When the Tables Are Turned

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By C.L. Fornari

A garden communicator’s garden is photographed for a national magazine.

Some years ago I’d made an appointment to photograph a Cape Cod garden but when the day arrived it was dead sunny. I called the owner, explaining that the light was too harsh and could we please put the appointment off for a day or two. “No!” was her reply, “You’ll come today or not at all.” It turns out that she’d been up at 4 AM, deadheading, raking, and primping. She was nervous about the garden looking its best, and couldn’t face the possibility of extending that tension another day.

Now I know how she felt. Normally I’m on the garden communicator side of this situation. I show up with my notepad and cameras, take photos of the garden, and jot down plant names and the gardener’s comments. But last week the tables were turned. On September 6th Kindra Clineff came to my garden take photos for an article that I’ll be writing for Country Garden Magazine.

The focus of the article will be annuals, so needless to say, I put a great deal of thought into which plants I grew and purchased this past spring. Some of those efforts paid off and the visions manifest…others, not so much. I planted Golden Delicious Pineapple Sage next to African Blue Basil as usual in the fragrance garden, but the basil was miss-labeled and the plants don’t have the usual purple colored foliage. Tragic? No. Opportunity lost? Certainly.

I started purple Gomphrena from seed to plant in Annual Alley. I typically mix six or more annuals in this area, planted “field style.” But the Gomphrena only grew was half the size it was touted to be, so the Blue Horizon Ageratum, Nicotiana, and annual Salvias quickly grew over it. The Forecast Zinnias, however, were half again taller than the seed package predicted. So the Gomphrena is hidden and to my eye the zinnias look leggy and awkward.

Opposite that river of color I plant Dahlias and Nasturtiums, and normally in early September both are huge and in full, glorious boom. This year, the Dahlias were barely budded on photography day. Whether it was the cool June weather, the very hot August temperatures, or something else, the Nasturtiums that normally hide the mulch path are feeble. Even the black aphids that like them so much are only making a half-hearted run at the leaves.

In the cutting garden, the Zinnias and Dahlias are also late to mature but the Verbena bonariensis has been this summer’s over-achiever. Two weeks before the photographer arrived all I could see near the garden shed was a sea of purple Verbena. In order to give these beds some definition, I pulled half of it out, filling an entire garden cart with stems, flowers, and dozens of very annoyed bees.

Once the gardens were as good as they were going to get, I worried about photography day. I’m normally a tad weather obsessed (my husband would say completely weather obsessed) and this photo shoot had me checking my forecast app every thirty minutes. Will there enough clouds to shield the sun but not so many that everything is gloomy? Will it pour? Or worse, will we get one of our classic nor’easters that will flatten all the flowers?

Fortunately, none of those fears came to pass. The day arrived and although the weather was hot and humid, there were enough clouds to make shooting without shadows possible. Annual Alley was a crayon box of primary colors, even without the dahlias and nasturtiums. In the entry garden where I mix annuals with perennials, the Senorita Blanca Cleome was a mass of white flowers next to the red foliage of Hibiscus acetosella. Yellow Profusion Zinnias lived up to their name and the Variegated Spreading Salmon Sunpatiens looked like plump, flower-covered pillows all along the front walk. The shed was newly painted and the Verbena bonariensis in the cutting garden was filled with bees and monarchs. None of it was perfect, of course, but it was complete enough.

I’m thankful it’s over, but I’m also grateful to have had the experience. It was instructive to watch someone photograph my gardens from perspectives that I usually don’t take. It was nice to have so many areas deadheaded and weed-free all at once…although I don’t expect that to ever happen again. And from now on, when I make an appointment to see and photograph a garden, I’ll know exactly what the property owner is experiencing.

Meet the Author

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C.L. is a writer, speaker, podcaster, and radio host who joyously grows all manner of plants on Cape Cod.

Author: GWA

GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators, formerly known as the Garden Writers Association, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GWA members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GWA members.

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