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.


Transient Beauty

Whether cultivated or wild, flowers are enchanting. Form, symmetry, color and scent – these reproductive structures offer an abundance of gifts, gifts that we return to over and over. For me the attraction to flowers is like an addiction – I see one and I’m gone.

Here is a clutch of beauties then, beauties whose bloom fades even as these words zip from your retina to your brain. This very transience is a large part of the appeal. Happily, the magic black box fixes them in time for a little longer. Enjoy.
























The cultivated flowers seen above – the orchids and cyclamen – were photographed recently inside conservatories in Seattle and Tacoma. Some flowers here are skating the dangerous border between cultivated and wild; having been planted long ago, they grow in place now without human help. The witch hazel flower (#9) blooms at a botanical garden, well cared for indeed. The gem-purple crocus flowers took root from bulbs someone set into a hollow in an old tree stump, at the edge of a suburban park: a gift to strangers. The sprightly yellow catkins and the pendent cluster of fuchsia-pink flowers are blooming at Juanita Bay Park, while last year’s dried grass stalks still blanket the wetlands, seen below.



Water and soil alike remain cool this time of year, but a sunny March afternoon draws turtles up from their muddy hibernations to bask on a log. In a few months, white water lilies will bloom across the bay’s surface, and a feast of wildflowers will embellish nearby woodlands, fields, roadsides, and gardens. I’ll be ready.


The photos:

  1. An orchid at Volunteer Park Conservatory, in Seattle, Washington.
  2. An orchid at Wright Park Conservatory in Tacoma, Washington.
  3. A white cyclamen at Volunteer Park Conservatory.
  4. A blossom on an old, bent cherry plum tree at the edge of a parking lot outside of Seattle. This tree, Prunus cerasifera, is also called Purple-leaved plum and is native to western Asia and the Caucasus.  Photographed with a Lensbaby.
  5. Another blossom from the parking lot trees, neglected but going strong. (Sadly, just down the block, a row of these lovely trees was removed last year because of construction work on a huge retail complex).
  6. More cherry plum blossoms, at Kruckeberg Botanical Garden in Seattle. This site will walk you through the difference between cherry and plum trees. Both are beautiful, both are celebrated. Cherry trees (Prunus serrulata), are blooming in Tokyo and Kyoto now, but in Washington, DC, peak bloom is not expected until the first week or two in April, due to cold weather. Plum trees (Prunus mume) originated around the Yangtze River in China. Their very early bloom bloom made them an important symbol in oriental art.
  7. Cherry plum trees bloom in the rain on a suburban street near Seattle. Taken with a phone from inside the car with the rain-strewn window rolled up.
  8. Yes, it’s a flower. This is a Weeping willow (Salix babylonica) catkin. Willows have male catkins on one tree, females on another, and this is a male catkin, ready and waiting at Juanita Bay Park.
  9. Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’) flowers bloom alongside the dark curls of last year’s leaves, Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  10. A native Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), blooms at Juanita Bay Park. Though the fruit isn’t palatable to humans, it’s eaten by animals, and hummingbirds take nectar from the flowers. As early as 1792, collections of this plant were made by Archibald Menzies, the naturalist on George Vancouver’s great global expedition. The explorers Lewis and Clark found R. sanguineum blooming further east, near the Columbia River, on March 27, 1806. Two hundred twelve years later it still blooms in late March, throughout the region.  It also blooms in cultivation, thanks to David Douglas, a botanist and explorer who enabled his employer, the Royal Horticultural Society (then called the Horticultural Society of London) to introduce the flowering currant to English horticulture in the mid 1820’s.  Here is a Royal Hort description of one of many cultivars available now.
  11. This charming group of crocus was growing in a huge tree stump at O.O. Denny Park in Kirkland. Someone must have planted them there, where just enough soil stuck to the stump for the little flowers to thrive and bloom.
  12. The new green shoots of the invasive Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) are rising quickly from the detritus of last year’s decaying growth. Volunteers are slowly removing many of the non-native plants at this popular wetland park. Currently they’re focused on Himalayan blackberry, a prickly, difficult plant to eradicate. I don’t know when they’ll ever get to the Reed canary grass. If they do, it would be a huge challenge to eradicate since much of it grows in very wet places.
  13. At least a dozen turtles lined up on this log to bask on a warm March afternoon at Juanita bay Park. Today it snowed briefly. Ah, March!


