This month the assignment for the Gardening Gone Wild photo contest is entitled “On The Road Again.” The judge this month, professional photographer Allan Mandell, has this to say about our assignment:
“This is what I am looking for: that choice image you discovered when you were out there on unfamiliar ground with an open mind and open eyes, when you were far away from home or close to where you live. But you still sought out a garden, other than your own, to reveal the soul of the place you were in. Every culture on earth has a way of expressing its essence through a sacred spot, or garden. Maybe your farthest travels have been a few hour’s drive away, or maybe they have been long plane-flights away, no matter. Let me see the beauty you found when you were way out there, tuned into the universal language of the garden. Let me see your treasures from the road.to offer a photograph taken of a garden you visited, somewhere, sometime. . “
Gosh, I’ve been visiting gardens since I was first taken to the Balboa Park Zoological Garden in San Diego California at the tender age of two. Since then, I have seen many memorable gardens. I can still remember the complete awe I experienced at Hampton Court, Hyde Park, Stratford on Avon, and Versailles when I went on a student tour in Europe when I was 17. I took lots of pictures with my little Kodak Instamatic, and of course they are all complete junk as far as photography goes. They serve to remind me of an amazing summer, though, so they serve their purpose.
It seems like everywhere I go I wind up in a Botanical Garden, or looking at someone’s estate garden, or peering through someone’s gate at a courtyard filled with beauty.
That was taken in Sevilla, Spain, and I took great pains with the exposure and trying to line up that shot. But the hot Spanish light and the dimness of the entryway made it extremely difficult to get a great picture.
Another thing I noticed when I started going through my photos looking for “The One” to enter was that most public gardens are open for viewing during the middle of the day, and so you are always stuck in the worst possible light for great photography. That was certainly the case when we were in Funchal, Madeira. This is a view of a formal garden at the Royal Botanical Garden there.
Another problem that crops up fairly often is the view being marred by the surrounding city infrastructure. That is what is wrong with this shot of a fantastic formal garden across the street from the Monument to the Explorers in Lisbon, Portugal.
Judicious cropping would help, of course, but I don’t see any way to remove the rows of buses parked around the edges of the garden. The light that day was very dark and weird, because half the time it was raining on us.
For a few years I lived in San Francisco, California, and I was a regular visitor to the Strybing Arboretum there. I had just moved to the big city from a rural Alaskan milieu, so I really needed open space to help me cope with the urban ambiance. I haunted that garden, sometimes I needed to be away from people so badly I would go down to the remote northwest corner of the garden at dawn, where there was a tall chain link fence sheltered from the view of passing traffic and pedestrians, and climb over it so I could experience the gardens all by myself. That was a magical, if slightly illegal, thing for me.
Eventually my partner allowed me to start using his rather wonderful camera, and I used up quite a lot of film learning to take nice pictures. One day I found a painter ensconced in front of the sedum and succulent garden, painting his version of what was going on there.
I quite like that photograph, even though the actual garden is not what is in focus.
Here’s another Spanish image, taken from the Atlantic Coast of Spain outside Doñana National Park. This one speaks quite eloquently of the Mediterranean coast and the courtyard gardens you find there.
Ultimately though, I decided not to enter that one in the contest because the angle of the shot makes the whole thing feel a little “off” to me.
Instead, I am choosing this image of the rose garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. This garden is a three hour drive away from here, but we go down to St. Louis to visit it on a regular basis. One time I went there on a solo road trip and discovered that Dale Chihuly had done an art installation on the grounds.
What a treat I had, wandering around discovering each new little jewel of the exhibition tucked here and there on the grounds. I was entranced by how he embellished the gates to the Rose Garden. Somehow, I just love the combination of formality and wildness in this picture. To me, it really expresses the totality of the whole arboretum, with its mixtures of formal settings juxtaposed with woodland gardens, which then give way to all sorts of demonstration gardens. Those encompass everything from experimental vegetable plots to perennial borders to prairie meadows.
Somehow, I feel this one shot sort of wraps up the whole Missouri Botanical Garden heart and soul in one package: wildness and formality, art and nature, horticultural science and inspirational demonstrations.
Don’t forget to visit the other offerings for what promises to be an interesting series of photographs. You can find them here.