Shooting a garden in Death Star light and a PhotoBotanic GIVEAWAY

Saxon Holt guest posts today!

Acclaimed garden photographer Saxon Holt regularly shares his expertise and inspir- ational images on his blog and at Gardening Gone Wild, helping to educate the next generation of garden photographers, many of whom, like myself, are bloggers or Instagram sharers. In addition to his skill with the camera, he’s a fine teacher who recently published (and promptly won a Garden Writers Association award for) an e-book called Good Garden Photography. Since then he’s published two more e-books about garden photography and has another ready to drop, all through his website PhotoBotanic.

I had the pleasure of meeting Saxon at Garden Bloggers Fling a few years ago. He’s got a great concept going with PhotoBotanic, and I’m delighted to help him publicize his e-books as part of a blog tour and giveaway.

Here’s how the blog tour works: Saxon is guest posting on 6 blogs this week, and today he’s here at Digging! I challenged Saxon to write about photographing gardens in intense sunlight, as we central Texans so often must do. Please read on for his Death Star photography tips, specially written for us. Following Saxon’s guest post, stick around to enter a giveaway for his e-book!

How to Photograph in Death Star Lighting, by Saxon Holt

The best advice for taking pictures in bright, hot light can be summarized in one word: don’t.

The human eye can see detail in shadows and can compensate for the bright highlight areas, but a camera sensor does not have the dynamic range to register all the information the eye can see on a sunny day.

The hot rays of the sun come to earth in unbending parallel beams — death star light, a term I will forthwith steal from Pam. In dry, arid climates especially, where there is no humidity to bend the light into shadows, the sun bores into gardens. The camera sees black contrasty holes or garish steely colors with no softness or subtlety.

So avoid the sun; but keep reading for a sunscreen tip to follow. Hope to shoot on cloudy days, or plan for very early or very late in the day. Late in the day, after the sun sets, is a surprisingly nice color of light. I urge photographers to use tripods to help compose careful photos, but it is especially important if you want to shoot in soft light late in the day.

But sometimes you simply have to shoot in the bright light of our star. If you only want to shoot a close-up of a flower, leaf, or fruit on the vine you can use a sunscreen, literally. A small flexible diffusion disc, found at any decent camera store, and held between your subject and the sun will soften the light so perfectly it will seem like a photographer’s studio.

Here I am holding a disc above a lily in a public garden, where I had one chance on one day to get a photo.

Note I used the dark shade of distant trees to advantage.

If you need to shoot a wide area of the garden and can’t wait for the sun to go down, try using back light, my favorite trick. Photographers were once told to shoot with the sun behind us but, ughh, that’s ugly. Backlight is much more interesting, shooting toward the sun, light behind the scene. You need to be careful to shield the lens from direct rays, but backlight can be great in gardens where the sun creates a rim light around plants or even transparent glow through a leaf or flower.

Again, as in the lily photo above, you can use the dark shady area, where the camera is unable to capture detail, to your advantage, in areas where you don’t want detail.

Do try to avoid the worst light in the very middle of the day, but you can find ways to let even sunny light work for you when it starts coming in from an angle and creates some shady areas for backgrounds. I think we can learn to love even death star light.

–Saxon Holt

And now for your chance to win a free download of Good Garden Photography, the first e-book in Saxon’s Garden Photography Workshop Series! If you’ve never read an e-book, it’s simple; anyone with a computer or an iPad can download and read it, after placing an order online. For this giveaway, Saxon is doubling the excitement by offering his e-book for free to two winners from Digging!

Simply leave a comment on this blog post to enter. One comment per person, please. The deadline for entering is 11 pm on Wednesday, September 16. I’ll draw two winners at random and announce their names the next day on this post. Good luck!

For more chances to win — and more photography tips from Saxon — please visit the other blogs on the blog tour:

Wednesday, 9/9, Red Dirt Ramblings
Thursday, 9/10, Digging
Friday, 9/11, J Peterson Garden Design
Monday, 9/14, North Coast Gardening
Tuesday, 9/15, Cold Climate Gardening
Wednesday, 9/16, Garden Rant

Saxon is also hosting an end-of-summer photography contest where you can put your new skills to work. Visit Gardening Gone Wild on September 25 to submit your photo entry.