Moving in closer,

there are intricate other


waiting.  How strange,

the way the tiny

fragments morph

through the lens.

And again

on the screen.


as I make small adjustments – a little less clarity


more detail


Pull down the saturation,

draw the focus in with

a vignette…

the possibilities are endless,

whether you have a lens and


or not.





(It’s a kind of worship, isn’t it?)


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


Anemones! These beauties were an unexpected gift when a delivery was wrongly made to our door. I have enjoyed watching them bloom and fade over the course of several weeks. They have always been a favorite flower (but then, I have so many favorite flowers!) for their color and balletic form, and especially for their graceful slow fade.


From Wikipedia:

Anemone coronaria is widely grown for its decorative flowers. Numerous cultivars have been selected and named, the most popular including the De Caen and St Brigid groups of cultivars.[2] The De Caen group are hybrids cultivated in the districts of Caen and Bayeux in France in the 18th century.  Anemone coronaria means crown anemone, evoking regal associations.

In Hebrew, the anemone is calanit metzouya. “Calanit” comes from the Hebrew word “cala כלה” which means “bride“, “metzouya” means “common.” The calanit earned its name because of its beauty and majesty, evoking a bride on her wedding day.[6] In 2013 Anemone coronaria was elected as the national flower of the State of Israel, in a poll arranged by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (החברה להגנת הטבע) and Ynet.[7]    Anemone coronaria grows wild all over Israel, Palestine and Jordan.


Lumix G3 with 20 mm Lumix prime lens at f 2.2 and 2.8; natural light; processed in Lightroom


Summer afternoons can evoke a certain dreamy nostalgia.

I was feeling it recently, and remembering a public garden I used to haunt. Snug Harbor Botanical Garden, in the New York City borough of Staten Island, is a somewhat forgotten place, being overshadowed by major institutions like the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the New York Botanical Garden.

It’s a gem though.

Never crowded, it sits on the grounds of an old sailor’s home and contains a wide variety of gardens – a rose garden, perennial borders, fish ponds with tropical plants set around them in the summer, a greenhouse and wonderful old trees, an herb garden, a white garden enclosed by old trellis, a pleached hornbeam allee…and that’s not to mention the impressive Chinese Scholar’s Garden and an Italianate garden.

Here is a selection of images from a landscape I came to love, taken from 2008- 2011.

I’ll save the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, Italianate Gardens and glass house for another time…



So many photographs. And there are many more. I spent many hours with my camera at Snug Harbor.

For those who like naming things, here are some names:

1) A clematis in the White Garden

2) Can’t remember the name of this pretty white flower

3) Rose

4) One of the old homes on the grounds, now sometimes used for photo shoots

5) Hosta, Hakone grass and other foliage plants make one of many wonderful compositions in the perennial garden

6) Cotinus, or Smoke tree, with leaf shadows in late afternoon sunlight

7) Crinum asiaticum, a tropical spider lily grown each year and set in containers outside the greenhouse

8) Walkway after heavy rain, planted with annuals and tropicals

9) Praying mantis with Joe

10) Praying mantis with asters

11) Japanese anemone in the White Garden

12) Hakone grass

13) Hakone grass going to seed

14) Spider lily (Crinum asiaticum)

15) Brugmansia – also called Angel’s trumpets, they provide a spectacular display in large containers each summer.

16) Clematis gone to seed in the White Garden

17) Poppy pods!

18) Peonies after a storm

19) Peony

20) Water lily – Nymphaea sp.

21) Fall color in the garden

22) Brugmansias – how I love them!

23) Fallen petals

24) Late summer border composition – Smoke tree, Perovskia (Russian sage), Yarrow, Bergamot

25) The Rose Garden, early September

26) Clematis on the trellis

27) Grasses in fall

28) Fallen petals in spring

29) The peached allee of hornbeam, a repsite on hot days

30) Quarter moon under a crooked tree

31) A resident Mallard pair

APRIL: No Regrets

Seattle enjoys an extended spring season, thanks to cool weather and abundant moisture. We don’t have those temperature spikes that can turn spring into summer in a day. Right now the city is full of color – it may not be the yellow of a shining sun, but it certainly is the intense acid green of new leaves and the blues, purples, pinks and yellows of spring blooms.

