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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

A little over a month ago I did a posting entitled ‘Flower wall’ that featured a hanging panel of flowers and plants on the interior portion of the fence that encloses the back yard of my friend Cindy Dyer. At that time the plants were just getting established and one of my viewers asked me to do a follow-up post when they all fill in.

As I went into Cindy’s backyard garden this morning to take an update photo of the hanging garden, I decided to try to capture the atmosphere that she has created in this small space. We live in a townhouse community and each of us has a tiny space behind our houses that is enclosed with a privacy fence. Cindy lives in an end unit (as do I) and her yard is slightly larger than the inner units, with a neighbor on only one side.

The first image shows the current state of the hanging garden. Some of the plants have grown more quickly than others, giving the wall a slightly wild look that I really like. I deliberately framed this shot wider than necessary to show you part of the rest of the garden that Cindy has decorated with statues, figurines, and all kinds of plants and flowers. It feels like a secret refuge, a world apart from one of the main streets in our neighborhood that is barely visible through the slats of the fence.

The second image shows a portion of the fence that separates her yard from that of her neighbor. Here she has created an almost meditative space featuring a wall hanging and a spectacular bird bath that rises up out of a bed of hostas. If you click on the image and examine the details, you will see that Cindy had decorated the blue grid with dozens of colorful dragonflies.

As you can readily see from these two images, Cindy is amazingly creative and is an incredible gardener and designer. You might have thought that I was a little over the top in yesterday’s blog anniversary posting in which I expressed my admiration and gratitude for all that she does to inspire me—here is visual evidence of why those words were well-deserved.

cindy's garden

cindy's garden

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The lilies blooming in the garden of my friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer are so lush and the colors so vivid that they seem almost tropical.

lily

lily

lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The alien-looking plant in the first photo is a seedpod of ‘Love in a mist’ (Nigella damascena), one of my favorite flowers, that I spotted during a short visit last Monday to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. It was a little late in the season, but I managed to spot a few flowers still in bloom, as shown in the second image. This flower is typically blue, but love-in-a-mist also comes in shades of white, pink, and lavender.

When I did a little research on-line, I learned that the striped, balloon-shaped object that I call a seedpod, is actually an inflated capsule composed of five fused true seedpods, according to an article by Wisconsin Horticulture. I also learned that the thorny-looking spikes that make up the “mist,” which are not sharp, despite their appearance, are technically bracts, a specialized kind of leaves.

This is one of the few local places where I know I can find this exotically beautiful flower. If you want to see love-in-a-mist yourself, you should probably go to a large garden. Otherwise you could waste a lot of your time looking for love in all the wrong places.

 

love in a mist

Love in a mist

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I spotted this strange-looking flower yesterday in the garden of my photography mentor and neighbor Cindy Dyer, I had no idea what it was—she informed me that it was a Peruvian Daffodil (Hymenocallis narcissiflora). This flower, according to information at gardeningknowhow.com, is native to the Andes of Peru and is a member of the daffodil and amaryllis family, Amaryllidaceae.  Its flowers resemble a “spidery” version of these flowers, as you can see in my photos. The elongated, sometimes curved, petals have led to the plant’s alternate common names, “spider lily” and “basket flower.”

Further exploration on the internet led me to wonder if this is actually the hybrid version known as Hymenocallis x festalis, a hybrid of the aforementioned Peruvian Daffodil as the female parent and the Hymenocallis. longipetala, another Peruvian flower, as the male parent, as detailed in an article by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.  Fearing that I would get sucked deeper into the world of plant ancestry, I stopped my research there.

Personally, I think that the name “spider lily” fits best and maybe that that is the name I will use in the future to refer to this crazy-looking flower.

 

Peruvian Daffodil

Peruvian Daffodil

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is lily season now in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. Here are a few photos that I took yesterday morning of some of the lilies blooming in her beautiful garden. It is always reassuring to know that I do not have to travel far to find colorful subjects to photograph—as a photographer and graphic designer, Cindy chooses flowers to plant that she know are photogenic.

lily

lily

lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do you grow a lot of plants in a small space? My amazingly creative friend, neighbor, and photography mentor Cindy Dyer decided to take advantage of vertical space and created this incredible wall of flowers and plants on the interior portion of the fence that encloses her back yard. Wow!

