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Tips for taking better photos of your garden and wildlife

So the garden you planted or enjoy each day is flowering. Birds and animals are busy in your yard or neighborhood. And you’d love to capture all this natural beauty in photos.

It’s so easy these days to pull out a phone and take pictures of anything anytime, but a little time and thought can produce better garden and wildlife photos.

“There’s a big difference between that for-the-record shot that preserves a memory and getting a really nice image,” says Brenda Tharp, author of the new book “Expressive Nature Photography.”

Pause before pressing the shutter, she says, and consider: Is the light right? Can you give your photo a unique point of view by shooting from different angles and levels, moving to the side, crouching or standing on something?

Try to identify what it is about the subject matter that “stopped you in your tracks,” she says. “It’s really about narrowing down your purpose in making that picture.”

Some tips from Tharp and other nature photographers

The rule of thirds

Resist the temptation to center the subject, suggests Rob Simpson, an instructor in nature photography at Lord Fairfax College in Middletown, Va. Think of your photo as a tic-tac-toe board, and place the subject in one of the off-center thirds of the space. “It’s going to make the photo more pleasing to the eye,” he said. “It gives it balance.”

Texture is terrific

One of the most exciting things about photographing flowers and leaves is capturing something that passers-by won’t see — their textures up-close, says Patty Hankins, a floral photographer in Bethesda, Md., who sells her work and offers photography tips at A camera’s “macro” setting lets you take an extreme close-up and keep it in focus. “It shows you all these incredible things that people who aren’t stopping to look won’t see,” she says. “It’s about filling the frame with small details.”

Staying still

When using the macro setting, keep the camera as still as possible, Hankins says. “If you’re taking a picture of the Grand Canyon and your hand shakes a little, people aren’t likely to notice,” she said. “But if you’re taking a photo of the center of a sunflower, they’re much more likely to see it.” A tripod can help. Look for one that is lightweight and can get low to ground, she says. If you don’t own a tripod, find somewhere solid to place the camera or set it on a bean bag or bag of rice on the ground, and use the timer to take the photo.

Practice perimeter patrol

Before you shoot, scan the edges of your picture for buildings, outdoor furniture or other things that could distract from your subject.

Light matters

Often, outdoor photos come out better on cloudy days or when the sun is not directly overhead, Simpson says. The soft light that comes through on an overcast day will not cast harsh shadows, and may result in a more even exposure and better details. For landscape photos, however, sunlight can add drama. Consider shooting in the warm light found in early morning or late afternoon when the angle of the sun is low.

Think 3-D

Having items in a picture’s foreground and background helps put the viewer in the photo and creates a sense of depth, Tharp says. When taking a photo of a meadow or landscape, include objects closer to the camera as well. Another way to create dimension is to angle the camera downward a bit, emphasizing the foreground and creating that near-far relationship.

Animal action

The best animal photos reveal the subject’s behavior or personality, Tharp says. Take time to observe the animals and wait for the best shot. But be ready to capture the action when it happens. Simpson recommends a fast shutter speed to avoid missing the shot.

Shutter selections and apertures

Becoming a better photographer will mean understanding shutter speeds and apertures, Tharp said. The right shutter speed can mean the difference between freezing the motion of a moving animal or ending up with a blur. When photographing something in motion — an animal, bird or waterfall — give precedence to shutter speed over aperture, which is the amount of light being allowed into the lens. If controlling the sharpness of the background is the goal, prioritize aperture, because it defines the depth of what will be in focus, she said.

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Estate Gardens – Cost No Object

In last week’s column I wrote about my short career as an estate gardener at Jasna Polana, the 200-acre Johnson estate near Princeton, New Jersey. I worked there less than a year, but I had experiences I will remember for a lifetime.

Jasna Polana was modeled after a traditional European estate; some called it “the American Versailles” after the world-renowned French palace. Construction went on for years. The landscaping alone cost over three million dollars, and included 200-year-old shrubs and trees transplanted from several southern plantations acquired just for the old plants.

In one area, old Magnolia trees were planted to shade a stately stone walkway. The trees did poorly, suffering from poor drainage. To save them, a construction team removed the newly-installed paving stones from around the trees, dug deep trenches to install drain tiles and gravel, and put the garden back together at tremendous cost. Construction equipment blocked off this area for weeks.

A neighbor (heiress to the Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical fortune) complained of being able to see the new mansion from her window. Johnson was sympathetic, so in response a wooded hillside was created using mature trees, some fifty feet tall, to create an instant screen. A giant spruce was trucked in on a flatbed tractor-trailer, a tree so heavy that a special construction crane had to be brought in to lift it into place.

Voila! Instant woods! Glass-walled greenhouses on the estate produced orchids and other houseplants, which were then air-shipped to wherever the Johnsons were staying. The greenhouses provided culinary herbs, long-stemmed roses and other cut flowers, and a rotation of foliage plants from delicate ferns to huge banana trees for decorating the big house. They also grew vegetable seedlings for the estate’s three-acre organic vegetable garden.

