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.

UNDENIABLE

The urge to get outside, to create, to look in wonder and enter into the season – it’s undeniable.

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From the bottom,

Crab apple blossoms, Maidenhair fern, a pine cone, a Magnolia branch in flower, A Magnolia bloom, fallen Magnolia flower petals, maple twigs with their dangling flower parts, more Maidenhair ferns in black and white, last year’s Magnolia leaf, chewed by insects, and the long, elegant needles of the Montezuma pine. All were seen Friday at Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, Washington.

Note on processing:

I procrastinated about buying the excellent Nik Silver Efex program for converting color photos to black and white. It was just as well because last week, the program became free to all, along with several other Nik programs for digital processing. I’m just getting the hang of it and I expect I’ll find the suite of programs very useful. The first photo, of a pine bough, takes a bright, sunshiny image to a dark place, thanks to the Color Efex program; the second photo’s creaminess was exaggerated with that program’s settings, too.  Sometimes though, it’s best to leave well enough alone – the final photo has only very minor tweaks in Lightroom.

All photos taken with an OM D-1 with Olympus 60mm f 2.8 macro lens. Yes, I brought other lenses, but I only had two hours. Changing lenses takes time, to switch out the lens and to reboot your eyes to the new lens. Besides, I just love this lens.

Next some near-abstract images, also derived from outdoor shots. Coming soon…

A CERTAIN QUIET

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A certain quiet takes hold in January in northern latitudes.
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Plants don’t necessarily announce themselves with gusto, but instead offer subtle pleasures. It’s a good time to study texture and form.

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Seed structures, even after all the seeds have scattered, are a constant source of wonder.

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But color can still catch the eye too.

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And when you come across an early bud you’re smitten once more with the promise of Spring.

Photos taken at the Soest Garden, University of Washington Botanical Gardens, Seattle.

Olympus OMD E-M1; 60mm macro lens; f 2.8 – 5.6; ISO 200.

The Pleasures of a New Camera

Saturday was another gray, wet day, added to a month of near record-breaking rain. Indoors seemed like a good place to be, but I was eager to try out my new camera. I thought about Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory – should be perfect – so I drove over.

I can’t resist a glass house.  This one is small, well kept and comfortable. Built in 1912 in a traditional Victorian design, it is centered around a central palm house, with a seasonal display house and a fern house on either side. At the ends of the broad, spreading building are a cacti/succulent house and a bromeliad house. For Christmas an old model train is set up in the seasonal house and surrounded by poinsettias – nothing new or novel, but it’s a sweet tradition.

I started in the cactus house.

The new camera is an Olympus, the first Olympus I’ve owned. It’s a micro four thirds, or ILC – interchangeable lens – camera. They’re smaller than DSLR’s but do just about all the same things. The market for ILC’s is growing as the technology improves. The DSLR market is dropping off, but of course the edge is owned by smartphones, Go Pro’s and drones. I’m not ready for a drone or a Go Pro and my smartphone isn’t versatile enough.  I like a smaller camera but compacts don’t cut it –  I want to use different lenses, be able to focus manually, have an articulating LCD screen and a viewfinder – just for starters.

My last camera was a Panasonic Lumix G3, also a micro four thirds. A few months ago the LCD screen died. So every photo I’ve taken for the last couple of months has been kind of blind – I can’t review shots on the screen, can’t use it to see settings – nada. Repairing the screen costs almost as much as replacing the camera (no surprise!). I started looking at alternatives – maybe it was a sign that it’s time for a different camera.

In a local camera store I held an Olympus OM-D EM-5. Very nice. The lenses I already have for my Lumix would fit it.  That’s huge. Then I tried the EM-1 – even nicer! It had a film camera feel, the buttons and grip were comfortable in my hands, it was solidly built, with WiFi and weatherproofing (I can be rough on things).  Though it’s not a new model, the salesman said a huge firmware update was due in November, with many performance enhancements, like focus stacking.  I thought it over, waited, thought some more…

Then Santa came – hurrah! (Santa’s an expert at finding the best deal).

It’s always a learning curve when you move to a different system and this one is a lot more complex than the Lumix. Things got prickly.

At times I felt like tearing my hair out.

I persevered and found a good video online that reviews the camera – that made a big difference. Who writes those manuals, anyway???

I took a few photos around the house, trying to figure out the focusing. Then I went out. It was Christmas afternoon, and I got to the good espresso place just in the nick of time – it was closing early.  (First things first!)

The rain stopped for a moment so I went to the lake, two minutes from the cafe, to try the camera outdoors.

This is straight out of the camera, nothing at all done to it. The camera did well with poor and difficult lighting.

It still felt alien though, and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.  There are a million options on this camera – for example, you can see in the photo above that I was using the 16:9 image size option, for a long, skinny landscape shot. When you’re not familiar with your camera, finding the button or series of clicks or whatever to change options is torture! I really didn’t want every single photo to be in those proportions. You just have to spend some time figuring it out.

Back at home I started playing with a setting called Art Filter, which I think is unique to the Olympus cameras (other than the hundreds of special effect apps you can download onto your smartphone). There’s pop color, sepia, watercolor, vintage, pinhole, etc. One intrigued me  – soft focus.  I thought it would be good for plants and flowers.