UPDATE: The giveaway winners, chosen via Random Number Generator, are #53 Michaele Anderson and #63 Gwen Rose. Congratulations, Michaele and Gwen! I’ll send you an email to get your confirmation. And thanks to everyone for entering.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Guest post: Graveside mementos at Austin Memorial Park in danger of being prohibited

Revolutionary War veteran’s tombstone in Concord, MA

Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring our veterans, but it’s an appropriate time for remembering our loved ones as well — visiting their graves, placing tokens of remembrance there, sitting for a little while on a graveside bench.

I used to live across the street from Austin Memorial Park, a lovely, public cemetery with tree-lined lanes and many graves personalized with mementos like wind chimes, benches, flags, pinwheels, birdhouses, tended gardens of shrubs and flowers, and even a flock of plastic flamingos, which once brightened the grave of a friend of mine whose wife died unexpectedly. She loved flamingos.

Although Austin takes pride in keeping things weird, in allowing, even celebrating, personal expression, someone somewhere has apparently had their good-taste button pushed and complained to the city about such items in the cemetery. Now the City of Austin is proposing prohibiting (or enforcing what it says are long-standing rules against) personal graveside expressions.

For Tina Huckabee, my former neighbor and a fellow blogger at My Gardener Says…, this issue is more than just a question of aesthetics or whether Austin is losing its weirdness. It’s deeply personal. Her daughter, Shoshana, who died at the age of 13, is buried at Austin Memorial Park, and Tina has long tended a neat garden of purple coneflowers, Shoshana’s favorite flower, on her grave. Now she’s being told that the garden must be removed, and probably as well the stones of remembrance that visitors have left on her daughter’s tombstone. This strikes me as a second loss that Tina — and other bereaved families — should not have to bear, all for the sake of a homogeneous, de-personalized look in a cemetery where plots are privately owned and where, for decades, no enforcement against personal mementos has been done. City of Austin, where is your heart?

Tina wrote about the issue on her blog yesterday, and I asked if she would like to guest post here in order to help get the word out. Although the city is pushing through a resolution against mementos at AMP, they have posted a survey for public input on the proposed rules, which will be up through tonight and maybe tomorrow (May 26th). I urge you to take 10 or 15 minutes and fill out the online survey and let your voice be heard. Click here for the cemetery survey.

Guest Post by Tina Huckabee

Some people find this offensive.

These are the graves of my daughter, Shoshana, and my father-in-law, Russell. I planted a little garden atop Shoshana’s grave in the year after she died (2006) because I didn’t like the tracks the lawnmowers left on her grave. I called (at least twice) and asked permission from Austin Memorial Park officials to plant the garden. I never received a reply. So, I planted. I’ve tended that grave garden since. I chose the plants for sentimental reasons and also because the plants are either native to Austin or are drought tolerant perennials. I thought I was doing a good thing.

Russell’s grave is mulched and ready for planting, but no garden exists. My sister-in-law Sharon and I were discussing what to plant on Russell’s grave when, in September, quite by accident, a volunteer with the synagogue where I’m a member, mentioned to my husband that everything on Shoshana’s grave would need to be removed. On Sunday, September 8, I emailed Austin Memorial Park and was consequently forwarded a long list of “you can’t do this” rules. At that time, we were told the rules had been in force since 2006, but since then, city officials have suggested the rules have been in effect since the 1970s. What everyone agrees with, though, is that the rules have never been enforced and that those who have buried loved ones have never been informed of those rules.

After Ken Herman of the Austin American-Statesman contacted Sharon, myself and others, he wrote several articles about the kerfuffle. A bit of public outcry ensued, and Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) delayed the scraping of the graves until November. During a City Council meeting on October 17, several council members agreed to place a moratorium on any action until “more nuanced rules” could be set in place. The Austin city council gave PARD six months to develop rules, utilizing citizen input.

