May in the Garden

An explosion of beauty invites closer looks…

 

Worries fall away. Self-referential thoughts and chattering preoccupation fade as the graceful curve of a petal, the intoxicating scent of fruity roses and the crunch of footsteps on gravel light up forgotten territories of the mind.

 

 

 

 

 

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These photos were taken at Bellevue Botanical Garden (near Seattle), all on May 21st. I used a 45mm f1.8 prime lens for all except the black and white paired peonies, the peony from behind and the tree from underneath – those three were made with a 60mm f2.8 macro lens. The camera is a micro 4/3rds (Olympus OM-D EM-1) so the lens focal length equivalents on a “normal” camera are about 90mm and 120mm, respectively. I used apertures from f1.8 to f20, for a soft background on some images and a sharp scene across the frame for others, and I often used spot metering.

The processing was done in Lightroom, but I also used Color Efex Pro on about four of these for additional enhancing, to get the image looking more the way I sensed it. The three black and whites were done in Silver Efex Pro, with a few additional tweaks in Lightroom. I’m one of those photographers who really enjoys the processing, so I don’t mind spending time modifying images after I’ve downloaded them. That might be because I was involved in drawing long before I took up photography seriously; I take the same pleasure in manipulating light, form, texture, and color on the computer that I did working with them on paper.

 

Invitation

Last year color curled up tight, rolled itself into a ball and hid like a bear in winter. Emerging tentatively

now it spritzes the air with a stippling of pale mint green on charcoal gray branches,

blushes the twigs of dogwood blood red, or gold,

washes the magnolia tree’s petals faintly, with rose and cream

and softens the horizon with a thousand filmy greens

as the swollen buds of birch, alder and maple rejoice.

Color paints the tips of tiny moss leaves gold, and in the wetlands

shines see-through light on brave grass sprouts,

fixes a silky shimmer on the fur of willow catkins,

lights the sky with a delicate shade of lavender blue,

and invites reverie. Color returns, indifferent to all our small sufferings

ignorant of our diseases and wars, just the season’s dependable procession

for now.

 

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The photos:

  1. Magnolia flower; Rhododendron Species Garden, Federal Way, Washington.
  2. Magnolia petals on the ground; Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, Washington.
  3. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) buds and foliage; Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  4. Moss spore capsules; Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  5. Moss-covered rocks border a stream at the Seattle Japanese Garden, Seattle, Washington.
  6. A yellow variety of Red twig dogwood ( Cornus sericea); Juanita Bay Park, Kirkland, Washington.
  7. Native shrubs and trees in early April on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, Duvall, Washington.
  8. More trees and shrubs, including willows, on the trail in Duvall.
  9. New leaves of Red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium); O.O. Denny Park, Kirkland.
  10. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), another Pacific northwest native; Juanita Bay Park.
  11. Flowering tree and cloud reflections in a stream at Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  12. Forget-me-nots (Myosotis arvensis) at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  13. A pair of Douglas fir cones nestled in moss at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  14. The woods are greening at home too. The moss glows like neon on the branches, but the Big Leaf maple (the gray-barked, spreading-limbed tree) hasn’t unfurled its leaves yet; Kirkland.
  15. Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) and Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) intermingle at Juanita Bay Park.
  16. An old willow begins to leaf out, and bright green Licorice fern adorns its branches at Juanita Bay Park.
  17. An insect pauses on a Magnolia bud at Seattle Japanese Garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both Sides of the Glass

This time of year, a few hours in a conservatory renews the spirits. You may not have thought about looking in from the outside of the building, but the view from the other side of the glass can be very interesting.

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These photos were made during two trips – one to the WW Seymour Botanical Conservatory in Tacoma, in November, one to the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle in December. Both glass houses are over a hundred years old, and they’re kept going thanks to dedicated staff and volunteers. Here’s to those hard working people who maintain the plants, the facilities and everything else that keeps these wonderful resources running and available to the public.

