Thursday, November 14, 2013

Garden Photography--How to Snap Your Own Flowerporn

How to take good photos of the garden?  Nature photography is no longer the sport of the titled or the photojournalist.  Backyard paparazzi are sprouting up like weeds.  At a county farm market brawny men crowded around an array of pale violet globe thistles, snapping away. 

Cellphones clicked nonstop at the Holland, Michigan Tulip Festival.  Instagram was buzzing with blooms that afternoon!

Smartphones are the latest garden implement.  Nursery employees see a growing number of shoppers using the camera function to identify everything from desired plants to disease. 

Whether using a Nikon or an IPhone, the strategies for fabulous garden photos are the same:

1.  Lighting:  Timing is everything.  Early morning or late afternoon, when the sunlight falls at interesting angles, yield the best and most interesting shots.  Afternoon sun washes out the vibrancy of color. If a scene is well lit, do not dally.  Optimal light lasts only for a few moments.  The shifting sun or a passing cloud change the scene quickly.  A favorite springtime shot was taken in Lowe's parking lot, as melting icicles on cherry buds glistened in the momentary sunshine.

2.  Focus:    Use a foreground focus for most shots to make the petals POP!

3.  Subject:    The perfect bud might not be the most fascinating.  Look for plants that are remarkable,
discarded implements, or interesting foliage.  Insects on a blossom create curiosity.

4.  Angle:   Get down in the dirt.  Belly shots show an angle that cannot be appreciated from above. 

5.  Background:   Pay attention to the background, even if it is in soft focus.  Keep interference at a
minimum and avoid intrusions like lawn mowers and AC units.  Not all is a distraction as abandoned implements, rustic ruins and faded patinas are now the rage.

6.  Chronicle all seasons:  No time of year's off limits.  The sparkling snow and brilliant blue skies on a sunny January day produce spectacular scenery. 

Tell a story--pictures are for paintings.

Digital photography has opened up a global creativity formerly limited by the cost of film, inconvenience of development and the need to get thirty six good clicks.   Search the hashtags #floweroftheday or #gardenporn on Instagram.   There are no "amateurs" any longer. 

The greatest gift of fingertip photography is that we now scour the world in a limitless way, with an enhanced eye for beauty.  Photo sites like Instagram and Facebook have allowed the everyday user to share the splendor of ordinary days from Moscow to Motown.

Still, it's tough to get a Chrysanthemum to smile and "say cheese."

More Articles of Interest:

Rockery and Roll -- Xeriscape Gardening

Colorado Wildflowers -- Tiny yet Tenacious

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Witch's Broom -- And Other Spooky Garden Tales! What is that Bump on My Tree?

Tree bump growth?

That's the Google search which revealed the eerie mystery while we sipped cocktails on Larry and Janine's secluded deck near the tip of the Mitten.

A witch's broom is a lumpy but benign growth which grows from a healthy tree.  Other than an unusual appearance, it has no effect on the life or growth of a tree.

Larry had observed the shaggy protuberance for years.  "Sometimes it's green, sometimes it's brown"  he laughed.  "Sometimes I want to cut the thing off!"  Curiosity led this gardener on a quick smartphone search during the witching hour.

Good thing my friend resisted the urge to amputate.  The tall pine might have looked tidier, but these hairy mutations are  rare prizes sought after by a small niche of botanist/explorers.  The brooms may be ugly, but grafts can result  in unique woody cultivar such as "Tom Thumb Gold" and "Compressa" (uniperus communis).

Smartphones are the newest garden implement.  A pocket-sized but powerful reference tool for identifying and capturing everything from apple trees to witches brooms.

 On a recent hike the built in camera was a useful aid in snapping and saving documentation of usual flora (and fauna) along the way.  It's unpredictable where the next interesting plant might crop up, but the phone is always ready-roadside or curbside.

Thus the phone was at hand when the Witch's Broom flew into sight.

Witch's Brooms are important to our green world.  They host a variety of organisms, some mutated, as well as moss and other species which thrive in the messy growth.  Aficionados of these woody outcroppings turn them into dwarf conifers, satisfying the insatiable demand for new and unusual plant offerings.  Pinkish pinecones perhaps?

The Witch's Broom may be ugly, but beauty comes in all forms. 

They're also genetic goldmines.

