Tag Archives: blooms

Collegiality, Competition, and Lotuses

29 Jun

Early this morning, my mother and I stumbled upon an other-worldly scene: thousands of lotus flowers in bloom at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC. We arrived at 7:30 am to see the lotus flowers while they are open. The lotuses were indeed gorgeous, but the most striking aspect of our visit was seeing all the photographers who had arrived before us to stake their claims. The ones I spoke with were amateurs–but they were serious amateurs, with lenses almost as big as my leg, tripods, reflectors, step ladders, rolling equipment cases, and assistants. Some came from as far as New York. I had no idea Kenilworth’s lotus blooms attracted this much attention. I showed up with my camera, a small case containing three lenses (the largest of which is smaller than my hand), and my mother. No tripod, no reflector, no ladder. I looked glaringly out of place, unencumbered by the accoutrements of the trade, with not even a flak jacket to my name.

For the most part, there was a great spirit of collegiality–sharing of tips, patient waiting for good spots, etc. But everyone was there to get a good shot, and as the sun bore down and the light became trickier, some competitiveness emerged. One photographer and her friend/assistant had spent some time setting up tripod and camera, and were focusing on a particularly lovely lotus flower. Another photographer stopped close by, but not in the first photographer’s line of vision, to see if he could get a differently angled shot of the same flower. He asked if that was okay. Female photographer: “I can’t tell you where you can or can’t stand, but there are lots of other flowers here.”  Male photographer got the hint and moved on. I’d like to think that was the exception, rather than the rule.

I was using a macro lens to capture a dragonfly on a lotus bud when another photographer came by, took a second look to see what I was shooting so close up, and got very excited when he saw the dragonfly. I stepped aside to give him a  turn. The good thing about dragonflies is that once they find a spot they like, they often spend some time there, so I knew I would probably get another chance. Plus, the gentleman I ceded the spot to had a huge lens and I knew he would be able to get a really, really nice close-up shot. If I got any closer with my little macro lens, I’d fall into the pond.

Later, I was admiring some lotuses, but ruing the fact they were in direct sunlight–and hence, beyond my ability to shoot them properly–when the same gentleman stopped by again, and had his friend hold up a huge reflector that allowed both of us to take the shot (third photo below). In the end, I like to think that though we are all photographers of varying abilities, we are kindred spirits nonetheless–out there to capture fleeting moments of beauty. Below are lotus buds and blooms, with close-ups of a lotus receptacle, and of water pooling on a lotus leaf.



Zucchini Flowers, Leaves, and Bees

3 Jul

Yes, it’s that time of year, a time when you realize you planted way too much zucchini. I have only one zucchini plant in the garden (not having much space for vegetables to begin with) — yet I find myself asking, how can one plant produce that much? And it’s barely gotten started.

Luckily, I love zucchini and am already thinking about what to do with my harvest. However, this post is not about cooking. It is about the plant itself, from flower to leaf. If you grow zucchini, you probably quite enjoy seeing the zucchini flowers/blossoms/blooms. I usually look at them and imagine them stuffed with a nice cheese, dipped in a light batter, and gently fried….heavenly! Some say the male flowers (which grow at the end of long stems, unlike female flowers, which grow at the end of the emerging zucchini) are the best for eating; I’ll happily sample either one. The flowers can also be eaten raw, sliced into salads or other dishes.

But I digress. My intention was to write about the plant–as a plant, not as a source of food. A couple of days ago, I was checking the status of the zucchini and was startled to see a fully open flower. I almost never see an open flower, which makes sense since they are only open for one day and usually from morning to early afternoon (when I am at work, or not paying sufficient attention). In order for any zucchini to be produced, bees must take advantage of this small window of opportunity and do their part by carrying pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. [Ok, I have to digress again to show a completely unrelated photo of a friend’s beehive since I don’t have a photo of a bee on my zucchini flowers–and yes, honey bees are excellent pollinators of zucchini and many other fruits and vegetables. Go bees!]

Some of my baby zucchini seemed to wither on the stems and drop off before they even got going. I wondered if this was due to all the rain we’ve been having (or even worse, if it could possibly be the fault of our male dog–despite the barricades I erected). Luckily, I discovered it’s because the female flower didn’t get quite enough pollen from the male. Gardeners wishing to help the process along can try to hand pollinate by carefully removing the anther from the male flower and dabbing it onto the stigma of the open female flower (or by using cotton swabs to transfer the pollen). In my case, with plenty of zucchini already harvested and more to come, I may need to start tying all those flowers closed!

Here is a photo of a lovely, open zucchini flower (looks male)…

… and of another part of the plant that rarely gets mentioned: the leaf. I really like the way the leaves look, and I particularly like the downward angle in this photo. But zucchini leaves are a force of nature. They are so big and so prolific that they keep taking over the small space I allocated to the zucchini plant, and I have had to prune them several times. I felt guilty cutting them off at first, but then I learned that judicious pruning lets more light in and can help increase zucchini production. Wait–is that a plus?