On October 24, Austin PARD held a cemetery stakeholders meeting where this issue was allotted a few minutes as the last item on the agenda. Involving myself in this issue, I visualized a process where city officials and concerned citizens would work together to develop cemetery rules. The Bureaucrat in charge of Austin Memorial Park (and the meeting) disabused me of that idea at that time. The meeting was adversarial from the start. Two police officers were posted in the back of the room. Really? For a general public meeting? I guess citizens who have loved ones buried at Austin Memorial Park are a particularly scary bunch. I don’t think there was anyone under 40 at that meeting. I was disgusted at the attitude displayed by The Bureaucrat in charge. He was dismissive and rude to anyone who disagreed with him. When asked a direct question, he circumvented the answer. Several people asked the same simple question, When is our next meeting/where do we go from here?, because he never answered it. Apparently, he has been adversarial for years. This was my first experience with this issue and the players involved. Attendees filmed and recorded the meeting — I remember thinking how odd that was, but by the end of the meeting, I understood. Having the police officers at the meeting was a clear message: it was meant to intimidate the citizens. After that meeting and regardless of the City Council’s moratorium, I had no confidence that PARD was going to listen to input from citizens which didn’t jibe with what they had already decided to do.

Except for general email updates (usually only after our request for information), there has been essentially no action toward involving the public in discourse. From the beginning, the process was behind a wall of city bureaucracy. There was no action and little communication until toward the end of the six-month moratorium and in March 2014, the city hired a company to “facilitate” discussion. On April 29, the first formal movement to involve citizen input was announced. As mentioned, I envisioned a process in which I, along with other stakeholders, would partner with city officials in regular, monthly meetings and work toward developing guidelines, appropriate and fair to all. Instead, a generic online survey, made available May 1 and which closes May 27, is all the input there will be. There are two public meetings scheduled over the next few weeks: one is set for June 5 to present the final rules and one on June 18 to finalize those rules. There is no interim meeting to amend any concerns between the presentation and the finalization of the proposed cemetery rules. After nine months, the process will be pushed through over a two-week period with little time for genuine public participation. My initial impressions from that original October meeting were spot on.

There are already some who have exhumed their loved ones’ remains and others who will be doing so because they do not believe the city of Austin and PARD are respectful and understanding of cemetery owners.

There are so many issues with this process that it’s hard to know where to begin.

1) My family owns our grave sites; the city of Austin does not own them. Austin Memorial Park is a public/private entity. I don’t believe that I can do anything I want with my private property, regardless of community standards. But those graves are owned by individuals, and as long as what I place there is not profane, dangerous, and is maintained by myself (or my delegates) and I don’t expect the city employees to [do] maintenance [on] the graves, I should be able to place private memorials.

2) There are clear and important cultural differences in how a cemetery is perceived. Apparently, there were complaints from visitors who walk through Austin Memorial Park (but don’t have loved ones buried there), which may have been the original impetus of the rules implementation. Some people believe that a cemetery should be nothing but grass and gravestones and that there should be little, if any, personal mementos on graves. If you read about or visit Mexican or European graveyards, you’ll find a very different aesthetic. In Jewish tradition, we place rocks on graves when we visit — is that going to end at Austin Memorial Park because someone doesn’t think that’s okay? For those who celebrate Dio de los Muertos, will they no longer be allowed to place items important to their loved ones on their graves? The placing of flags on veterans’ graves is a violation of the proposed rules. Will it become a thing of the past to place flags on the graves of veterans?

If you don’t like gardens or toys placed on graves (private property), that doesn’t mean that others agree with you or that you have the right to force your aesthetics. There are many sweet mementos around this beautiful cemetery.

A few:

And there are many regionally appropriate perennials which would be removed.