In Minnesota, plant fanatics travel from as far as Europe to climb icy trees in January--in search of the witch's broom.  Heck, they shoot them down from especially tall pines (not recommended.)

The name originates from ancient times when it was thought that witches had parked their rides in treetops.

Who knew that the hairy growth off the deck had such a
mystical yet commercial value?

Happy Hunting! 

Happy Halloween!

More Articles of Interest:

Fall Garden Cleanup and Pumpkin Patches

Burning Bush and Other Fall Follies

Turtlehead and Other Fall Blooming Flowers

Saturday, October 12, 2013

What are the black spots on Maple leaves? Tar Spot -- Worry not!

Why are the leaves turning black? Charred foliage is not part of the usual vibrant fall palette. Tar spot is the newest fungus infecting the leaves of Red Maple trees. Happily it's only a rash, although it would appear to be far more dramatic. Careful clean-up may eradicate the unattractive yet harmless blemishes.

Japanese Red Maples are unique, adding deep burgundy contrast to the greens and blues of their brethren.  Their lacy leaves and graceful limbs add texture and structure to the landscape. 

Typically demure, in late autumn these girls stand out. The show of bright red leaves is spectacular, floating downward just as snowflakes threaten to swirl.

Well, perhaps bright red with dark spotty accents.  Tar spot has hit this year, perhaps due to the abundance of rain and cooler temps. 

Whatever the cause, tar spot is harmless with no permanent effect on the tree but the fungus may overwinter in the fallen leaves.   
No sprays nor pruning needed.  With any luck, careful raking and removal will prevent a reoccurrence. 

Some of the leaves appear lace-like.  Viewing these specimens from below, the spider web
effect is lovely.

Even fungus can be striking in the right light. 

Happy raking!


Why do the Red Maple Leaves Look Brown? Spring Frost Damage to Ornamental Trees

Hosta La Vista

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Colorado Alpine Wildflowers -- Tiny yet Tenacious

Hiking through high mountain paths in Eagle and Summit  Counties in late summer is sublime. 

The clear blue Colorado sky overhead, brilliant sun and moderate temperatures are heavenly.

Gracing the edges of the trail,  droves of petite yet powerful wildflower blooms provide bursts of color sharpened by the clear air, bright gamma rays and cool night temps. 

The season is short but transcendent. 

Bill comments that one can only take so much beauty.  Soon we both run out of original descriptive superlatives and settle in for the climb.

It's the tiny growth contrasted against expansive views that makes one truly appreciate this awe-inspiring part of the world--and this country--for preserving these minute and vast  national treasures.

Many of the blossoms appear as garden perennials in other zones, but those which occur au naturelle in the alpine tundra are exceptional.

Mountain Aster

Take, for example, the mountain aster.  In the cultivated garden, Asters take a back seat to the showy mums.  But those "hardy" mums don't climb the mountain peaks.

In the wild the aster's delicate notched petals stand out softly along paths and bubbling streams.  They're everywhere underfoot, in shades of pale violet to yellow.

When hiking, pack in water--for the humans, not the plants.  Cellphones rarely work, except to photograph the vibrant spiky blooms of the fireweed (chamerenum augustifolium)    Not found in most cultivated yards, the fireweed is a hardy spreader that opens with a pyramid of pink blooms and closes with bristly red spikes. 

Fringed gentian (gentianopsis thermalis) and purple monkshood (aconitum columbianum) add deep blue violet hues to the landscape, reflecting the brilliant sky and standing out on the dusty trail.

Fringed Gentian


Western Paintbrush
The perennial favorite's the most diminutive--the tiny white star-shaped Edelweiss.  Barely visible underfoot, it's worth leaning down to take a look. Hum a few bars.

For a warmer tone, get nose to petal with the gentle yellow Western Paintbrush (Castilleja Occidentalis)

It takes a long spell for these miniatures to propagate and bloom. Extended winters, freezing temperatures and high winds make for a limited growing season. 

One bootprint can crush tiny petals, so stay the course.

Happy trails!

More Articles of Interest:

Rockery and Roll -- Xeriscape Gardening

Eat This Not That -- Toxic Plants for Dogs and Humans

Frogs on the Windowsill


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Begonias Are The New Impatiens

Impatiens blight disease toppled a mini garden cartel.

No one's king forever.  Brown is the new black--until it's replaced by navy.  Fifty is the new thirty.

