Seeing the garden anew through a photograph


I included this photo in my upcoming book, Lawn Gone!, to illustrate how a simple water feature like a stock-tank pond can be used in place of lawn. This is the main focal point of my back garden, formerly a nondescript swath of St. Augustine.

My 16-year-old son was flipping through an advance copy of the book last week and stopped to gaze at the page with this image. “Hmm,” he mused, half to himself. “I see what you did there. You repeated these circles and lines” — he pointed at the tank, the sunburst paving, the culvert-pipe planters, and the roof of the shed — “and the silver metal on the tank and roof and planter things. That’s cool!”


The smile on my face was pretty big as I replied, “Hey, you noticed!” I guess sometimes a photo gives you the perspective you need to really see something. Especially if you’re a teenage boy who’s never paid attention to his mother’s garden before.

So, hey, if you’re not already taking pictures of your garden on a regular basis, try it. It’s amazing what you’ll notice when you frame a view of your garden and study it for a few moments. You’ll see what’s not working, but you’ll also see what is. Just ask my kid.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

17 Responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Wonderful that your son took notice. Often photos show me what my mind won’t let me see. :) Right now my garden is still covered with snow. A good way to start the new year since I can’t get out there and do something anyway. Happy New Year.

    Snow gives you the perfect excuse to relax and take a break from the garden. Here we see winter as a time to get projects done before the heat returns. Enjoy your New Year in the garden, Lisa. —Pam

  2. Congratulations on your book. You are such an inspiration and I always enjoy visiting! Happy New Year to you!

    And to you, Lee! Thanks for dropping by and for the kind words. —Pam

  3. Charlie says:

    I love the garden, the design details appeal to me. Yes, it is also wonderful to be able to share with our children on that level.

    It is, although they can be very blunt about what they don’t like about the garden as well. :-) —Pam

  4. Alison says:

    Happy New Year Pam! I focus so closely on whatever chore I have to accomplish, I often overlook the big picture. I need to stop and take a few days this year to just step back, be in the garden and see it for what it is.

    Me too, Alison. It can be hard to stop and look—and enjoy. I hope you find lots of opportunities to do both this year. —Pam

  5. Jenn says:

    Budding designer of some sort you have there!

    What’s really interesting to me about that picture is how much you have going on – texture! texture! texture! And yet it is a area that exudes calm. I think it is the effect of the water, and that there is so much open space. It can be highly textured without being too busy for the eye.

    You’re right, Jenn. There IS a lot of texture in this scene. Thanks for pointing it out. —Pam

  6. Tamara says:

    My kids say I have more photos of my garden than of them. Hahaha. I am constantly trying to “see” change. What does well and what can be improved.

    Well, your kids are likely right, but isn’t it easier to get the garden to sit still for a picture than the kids? ;-) —Pam

  7. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Congratulations on your book and on raising a son who, as a teenager, already notices such wonderful things! I take pictures of my garden regularly and they tell me that I should take up a different hobby like macrame or candle making.

    You made me laugh out loud, Peter. I love your sense of humor, but I doubt your garden pics are telling you any such thing. —Pam

  8. Shirley says:

    He has a good eye for design and can use that talent whatever he chooses to do.

    I do find that photos help because I often overlook the things I see every day.

    Just six weeks until your book comes out, very exciting!

    I’m counting down, Shirley! Thanks for sharing my excitement. :-) —Pam

  9. ricki says:

    One of the under-rated joys of raising kids is the unexpected gems that come out of their mouths…and suddenly you see that they were paying attention all along.

    You are right, Ricki. Kids are definitely full of surprises and surprising observations. I wish I’d thought to write many of them down over the years. —Pam

  10. It is rather interesting that I tend to look at my garden differently in a photograph than in person. When I wanted to add a new maple to my backyard, I took a photo so I could look at it more objectively to decide the best place to add the tree. I also did the same thing when I was looking at my garden one winter to determine where I needed to move some plants for a better winter look. Pretty cool that your teenage son has taken an interest!! Future landscape architect in the making?

    That’s a good tip, Toni—to take a picture of your garden in order to figure out where to place a new focal-point plant. Did you draw the tree in different spots on the photo to see how it might look? —Pam

  11. So true, Pam! I’m almost embarrassed that I will see details in a photo I missed in reality. (I think of myself as a “keen observer”!) But it’s true that a camera illuminates things for whatever reason the human eye might not notice. I now appreciate that fact rather than take myself to task for it. Good for your son for noticing.

    Perhaps it’s because the camera frames a particular scene for us, helping us to focus on that one area rather than taking in the wider scene. Whatever the reason, it definitely works. —Pam

  12. HB says:

    If a teenaged boy notices it, you know it’s got to be good.

    Ha! Yeah, if it’s not a video game or a pretty girl, I didn’t know anything could get his attention. —Pam

  13. Holleygarden says:

    It’s amazing how things stand out in a photo, even when we see it everyday! Happy New Year!

    Happy New Year to you too, Holleygarden! Here’s to noticing. —Pam

  14. Bobbie says:

    It seems he has your great eye!! Very proud of both of you!

    Aw, thanks, Bobbie. —Pam

  15. Beautiful Pam – your images always inspire me. I have you on my inspiring page on my website. Happy 2013!

    I’m flattered, Bren. Thanks and happy 2013 to you too! —Pam

  16. Amy says:

    Congratulations on your book! I enjoy your site and love the repetition of form here between the yuccas at the bottom of the photo and the grasses in the tank (and the linear brickwork). Such good ideas!

    Thanks, Amy! —Pam

  17. Caleb says:

    I was looking at your pictures from Big Bend. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a place to leave a comment. Anyways, I’m the guy in the red shorts climbing the sand dune in Boquillas Canyon with my dad. It’s crazy that I just found that, but not long after that trip I found your blog and started following you. Such a coincidence!

    Wow, that’s one of the stranger coincidences that’s happened while I’ve been writing this blog, Caleb! Thanks for sharing that with me. Too funny! (Sorry you couldn’t comment on that post; I turn off comments after 6 months in order to reduce the amount of spam I get.) Thanks for reading Digging too! —Pam