In the Blink of an Eye

8 Jun

At this time of year, every day brings some new development in the garden. You take each change into account, bit by bit. But when you are away for an extended time, as I was recently for work, you come back and feel that those changes occurred far too quickly–how did that peony bloom in such a short time? Where did that red-hot poker come from?

All this was driven home to me yesterday, when my youngest son graduated from high school. How did that happen so quickly? Now, like his two brothers before him, he will follow his own path, and we will no longer see those day-to-day changes. But we will continue to admire the growth and the blooming. Luckily, our daughter is still at home for one more year. And the garden will remain, though it, too, undergoes constant and rapid metamorphoses.

Before I left for my two-week trip, the brand-new peonies I had planted were only in bud; when I returned, the blooms were already spent. I never did see what the full flowers looked like–I will have to save that treat for next year.

Peony (Kansas)
The new roses I had planted last month were also just beginning to bud, but since they bloom for months, I was able to see the flowers when I got back.

Hybrid Tea Rose (Love and Peace)
And finally, I caught the Red Hot Pokers just in time; now, their color is fading and the flower spikes are drying up. Here is one seen from above and in full bloom.

Red Hot Poker (Flamenco)

Witch Hazel

9 Mar

Until today, I knew next to nothing about Witch Hazel. I had a vague idea it could be found in a bottle at the pharmacy, but thought of it as something from a bygone era, like cod liver oil. Not that it didn’t have its uses –I just wasn’t sure what those uses were….

But an absolutely glorious day propelled me to nearby Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland to see what might be of interest there. Turns out, there was a great deal of interest, not the least of which was Witch Hazel (Hamamelis). As I came around a bend I noticed a tree (ok, technically a very large shrub) with the most delicate, spidery looking flowers on it. It was striking not only because it was in bloom, but because the flowers were almost ethereal. I bent to read the sign beneath and learned it was a Witch Hazel, something I had not see before. But once I saw that one, I noticed many others, in different colors, all equally stunning. I immediately experienced garden envy. Or perhaps garden regret–there is only so much I can pack into my own small garden, and Witch Hazel will just have to be admired from afar.

Below are a few photos of a remarkable plant, the extract of which helps control blemishes, soothe burns (including sunburns and razor burns) and cuts and bruises, relieve insect bites and itchy poison ivy/poison oak, and relieve tired eyes. Now that I know this, I will certainly get some extract from the pharmacy in the near future, but for now I will feast my eyes on the lovely Witch Hazel flowers and feel glad that I learned something new today.



‘Orange Peel’


Birth of a Montauk Daisy

26 Sep

Montauk Daisies are cheery flowers to behold, even they are sure signs the season is nearing an end.  Cheery they may be, but shy and reserved they are not. When I first planted my two Montauk daisies, they were small little things, but they soon expanded exponentially, smothering a few other flowers in the process. The relatively fragile lilies in their path were no match for the bush-like Montauks. The ease with which the daisies established their dominance reminded me yet again of the importance of checking a plant’s spread. I kept looking at them as they grew, and grew, and grew, asking myself how this came to pass, since they were so little when I first planted them. In this respect, they remind me of my children.

For the past month, I have been waiting very patiently for them to bloom (the daisies, that is). They take their time; the first buds appeared in the center of the lovely dark-green foliage on September 1, but the first flower did not bloom until today. However, it was worth the wait. Here is the birth of a Montauk Daisy:


King of the Garden

4 Jul

At the center of every flower bed, I have one focal flower. In Garden 3 (G3) that flower is a Hibiscus (Kopper King), and when it is in bloom, it commands attention. This year, it is more than 5 feet tall, though it didn’t start out that way. In fact, the first spring after I planted it, I thought I had killed it.  I dutifully cut it down in Fall 2010 to about 8 inches above the ground and let it settle in for the winter.  And then in Spring 2011, nothing happened. All other plants were emerging, but not the Kopper King.  I was about to dig it up in defeat one day when I noticed tiny shoots emerging around the old wood from the previous year. And those shoots took off. Kopper King may be a late bloomer, but it makes up for it with warp-speed growth.

In the lower left of the left-hand photo you can see the Kopper King on May 1, 2012. Well, actually, you can’t see it; the new shoots are still microscopic at this point. But you can see the upside-down flower pots I put around the old wood to keep Schnauzer 1 and Schnauzer 2 from trampling the new growth in their squirrel-chasing rampages through the flower beds. Two brand-new (2012) lilacs are in the background against the fence. The photo on the right shows the Kopper King one month later, in early June.  In less than a month, it grew to the height of the fence. Note the lovely copper-colored foliage.


Within a few weeks, the buds had emerged, and then began to open:


And voila, on July 4 — a flower the size of a dinner plate, one of many to come from a regal plant that more than earns its place in the garden.