The photos:

  1. A Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) inside the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle.
  2. Dead leaves push against the glass, seen outside the WW Seymour Conservatory in Tacoma.
  3. More dried leaves pushing against the glass at the conservatory in Tacoma.
  4. A palm stem with coarse fibers surrounding the leaf sheath, inside the conservatory in Tacoma.
  5. A jumble of conservatory plants, including Spanish moss, or Tillandsia usneoides. That’s the familiar gray epiphyte which, draped heavily on live oak trees, is characteristic of much of the American south. It’s not a moss and it’s not from Spain – the original range was southeastern N. America, down through Central & S. America to Argentina. Now it has been introduced in other locations.
  6. A graceful orchid at the conservatory in Seattle.
  7. Dried plants settle against the windows of the WW Seymour conservatory in Tacoma.
  8. Ferns against the window at the conservatory in Tacoma. This photo was taken with a vintage lens, the Pentax Super Takumar 50mm F/1.4.
  9. Palm leaves, alive and healthy, inside the conservatory in Tacoma. Also taken with the Takumar 50mm F/1.4.
  10. Looking up at palm fronds in the conservatory in Tacoma.
  11. A single orchid petal in the conservatory in Seattle.
  12. A cactus inside the conservatory in Seattle.
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  14. I think this is a fan aloe, Aloe plicatilis, aka Kumara plicatilis, a South African plant. Seen at the conservatory in Seattle.
  15. I could look up at palms all day. Inside the conservatory in Seattle. This was taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  16. Inside a vestibule at the conservatory in Seattle, plants are pressed up against the windows. Taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  17. A complex shot – looking across a conservatory room, through windows to another room, with reflections. Taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  18. An orchid display (maybe Dendrobium sp.) anchored by maidenhair ferns at the conservatory in Seattle, taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  19. The Coleus plants were going strong at the conservatory in Tacoma, and made an interesting picture as they pressed against the glass. I walked all around the conservatory, getting as close as I could to it, to find scenes like this.
  20. A view of the front of the WW Seymour Conservatory in Tacoma. It’s a small one, but it’s full of Victorian charm!

 

 

In the Garden, Rain and All

In between April showers I’ve been visiting as many public gardens as I can.  I’m not kidding about in between – it’s been so soggy that we’ve broken a hundred and twenty-two-year record for the wettest October through April (our wet period). But if you watch the forecast and the skies carefully there are breaks, and that’s when I duck out to visit a garden. The destination may be an hour’s drive or a ferry ride away, or it may be closer to home. Either way, my impromptu garden tours are pure pleasure, even if I have to drive home in a downpour and wall to wall traffic.

I avoid carrying a tripod or backpack. The camera bag with extra lenses, filters and what have you stays in the car. A Blackrapid camera strap goes over my left shoulder and across, so the camera rests at my hip by my right hand.  I find it’s the most comfortable way to carry my camera, which is a little smaller than a standard DSLR.  I have small velcro pouches on the strap that hold an extra battery and SD card. They’re lifesavers, except when you forget to resupply – oh well.

I carry one or two extra lenses in a pocket or a pouch hanging from a belt loop. A snack is always handy, too. There’s a running joke about getting me one of those many-pocketed photographer’s vests, but I’m not going down that road. I have been grateful for the hood on my sweatshirt lately though – and grateful that my camera’s weather-sealed. Eventually the incredible Seattle summer will arrive and rain won’t be a worry, but the beauty of our rainy Spring is that overcast skies often bring out the best in flowers.

Here’s an assortment of photographs taken at six different public gardens this month.

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The photographs were taken at Heronswood, the beloved garden and specialty nursery founded by plant explorer Dan Hinkley, the Kruckeberg Botanical Garden, another garden that began with the passion of a collector and grew into a nursery-cum-public garden, the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, Bellevue Botanical Garden, the Rhododendron Botanical Species Garden, and Powellswood, yet another garden that grew out of a private collection.

The pretty magenta and yellow nodding flowers are fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) which grow wild in the woods in the Pacific Northwest and are popular Spring garden plants. The photo that looks like an orchid (with dark background) is a Formosan Lady’s Slipper (Cipripedium), a hardy orchid from Taiwanese mountain forests that does well in our climate, too. The white three-petaled flower with the black beetle is a trillium (T. ovatum), a native woodland Spring flower that does well in gardens. Below it is the flower of the Akebia, an Asian ornamental vine.  The small blue flowers are Corydalis flexuosa; the blue bud is Meconopsis, the Himalaya Blue poppy. The last photo is of a Disporum, or Fairybells, probably our native species (D. smithii) at Heronswood.