Begonias are the best replacement for Impatiens in 2017
So they say . . .

Begonias are the new impatiens.

In 2013 most retail nurseries chose not to market impatiens for fear of spreading the infestation.

The great impatiens blight of 2013 sparked concern amongst gardeners like no predecessor crisis.  Impatiens, the top annual bedding plant sold in nearly every commercial nursery became plantate non grata in almost every yard due to the insidious disease known as downy mildew.

Infectious impatiens blight produces a powdery mold not detected on fresh blooms.  The blight wiped out droves of these hearty mainstays, then cheekily lingered in the soil through winter only to reinfect the next crop.

The wringing of garden gloves was accompanied by widespread worry that the shade garden, where vibrant impatiens thrived, would never be quite the colorful same.  Well, they were.

Begonias may be more limited in colors, favoring scarlets, reds, pinks and whites, but their sultry leaves make for interesting textural contrast to more familiar shade garden regulars such as hosta, astilbe,  hydrangea and cranesbill

Begonias in bygone times took a backseat to multi-hued impatiens, yet these natives of the southern hemisphere showed their mettle this year.  Granted, the atmospherics were favorable--lots of precipitation and mild temperatures. Begonia thrived filling out nicely, in rounded masses, mindful of perhaps?--impatiens? 

Everyone cheers when the underdog succeeds.

2013 was clearly the year of the begonia!


More articles of interest:

Bye Bye Bizzie Lizzies -- What to Plant Instead of Impatiens

Vintage Gardens -- Spider Plants and Fancy Pants

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How to Remove or Treat Poison Ivy

How to treat poison ivy?

There's no quick cure.  Poison ivy can be frustrating and painful. Warmer winters have caused poison ivy to thrive.

Clearing out overgrown parts of our new garden meant regular contact with these noxious vines.  It only takes a moment to trigger a fortnight of discomfort.

Unfortunately, humans don't develop immunity to poison ivy through repeated exposure--it worsens each time.  After countless episodes with the disease, symptoms escalate.  There's a tipping point where the dermis has had enough.  It's then time to consider treatment, but first identify the source.

Leaves of three, let it be!  Recognition avoids repetition.  Poison ivy grows on a thickening vine.  Its distinctive triple notched leaves protrude on thin branches from a central creeper.  The insidious plant appears everywhere--in cultivated gardens, meadows and along the forest floor.  The vine  has a greenish white or pink glow topped with tiny but piercing thorns.  There are few natural deterrents and chemical treatments are toxic with varying degrees of success.  Heavy gloves and long sleeves help, as does a quick shower, but as Jesse learned, the toxic oil remains in discarded clothing on the way to the washing machine.

You don't have to leave the house--petting Fido after he romps in the garden can transfer pernicious oil, causing skin to erupt.

DON'T SCRATCH!  At least try not too.  It'll make the rash far uglier.

Early detection helps.  The initial bumps seem like mosquito bites--that just won't go away. By the time the true culprit is identified, the outbreak often spreads to secondary regions.

The initial bumps seem like mosquito bites--that just won't go away. By the time the true culprit is identified, the outbreak often spreads to secondary regions.

There's number of home remedies.  As soon as exposure occurs, scrubbing up with an oil-free soap like Fels Naptha or Sunlight may remove urishiol--the irritant oil emitted from the plant.  If the skin's already erupted, soften the soap to soften in water to a paste smoothing the mixture over the sore patch for several minutes in order to draw out the toxic oil. 

For relief, soaking in oatmeal is soothing, but the oil remains in the skin, prolonging the duration of the outbreak. It's also onerous work cleaning the bathtub afterwards.

Drugstore remedies abound--the most effective is Tecnu which removes the oil even after the outbreak spreads, and offers some relief from the itch.  I carry a bottle in my glove box.  I've tried them all--Ivy Rest, Calamine, Benadryl.  Tecnu works best, but be sure to follow directions.  The solution draws the toxic oil from the skin, so it must stay in place for a few minutes, then washed off to remove the contaminant.  Repeat for the best result.

When these techniques fail to bring relief, call your dermatologist.  Steroid based treatment is always an option but there's risk involved, including immune suppression from repeated treatment.  It's serious business.

When in the yard--be careful. 

This unremarkable emerald vine can cause at least ten days of tingling trouble.