There is a small, but choice garden tucked in a corner of the University of Washington’s campus. It surrounds the Miller Library, a public horticultural resource, and includes the Soest Herbaceous Display Gardens, a fragrance garden, a courtyard, and a transitional area tying the buildings to the Union Bay Natural Area beyond. It’s all set on a fairly small parcel of land, but there are many delights here, for the eyes, nose, and all the senses.

This weekend there was a book sale, a plant sale, a botanical illustration exhibit, and a garden full of early spring treasures. (Yes, I scored a few great books!)  Pearly gray skies cooperated yesterday by holding off from releasing the rain until the afternoon, giving me time for photography.

Above, one of many interesting compositions: Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) nods its creamy flower heads in front of Barrenwort, or Bishop’s Hat (Epimedium  acuminatum), with its red-tinged, elegant leaves and pretty little flowers held on impossibly fine stems.  At their feet there are anemones  in bud and tiny white flowers I couldn’t identify.

Below, a mix of black-leaved Mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus) with – again, I’m not sure – probably another Mondo grass – but what a beautiful look!


A Giant Wakerobin (Trillium chloropetalum) is planted under a bed of flowing ornamental grass. Typically these native woodland flowers are planted in a woodsy setting, maybe under a tree, but I think this is brilliant.

Below, a Japanese flowering cherry tree (Prunus serruata ‘Shirofugen’)  in full bloom – it’s just about the end of the cherry tree blossom time here, so this tree with its cloud-like bloom was a welcome sight.


This garden is typically “Pacific Northwest” in it’s restrained aesthetic – orderly and calm. The fragrance garden benches, like most wood structures here, are host to various lichens. Narcissus nods its pretty head shyly behind a bench, below.




The strange Checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris), above, is planted in the courtyard in raised beds with moss-covered boulders behind it.  It’s a European native that is not found often in the wild now, because of habitat loss and picking.  Here in the Pacific northwest, the Chocolate lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis) is similar; it too, is not often found growing wild. Two years ago I found a few on a small mountain south of here known for it’s plant community. They perched precariously on a rocky overhang, so I struggled to photograph them, crawling as close as I could. Yesterday’s stroll was easier.




Fawn lilies light up a dark corner of the garden above. Below, hosta spears boldly break through the mulch! From ground level, they are so amusing , especially with raindrops about to tumble from their tips.

I love peering at the ground in early spring, when plants are just beginning to emerge.



Below, another Bishop’s Hat, (Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’).  Above, three different fern fiddleheads are outrageous contortionists, expressing the intense release of pent up energy.

This appreciation of spring is dedicated to Peter Matthiessen, who died yesterday.  A celebrated author, nature lover and explorer, I knew him better as Muryo, back when we were members of the same Zen Buddhist organization in New York. Peter was a fantastic story teller, weaving tales and transporting you to faraway places with ease and finesse.

His writing inspired me, from my first encounter with it, in the New Yorker Magazine in the sixties. Later, in 1981, I attended a workshop on Zen and Photography that Peter co-led with John Daido Loori. I was impressed with the way both men handled an overflow crowd and answered tough questions. They mentioned studying Zen with a teacher named Bernard Glassman at a nearby Zen center. I had been interested in Eastern thought for years, but always shied away from any sort of group involvement. Matthiessen and Loori were smart people, I reasoned, maybe this place is OK.

Still I hesitated, until a few months later a flyer for the same Zen center crossed my path. I knew then the time was right. I ventured up to the rambling, old mansion on the Hudson where ZCNY took root, and it changed my life. For the next five years, I lived there, immersing myself in Zen instead of studying it in books. I would not have gone to that workshop if Peter hadn’t been leading it, and I would not have considered ZCNY if he hadn’t spoken well of it.  So I him to thank for the spark that set in motion an experience that nourishes me to this day.

He lived a long, full life. No regrets.


Gasho, Muryo.

Fiddling with Focus

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is to tinker with focus.

