Through The Lens


If you think the lack of posts in the past week means I must be on some late winter road trip, you are close to right.  The vehicle pictured above is not mine loaded with luggage-it belongs to Bob Stefko, a free lance photographer based in Chicago.  Better Homes and Gardens sent him over to photograph some of my winter pots.  “On assignment” means he travels with a truckload of photographic gear.  This shoot was scheduled for 9 locations-9 outdoor locations.  I was happy for the cold weather and snow.  But for that, the shoot would have been cancelled. It took a while to get permission from clients, check all of the pots, and assemble some props per the art director, and a crew to haul things around.  Once he arrived, it looked to him like it would take a day and half to take the photographs.  A day and a half for 9 pictures?  

Bob obviously had experience “working on location”.  He arrived dressed in his snowboarding gear.  I would eventually envy him that outfit.  It was cold, and that cold seemed to sink in deeper every hour that went by.  Accompanying him to each location proved to be an education in what Rob calls magazine gardening.  No magazine wants to publish photographs that show any evidence of sloppy living.  Like the muck boots in a heap at the back door, or the newspaper in the drive. No dog toys, twig debris or automobiles allowed.   One of my jobs was to secure each site, so no one would spoil the new snow with footprints.  This is tougher than you think.  One mailman was very cooperative-one housekeeper glared at me, and marched up the front steps without one look back.  

Scott Johnson, the Art Director at BHG, was skilled at getting me to fall in line with this.  He told me how much his 14 year old son enjoys fresh and unsullied snow.  Of course, I do too-I certainly did not want to look like a twelve year old.  It’s just a little harder to get that to work when it isn’t your house.  Only company uses this front door drivecourt-we were the first company after the snow.  Whew.  BHG wanted a bench that would keep this winter box company.  It could easily be that a small portion of one arm, and a glimpse of that wool throw will be all that remains of it in the final photograph.  But to get that arm in the composition, my crew had to carry it behind the boxwood, and lift it over and into place-no footprints in the foreground snow, remember?  The centerpiece got straightened straighter than straight.  The sinamay got fluffed, and some of the snow gobs were ground up, and sprinkled over the evergreen branches.  This took a surprisingly lot of time. 

Bob took lots of pictures.  In some, his camera was held at his eye level via his tripod.  Some pictures got taken from a much lower point of view.  In the course of the 90 minutes we spent there, we had heavy clouds and snow flurries, sun, and partly cloudy conditions.  Sometimes he waited for the light to change or improve.  I get this.  The right photograph was now or never.  There would not be a second trip. 


One location asked for the pots to be moved.  This is fairly easy to do, provided you have three people with lots of experience moving heavy things, and a hand truck big enough to move a good sized refrigerator.  That would be my landscape crew.  They were amused, and good natured about the events of the day.  Once the moving was done, we had to cover all of the tracks.  Snow was shovelled from the yard onto the terrace, and then swept off again. 

These pots had plastic irrigation lines in them that provide water to the plants in the summer.  Of course they were frozen in place.  I cut the lines, and made a note to be sure to get them repaired when we come to do the spring pots. (I hope my client is not reading this.)   

In hour number three, I was jumping up and down with the cold, but Bob was the consummate professional. I wouldn’t hear about the bloody cold until he was done for the day.  He did tell me taking photographs on location depends on solutions to problems.  In the studio, he is the weather maker.  By this time, my respect for landscape and garden photographers was on the upswing. 

I have 8300 pictures in the photo archive for this blog.  By no means did I work this hard to take them.  I have my camera with me all the time.  When the light, the plant, or the composition intrigues me, I snap.  My pictures are snapshots of a certain place and time.  What was going on here was the creation of an image that takes a garden to another level.  Nothing was happening here by accident.

He seemed pleased by what was going on-that’s all that mattered.  I have been involved in some photo shoots over the years.  I will confess I planted cut roses on a climbing rose for a photographer.  Do I mind this?  Absolutely not.  Every gardener hopes for a perfect moment.  Magazines do too.  A beautiful photograph can do much more to encourage me to garden than a list of must do’s and don’ts.    

