Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What the hell is "aperture"?

That was my sentiment as recently as this past Friday. 

Then it all changed the next day. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife's Christmas gift to me was a gift certificate for an educational session with a local photographer. I had that session on Saturday and all I can say is that I will never use the "Auto" function on my camera again. 

Tony Granata, the photographer I met with, immediately changed the way I look at the "art" of photography. We met in his basement/studio where I was surrounded by an endless number of cameras and his stunning  photographs:

His passion was obvious from the get-go and I couldn't wait to get started. To have a one-on-one session with someone who obviously knows their stuff had me so pumped. 

As I'm sure many of you are aware, the "Exposure Triangle" neatly sums up what photography is all about:              

Now I could have read about this in a book or on-line but what made this session so valuable, was Tony demonstrated each of these concepts on his camera as we were reviewing each one. He even showed me functions on my camera (Canon PowerShot SX20IS) that I never knew existed. You don't get that attention to detail in a larger classroom setting. 

I was especially struck by shooting in aperture mode, which in simple terms for me, was "depth of field". With gardening photography, there are moments where I'd want to photograph a flower up close and blur the background, hence a larger aperture like f/2.8 (that's for you Tony to show I picked up on this stuff):    

Other times, I struggle to shoot a garden as a whole without "noise" but I now know how to shoot using a smaller aperture. Good times.   

I'm still digesting five points of light, SLR photography and how to affect exposure through the +/- button, but the foundation is there. Now it is time for me to go out and shoot and tinker like mad. I've already started to look back on old photos to see what I did right (completely through luck) and what I did wrong. My mind has been opened up like never before and I have Tony to thank for that. 

Some more info on Tony Granata photography:

So Sunday I played around a bit and tried to capture an ornamental grass in all its wonderful swaying glory. Here are three of the same shots with the different settings indicated below the photo:            

ISO 200, Shutter Speed 1/500, Aperture F/5.0

ISO 80, Shutter Speed 1/40, Aperture F/8.0, Exposure changed -1 1/3

ISO 80, Shutter Speed 1/125, Aperture f/8.0, Exposure changed -1 1/3

I still have a long ways to go to fully grasp all of this but it has opened the door to creativity and I'm ready to jump the f through. 


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Amsonia tabernaemontana (Eastern Bluestar)

There is nothing better than when May arrives and the local Native Plant Sales commence. I'm like a kid on Christmas morning giddy with anticipation of what I'll come home with. There is some planning involved before shopping, but for the most part, I grab on a whim and then learn about what I've got when I get home. 

A perfect example of one of these purchased "on a whim" plants is Amsonia (Eastern Bluestar). I picked up a few of these three years ago with little knowledge of their attributes. 

These perennials struggled a bit in years one and two, but really came into their own last spring/summer. I anticipate further progress in 2012. 

Amsonia emerges in early spring, with their narrow leaves bright green in color. The blooms typically start to form in mid to late May: 

By the end of May, the light blue, star shaped blooms are in full effect:

While I've read that the flowers of Amsonia attract the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, I've never witnessed it. What I have witnessed, are various moths enjoying the sweet nectar of the flowers:

But truth be told, I love these shrub-sized perennials not for their flowers, but for their billowy texture and ability to contrast well with other shrubs/perennials. This is how they looked after I had cut them down post-bloom to about 12 inches:

And if the "Gods of Autumn" are listening, I'm banking on big time fall color this year as that may be its true claim to fame. This is as good as it got for me last year:

If things go according to plan, there will be some serious bright golden/orange puffs throughout the yard in the fall and I will be sure to share those photos with you all.

Before I go, some additional info on this fantastic plant:
  • Matures in size at about 3 feet by 3 feet
  • Survives in zones 3-9 (a bit more hardy than the more popular Amsonia hubrichtii)
  • Prefers full sun to partial shade and may flop if in too much shade
  • As mentioned previously, it is a US native, typically found along streams and in moist woods
  • While I've yet to attempt it, I've read these can be tough to divide 
  • They have been deer resistant to date, apparently due to a sticky substance on their leaves

Tell me about your successes and/or failures with this plant. Any information is good information.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Pinteresting reasons why I am surviving the winter

This winter feels very different ... and that is a good thing.