I do not know all of the details about how she set it up, but I think that the material, which Cindy describes as “felt-like,” has sewn-in pouches into which she inserted all of the plants and flowers. She mentioned to me that she had mixed some water-storing crystals in with the potting soil to reduce water stress and plans to water the wall regularly.

flower wall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We have started a new month and new flowers are blooming in the garden of my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. Iris season has almost ended, but more lilies are opening each day. Today’s featured star is the bold, fragrant oriental hybrid known as the Stargazer Lily (Lilium ‘Stargazer’). Wow—there is nothing subtle about this flower that overwhelms both the eyes and the nose.

The words “star gazer” bring to mind some words from one of my favorite songs, The Rainbow Connection as sung by Kermit the Frog. “What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing and what do we think we might see? Someday we’ll find it, that rainbow connection, the lover, the dreamer, and me.” Now more than ever, we all need hope.

I want to share with you the concluding portion of a prayer distributed to us by our local Episcopal bishop yesterday, a National Day of Mourning and Lament for those who have died of COVID-19. “God of all hope, God of all goodness, we are a people hurting, lost and divided. Our world seems a strange and foreign land, our days a blur of separation and isolation. Gather us to your very heart as we pray for our nation, receive all who have died into the fulness of your heaven, guide the hands of all who serve others. Bless our efforts to love all people in concrete action and, in your powerful ways and in your perfect time, make us whole for the sake of a world so desperately in need of You. Amen.”

Stargazer Lily

Stargazer Lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The irises in the garden of my neighbor Cindy Dyer have mostly faded, but her lilies are starting to flower. I believe that this beauty is an Asiatic lily, the second lily bloom of the season in her garden with many more to follow.

I captured this image late one morning this week as the rain was beginning to taper off and the colors were wonderfully saturated. I also love the multiple raindrops on the flowers—these are a few of my favorite things.

Asiatic lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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A week ago I did a posting called Studio-like irises that featured photos of bearded irises shot against a background of a white foamcore board. This week on Thursday my photography mentor Cindy Dyer and I photographed some more of the irises in her garden, this time against a black background. Cindy had obtained some black velvet-like material with an adhesive backing that she affixed to the back of the white foamcore board. Normally this material is used for jewelry displays, but it worked perfectly to highlight the forms and colors of these beautiful flowers.

Here are a few selected shots from our little photoshoot. Although we had a consistent background, we were moving in and out of the sunlight and shadows and I had to constantly change mycamera settings—we even had a few raindrops fall on us while we were taking photos. Cindy and her husband have three cats and when I opened up my images in Photoshop I learned that velvet serves as a magnet for cat hair.

If you like the look of these shots, you should check out the posting that Cindy did on her blog that features seven fabulous photos, including several colorful iris species not shown below.

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I often feel a bit overwhelmed when I visit a public garden—there are so many flowers all around vying for my attention. I am rarely attracted to large clusters of flowers, but instead tend to gravitate toward individual flowers that I can photograph up close with my macro lens.

Here are three of the flowers that I photographed during a recent photographic foray to nearby Green Spring Gardens with my friend Cindy Dyer. The first is a spiderwort (g. Tradescantia), a flower that I love for its simple geometric shape. I am not sure if the plant in the second photo, some species of allium, counts as a flower, but I love the way that the partially open “bud” reveals the complex structure inside. The final flower is a simple viola that I spotted amidst a bed of green ground cover—like pansies, violas always make me smile.

spiderwort

allium

viola

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted these beautiful Bleeding Heart flowers (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) during a brief trip to Green Spring Gardens last Tuesday with my friend Cindy Dyer. The colors of the pink ones are stunning, especially against the lime-green leaves in the background. However, I was particularly struck by the white ones, a variant that was new to me.

Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding Heart

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I have grown to know most of the irises in the garden of my friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer, I don’t know their individual names. One iris that recently started blooming is so unusual and outrageous in appearance that I suspected that it was a special hybrid. I was bemused to learn that it is called the ‘Bewilderbeast’ bearded iris.

I love the way that Claire Austin described this striking hybrid iris on the Heritage Irises website, “This flower is a psychedelic mixture of colours, including maroon, mauve, and cream. These colours sit in rivers across the white background. The standards are muted in tone, and the thin beards are dark yellow.”

I tried photographing the iris with a natural background, which I prefer, and also with a piece of foamcore board. Do you prefer one image over the other?

