Garden photography as documentation

This morning, while sipping my coffee at the window, I mused at how long our autumn color is lasting this year. I always hesitate to say: those black pussy willows (Salix gracilistyla var. melanostachys) are late this year, my Wandas (Primula x pruhonicensis) are blooming early or the Hot Cocoa roses are tardy—even though I KNOW in my bones that this is the case. Could I be misremembering that, again? Could be. So much of the garden just seems later or earlier THIS year. Not a problem, I have a surefire way of checking.

No, I’m not Thomas Jefferson with his garden diaries. (You can find a facsimile here: It’s fun to peruse. He recorded every peach blossom date, the day that he planted four Koelreuteria paniculata aurea, when the squashes were harvested from the asparagus bed or when the Anemone pulsatilla (now: Pulsatilla vulgaris) blossoms emerged. I’m afraid that I simply don’t seem to have the time, energy, or temperament to carry around my notebook and pencil nor can I be that methodical.

Then again, I’m in the 21st Century…and have a quick, easy tool for that sort of documentation (and much more fun): my digital camera. When we first engaged in creating this garden, I started taking my camera out every few days to document progress. Now, I still take scores of photos, not great art masterpieces, just snapshots of areas in transition, a particularly pretty bed, and whatever else attracts me. What I find interesting is that some days, I go out there and pore deeply into the soul of every flower; other days, the long sweeping views become my focus; sometimes, when conditions are right, the light and sky and ambiance become my subjects. I can’t tell you that I do this on a particular day each month…just when the mood strikes me, but it does average out to about twice a month.

The greatest benefit, other than reveling in the beauty of plants, is that I have a very helpful plant guide. When contemplating where to plant those lily bulbs or that twig that will be lilacs in the spring, or the stubs of Rudbeckia, I can check the bloom dates and make a guesstimate about compatibility in the garden, and plant accordingly. Nothing, of course, is perfect, and it’s still easy to mismatch the bloom times, but unmitigated disasters of that dinner plate magenta Dahlia in the sea of yellow Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ is averted. Having photos of spring bulbs is a great deterrent to those shovelfuls of halved Narcissus bulbs. I’m always contrite and apologize for their mutilation. Yes, I do talk to my plants. Not the way many people do, to make them grow or be happy. I figure they’re generally OK on that front. But I do apologize to them for deadheading the wrong branch or digging them up accidentally….or….fatally chopping them in half.

My pictures are arranged by month. Each of the twelve directories has a list of years and within each yearly directory, there are sub-directories for each month-day-year which contain the days pictures. Spring is always the great excitement…I’m out there, it seems, every other day with camera in hand snapping every bud, sprout, and (oh, joy) blossom. As the summer progresses, I seem to take fewer and fewer pictures, usually petering out by September (when I seem to take the fewest photos). Then comes the autumn color and I am back at it again.

As a gardening tool, I can’t say enough about my camera. It makes me really LOOK at things, it helps me from destroying dormant plants, and it helps resolve color disputes when I am placing new plants in existing beds and also tells me when something has “disappeared” over the winter, especially if the tag is long gone. I highly recommend taking regular photos in your garden.

Oh, about that “late” color this year? I checked my photos. Here are two pictures of Acer palmatum ‘Okagami’ taken on November 10th in 2007 and 2008!

Acer palmatum 'Okagami' Acer palmatum 'Okagami'

Acer palmatum ‘Okagami’ Nov. 10, 2007                        Acer palmatum ‘Okagami’ Nov., 10, 2008


This entry was posted in Gardening. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply