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Wild Flowers in Wild Meadows

– Posted in: Garden Photography
Castilleja miniata - 
Great Red Paintbrush,  scarlet paintbrush, flowering wildflower, California native plant meadow

Castilleja miniata - Great Red Paintbrush, scarlet paintbrush, flowering wildflower, California native plant meadow

For most of the eight years I have been contributing to Gardening Gone Wild I have wanted to simply show wildflower photos. I have been enthralled by California wildflowers for more years than I have been a garden photographer. Indeed, my portfolio of wildflowers got me my first job as a garden photographer in 1984. Thank you Barbara Ferguson Stremple for your encouragement.

Sidalcea hartwegii - Valley Checkerbloom - annual wildflower California native plant in Sierra meadow

Sidalcea hartwegii – Valley Checkerbloom

At the time, just beginning to understand the fine art of gardening, I made little connection between native plants and gardening. That first job was a book about Rhododendrons and Camellias. What did I know ? Native plants were, well – wild.

California native plant meadow

Solidago elongata – Canada Goldenrod

My wildflower excursions had nothing to do with gardening, organic gardening was a fringe term used by the Rodale Institute, and sustainability was irrelevant in a time when very few considered limits to our natural resources.

Delphinium, larkspur in Sierra meadow

Delphinium, larkspur in Sierra meadow

How we have come around. Gardening with nature rather than conquering it is now honored. Yes, there are still manicured lawns, topiaries, formal gardens, and hybrid tea roses (thank goodness), but naturalism and native plant gardening are becoming more and more popular. With good reason – it’s a beautiful look, an aesthetic that says I care about my own climate.

Veratrum californicum, California corn lily, California false hellebore, native perrenial in Sierra meadow

Veratrum californicum, California corn lily

When Fran Sorin and Nancy Ondra started Gardening Gone Wild I don’t think it was for wildflowers, “wild” being a term for exuberance not plants, but I always wanted to push GGW in the direction of celebrating wild gardens. I have used Gardening Gone Wild to promote garden photography, to help gardeners to take better pictures, even write my PhotoBotanic workshop e-books, but during this entire time I have been aching to show native plant gardens and wildflowers.

Navarretia leptalea - Bridges' pincushion plant (aka Gilia leptalea) flowering annual in Sierra meadow, California native plant

Navarretia leptalea – Bridges’ pincushion plant (aka Gilia leptalea)

These wildflowers were all taken during a recent trip to the Sierra Mountains in search of meadows and native grasses. I may be a garden photographer, but I am a gardener first and photographer second. As a gardener I want plants I can sustain, and I want beauty.

Lepidium nitidum -Shining pepper grass, Martin's Meadow Eldorado National Forest

Lepidium nitidum – Shining pepper grass

In photographing The American Meadow Garden I realized the importance of modeling our garden meadows after nature and the native plants of whatever region we garden. I went around the country to photograph Rocky Mountain meadows, glades in the midwest, “balds” atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, abandoned farm fields in New England, prairies and savannah grasslands, but not to the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.

A High Sierra source of South Fork American River - Carex springs, California native plant meadow.

Meadow as High Sierra source of the American River.

I assumed I knew what I would find there, that I had enough photos in my library, and that I did not need to go take pictures. About those assumptions? Yes, yes, and no.

Artemisia arbuscula little sagebrush with Collomia grandiflora - in Martin Meadow Eldorado National Forest

Artemisia arbuscula – little sagebrush

The recent trip did validate what I expected to find: yes, Sierra meadows are full of lovely grasses and flowers in late summer. And yes that book needed nothing I had not already seen, but oh lordy how I needed to go to the mountains to take pictures. It is a need deep within me, to be with the plants, to get down on my belly and view them straight on.

Collomia grandiflora - Large-Flowered Collomia, flowering annual wildflower in Martin's Meadow Eldorado National Forest

Collomia grandiflora – Large-Flowered Collomia.

The romance of a meadow has much to do with the fecundity of the earth, moisture implicit by lushness. We are expected to roll around in the grass surrounded by nature’s wild gifts, the flowers.

Lupinus formosa - Blue flowering summer lupine in California native plant Sierra meadow

Lupinus formosa – blue flowering summer lupine

This is what I did for three days, rejuvenated by nature’s gardens, guiltlessly celebrating these plants that needed no supplemental water, no weeding, no fertilizer, no nursery.

Eriogonum umbellatum - Sulpher Buckwheat ymellow flowering wildflower above Martin Meadow Eldorado National Forest

Eriogonum umbellatum – Sulpher Buckwheat.

We may be in a long term drought in California but that does not mean the native landscape is gone. In the mountains, at the headwaters of the rivers, high up there still are creeks, and the springs that feed them begin in meadows. I knew this must be true, I am so, so very happy to report to you: I found them.

Ipomopsis aggregata - scarlet gilia in open forest above Martin's Meadow Eldorado National Forest

Ipomopsis aggregata – scarlet gilia.

Veratrum californicum, California corn lily yellow late summer foliage native perrenial in Sierra meadow

Veratrum californicum, California corn lily yellow late summer foliage

Oh, Did I say I found grasses too ?  Photos for another post begin with this:

California native grass in Sierra meadow

Stipa occidentalis v. californica, California Needle Grass,

Water Saving Yard Photo Challenge

– Posted in: Contests and Giveaways, Garden Photography
Lawn substitute, no mow fescue meadow with path leading to seating area past bird house, Minnesota garden

EPA_ContestI am reposting the announcement of the Water Saving Yard photo contest sponsored by the EPA.  Let’s get some entries and show that Gardening Gone Wild knows what a water saving yard look like !  On Tuesday I said:

I hope all of Gardening Gone Wild’s Picture This photo contestants will join me in this EPA challenge.  But each of us can only submit one photo, so I hope you will help me choose my entry from the ones below.

Since 2006 the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has had a WaterSense program to help raise water efficiency standards in plumbing fixtures, irrigation equipment, and even new homes.  Now they are having the The Water Saving Yard photo contest.  Let’s contribute and spread the word.

wslogo_smallAccording to their website: “WaterSense has helped consumers save a cumulative 1.1 trillion gallons of water and more than $21.7 billion in water and energy bills.”

Being in the midst of a 4 year drought here in California, my ears perk up at this work, but all of us across the country should be concerned about water use.  Indeed, 40 out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages in their states over the next 10 years.

In California, this fine front yard in Santa Barbara, designed by Carol Bornstein, was recently used by the National Wildlife Federtation to illustrate native plant habitats can have curb appeal – and they are water savers.

Picket fence and brick path entering front yard California native plant drought tolerant garden, Santa Barbara, spring design by carol bornstein

California native plant water saving garden by carol bornstein

Many gardeners in California have long understood the water challenges of our summer-dry climate, with 7 to 8 months of rainless summers being the norm.  But this EPA contest is for the whole country.  So come on you Garden Gone Wild photographers, let’s contribute to this contest!  Let’s show the EPA we know what a water saving yard really looks like.

For your efforts, I will a make a gallery of all our own entries and will award our own GGW prize for those who post the photo to our Facebook Picture This contest page.

Stepping stone path in meadow garden with Allium 'Globemaster' in front yard lawn substitute, St Louis Missouri; Matt Moynihan design

Water saving yard – St. Louis front yard meadow; Matt Moynihan design

I have some of my own favorites here.  Let me know which one I should submit.  And please submit your own !

Front yard meadow garden with lavender and ornamental grass, Stipa gigantea, and Anemanthele lessoniana ; design Maile Arnold

Water saving yard – Front yard meadow garden with lavender and ornamental grass ; design Maile Arnold

This is much more than a contest.  It is a way to help other gardeners with inspiring photos.  The EPA only awards two prizes –  publishing the winners for the world to see.  But I will add a prize for our readers – a DVD searchable database of Plants for Summer-Dry Gardens.

holt-summer-dry disc product label_600


This is the database of  photos used in the Plants and Landscape for Summer-Dry Climates book and are all landscape examples of plants used in summer-dry (mostly California) gardens.  What is particularly useful about these photos, and the EPA contest photos, is they show real gardens.  We all want other gardeners to have success, and photos are the best way to prove water saving yards can be beautiful.

So please do contribute your own best example of a water saving yard.  I will. But I can’t decide which one.

Should I stay true to my California focus and show a rustic back yard with no lawn and native plants?

Repeated plantings of yellow flower yellow Sulfer Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) in mixed beds with native rock field stone in Kyte drought tolerant California native plant backyard garden design

California native plant backyard garden design; Al Kyte

Or this front yard lawn meadow in Santa Barbara?

Nassella pulchra, purple Needle grass, nativ egarsse meadow lawn substitute in summer-dry garden Santa Barbara California

Purple Needle grass, native grass  meadow lawn substitute in summer-dry garden, Santa Barbara California

The rules of the contest are simple and begin with: “Participation is easy and open to anyone committed to saving water for future generations!” Gardens do have to be in the U.S. or Canada, but otherwise you can enter on the special Facebook page: FB (, or send your #WaterSavingYard photos by using the hashtag on Twitter or Instagram.  You can even email your photo to them:  Deadline is August 27th.

Then vote for your favorite by September 10th by Liking your other favorite (don’t vote for yourself) on the Contest Facebook page. One fan favorite and one selected by EPA will be featured in their future outreach materials and highlighted on their website. I hope it is one of our Gardening Gone Wild photographers.

For the Gardening Gone Wild prize, go to the Picture This Facebook page and attach the same picture in a comment to any of the announcements and reminders about the contest.  As in our other contests, you can also add the link as a comment to this post, and I will make a gallery of all photos once all entries have been posted.

Here is another of my photos I am considering – the Willenberg garden in Minnesota uses no-mow meadow mix for lawns.

Lawn substitute, no mow fescue meadow with path leading to seating area past bird house, Minnesota garden

Lawn substitute, no mow fescue meadow, Minnesota garden

(I recently profiled the Willenberg garden at PhotoBotanic, free to members.)

Those of you who have your own blogs, please consider making your own post about the EPA contest.  Link them back here with your own contest photo and I will add them to the Picture This contest page for you. This is useful outreach to promote water saving landscapes across the country.

I know from my own travels that my favorite gardens are those that save water by being adapted to the local conditions, often using native plants.  Here is Melinda Taylor’s SITES® certified garden in Pennsylvania.

Stylophorum diphyllum - Celandine poppy, Yellow wood  poppies in backyard water conserving garden with native plants, Melinda Taylor garden, Pennsylvania

Stylophorum diphyllum – Celandine poppy  in backyard water saving yard, Melinda Taylor garden.

And one of Larry Weiner’s meadows in Connecticut.

Front yard flowering meadow garden, Connecticut meadow garden  with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

Front yard flowering meadow garden,  Larry Weiner Design

In New Mexico, this Judith Philips design uses native grasses for water saving alternative lawns.

Little Bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) accent grass and wildflowers in Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides) sustainable lawn meadow garden, design by Judith Phillips

Little Bluestem grass flowering in a Buffalo grass sustainable lawn meadow garden, design by Judith Phillips

And David Salman, who started High Country Gardens, has his own magnificent Water Saving Yard.

David Salman xeric New Mexico rock garden with silver foliage Artemisia frigida, Penstemon pinnifolius, Melampodium (Blackfoot Daisy) and Claret-cup cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus

David Salman xeric New Mexico rock garden

Which of my photos should I submit ?

Now which of yours should you submit ?  Don’t think of this simply as a competition, but a way to add your voice, your best water saving garden, to the collection of photos that will help others learn.

Enter on the Contest Facebook page.


Meadow by the Lake

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Photography
Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

I absolutely love the sense of discovery that comes with exploring a garden with a camera.  I have learned to take it slow, to relish and be watchful, as every step changes how I see.  Every step could be a new picture.  Every step changes how the elements compose themselves.

So a recent visit to see gardens designed by Larry Weiner was an exhilarating experience.  I have admired his work making meadows for years, and still regret I did not know him when I did The American Meadow Garden.  But now I was totally primed to see when I met him in Lakeville, Connecticut to visit a couple of mature, thriving meadows.

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

I have never photographed gardens in Connecticut.  My eyes went into high alert. Whenever I travel, and get out of the “routine” of working in California, everything seems fresh and I get particularly energized.

Gardens in the East are SO different.  It rains in the summer.  Wow.  Everything is green.  The native perennial wildflowers burst into bloom with no effort.

There are extensive meadows around this home on the lake and I waited until the last hour of daylight to explore the lakeside meadow, as I wanted to include the very reflective lake in the photos and needed the light to be very soft.

Follow along on my shoot, as the photos unfold.

I see chairs.

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

Chairs are a great focal points in any garden, but in a meadow garden, which often has no hardscape or formal design, any sort of structure offers opportunities.  I explored the little garden room, created by simply mowing.

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

But the stronger photo is looking over the flowers, past the chairs to the lake.

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

And turning my back on the lake the same flowers offer an entirely different view from almost the exact same spot.  So many possibilities.  Everything is so different from summer-dry California.

Monarda didyma (crimson beebalm, scarlet beebalm, scarlet monarda, Oswego tea, or bergamot), red flowering perennial wildflower in Connecticut meadow garden with native plants; Larry Weiner Design

Now to explore the strip of meadow that buffers the lake.  Using a tree to frame the composition, I am able to  get a point of view that creates a sense of a true meadow, those that often exist as clearings in the woods.

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

But this is lakeside meadow, and I am beginning to see an extraordinary opportunity to create a photo that uses the lake as a background.

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

One idea is to use the dock as a background, evoking a leisurely summer scene.

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

But what I really wanted to work with was using the lake as a pure background to the strip of flowers and grasses which stood up in front of it.

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

What fun.  I see some calendar images for some lucky publisher.

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

The Benefits of Rain Gardening

– Posted in: Garden Design
rain gardening

rain gardening

Why has rain gardening become so popular over the past decade? Because it offers a beautiful, low-maintenance garden, provides food and shelter for wildlife, and helps the environment.

Viewed in general, a rain garden seems much like any beautifully landscaped garden consisting of bushes, perennials and trees. But the approach involves deliberate planning beyond that appearance. To create a rain garden, you begin by digging up the designated area to a depth of about 2 feet. Then, mix organic matter into the dug-up soil to loosen and fertilize it. Add the enriched soil back into the dug-up area, tapering to a depression of about 6 inches deep at the middle of the garden. Water runoff in heavy rains fills this depression, and the water gradually soaks into the ground.

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