their sides. Here’s a link to help you:

      • half way through the pdf, as i pondered supplies, a work space, etc, i thught of his new year’s effigies and then thought, ‘wait! instead of coaxing him to do that, why not ask him to give a few lessons to me and others on how to make our effigies! i’d been thinking about recycling tin cans to make folk art mexico style, but maybe that will build his self confidence as well…

        unfortunately the earthquake displaced most of the people that i know who might be interested in taking the ‘workshop.’ —- but it’s now incubating….

        one of those ‘displaced’ is now back in canada.. he PTSD has been off the wall for a few years, first the ocean and now the earthquake, which destroyed her home. they all sat in the street during that rainy night ut of fear of going inside any building, and the aftershocks kept going for months…. her dear heart, amost broken emotionally, is now physically waving ‘i can’t take anymore’ flags. yes, it’s off the charts with many.

        thanks again for your own kind and thoughtful heart..

      • I like your idea for a role reversal. I’ve read about people always spending nights outside after earthquakes, it must only add to the displaced feeling, the unreality. And I remember that they had many big aftershocks there. You know, processing that kind of event takes time. It comes and goes – with you too. Take care.

    • I’m pleased to hear that – I will think about your suggestion – the fawn lily and trilliums have appeared recently in color but not exactly the same photos, if I remember correctly, so maybe I’ll throw something together. Or add it here, hmm.

    • Yes, it’s really good for those flower close-ups I love to do, and I would think you could find certain street close-ups that would also benefit. The reflection one I processed with a lot of contrast, which seemed right for that, I’m glad you like it – thanks! Eat a bagel or a slice for me, OK?

  9. These are beautiful and often ethereal, Lynn. I particularly like the high key delicateness of the Ginkgo tree. We had a sentinel type of Ginkgo in our last garden. My wife’s uncle brought a seed back from Japan and grew a tree for us. By the time we moved it was as tall as the house. A beautiful sight in Autumn, and always a pleasure to watch the leaves develop in Spring.
    Spring ‘s colours are a reminder of renewal, but removing the colour allows us to concentrate on shape and form – factors we often gloss over when colour is the dominant feature.

    • That high key look was already there in a few of these so I just magnified it – thanks for letting me know you like it.
      You grew a ginkgo from seed – wow! Yes, they’re fantastic in autumn. There was a huge, well shaped ginkgo on the campus of a college outside NYC that I used to love seeing in the fall – one remembers these things! And so many, many times, I picked up the fallen gold leaves on NY sidewalks and brought them home.
      Thanks for your comments, Andy.

  10. The word ‘exquisite’ has been used several times in the above comments and I can think of no better way of describing this selection. There is an elegance and sensitivity about these photographs that enhances the natural beauty of the plants and the absence of colour encourages us to give greater attention to line, texture and shape.

    • The trillium buds lend themselves to black and white – I was pleased with that one, too, Lisa – thanks for stopping by and letting me know. As you know, through the comments, we are encouraged and hopefully, grow a bit in our work!

  11. Lynn, This series literally took my breath away. Your eye for choosing the images to convert is impeccable and your compositions are wonderful. All are extraordinary and the second image of the Trillium buds really spoke to me along with your ferns. Hope you are having a great weekend!

    • Our eyes are being educated every day when we visit one anothers blogs here. The trillium buds did come together nicely – that flower is a natural for photography! It’s funny, since I stopped working I’m able to get outdoors during the week and work at home more on the weekends, so I can avoid the weekend crowds outside. An unexpected perk. Thank you for stopping by and commenting – much appreciated.

    • I was going for that, Steve. It wasn’t done in camera, and I confess I don’t remember right now what I did, but it was mainly in Silver Efex Pro. The light was gorgeous that afternoon, and the shot was a little out of focus so I decided to push that look.

  12. Wonderful photos, Lynn! All the photos work really well in black and white. The patterns and composition really stand out… and their stories would have been muted by colour. The second and third are my favourites and I love how you captured the ginkgo leaves. 🙂

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