Is the focus just how sharp and clear an image is, or is it about more than that? Focusing manually on part of an object to separate it from the background and emphasize it is a technique I go back to again and again. I was thrilled when I first got my hands on a camera with manual focus control.  And digital processing adds another dimension to what can be done with focus. You can sharpen or blur certain areas but not others, or with Lightroom’s clarity tool you can intensify contrast, giving the appearance of sharper focus, or decrease the clarity for a hazy, soft effect – again, either over the entire image or on part of it.

And of course you can draw the viewer’s eye to what interested you – get them to focus on it – in many more ways, using composition or color for example.  So focus is a big topic, but here are a few images I fiddled with this weekend, during (and after) a trip to the local botanical garden.

Smoke trees seem to beg to have their soft, airy panicles contrasted with the details of  the tiny, subtly colored filaments. Manually focusing in does that, and a relatively wide aperture helps keep the background soft. Later, adding a pale halo (a vignette) around the edges of the image further emphasizes the soft-focus aspect of the plant and draws attention towards the details.

It seemed a good idea to do something similar with Angelica plants that are coming into full flower and driving the bees mad these days, so I focused on just a portion of the flower head and used a fairly wide aperture when I took the picture. But I decided to play with it some more in Lightroom, using the clarity tool selectively to increase blur towards the back of the flower and increase contrast just a little in the foreground.

Just for fun I thought I’d capture some of the color and form of the garden by using the manual focus again, but winding it completely out of focus (sometimes I feel like I’ve done that to myself!).  I find photos like this hard to look at and unsatisfying somehow  – I want to settle my eye somewhere.  But I like trying to abstract my surroundings, and I think if I keep playing with this I may get an image I really like.

And that’s what the Photo Challenge asked of us – to play around, to tinker, to fiddle with focus.

Hundreds of other responses to the challenge can be found right here.

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!


Dressed in summer whites and not the least bit concerned about wrinkles, these Matilija Poppies were recently seen showing off in Seattle.

The towering plants with flowers that can measure 5 inches across are a new discovery for me.  I was really taken with the bold drama of clumps of big white poppies floating effortlessly against a cerulean sky in the bright sunlight.

I was in the UW (University of Washington) neighborhood of Seattle that day to see a client.  My work takes me all around the Seattle area and that afternoon I was in rather desperate need of a bathroom. I remembered the University’s Center for Urban Horticulture, with its gardens and the clean, cool, inviting library that’s open to the public. I drove over, parked, and was pleasantly startled by these gorgeous creatures as I walked to the building.

These big poppies, properly called Romneya coulteri,  are sometimes called tree poppies, or fried egg flowers – you can see why. It looks like I was just in time to catch their annual show; the pollen was beginning to settle into the petals.

I learned that the Matilija Poppy is native to dry canyons and burned over areas of California & Mexico and is difficult to establish. But once they’re growing, apparently you’ve got them.

The Center for Urban Horticulture website says the plant “highly resents transplanting.”

You can just imagine one looking down at you, haughtily waving its paper-white petals, saying, “Go away and leave me alone! Can’t you see I’m perfectly happy here?

(If you’ve ever done an unsuccessful transplant, you know how important it is to try to match your environment to the plant’s native habitat).

Given its native habitat, you can imagine this plant deals well with drought.

And you might wonder what it’s doing here in Seattle!

Actually, we’re dry all summer long – very dry. We have lots of sun, daytime temps in the 70’s and nights in the 50’s, and no humidity. Yes, I’m bragging. I have a right to with the gray skies I put up with all winter!

So I’d say the flowers are in a simpatico location during the summer bloom time.  I noticed they were planted in a raised bed, which should allow good winter drainage. Back east I imagine it would be hard to establish them because conditions (both soil and air) aren’t usually dry for very long.  That’s probably why it was a new plant to me.

Next time your summer whites

(be they cotton or linen) are

hopelessly wrinkled, 

remember the pretty Matilija poppies,

breathe a sigh

of contentment,

and carry on.

(Note: I didn’t have my camera with me the day I discovered the poppies on the way to the rest room, so I took photos with my phone.  On the weekend I returned with my DSLR for more pictures.  If you’re curious, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and last two pictures were taken with the DSLR).