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.






















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.



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.





































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.

















After rain.

The sun angles

for a November kind of heat –

and finds it



Japanese maples.



Fallen leaf

dries out

and rests.


The blushing pink skin

of a hybrid lily

sings of


in the fall garden.


Dainty Fuchsia,

sturdy Camellia,

winsome anemone –

all pretty,

but no match


blazing maple leaves

feathering the air

with garnet hues.



Swirling waters

at their feet




High up,

a hummingbird

owns the territory. I have


the rear view – a ball

of shiny feathers,

stick-sharp legs

and beak.



Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, Washington.

Some plants:

Acer palmatum           1st photo

Acer palmatum ‘Elegans’  leaf caught in Miscanthus sinensus ‘Yaku Jima’ grass             2nd photo

Acer macrophyllum (Big Leaf Maple)           3rd photo

lily x Amarcrinum             4th photo

Fuschia ‘Margaret Pilkington’           5th photo

Camellia sasanqua ‘Hana Jiman’           6th photo

Anemone x hybrid ‘Honorine Jobert’           7th photo

Acer palmatum ‘Garnet’           8th photo

Rufous Hummingbird           last photo


Garden Chiaroscuro

I spent a few rewarding hours in my local botanical garden the other day.  Famous for rain, Seattle was clear and sunny;  the angled October light cast deep shadows on the brilliant stained glass colors of fall.

The back of this Dahlia was as joyfully pretty as the front.

A mushroom – looks like an Amanita – hid behind a fern frond.

We’ve had a lot of sun, but as always we are VERY mushroom-y here in the Pacific northwest!

The season’s last roses are so sweet – this one is a climber with a fruity scent and perfectly round blooms, some of which dropped prematurely onto the ground below, scattering lovely pastel petals.


Oh, the complexity of fall color!

Grasses go to seed in shimmering drifts.

Hydrangeas were beginning to brown. With the color removed from the petals, the structure is revealed beautifully.

In contrast to the orderly structure of a Hydrangea petal, these leaves displayed a marvelous anarchy of form.

And this one had been caught mid way between limb and earth.

Another leaf burnished by autumn’s chiaroscuro light.

But it’s not all fall leaves and mushrooms.  There are straightforward floral beauties still to be found, the late bloomers, the brave ones who raise heads to waning light in defiance of cold and dark and the sure slipping away of leaf and flower….

The photos, many of which illustrate the idea of chiaroscuro, were taken at Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, WA.

From Wikipedia: Chiaroscuro (English pronunciation: /kiˌɑːrəˈskjʊər/; Italian: [kjarosˈkuːro]; Italian for light-dark) in art is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition.

It’s Six Weeks Past the Solstice…

… many flowers have bloomed and withered,

but others are coming into their own now,

in the gardens,

and in the wild places.

The other day – another bright and sunny one –

I thought I would see what’s blooming

at the Botanical Garden nearby:


Here are descriptions of the flowers above  – with a little botany thrown in:

Hydrangeas are at their peak now. The first photo and the two after it show a pure species Hydrangea – H. aspera. No hybridizing here – just as nature made it, and isn’t it gorgeous? Plant breeders like to play around and hybridize to bring out certain qualities, and mostly they do come up with improvements on the species. But I like to see the species itself, too.  This one is native to China.

The fourth photo is a close up of the flower of Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora), a southeastern U.S. native shrub.

Then the Coneflower – Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’Echinacea is another American native. You may be familiar with cold and flu remedies made from parts of certain Echinacea species. As with many plant-based “natural” remedies, studies produce contradictory evidence as to their efficacy – some say they work, others claim they don’t.

The typical coneflower is purple or pink, but plant breeders somehow managed to create this nice off white cultivar with softly drooping petals that show off the bold head of disc flowers. Did you know that the “petals” around the head are (botanically speaking) ray flowers, which serve to draw attention to the plant? The head is made of many disc flowers, and that’s where fertilization and seed formation happen. So what we call the flower is actually hundreds of disc and ray flowers packed into an attractive bundle.

In the second Hydrangea photo above you can also see the two types of flowers – tiny reproductively active ones in the center where the bee is working, and pretty ray flowers around the edges, attracting pollinators – and us, too!

I’m not sure which white lily that is in the sixth photo, but it looks to me like Casa Blanca – a wonderful old standby. This one seems to be bursting with energy.

A view of the top of the Perennial Border at the garden shows Bear’s Breeches (Acanthus caroli-alexandri)  in the foreground and Pervoskia atriplicifoliaRussian Sage – behind it.

The eighth photo is a geranium, Geranium ‘Gerwat’ Rozanne, thought to be a hybrid of two Himalayan region geraniums. That gorgeous deep blue makes a good counterpoint to the hot colors that often predominate late summer gardens.