Bewilderbeast iris

Bewilderbeast iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Columbines are one of my favorite spring flowers and I was excited to have the chance to capture images of some different varieties during a short visit to Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historical garden, this past Tuesday with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. When I started working with Cindy almost eight years ago, flowers were often our target subjects and this garden was our favorite location to photograph them.

columbine

columbine

columbine

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I tend to think of pollen as yellow, but it comes in other colors too. This past weekend I captured this shot of a bee covered in bright red pollen from the Purple Deadnettle flowers (Lamium purpureum) on which it was feeding. Earlier this spring I did a posting with a somewhat similar shot, but misidentified the plant as the closely-related Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule).

Purple Deadnettle is in the mint family and seems to be everywhere at this time of year. I was in a fairly remote area when I took this shot, but I have seen large patches of it in gardens, where it is considered to be a weed. According to an article entitled “Foraging for Purple Dead Nettle: an edible backyard weed,” the plant is not only a wild edible green, but a highly nutritious superfood. The leaves are edible, with the purple tops being even a little sweet. It can also be used in combination with other “weeds” like chickweed and dandelion greens to make pesto and can also be added to soups, salads, or blended into smoothies.

But wait, there is more. Purple Dead Nettle also has purported medicinal benefits. It is known in the herbal world as being astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic and purgative. It’s also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal and can be used to make salve, poultices, and teas.

As an interesting aside, in Great Britain this plant is apparently known as Red Deadnettle. Why is there a difference in names? I do not know why, but it is not all that surprising considering the number of different words the British use for common objects and the different spellings for common words.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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A short while ago I did a posting of iris buds that offered a preview of coming attractions. Today I wanted to give you a quick look at some of the attractions that have already arrived. I like the yellow bearded irises that have started blooming in numbers, but I have to admit that I have really fallen in love with the violet one that is shown in the first photo below. It is the only one of its color that has opened so far, but there are several dozen more that should be appearing in the next week or two. I can hardly wait.

iris

iris

iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This beautiful dwarf bearded iris was almost hidden by the weeds and the undergrowth when I first discovered it early in April. Cindy, my neighbor in whose garden I have been taking flower photos this spring, recalls planting it a couple of years ago, but was a little surprised when I alerted her to it—she does nor remember seeing it bloom last year. The iris never grew very tall and was repeatedly been beaten down by the rain, but it was still strikingly beautiful.

There are so many different irises that specific cultivars are hard to identify. I looked through a lot of photos on-line, though, and think that I have identified it as a variety called “Love Bites.” Stout Gardens at Dancingtree described its characteristics in these words, “Rosy red standards over rich, dark carmine red falls with lavender beards” and added “Velvety carmine red falls with big lavender beards make this one a standout.”

I am curious about the name of the iris, because in my mind it can be interpreted in at least two different ways. Perhaps it refers to romantic little nibbles between lovers.  Maybe, though, it is a bitter commentary on love, an homage to the song by the same name by Def Leppard that ends with the words, “If you’ve got love in your sights, watch out, love bites. Yes it does, it will be hell.”

dwarf iris

dwarf iris

dwarf iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How much longer must I wait? That question has become a familiar refrain for most of us as our days of isolation and quarantine drag on endlessly. Sometimes it seems like time is standing still, yet there are hopeful signs that things are slowly improving.

I visit the garden of my neighbor, fellow photographer Cindy Dyer, almost every day, checking to see what has changed. Over the last month I have observed the growth of the leaves and stalks of a new crop of irises. A few of them have flowered and withered, but most of them are still buds, offering only a hint of their beauty that is yet to come.

Here are a few images that I captured on Thursday of iris buds of different shapes and colors, a preview of coming attractions.

iris buds

iris bud

iris bud

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the irises in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer have not yet bloomed, but this one beautiful yellow bearded iris decided to jump ahead of the others. Most of the iris buds are on stems several feet high, but this blossom is only a few inches off of the ground—perhaps that is why it was an early bloomer.

If you look closely at the two shots, you will immediately notice that I took them on separate days. The light was quite different on each those days and there were raindrops present on the petals when I took the second shot. Additionally, I chose a very different shooting angle for each image and processed them to emphasize different aspects of the photo. I have a slight preference for the overall feel of the first shot, but love the raindrops in the second shot—I think the pair of images work well together in tandem.

 

yellow iris

yellow iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The color and texture of this tulip reminded me of a ripe peach when I first saw it yesterday morning. Alas, it will be months before peaches will be in season and the canned cling peaches that I remember from my childhood can’t compare to the fresh ones.

