Orange Knifophia in Perennial Border

August 31, 2013 · 16 comments

Straight photos of gardens sometimes frustrate me.  For a couple years now I have been grappling with my changed eyesight and exploring ways to show what I see. Perhaps because of those explorations I find I am less interested in, even distracted by, the detail of a straight photo.

Gary Ratway, of Digging Dog Nursery, has an amazing plant palette and his perennial borders are masterpieces of color and texture.  They are meant to be strolled and contemplated.  You stop and wonder about the combinations.  You can’t possibly process all the details at once.  You get impressions and make observations, such as who could possibly see this orange poker plant  from the bench at the end of the border ?

Well, of course you can’t.  You are not expected to.  This orange wonderful detail, paired with the deep blue Salvia superba, is a hidden gem.  Yet when I took the straight photo, I could not help but see the dominant white Verbascum and other Salvia lining the path leading to the bench.  The straight photo subtly implies one can sit in the bench to contemplate the whole border.

It is a very nice scene and fine garden photograph, but it doesn’t say what I was thinking.  I was amazed how the one orange poker plant, hidden really; deep in the border carried such weight.  We have to look hard to get these insights sometimes, and once found I felt it was lost in the straight photo.  So, another excuse to explore the tools of photoshop; eyesight improved  – in new ways.


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

CC December 20, 2013 at 9:32 am

Thanks for your honesty in your insight! I think this type of pix are the better for a lot of reasons including making the reader want more photos of the subjects (or beautiful gardens!).


Saxon December 20, 2013 at 9:44 am

Thanks CC – It also makes me want to explore more ways to interpret those beautiful gardens.


Philip December 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I was once told that Japanese gardens incorporate the stepping stone paths that run through the beds, purposely to make you look down and not miss your footing, then, there is usually a larger flat stone resting spot along the way where one can stop and look over the garden and see exactly what the gardener wants you see from a specific point of view. True or false, I’m not sure.

Saxon, perhaps your more abstract photos are in a way, Resting Stones, meant to point the viewer to see those hidden gems that you want them to see.


Saxon December 21, 2013 at 12:54 am

Thanks Philip – The design tip from Japanese gardens is indeed true, and I love your analogy to photo vantage points. I think it should be true for any larger point is revealed.


Donna December 20, 2013 at 2:44 pm

It is really interesting the journey of discovery you are on. I see the fine garden photograph as what I prefer because to my eye, it says more about the space and plants incorporated. I do understand what you are saying though. In the Photoshop image, I might have added a few orange poker plants to the “blank” spot on the right, or even in the back left fading in perspective. Not that they are needed, but just because I like them and would like to see more.


Saxon December 21, 2013 at 1:01 am

Hi Donna – I love that you study the photos. In this scene I was struck by the power of the orange, hidden really from the bench. Don’t you think adding any more might overpower that ? It could well add some harmonious color balance to the “bare” spots but I think part of the story is the unbalance.


Donna December 25, 2013 at 1:23 pm

You are right, it really is about what the image is trying to say and maybe I am just “adding” for adding sake. I guess I would have to try it to see if it was overdone. I just like the original, but not to say I don’t appreciate it becoming an art piece. As a “painting” it is beautiful. I think I just appreciate your photography to the point it needs no more. I learn so much from your choice of how to frame an image.


Saxon December 26, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Hello again Donna. I appreciate your give and take on this, and now for a little inside insight on this photo. The original is soft. I think I must have jostled my tripod or something and did not have an exact alternate / bracket. It was such a fine garden and I kept trying different compositions from different vantage points but in the edit, this composition was my clear favorite, which you also recognize as a good one. As I looked at the photo over and over, wondering how I could use it and kept looking and seeing the myriad details that were not quite good enough to show a publisher, I realized what had drawn me to the composition was not those details anyway. I would like to think that even if the photo had been tack sharp a viewer would still “get” the the orange Kniphofia story, but it was still story I wanted to tell so I tried another way.


Steve Mullaney December 21, 2013 at 1:06 am

I find the advancing warm hue also greatly enhances the depth and perspective of the composition. Big difference when I cover it with two fingers…though still a lovely scene.

Though I haven’t visited Gary Ratway’s Albion garden I have found repeated pleasures in his plantings at Matanzas Creek Winery.

Like many in my age group I am experiencing symptoms of macular degeneration. Not comparing it with your situation, Saxon, but I’m sure it will change how I see, or do not see, things in my life. So your posts do hit closer to home.


blogadmin December 21, 2013 at 1:09 am

Thanks Steve – The orange is the key to the whole thing. It is fascinating to see how another photographer, Donna in a previous comment, wanted to see more orange.


Susan Fox December 21, 2013 at 10:16 am

You remind me of an article I read many years ago of an art student that said his teacher suggested the tinniest change to a painting, and he said “and yet then it was then quite another thing altogether.” Your post highlighting the “wonderful orange detail” brings this thought to mind.
Susan Fox


blogadmin December 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Thanks Susan – I always encourage my student to use the entire frame the way a painter might, and to assume the viewer ail study the entire piece. Tiny details become more important when they are intentional. That small spot of orange dominated my thinking from that spot, so this technique seemed to accent it.


Diana Stratton December 21, 2013 at 11:11 am

Saxon, I think its great you are exploring new ways to look at the garden and your positive approach to changing the way you do that do to an unexpected path you had to take. I find the PS image also more interesting in how it carries my eye to the view as opposed to the straight forward image. I’ve been printing my floral B&W on sheer metal that allows the silver to show though and highlighting by hand over the image with metallic pens. The journey continues….
My best Diana


blogadmin December 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Thanks for dropping by Diana. I like the metal technique too, especially using a transparent layer to let the metal shine. We should compare notes. The journey continues … Onward…


Emily December 25, 2013 at 10:29 am

I too prefer the PS image. The “straight” photograph shows a very pleasant garden, but–for me–not much more. But the other seems to reveal the magic underneath the garden, the energy/spirit vibrating within the plants and the total scene. Every element–the plants, the path, the bench–are pulled together into one dynamic and expressive image, so my eye is taken to the whole of it rather than drawn to different particulars. Really beautiful!


Saxon December 26, 2013 at 11:55 am

Thanks for dropping by Emily and looking carefully at the photo; and hey – good info on your own site.


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