A close up of Perovskia atriplicafolia, or Russian sage, follows. It’s a very popular perennial, native to Central Asia, which blends beautifully with other plants.  It has a strange, pungent scent that I like, and when I see this flower I often crush a little in my hands and inhale deeply. Apparently I haven’t gone far enough though – the leaves can be smoked for a mild high, according to internet sources! And supposedly you can put the little flowers in a salad.

Then, a fat and happy bumblebee enjoying the pretty pink Siberian yarrow, Achillea sibirica ‘Camschatica Love Parade’. Maybe it’s time to talk about naming plants! I don’t know why, but someone decided to use a strange spelling for Kamchatka (a Russian province where the flower is native). Then on top of that they had to tack on “Love Parade” when they named this cultivar.  Well, I can guess why the “Love Parade” – it’s just pure advertising, isn’t it?

Siberian yarrow is native to an arc stretching from Canada through Alaska, over the Kamchatka Peninsula, and on down through parts of Japan, Korea & China.  It was used in both Chinese traditional and Native American medicine (and it still is).  My favorite use though, is for the I Ching, that ancient book of divination.  A bundle of 49 stalks of Achillea sibirica was painstakingly counted and divided following a complex method to produce one of 64 hexagrams, the meaning of which was then used to answer a query.  For centuries a method using 3 coins has been more popular than using yarrow stalks because it’s much quicker. Now there’s an even faster click method – the online I Ching.

Other yarrows, like the well known white wildflower Achillea millefolium, are common in many places worldwide and have been used medicinally and spiritually for tens of thousands of years (the name is from Achilles, of the Greek legend).  This link contains an extensive history of yarrow use along with some literary references.

Next is a close up of Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata ‘Schneeflocke’) – so much prettier here, where it has room to billow, than squashed into a tight bouquet. Originating in Europe and Asia, it has gotten out of hand in some parts of the U.S., becoming an invasive species. But in Peru it’s an important export for the florist trade.

More Hydrangeas follow – the white one with pink edging is H. paniculata ‘Ruby‘ and the final one is H. macrophylla ‘Jogosaki’ – a lacecap hydrangea from Japan.

While photographing a Hydrangea bloom I noticed a shiny green blob on a nearby leaf. It was so small I reached for my reading glasses to be sure – and yes – a Tree frog! How many times have I looked in vain for these wonderful little creatures, and never found one? So here’s the tiny guy with the big voice: our (very common) Pacific Tree Frog.  I’m sorry the photo wasn’t in better focus, but it was hard to get it just right.  Still, you can see its amusing expression – why so glum? It’s a beautiful day!


…your making.  Jake’s Weekly Photo Challenge subject  is “Simplicity”.

The simplicity here isn’t necessarily in the form or content, but in the context. The context seems to be a story that weaves in and out of everyday settings at home and beyond. It’s a simple story that I invite you to narrate.













Shells probably from India; moon shells from East Coast beaches;  bed in a small cottage in Connecticut; cream pitcher made in 1998 and signed HP; boats in New York Harbor; curled skunk cabbage leaf at Mercer Slough, Bellevue, WA; aprons at Hains House, a Baking School and B&B in Olympia, WA;  Tateuchi Viewing Pavilion at Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, WA; aloe leaf in the Volunteer Park Conservatory, Seattle, WA; the flowers are Forget-me-nots.

More responses to this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge are at:


They are a large and gorgeous group, the lilies. Fragrant, elegant, sturdy, and cleanly symmetrical.

A hothouse Asiatic lily from the store, this beauty is big.

The same lily from a different angle  –  desaturated, with noise (graininess) added.

This time I used a long exposure while zooming the lens and intentionally keeping everything out of focus.

And another grainy, softly colored rendition of the lily from behind.

Outdoors, the natural light on a rain-and-clouds-and-sun kind of day lays evenly across this botanic garden spider lily.


From above, little wild fawn lilies (Erythronium columbianum) on Echo Mountain in Western Washington nod their lovely heads musically.

Another wild fawn lily, Erythronium revolutum, is naturalized around a lawn at the Kruckenburg Botanical Garden in Seattle.

Lilium columbianum, the wild Tiger lily, growing here in the Snoqualmie National Forest.  We took a short hike on the Lodge Lake Trail, where we met through hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail – that means they were intending on traveling all or most of the 2,650 mile long trail that stretches from Canada to Mexico. Lodge Lake Trail is a tiny portion of the PCT. Happily for the through hikers, wild berries were abundant that August day and civilization (re-supply, showers, beer!)  was close. Happily for me, no one had bothered this beauty as it stood proud alongside the trail.

A Martagon lily at Bellevue Botanical Garden is ready for pollinating. This one smelled like a tangerine candy – fantastic!


A black and white study of spider lilies (Crinum asiaticum) at Snug Harbor Botanical Garden in Staten Island, New York City.

A poem –

The Lily

The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble sheep a threat’ning horn:
While the Lily white shall in love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.

William Blake

and a proverb –

This Chinese proverb gets translated differently, but I’ll stick with this version because it goes so well with today’s post:

When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.