It was. I was impressed with the smooth tones and retention of detail.

I wasn’t using a tripod. That’s impossible in a space like the conservatory. Besides, I’m an impulsive, walk-around kind of photographer. I brought three lenses with me. I quickly removed the 20mm in favor of a macro and used that one lens the rest of the afternoon.

The camera has five direction image stabilization built into the camera, and I think it made a difference. As the day wore on and the ambient light grew dimmer, I could still get sharp detail with very little noise.

 

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On to the other houses –

A fallen Alamanda flower.

The palm house has orchid displays.

 

I framed a photo looking up through a giant Monstera deliciosa leaf.  This is the kind of high contrast shot a lot of cameras would have trouble with – not this one.

The mature leaves have these cool holes and are called fenestrate – the French word for window is fenetre, so there you go! This plant is a vine and an epiphyte. It has aerial roots, and produces tasty fruit, though I’ve never had it.

Went crazy with the soft focus here –

Spanish moss (Tilandsia useneoides) is plentiful in the Bromeliad house, and epiphytes of many types hang from supports everywhere.

I don’t know what this flower is; it was hanging at about face height. It looks like a confection dusted with sugar. The conservatory has many delights – a little waterfall set with ferns, a bog garden with carnivorous plants like the red-edged plant above, Nepenthes alata, other odd plants, and many repeating plants, which lend consistency as you walk through.

The photo below was taken with my phone, looking towards the bog area. You can see what a pleasure this place is on a December afternoon.

I love the way conservatory windows steam up.  Two views from inside are above (without filters or special effects), and below, a view from the outside. A Tilandsia of some kind presses hard against the glass.

And the train set-up – I didn’t realize until I got home how old the figures are. I should have taken more pictures of them. Last year, the train blew it’s horn AND blew smoke, but on this day, no smoke. Still nice! And it was the perfect shot for another art filter  – Diorama.

The conservatory from the outside:

 

I think this camera’s going to be fun.

LAN SU GARDEN…WAITING FOR AL ROKER

While in Portland, Oregon, for a conference last month we visited a small, but choice Chinese garden. Portland is known for the spectacular Portland Japanese Garden but it was closed for the season.  The Lan Su Chinese Garden is right in town and sounded interesting. We had no idea!

It was overcast and intermittently rainy – not great weather for photography, but still, the garden presented many pleasures. That weekend Lan Su Garden was crowded with displays of chrysanthemums and over-the-top flower arrangements. It was the Ninth Moon Floral Design Showcase, a juried flower arranging show that requires entrants to include chrysanthemums in the design. Here’s one of the simpler designs:

And a larger, more elaborate arrangement:

Below, a study of one of many specially grown potted chrysanthemums displayed on pavilions and terraces for “Mumvember,” celebrating the importance of this plant to Chinese culture.

But the first “display” we saw as we entered the garden wasn’t plants, it was people –  a group of smiling, oddly dressed folks, the Royal Rosarians of Portland. They greeted us warmly and gave out little embroidered roses to stick on our jackets.  The “Official Greeters and Ambassadors of Goodwill for the City of Portland” were out in force.

Why? Well, because Al Roker, the famous TV weatherman and personality, was due any minute! He was making a Portland pit stop as part of a whirlwind national tour to do the weather forecast from all 50 states in one week, while raising money to fight hunger: the Rokerthon.

 

You could say it was an embarrassment of riches – a celebrity sighting in the offing, a bevy of special ambassadors dolled up in straw hats, cream suits and white bucks, a multitude of champion chrysanthemums in every size, shape, and color, award-winning floral displays….oh, and there was the garden!

Back to that.

 

The garden’s name, Lan Su, combines “lan” from “Portland” and “su” from “Suzhou,” the Chinese sister city of Portland.  Suzhou is famous for its classical gardens, now collectively a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Near Suzhou, at the base of Lake Tai and underneath its waters, one finds fantastic limestone rocks with complex patterns of holes and depressions. They are prized in China for use in the garden. Above, you can see them placed to echo the bamboo stalks. Lan Su has many Taihu rocks placed throughout the garden – look for them in the photos.

The Lan Su Chinese Garden displays many typical elements of Chinese gardens – scholar’s rocks, pavilions, a tea house, a pond with koi, arching bridges, a moon gate, “leaking” windows, pebble mosaic pathways, symbolic plants such as pine and plum trees, peonies and bamboo – all packed into a small space. Winding paths cleverly lead you through a series of scenes that evoke much larger natural landscapes.

The scholar’s corner – how I wanted to sit right down, pick up a brush and start working!  I love uncluttered spaces for making art.

Graceful willows lean towards the pond, losing themselves in its mirrored surface.

Clouds thickened and flung raindrops across the water, shattering calm reflections into bar codes for the carp to interpret. From certain human angles the water became mercury-like.

 

The sun peaked out again. Such poetic weather changes – where was Al?  This was perfect!

Al was an hour and a half late already. A handful of Rosarians had left, but most stayed, frowning in polite impatience.  Crowds were swelling as visitors heard about Al’s impending arrival and they hung on, hoping for the glimpse of greatness.

