In addition to photography, one of the things I've more actively pursued since retiring from my day job is horticulture. My interest goes back many years, but other than taking classes here and there, I'd never really done much with it. I mentioned previously that I live near Longwood Gardens, a spectacular display garden in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The property encompasses nearly eleven hundred acres (about four hundred forty-five hectares), includes a large conservatory, myriad water displays, a recently opened natural meadow, and a variety of gardens throughout. Among the gardens are a long, narrow flower garden walk; a natural woods with predominantly native plants; a topiary garden; a rose garden; and an Idea Garden which contains separate, large gardens for herbs, plant trials, vegetables, annuals (both herbaceous and flowering plants), children's exploration, and perennials. Longwood employs a couple hundred full-time gardeners and other supporting staff, another few hundred part-time / seasonal staff, and creates opportunities for nearly eight hundred volunteers.
I signed on as a volunteer in 2013 and received an assignment in the area of the Idea Garden dedicated to perennials. My four hours per week of work is guided by the terrific gardener with whom I work, and includes whatever needs to be done. I pull and dig weeds, deadhead plants after the bloom is complete, plant new items when needed, and cut back plants at appropriate times. Part of my work time occurs before the Garden opens to guests, and I quickly learned that once guests arrive, questions abound. Therein lies the connection to my interest in horticulture - and confirmation of how much I have to learn! Early during my tenure, I was fortunate to usually be working with a Longwood employee whose knowledge was extensive, so could engage him or her to respond to the guests' questions. This year, the staff is more spread out, so I'm less frequently around Longwood employees when guests are around. So, learning more about what I'm dealing with has been valuable, as I'm now often able to respond to the questions I receive during my time working. I still have to rely on the employee gardeners from time to time, but can see I'm making progress. I also thoroughly enjoy watching the evolution of the garden through the growing season, and anticipate the flushes of color and texture that will appear in a few weeks.
One of the benefits available to me as a volunteer is access to the Gardens in the early hours of the morning, a time when the quality of light is typically good for making photographs. I've been able to marry two things I love - making photographs and horticulture. Recently, I set out to try to capture the beauty of the garden in which I work. I made some images of the garden containing many plants, showing off the colors, textures, and sizes. I also experimented with close-up shots of plants in the garden. During my initial experimentation visit, I made images holding my camera, something that ended up being fairly challenging, as the light was pretty low. I had a lot of fuzzy images. I returned a few days later with a tripod - no surprise, a great aid to get images in focus. I also experimented with different lenses to see if the effects were different. A few results were good, some were okay, and a lot were just not good at all. I look forward to continuing my experiments.