3) Aesthetics aside, should the city of Austin, which touts itself as a leader in “green initiatives” be planting grass? And watering that grass with our impending water shortages? And mowing the grass, thus adding more fossil fuels to our atmosphere and ozone? What if everyone at Austin Memorial decided to do what I did and plant a xeric, pollinator-friendly garden? Wouldn’t that actually reduce maintenance? Isn’t that what the city is promoting for our home landscapes, and couldn’t that idea be extended to a large swath of public/private land? It seems to me that one set of goals in Austin government is deeply conflicted with another.

4) I do believe in rules — I’m quite the rule follower, actually. I agree that anything which could realistically cause harm to a worker should be removed. Items not placed directly on graves, but left in common city ground and inappropriately or dangerously placed, should be removed. But one of the examples of banned items are benches. The city of Austin does not place benches in the cemetery, a place where people go to rest and contemplate. Therefore many cemetery stakeholders have supplied their own benches. I agree that if a bench (or anything else) is dilapidated, dangerous, or in the way of workers enough to cause problems, the city has the right to remove it. But safe, well-maintained benches are an asset to the cemetery, and the rules should allow benches. I am sympathetic with the employees of Austin Memorial Park. It’s their job to remove unsafe and long-forgotten items. Working around individual graves isn’t the easiest task, either. However, Austin Memorial Park isn’t a general use park; it is a place where the people of Austin visit and honor those important in their lives who have died.

It is sacred ground.

5) In Ken Herman’s article in the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday, May 24, the PARD official mentions how much money has been spent to bring the process to this point. Your tax dollars paid for the “facilitator,” and this waste of money could and should have been avoided. A once-per-month meeting, consisting of a panel of city employees and concerned citizens, would have been more fitting for this sensitive issue. That is what I thought would happen. Silly me.

Perhaps a better use of those tax dollars could have been to pay PARD employees to pick up trash along the green-space of our filthy roadways. (Has anyone else noticed how dirty Austin roadways are?) Or, maybe they should be employed to remove the bastard cabbage (and other invasive plants) which are infesting our green spaces and replace those invasives with our beautiful, native wildflowers. Lady Bird must be turning over in her grave. (Glad she’s not buried at Austin Memorial Park.)

Or, maybe they could be paid to fix the wonky fence around Austin Memorial Park.

There’s a thought!

6) Why has this taken so long? PARD wasted the six-month moratorium and now wants to cram proposed rules through within the next three weeks.

I know this is a rant. I’ve been stewing about this all week, and I’ve believed from the beginning that PARD was not serious about working with citizens to develop “nuanced rules.” I hoped to partner with city officials in regular, monthly meetings to develop guidelines which were appropriate, fair and reasonable. But from the beginning, city bureaucrats shrouded the process and blockaded true public input.

If you want Austin to maintain some semblance of a creative, richly diverse community which promotes individuality, please lend your voice by answering the online survey at:

Many, many thanks to Ken Herman for his perseverance with this issue.

Sleep well, Shoshana and Russell.

Originally posted by Tina Huckabee at My Gardener Says…, under the title “Only the Dead Listen,” on May 24, 2014.

Update June 11, 2014: The City of Austin has relaxed the proposed rules against mementos and graveside gardens, but the compromise isn’t perfect. Meanwhile, a new city survey about the proposals is up but only until Friday. If this issue matters to you, please take a few minutes to complete this new survey. For more information about the revised rules, read Tina Huckabee’s analysis at My Gardener Says….

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Do More with Less Lawn: A guest post at Gardener’s Supply Company

Old Man Winter’s hoary fist may be clenched around much of the U.S., but (in a raspy Eddard Stark voice) spring is coming. Yes, it really is — and soon for those of us in the South, Southwest, and Southern CA. With lawn-mower and sprinkler season looming, will this be the year you get rid of all or part of your thirsty, drought-stricken lawn?

Last year I wrote a guest post, “Do More with Less Lawn,” on Gardener’s Supply Company’s website. If you missed it then, I hope you’ll check it out now. You’ll find advice about reducing your lawn and 5 design approaches for using less lawn in your own yard.

Winter is the perfect time to dream about spring gardening plans, after all. Does lawn reduction play any part in yours?

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.