We moved to the edges. I focused in on the details now; the bigger pictures were too crammed with people.

 

Leaves had fallen into paper lanterns strung in a courtyard. A flower arrangement centered around large hanging glass globes containing fresh white orchids.

A scolding jay flew back and forth across a the pond. Someone stared up into a small pine on a stone bridge. I followed the line of sight, and to my amazement, there was a Barred owl, peacefully perched a few feet from crowds of people, unperturbed by them or by the screaming jay. From directly underneath, Mr. Owl looked like a feathered football.

 

Mr. Roker had been expected at 11AM, but the entourage was delayed by a flat tire in Montana. He didn’t arrive until 1:30! By that time we’d just walked out the door. In my pocket was a sweet souvenir.  Visitors are invited to open one of dozens of narrow drawers in an ornate Chinese cabinet, in a corridor between garden rooms. I chose my favorite number, 13, and plucked out this fortune:

It was a typical fortune that could be read many ways, but it worked for me. My fellow traveler was pleasant, our journey to the garden was spontaneous, and sure, I gained experience.

To tell the truth though, it got to be a bit much. We caught our brief glimpse of the petite Mr. Roker (who looks bigger on TV, and used to be commanding before he lost the excess weight), and left for more contemplative pastures – Powell’s bookstore. Those of you who’ve been there know it’s the “World’s Largest Used and New Bookstore.” Yikes! Maybe not so contemplative after all. But they had great espresso. That helped get me back on my feet.

DRAWING NEAR

Moving in closer,

there are intricate other

worlds

waiting.  How strange,

the way the tiny

fragments morph

through the lens.

And again

on the screen.

Again,

as I make small adjustments – a little less clarity

here,

more detail

there.

Pull down the saturation,

draw the focus in with

a vignette…

the possibilities are endless,

whether you have a lens and

computer,

or not.

Just

look.

 

Consider.

(It’s a kind of worship, isn’t it?)

 

Photos taken at the Bellevue Botanical Garden in Bellevue, Washington.

GARDEN INTERLUDE

The Soest Garden, part of the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, is small, but well planted and pretty enough for many return visits. July blooms are beautiful, as they are in most gardens, but lush ornamental grasses take the stage too, and if you look closely fascinating details abound.

Below, stamens have dropped off the flower of a Magnolia tree and fallen onto one of the flower petals.

 

Astrantia major, or Pink masterwort, is in the same family as carrots and Queen Ann’s Lace.  Astrantia illustrates a common and interesting plant structure – what looks like one flower is actually a wheel of bracts supporting many tiny flowers. Bracts provide protection for flower buds and later, as you can see, they help pollinators zero in on the target. Poinsettias are another example of prominent bracts we mistake for flowers. Their flowers are actually small and green, in the middle of the red bract cluster.

In this photo the flowers haven’t opened all the way – the five white curving structures will extend later to support the stamens, which hold the pollen.  Click here to see some really beautiful extreme close-ups of Astrantia major.

A bee explores a Globe thistle – Echinops ritro.  Echinops means looks like a hedgehog – a pretty good name! This plant’s family, Asteraceae or the Aster famliy (also called the composite family), has tightly packed flowers, which you can see below.   We call the whole ball of blue a flower, but it’s really a cluster of many small flowers. These plants are tough, as you’d imagine, and are fun to see in the garden. They provide a visual foil to more graceful flowers – I mean plants!

 

The well known Echinacea purpurea, or Coneflower,  is in the same family as the Echinops. The pinkish petals are ray florets and the center is made of disk florets. The disk florets have male and female parts but the ray florets do not. The head of disk florets in the center opens gradually, in concentric circles, from the outside in.

I didn’t mean this to be a botany lesson! But the variety in plants is fascinating – and the more you investigate, the more you peer closely, the more amazing it seems.

Below, a Balloon flower, or Platycodon gradiflorus, nods gracefully amidst delicate ornamental grasses. In bud this flower looks just like a little balloon. Now that it’s open you can see how the petals are fused.

The attractively colored style in the middle has caught pollen from the stamens, mostly hidden behind the style. Soon the style will split open and curl back in five parts – it’s all fives with this flower.  Strangely enough, pollen from other Balloon flowers will adhere to the female part, but this flower’s own pollen is designed to be transported by an insect to a neighboring Balloon flower. Parts mature at slightly different times to avoid self-pollination, keeping the gene pool diverse – at least I think that’s how it works!

I do know that I love the colors here…

Simplicity itself, the Hosta leaf pleases the eye.

Taking a step back, the garden is framed by a small tree with multiple trunks. Like many trees in our area, it’s covered with lichens, giving the bark a beautiful color and texture.

I desaturated the colors here to bring out the textures. We’ve had an unusually warm, dry year and some leaves are falling already.  This one didn’t make it to the ground yet. I like seeing leaves or petals caught by other leaves, or flowers.  There’s something very poetic about it.

Just outside the Soest Garden are fields of wilder grasses and flowers. Here, Queen Anne’s Lace sways in the breeze among ripe, golden grasses.

I love summer!