Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

May 29, 2012

PLATEAU GARDENING: Photographing plants and blossoms           

By C. Rae Hozer
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — I keep a monthly photographic plant journal. With a digital camera, photography enthusiasts like myself can take lots of pictures at little cost. Not surprised plants are my favorite photo subjects, are you? I use these plant and landscape images to illustrate garden talks and newspaper articles. Snapshots are also an easy way to document horticultural successes (and disasters), to capture symptoms of pest infestations and plant diseases for analysis and diagnosis, and to record attractive features of landscape plants seen in yards and gardens near my home. Species I might consider acquiring in the future.  

Conditions have been good for picture taking and blooms have been abundant this month. Mid-day picture taking is easiest for me timewise, but photo quality takes a nose dive when skies are clear. Harsh, bright sunlight shining at a direct overhead angle fades out plant colors and creates enough glare to obscure flower, leaf and plant structure details. The most photogenic natural light is produced when the sun is low in the sky — within a few hours of daybreak and during late afternoon. With a hectic schedule, it can be difficult to hit those narrow windows of opportunity. My best garden photo shoots take place on cloudy days. Light filtered by overcast skies produces plant photographs with good depth and clarity. Plant image close-up pictures shot during light rains also turn out well, but I find wet weather isn’t as good for wide angle landscape shots.

My computerized May-2012 photo album contains pictures snapped at different sites around my property, in my neighborhood and at Plateau Discovery Gardens public demonstration and university plant trial gardens located a few miles south of I40 Plateau Road exit 311 just off highway 70 north near Crossville. Many of those pictures chronicle the plants in bloom at this time. Where I live trees, shrubs and  herbaceous perennials are still flowering weeks ahead of the time they typically would, due to warmer than normal January through March temperatures. Recent neighborhood snapshots include Kousa dogwood trees (Cornus kousa) full of ‘blooms’. Not true flowers, each is composed of four showy, white, pointed bracts rather than petals. These members of the dogwood  family flower weeks after our native flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) on branches that are fully leafed-out. Virginia sweetspire shrubs (Itea virginica) of a compact variety (perhaps the commonly sold ‘Henry’s Garnet’) about 3 foot high and just as wide have been landscape attention grabbers this spring. These shrubs sport healthy green foliage with white, fragrant flower clusters drooping from every branch tip. The purple clematis vine by my garage door (Clematis Jackmanii) has been loaded with blooms and begging to have its picture taken all month. Tawny orange, gold and yellow daylilies (Hemerocallis species) started flowering about two weeks ago in a sunny bed out by the road. Some like Stella d’Oro are re-blooming specimens. Bright yellow-gold sundrop blossoms growing nearby glow in sunlight. They look great along side the daylilies. Mine are old fashioned Oenothera fruticosa with 2- to 3-inch flowers on 18-inch stems. These easy care perennials are daytime-bloomers in the same plant genus as night-blooming evening primroses. What is blooming now where you live?

When I drove out to Plateau Discovery Gardens in mid-May, my mom (Janet) and friend Terri came along for the ride. It was a first time visit for both of them. Terri and mom strolled the meandering paths that lead from one theme garden to another. They found all along the way plant specimens to exclaim about. They gathered memories. I took photos.

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Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region.  UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (931-484-6743) has answers horticulture questions, free publications and details on how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard & garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, mgardenerrae@frontiernet.net.