In the past, I'd go into winter kicking and screaming and if that damn groundhog saw his shadow, someone was going to pay. I've made many veiled threats to move south in search of more desirable weather. I've made it known that I don't ski and don't plan to do so any time soon.

Fast forward to present day and I'm a pretty happy dude.

It may be the result of a mild winter with little snowfall. I've come to realize that the cold doesn't bother me as much as a snow covered ground does. The snow is great and all as it is falling, but I can do without it sticking around for weeks and burying everything underneath. Call me crazy, but I enjoy seeing the bare earth in anticipation of what will pop out in the near future.

But truthfully, my happiness isn't completely weather related. There are two specific reasons why I'm managing this "off-season" better than in previous years.

1)Photo organization
I finally reached a point where I could no longer handle having my photos stored all over the place (Hard drive, Picasa, Photoshop). I've slowly been tagging each photo and storing each of them under the appropriately labeled folder. In doing so, I've relived the past few spring, summer and fall seasons. An escape if you will:

The first bulbs of spring:
To the anticipation of the first fleeting peony bloom:

To the spiderwort blooms opening up in the early morning:

And to the wonderful colors of fall:

Not only did I successfully escape and travel through the seasons, but I also witnessed numerous ways I can improve my gardens. Good times.

If you are not already "pinning", you need to leave here now and find a way to get an invite IMMEDIATELY. I am not kidding.

For those of you who cut pictures out of magazines or bookmark sites that have amazing plant/garden/landscape pics, this is for you.

After easily installing the "Pin It" button on your web browser, you can organize photo "boards" that capture all of your favorite photos into appropriate categories. You can find them on your own as you browse the web or "follow" other "pinners" and simply "repin" their photos. Trust me, it is beyond addicting and the best possible way to come up with new and unique gardening ideas.

I have boards categorized under "Ornamental Grasses", "Gardens I Love", "Fire pits", "Containers", etc. The possibilities are endless.

You really need to access the Pinterest site and please let me know if you would like an invite. I can send you one via email within seconds. Once you join, you can follow me by clicking the link in the sidebar to the right.

I'll gladly accept all of your thank you's after you've joined.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Astilbe 'Deutschland'

Let's talk Astilbe 'Deutschland' today, shall we?

This was a Bluestone Perennials purchase a few years back and I ain't got no regrets. This shade loving perennial continues to increase in size each year but enough of me writing, let's allow the photos to tell the story.

The foliage is a glossy deep green and almost fern-like. Here it is on May 1 (here in zone 6B):  

Upon closer inspection, you can see the reddish stems which give it a bit more depth:

By the end of May, you can see that the flower buds have formed and the red stems are even more prominent (sweeeet):

Two weeks later, we are in full bloom to everyone's delight:

The blooms stick around for a good 3-4 weeks for me which typically, is the entire month of June.

A word of warning, however. These ladies need consistent water or they will "burn" pretty quickly:

High maintenance? You could say that, but since most of my plants are native and low maintenance (pats on the back are always welcomed) I can pull it off.

Even in the Fall/Winter, I let the spent flower panicles stay for ongoing interest:  

Some additional "deets", as the kids like to say:

  • Typical size is 2' x 18" - works well planted in mass as a larger groundcover
  • Survives zones 4-9
  • Works in partial to full shade but I can only vouch for partial shade 
  • 'Deutschland' is a bit shorter and blooms earlier than most white astilbes 
  • Can be divided every 3-4 years (I have never attempted to divide an astilbe so maybe this is the year. Will let you know if it works and will lie if it doesn't)


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why do I garden?

So here's the deal, I'm turning 40 within the next 6 months and like many before me, I'm in self examination mode.

By no means are we talking midlife crisis or anything like that. I'll drive my ' 98 Honda Civic into the ground, so no need for a new sports car. I'll never bungee jump or skydive because yours truly is deathly afraid of heights. It's not that at all.