I’m off to explore the “Big Empty” – a region in Oregon that is mostly range and desert, dotted with ghost towns and fossil beds. Maybe I’ll have a few desert landscapes to post when I return, and there are still desert photographs from my January trip to Arizona to post. Also, a selection of black and white garden images. Stay tuned…

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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GLASS HOUSE GLEANINGS

A New Year’s Day visit to Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory was a pleasant diversion on a cold, damp first day of the year. The century-old glass house shelters a good variety of meticulously tended plants nestled happily in a palm house, a cactus and succulent house, a fern house, a bromeliad house, AND a seasonal house. Plenty to keep me occupied.

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Conservatories are wonderful places to renew your senses but they’re challenging places to photograph, with the riot of shapes, colors and textures all layered on top of one another.

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I look for simpler scenes and abstractions. Zeroing in on a plant detail is one way to make visual sense of the rich experience – so the cactus house is a natural starting point.

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Spanish moss (Tilandsia) drapes around an iron support in the Bromeliad house.

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The palm house boasts an elegant orchid display, but the flowers resist being photographed, at least by me. The angle is wrong, someone is in the way, the background is too busy, too many flowers are crowded together. Looking up soothes my frustration.

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Another place I look for images is windows, when they fog up from humidity or dirt.  You can get very painterly abstracts, looking through the clouded windows – from outside (first and fourth) or from inside (second and third). The resulting images aren’t for everyone but they’re some of my favorites.

 

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EXTRA:

At the end of the year the conservatory sets up an elaborate old Lionel train in the seasonal house, complete with old figurines waiting at the station. The whistle blows and sometimes smokes – it’s charming.

 

And the flowers! I didn’t ignore them altogether. Though I concentrated on leaves and on  finding abstract images, a few flowers cooperated too:

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I needed those sweet splashes of color!  We stayed until closing – 3:00 pm on this holiday – and saw many disappointed people peering in as we left.

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In a week I’m off to a desolate spot in the Arizona desert where I expect to be fascinated by the landscape and plants. I hope to see new birds and deeply moving night skies – there are very few towns where we’re going. Most of all I expect to be surprised – can’t wait for that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ORDER AND CHAOS

Gardeners may create order briefly out of chaos, but nature always gets the last word, and what it says is usually untidy by human standards. But I find all states of nature beautiful, and because I want to delight in my garden, not rule it, I just accept my yen to tame the chaos on one day and let the Japanese beetles run riot on the next.       Diane Ackerman

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An early Spring spell of very warm weather followed by weeks of cool, overcast skies and misty rains has encouraged riotous growth here. I’ve never seen so many wildflowers, and gardens brim over with joyful color.

The vine-covered old willow above graces a public park nearby that is really more nature reserve than park. Bald eagles, herons, hummingbirds, rabbits, turtles and many others find homes within its bounds. This year’s weather resulted in extra lush growth of ferns, vines, and all manner of greenery.

For years volunteers have been at work slowly eradicating the non-natives here, bringing the land closer to what it might have been before white people imposed their own chaos. I wonder if they’re working overtime?

Taming the overgrowth is best left for the iron-willed and long-suffering among us. I used to spend hours taming my garden – on warm summer evenings I would plop down and painstakingly pull bits of grass out of a huge moss garden I had. It was great after-work therapy. I’d be out there pulling weeds now if I had a garden, but these days I’m limited to a little deck. That does allow a certain freedom to marvel and gawk in wonder at this lush, bountiful season.

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Drive back up in the Cascades and it’s the same thing – layer upon layer of green among the old forest giants.

Spring was good to the flower growers out in the valley, too. These photos were taken during our long string of overcast days in May. Rows and rows of delphiniums, ready for the picking, stretch comfortably back towards misty hills.

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When you stop and look closely, there is pleasing structure amidst the growing chaos.