I was relieved to arrive at one location that we both agreed needed nothing in the way of props.  I do dislike adding something to a landscape not intended and put in place by a client, but I also understand this is not about them, or me.  It is about an image that will enchant someone who has never been here before.


Though I am enchanted by this garden, I feel certain Bob’s photograph will be an object of beauty, all its own. I would venture to say he will transcend the subject and weather, and the existing conditions to create an image of note.  They send him all over the country to photograph for them-they do not do this without good reason.

Christmas In February


At the end of the first week of January, I reluctantly took the Christmas light garlands draped around these pots down, and put them in storage.  After all, the holidays were over.  This year I was especially reluctant for the holiday season to end-we had had no snow.  Though the temperature was chilly, we were denied that one ingredient that in my mind makes for Christmas-the snow.   

This photograph with all of the lights blazing taken just before Christmas does seem to lack that special seasonal element-does it not?  I felt we were so ready for the snow-that snow that never came. 

Winters in Michigan are notable for their grey skies, and their abundance of snow.  For whatever reason, our clouds were dry as dust.  It looked for all the world like we had the heat up much too high-and unnecessarily.  We designed a winter display based on the norm for our winters.  The norm went into hiding. 

The collection and placement of these dried stalks of asparagus-Rob had an idea to fragment and diffuse an intense source of C-9 light with those stalks.  This is his version of snow or ice defining every branch distinctly-only that distinction was drawn with light.  Snow on the evergreen boughs in this window box would have added a whole other dimension to this arrangement.  Nature was not interested in cooperating.

I took photographs anyway.  But I so would have loved seeing the front of the shop buried in snow, with the lights running.  Who knows what that might have looked like. 

I took the lights down January 7.  But if you happened to drive by the shop in the past few days, you would have seen those lights going back on the containers.  Lest you think I have gone way over the deep end, Better Homes and Gardens has a photographer arriving Saturday to photograph some of my holiday and winter pots.  The lights had to go back on the pots, as they want to photograph them.   They were insistent that they wanted snow on all of the containers they wanted to photograph.  So the holiday lighting came out of storage. 

 Needless to say, we have been talking about this photo shoot for several months.  This snow squall in late January, just about our only snow this winter, lasted for all of about 3 hours.   2 weeks ago,  it looked like we might have snow showers tomorrow and Saturday.  The Chicago based photographer made some plans to travel-we were at a do or don’t moment.  They have 8 winter pots they want photographed.  Saturday. Who knew the weather would deliver in spades.  

This morning I read that our area has 5 to 8 inches coming tonight.  1 to 3 inches on Friday.  Snow squalls and cloudy skies on Saturday.  Mother nature suddenly has a mind to cooperate mind to cooperate in a big way.  8 inches, no kidding?  We loaded a truck today with props for the shoot, branches, snow shovels and brooms.  We loaded up a blower too.  If every pot is buried, we need to do a little uncovering.  I have already told everyone who works at the shop-do not walk across the lawn and come to the front door-take the side entrance.  The photographer has already asked for fresh snow, and not snow with boot prints.

A photograph of a garden in its finest moment bears no remote resemblance to a real garden.  But a beautiful garden photographed at its finest moment might encourage someone who has never gardened to give gardening a try. This is important to me.  Anyone who paints, photographs, gardens, writes, manages,  composes, sculpts, makes movies, or designs-  they all share this in common. That which gets created implies an audience.  There is a story over which a relationship can be forged.  I am so very pleased that we are about to get snow.  That snow means I will be in touch.

Tuesday Opinion: Computer Trouble

Late last week it was my unfortunate experience to have my email account hacked.  My shock and displeasure with the situation mattered not one bit.  That everyone whose email address was stored in my contacts was contacted with an annoyingly irritating email asking for help was embarassing in the extreme.  That all of my email contacts, and all of my email folders dating back close to ten years were wiped out-shocking. 