Like so many of the wonderfully colorful flowers that I have featured recently, this beauty is from the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. Thanks again, Cindy.

At this time of the year, I tend to shoot most often with my 180mm macro lens. With my APS-C crop sensor camera, I get an equivalent field of view of almost 300mm, which gives me some standoff distance for shooting live subjects like dragonflies. However, for shooting subjects like flowers, I found it difficult to frame the images because I was shooting from so far away. For this shot, I switched to a 60mm macro lens and shot with the aperture wide-open at f/2.8.

tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What are your feelings about the future? For me, they are like this tulip bud, full of the promise of new life and beauty that is yet to come. The challenge for us all is to be patient and wait with joyful expectation.

As with all of my other recent tulip shots, I photographed this bud in the garden of my neighbor and friend Cindy Dyer. Thanks, Cindy.

tulip bud

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This week I did a pair of postings in a single day that I called “beauty and the beast” that was so well received that I thought I would do it again. Earlier this morning I did the “beauty” part with a shot of some crabapple blossoms in my front yard. For the “beast” part, I decided to feature this shot of a little orchard spider (Leucauge venusta) in the garden of my neighbor, fellow photographer and blogger Cindy Dyer. The spider was hanging in the midst of a group of irises that have not yet bloomed and I was happy to be able to be able to frame the shot so you have a sense of the spider’s environment.

As always, I offer my apologies to those who are creeped out by spiders, and recommend that you check out the crabapple posting if you have not seen it yet. As for me, I find spiders to be always fascinating and often beautiful.

orchard orbweaver spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Beauty is everywhere. Thursday afternoon as I walked out of my suburban townhouse, I glanced at the crabapple tree in my front yard, now covered with blossoms. Realizing how beautiful it is, I captured this simple image.

You don’t always have to go to distant locations to find beauty—you can often find it in your back yard or, in my case, in your front yard.

crabapple

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Nature is full of wonderful shapes, like the spiral of this curled-up fern—at this stage it is know as a fiddlehead—that I spotted on Monday while exploring in Prince William County. A few days afterwards, Gary Bolstad published a photo of a fiddlehead in New Zealand in his blog krikitarts.wordpress.com. Gary is an amazing photographer and you should really check out his wonderful blog.

In replying to a comment I made about his posting, Gary explained that “The Māori name for a fiddlehead is Koru, and the spiral shape is an essential part of their culture and probably the most common shape used in the design of their carved greenstone (jade) jewelry. It can represent creation, perpetual movement, return to a point of origin, equilibrium/harmony in life, and new life.”

I think we could all use more equilibrium and harmony in our lives during these unsettling times.

fiddlehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Beauty is everywhere. A few minutes ago I walked over to the garden of my friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer and captured this modest image of a little grape hyacinth (g. Muscari). I just love that vibrant violet color.
So often, taking photos is a multi-hour endeavor for me. Normally I pack my gear and head off to remote locations and walk and walk, watching and waiting for opportunities to arise. It definitely is not normal now, so I am relearning the joy of taking photos in small doses, a few minutes here and a few minutes there. Perhaps I won’t capture stunning action shots, but I am convinced that the words with which I began this posting are true—beauty is everywhere.
grape hyacinth
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Lady Jane tulips (Tulipa clusianaLady Jane”) in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer are now fully in bloom. In a recent post called Two tulips, I featured a side view of a mostly closed flower, highlighting the tulip’s unusual shape and reddish-pink color. This time, I shot almost straight down from above and was struck by the geometric shapes in the petals, the stamen, and even the stigma (the little three-lobed part in the very center of the flower). For the middle shot, I shot from a slight angle to give a somewhat more natural perspective.

I hope that all of you are staying safe and healthy. I am remaining close to home most of the time and it has been a blessing for me to be able to find such beautiful subjects to photograph almost literally across the street—Cindy and I live at opposite sides of a suburban semi-circle.

 

Lady Jane tulip

Lady Jane tulip

Lady Jane tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Need a blast of bright color? Here you go, a shot I took of the inside of a gorgeous red tulip blooming this morning in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer.  This view straight down into the tulip reminds me of the kaleidoscopes that fascinated me endlessly when I was a youth. I managed to frame this shot almost exactly as I had envisioned, so I decided not to crop it at all, which is pretty unusual for me.

tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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You don’t have to go far to find beauty—it is all around us. I spotted this beautiful Lady Jane tulip yesterday afternoon in the garden of my neighbor and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer. Cindy loves to photograph flowers and has planted a wide assortment of photogenic flowers in her front and side gardens. I was delighted to see that about a dozen of these little tulips were starting to bloom.