The Large-leaved lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), is a Pacific northwest native. Lupines are very familiar to gardeners – this species, taken to England almost two hundred years ago, formed the foundation of the hybrid garden lupines you see today, in multiple shades of purples, blues and pinks.

What happens when a flower becomes popular with gardeners and is grown all over the world? It escapes. Now this lupine is considered invasive in countries as far apart as New Zealand and Finland. But not here.

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Here’s another northwest native (Tolmiea menziesii, or Piggyback plant) sometimes sold as a house plant for its foliage. The tiny flowers warrant bending down for a close look:

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Another bonus of prime growing conditions is watching all the wildlife, which can also be rewarding close up. A Goldenrod Crab spider is stashing the catch of the day in the flower cluster of an Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) shrub, another native plant sold in nurseries.

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A Tiger Swallowtail works the mud for minerals at a Seattle wetland. The need must have been keen because it let me inch the camera quite close. I was happy I could hold the camera with one hand with the LCD screen tilted up so I could see what I was doing (sort of). Not perfect, but getting down at the butterfly’s level provides a feeling of immediacy that’s lacking in shots from above.

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Below, a lovely Spring azure – those are the sweet little blue butterflies that flit among the grasses at your feet, whether you live in the east or west (or Britain and elsewhere, I believe).

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In a public garden a sea of irises floats across a low-lying wetland.

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Not only are there abundant subjects to choose from these days, but there are many choices that can be made for processing.  Color, sepia, black and white? Vintage maybe?

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Back to the first photo – the overgrown willow at the park. I like it in color, I like in black and white.

Abundance. Order. Chaos. I’ll take them all.

 

 

UNRAVELED

Solstice time –

unravel your gray self

yes,

hang it

out

in the sun.

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These were taken Saturday, 6/19/16 at the Center for Urban Horticulture’s Soest Garden in Seattle. The lovely white flowers are tall (over my head) Matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri). They’re being blown about in the sun after last night’s downpours.

Three years ago I saw these beauties for the first time, and photographed fresher specimens, here.

The ground was littered with petals today.

The grass is a tall ornamental whose name I don’t know. It sparkles and twinkles with every passing breeze.

Olympus OM D-1 with Oly Zuiko 60mm macro lens. The grass photos are mostly f 3.5, 1/2500s. The flowers are mostly f3.5 – f.5, 1/500 –  1/2500s. Some are processed in Lightroom, some with Color Efex or Silver Efex.

HAPPY SOLSTICE TO YOU!

In the Feeling

InSpring: that feeling.

And how do I

express, convey, record, or transmute it?

Because it pervades, it’s the air, it’s

heavy lilac scent and a

rabbit disappearing

under a hedge, it is birdsong, breeze-on-cheek

and buttercups,

wild-seeded on the margins.

We feel it underneath the

blessing of leafed-out branches,

light

suffusing through the veins,

and neurons…

throughout.

I can try.

 

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Photographed at Bellevue Botanical Garden, 04/22/2016

other views

Spring isn’t all a cherry blossom delight….

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A pond at a public garden, choked with a heavy bloom of algae. Too shallow and still to support much life other than the algae, and littered with old leaves, it actually made me want to avert my eyes. The balance was off – there was probably insufficient oxygen to support a healthy mix of species. I used to garden for a living and I don’t like to see gardens neglected.

Still, there was beauty there, with the branches of a Japanese maple bending gracefully to the muddy water.  I took a photograph, and later I exaggerated the softness to make it all about the drifting colors.

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Bruised, fallen Magnolia petals mingle with last year’s dead leaves – beauty  underfoot.

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Also seen at the garden, intricate textures on the surface of a granite boulder. Instead of Spring’s pretty pastels, the boulder contained a subtly colored miniature map, almost like a view from space.

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A clutch of tiny maple flowers glows deep crimson against lime green leaves. Looking up and peering very closely, odd bits of stamens and petals come into focus.

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A Japanese maple’s dusky, thread-like new leaves stretch tentatively into the air.

 

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Another view of the pond where fish don’t swim, frogs don’t vocalize and ducks won’t paddle. It has a beauty of its own.

 

Photos taken at Kubota Gardens in Seattle.