More Articles of Interest:

Winter Weeds and Good Deeds --Global Warming and Invasive Species

Hey! Look What Survived the Winter in My Garden!

Monday, July 22, 2013

How or When to Trim Rhododendrons - Snap!

How to trim a rhododedron.  Cutting back a rhododendron's kind of tricky--but simple.

During a tour of the yard,  Ellen suddenly reached out and snapped off a dried blossom.

 "You know you're supposed to twist these off?"  I nodded solemnly, but truth was, I'd had no idea.

Now I snap off the blossoms just when they begin to resemble dried tarantulas. The benefit is twofold.  New bud growth is stronger and faded petals don't adhere to green leaves, discoloring them. 

Just when the garden nears perfection, it's time to move and start over.  Our new yard has great bones, but was sadly in need of maintenance.

The rhododendron hedge was overgrown, untended, yet robust.  Sheltered by a construction dumpster this past winter, the shrubs bloomed profusely. They benefit from windbreaks natural or manmade.

Bill and I spent the afternoon filling that same dumpster with trimmings.

Rhodos have a tendency to sprout gangly branches. The goal should be a soft, semi-rounded shape. Thus remove any cowlick branches at a Y-shaped junction well into the plant.  Rhododendrons should never be trimmed with hedge trimmers or hand shears.  No brushcuts.  Use hand lopers to thin thicker branches.

To create fullness, open the lower and interior plant to sunlight.  Crop branches that criss-cross or lie on another. 

Then, remove spent blooms.  New growth will already be pushing through, resembling tiny horns, pale green in color. Be delicate, although there's always a few casualties.  Pointed flower snips provide precision removal with the least amount of damage.

 Remove any yellowed or spotted leaves.

When pruning is complete, give the plant a dose of coffee grounds (free with Starbucks Grounds for the Garden) or acidic plant food.  A phone call ahead to the coffee shop will ensure enough grounds for the project. 

Mulch around the base.

It's gonna be spectacular next year!

I only hope the dumpster's gone by next Spring?

Related blogs:

No More Bad Haircuts-- How to Trim Shrubs

Green Fences -- Boxwood Hedges to Hydrangea Hedgerows

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Coleus Revisited -- Should I Plant Coleus Instead of Impatiens?

Impatiens blight 2013, impatiens disease, a/k/a impatiens fungus has tipped up gardeners in spadesful. There've been several alternative annuals proposed, but coleus, in particular, deserves a second look. 

My husband is drawn to the rustic shades of coleus.  A single flat would typically end up framing the barbeque, far away from the perennial border beds.  He'd plant the whole garden in bronzy coleus if he could--and he may get his wish.

In early Spring 2013, coleus seemed a less viable option to replace impatiens.  When first established, the sprigs appeared gawky and awkward. 

Yet, the gangly adolescent
phase didn't last long.

Passing the same bed, a fortnight later, it was shocking how well the skinny transplants had performed. Granted these blooming beauties are not fully in shade and benefit from commercial irrigation, but they're full, colorful and mounding, like -- uh, impatiens!

Ornamental Coleus is faster growing than most annuals. 

Coleus' jewel tones emanate from a different part of the color spectrum, but the effect is equally powerful.  The flowers are not ornamental and best clipped back.  It's all about the leaves, which come in all shapes and sizes, from delicate lacy to hefty and scalloped

#Coleus King Kong is a fast growing large leafed variety with stunning leaves of deep burgundy, heavily ringed with chartreuse.  For standout color and impact, it's an easy and sure bet. Still, it's best
when bordering a more monotone backdrop. 

#Rustic Orange Coleus is softer, and the marmalade color, and medium sized leaves gently frames a busier backdrop.

#Wizard Sunset Coleus offers a more rustic tone of golden bronze. 

#Wizard Jade Coleus has the dual impact of white outlined by chartreus green notched leaves.

Regular clipping and shaping is needed or these prolific beauties will get somewhat unruly.  The de-flowered stems will sprout roots and can be planted in a few weeks particularly in containers. They're quite tender and will disappear once the temperature nears forty-five degrees
Fahrenheit.  Carried indoors, the plants will prosper in a sunny locale.

Lots of show for very little dough. 

Coleus is king!

Related articles:

What to Plant Instead of Imapatiens?

Impatiens Blight Disease -- Trouble in the Landscape

When to Plant Annuals in Michigan -- Go Blue