 Of course this had to happen on a Friday.  Events take time to unfold.  By the time that I knew I needed help, the weekend was looming.  I had the weekend with no available help to feel resentful and worried.  I really dislike anything that makes me feel like this.  I have a passion for making things grow.  I have a big love for living things-this means people, plants, animals, lichens-I am not so fond of slime molds, but I respect that they live. I have no patience for worrying trouble like a tongue on a sore tooth.  I like to wade right in, and put things to right.   But there was nothing I could do until my IT person returned from his vacation.  A computer, and all that goes with it- that machine comprised of characters, numbers and marks on a page that somehow get translated by a person into a photograph, a story, a video, or a letter can enable all kinds of things I would never have thought possible.  Please keep in mind that I was anxious the entire 2 hours it took to install my first fax machine.  I am a little more savvy now. It is one of the most amazing tools I have ever had at my disposal.  People 1/3 my age expect everything that comes from their computer-I am still simply amazed by it. A computer can be the next best thing to a trip to the Chelsea Garden Show.  Want to see pictures, or videos?  There are more to choose from than I could ever look at. I see things, I learn, I communicate after a fashion.  A computer is much like a third hand.

There are those things not to like.  If you have tried to solve a problem with your phone via the account you set up at the My Verizon website, be prepared to dig in and stay put.  Service websites may list 1000 possible issues you want to discuss, but are any of them your issue?  They don’t seem to be mine.  Have you ever hung up, not knowing what option to choose?  Me too!  It can take 20 minutes to find a phone number, and even longer to actually get to talk to a person.  I am amazed that a tech support person from Verizon was on the line with me for over 1/2 hour, until everything got sorted out.  Gracious and patient, she was. A person to talk to-the best.  At my shop I am adamant about this one thing.  Answer the phone.  Just answer.   

It took my IT person almost 7 hours to sort out, solve, and return my computer to a working state.  He had little interest in discussing why someone would hack my email.  I understand-after all, what would be the point of that exercise?  The idea is to get going again.  When something dies in my garden, there is the frustration, and inevitably the idea to understand what happened.  It is not always possible to know what happened.  Plants thrive, and they die.  Don’t mourn too long.  Mourn properly, and then stop crying in public.  Cry in private for as long as you want.  Getting going again after something fails is an awkward way of expressing the idea of experience.  I can wring my hands over what didn’t work, or I can plant again.  It is my choice to keep on gardening.  No one, and nothing can keep me from it-no one but me, that is.  

Loosing all of those files took my breath away.  5 days later, that loss seems like an opportunity to start fresh.  I didn’t loose one thing that enables me to live.  I lost 10 years of computer recorded history. But I didn’t loose any memories, or experience.  I have been thinking a lot about this.  Being older, I am not so crazy about change, or unexpected developments.  But unexpected developments can clear musty air.  Get the old blood moving.  From this day forward-doesn’t this sound good?       


At A Glance: Shipping The Eagles

If you read this blog regularly, you may remember that I wrote a month ago or so about the sale of a pair of 18th century cast iron armatures which at one time were part of a pair of hand wrought and cast iron fully feathered eagles.  I was told they graced the roof of the Palais Royale in the 18th century-who knows if this provenance is truth or fiction.  In truth, I did not care about the provenance.  Though great age had reduced those birds to their bare bones, no garden sculpture known to me has ever made such a powerful and personal visual statement.  Though I can see right through them, they have incredible presence.  They speak much to life, age, aura, memories, gardens- and dissolution.  They are history represented in a way I cannot really explain.  I could have lived with them all my life.  But once I decided to buy and sell garden ornament, I knew there would be times it would be hard to let go.  In this instance, it knocked the wind out of me.   

We finally had a call to ship.  Buck would crate them for what was the last leg of their long trip from Europe.  From Paris, to Brussels, to Paris, to New England, to me.  I only had them for a time-they moved on just a short time ago. I know the person who bought them, loves them.  That is enough.  They had travel ahead of them.  We wanted to be sure they would be absolutely safe and secure for that trip.

It took Buck an entire day to build the pallets and crates, and load them up for shipping.






The designer was kind enough to email me that they made the trip without a hitch, and were unloaded without incident.  I did respond with a request to see them installed in the garden.  This went unanswered-which I understand.  Neither he nor his client has any obligation to me.   I had them for what seemed like a brief moment. This someone new and unknown to me will steward them with the same care as I did-of this I am sure.  No one would buy these, unless they were sure they could not live without them.