I like to think of it more as a self assessment. Am I happy in my current job? Sure. Are my children healthy and thriving? Absolutely. Am I one of the lucky ones who has a stable marriage? Beyond that and more. She has been my best friend since we met in 1990 and that ain't changing any time soon.

Which leads me to gardening.

It has become larger than life for me the past two years and I don't see it slowing down any time soon. It is always on my mind and I often wonder if it could ever become a career. Or do I love it as much as I do because it is NOT my career? Hmmm ... that one may require a therapist's chair.

So why do I love gardening so much? For the most part, it wasn't anything I showed an interest in at a young age. I never pursued any education in the field of horticulture. So why the plant lust?

I've spent the past few days really thinking this one through and here is what I came up with (in no particular order):

  • The puzzle - As much as I enjoy an individual plant and it's attributes, I am not a plant geek. I am more fascinated by how plants play off of each other. I can move plants around with the best of them, always in search of the perfect combination. Do I know that there is no "perfect"? Of course, but is sure is fun as hell to try.


  • Plants/gardens evolving - Not only year by year and season by season, but really week by week. I, for the most part, could give a rat's ass about interior design. Once you finish a room, it's done and it becomes stale quickly (unless you enjoy painting annually). But outdoors, you get to enjoy the spring blooms, followed by the summer blooms and the quick ascension of the ornamental grasses. Before you know it, it's fall foliage time and then the coneflowers and grasses are gracefully covered in snow. Then it is spring again and the perennials have doubled in size and that deciduous shrub is blooming better than it ever has before. It is never dull.

  • I am a train wreck indoors - There is definitely a psychological side to this one. I am the opposite of a handy man. Thank god I have a very handy brother in law and father in law. They have saved me many times over. Outside in the garden is where I reign supreme and I am the "go to guy".

  • My gardening passion as mystery - Most of the people I interact with on a daily basis have no idea that I am a lover of all things plants. I have a lot of fun throwing in an educational tidbit when people least expect it. And if they ever discover this blog, it is supremely entertaining.  
  • The attraction of wildlife - As my gardens have matured and I've added more and more native plants, the birds, bees and butterflies have shown up in droves. I feel like I've created my own sanctuary/ecosystem where they can all coexist without disruption. Shit, I even like having the deer around.

  • The solitude - There is nowhere else I can go and completely tune out all else life has to offer. I get lost amongst the greenery and blooms and creatures. A form of meditation if you will. Except it smells a lot better, I enjoy getting numerous blisters and love the pain in my calves when all is said and done. 

Deep down, I do believe my future life/career involves gardening/horticulture/design in some aspect.

There, I said it. Now hopefully Oprah is right and the universe will hear me and respond.





Monday, January 16, 2012

Campanula glomerata (Bellflower) 'Joan Elliot'

Some times, the best decisions are those made on a whim.

A few years ago, I was checking out the "clearance" section on the Bluestone Perennials website and just before I was ready to hit "checkout", I added a few Campanula glomerata 'Joan Elliot' to my order.

Years later, it is still the gift that keeps on giving:

This perennial has performed like a champ ever since I planted it. The blooms are a given come early May when I eagerly anticipate the opening of the buds:

   Before I know it, there are countless blooms and it is a sea of dark purple:

   Once the buds have completely opened, each individual flower is a beauty:

This campanula thrives in full sun for me but it apparently also will perform well in part shade. I have mine at the foot of some peonies and when the two bloom simultaneously, it is a killer combination:

I also have a few next to a Weigela 'Wine and Roses' and the flowers coexist nicely with the red foliage:

Some additional quick tidbits:
  • Typical size is 18" x 14"
  • Survives in zones 3-8
  • Adapts well to wet clay soil (can I get a hell yeah?)
  • There is sporadic rebloom if deadheaded regularly
  • I've had no issues of it being overly aggressive but I've read complaints from some
  • Division is suggested every 3-4 years (and I plan to do so in spring)  

So what do you think? Would you give it a whirl?


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