Many of Cindy’s “normal” tulips are starting to form buds, but only one is blooming right now, the beautiful red one that is shown in the final photo. I have always been impressed by the photos that tourists take of broad swaths of colorful tulips in the Netherlands, but for me, I tend to find beauty in the individual flowers.

Lady Jane Tulip

tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the highlights of my visit on Monday to Green Spring Gardens was photographing a blossoming Japanese Apricot tree (Prunus mume). It was a little strange to see a tree with blossoms during the winter, but apparently it is normal for this species to blossom in mid-winter and late winter. The flowers are commonly known as plum blossoms and are a frequent theme in traditional painting in China and in other East Asian countries—the blossoms were also a favorite with the honey bees.

According to Wikipedia, the plum blossom is “one of the most beloved flowers in China and has been frequently depicted in Chinese art and poetry for centuries. The plum blossom is seen as a symbol of winter and a harbinger of spring. The blossoms are so beloved because they are viewed as blooming most vibrantly amidst the winter snow, exuding an ethereal elegance, while their fragrance is noticed to still subtly pervade the air at even the coldest times of the year. Therefore, the plum blossom came to symbolize perseverance and hope, as well as beauty, purity, and the transitoriness of life.”

I do not use my macro lens very much during the winter months and usually leave it at home. However, the mild weather that we have been having made me suspect that some flowers would be in bloom, so I put the macro lens on my camera—the busy bees turned out to be a big bonus.

I especially admired the efforts of the bee in the first photo. This bee did not want to wait for the bud to open, but instead burrowed its way to the pollen-filled center of the blossom-to-be.

Japanese Apricot tree

Japanese Apricot tree

Japanese Apricot tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This winter has been usually mild and spring color is already starting to appear in our area. During a visit yesterday to Green Spring Gardens, a local county-run historical garden, I spotted crocuses in bloom at several locations. Finding crocuses was not too much of a surprise, since they are usually among the first flowers to appear each spring.  However, it was an unexpected bonus to be able to photograph a honey bee collecting pollen inside of one of the crocuses.

In many ways yesterday’s photography was a return to my roots. When I started getting more serious about photography seven years ago, I did a lot of shooting with my friend and mentor, Cindy Dyer. One of her many areas of specialization is macro photography of flowers and some of her flower images have even appeared on US postage stamps. From her I learned a lot about the technical aspects of photography, like composition and depth of field, but more importantly she encouraged and inspired me back then and continues to do so to this day. Thanks, Cindy.

I started off photographing flowers with a few insects, but gradually realized that I was more interested in shooting insects with a few flowers. I can appreciate the beauty of the crocuses in the second and third images below, but the first shot is more representative of my desired shooting style.

crocus

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During a visit yesterday to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia, I was reminded of my favorite artist—Claude Monet. During the last thirty years of his life, water lilies (Nymphéas in French) were the main focus of his artistic production. One of the museums that I most love visiting is the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, because it houses eight massive water lily murals by Monet in two specially-built oval rooms. It is incredibly peaceful to just sit in one of those rooms, surrounded by those amazing paintings.

I was delighted and a little surprised yesterday to see that some water lilies were already in bloom. There was a lot of vegetation surrounding the pond in which the beautiful flowers were floating, so there were some limits to my ability to compose my shots. Still, I am pretty happy with the images that I was able to capture.

Perhaps you will find yourself as captivated by the water lilies as I was.

Water lily

Water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I first started getting serious about photography almost seven years ago, I often went shooting with my photography mentor Cindy Dyer. Cindy is accomplished in many areas of photography, but she is particularly passionate about capturing the beauty of flowers with her trusty macro lens. I learned a lot about the art of photography by shooting flowers side by side with her and reviewing my images with her.

Yesterday she and I made a short visit to Green Spring Gardens, a historical, county-run garden not far from our neighborhood, and it was wonderful to see how many flowers were in bloom. I was especially attracted by the poppies that I saw growing in several areas of the gardens—the star-like centers of the poppies seemed to beckon me.

Here are a few photos of those wonderful poppies, which came in a surprising variety of colors.

purple poppy

white poppy

purple poppy

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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