There was a sheep farm on the estate, since the Johnson’s were fond of sheep (and no doubt for the tax benefit of having the estate assessed as a working farm). The gardening staff was frequently called into action to round up the 100 or so sheep, and to clean soiled bedding out of the sheep barn. It was my first experience with sheep. They were greasy and smelly, and could knock you over in their frenzy if you weren’t careful.

The formal gardens where I worked were adjacent to a downstairs “game room” the size of a high-school gym, with a dozen glass double doors opening onto a bentgrass bocce ball court. The ball court was as smooth and flat as a putting green, but larger than a baseball diamond, surrounded by terraced perennial gardens.

Also on the ground floor was a special climate-controlled room filled with sliding racks, a “filing system” for storing the many original paintings in the big house. The Johnson’s lived and entertained there only one or two months each year, and the paintings were taken down and safely tucked away unless they were “in town”.

The centerpiece of the main house was an indoor salt-water swimming pool in the classic Greek style, under a glass dome. Legend had it that the pool deck was originally paved with Vermont bluestone, cut and fitted so precisely that a dollar bill couldn’t slide into the seams between the individual stones.

The story goes that Mrs. Johnson disliked the bluestone paving once it was finished, and insisted on having it removed and replaced with marble paving instead. All this opulence made a strong impression on me, having been raised in rural Deptford Township New Jersey under very modest circumstances.

Estate homes like Jasna Polana are rarely built today, and most homes of this scale eventually become public attractions like Longwood Gardens, Winterthur Museum and the Biltmore Estate. After Mr. Johnson’s death, Jasna Polana was sold to PGA Tour Inc. and converted for use as a Tournament Players Club world-class golf course. A Google image search will reward you with hundreds of photos, mostly of the golf course and special events there. It’s worth a look.

Steve Boehme

Contributing columnist

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in outdoor living spaces. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in outdoor living spaces. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

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Fight fires with appropriate landscaping

Popular Daphne x burkwoodii works well in a fire-resistant landscape. 

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Chris Chanlett: Reflections on the lawn – Charleston Gazette

Two articles in the Sunday Gazette-Mail of July 9 concerned landscaping practices. “Something to think about as you mow” by Erik Moshe and “New again: Old photo shows biodiversity, permaculture” by Gazette columnist Alex Cole both commented on our dramatically changing tastes in land use.

I worked as a landscape designer and gardener in southern West Virginia for several decades and with scores of people to figure out what to plant where. Those two articles inspire the following reflections.

Erik Moshe’s piece subtitled “Why on Earth do we plant lawns?” critiques the lawn culture that dominates suburbia and exurbia. In many regions the lawn mower is taking over more land today than any other practice. The article identifies the aspiration for the “perfect lawn” as the problem, free of anything but grass and never brown. This urge is why Michael Pollen called the American lawn “vegetation under totalitarian control.”

Alex Cole’s “Good to grow” column deftly uses an old homestead photo to demonstrate how Mountaineers were practicing the relatively new concept of permaculture long before the term was coined. Permaculture wants people to put their land back into food production — “no pesticides, no fossil fuels, no factory farms, growing all you need locally and enhancing the land’s fertility.” That’s an admirable ideal that I hope will inspire more than a few people.

Let’s consider lawn psychology, why so many people want to devote so much of their land and time to mowing. Lawns are negative space. They give the eye room to roam and to see what’s coming over the hill. We feel more secure in open space. We have options in how to use it, such as to create gardens and plant trees, to move and store vehicles, to play and have parties, to hunt, to site new outbuildings and piles of stuff like firewood and compost.

Lawn mowing itself takes a ragged surface and makes it smooth. It makes the grass even greener when we cut it back. Modern equipment makes it possible to do it with a beer tucked alongside. Before mechanized cutting, we grazed animals, grew food with them, and returned fertility to the soil in the process. We cut crops and excess greenery with scythes. In modern terms we got a lot of exercise and health benefits from caring for the land. Now we can ride high and long and wide and have a verdant landscape without the commitment of livestock and manual labor, getting larger bodies all the while.

Like Erik Moshe and Alex Cole, I think we have given up a lot by overriding all the more productive ways we can use land. Gardens enrich a landscape and a household. But I would reaffirm the value of the lawns with the following conditions.

Lawns can be maintained perfectly well in this region without herbicides suppressing the broad-leaved plants. With proper liming and timely cutting, grass will thrive and accommodate other plants, especially white clover. When it flowers, give the bees a few days to work it, then drop the blade back over it, and in season it will be blooming again in no time.

Lawns go brown when it is dry. This natural and healthy dormancy should never be fought by sprinkling a well established turf, a total waste of clean and valuable water. Irrigation is only justified during establishment.

Lawns allow space for traffic when it is not wet. This is one of their greatest attributes. On all lots of a half acre or even less, they allow the planting of fruit and shade trees, bushes and flowers to provide beauty, food, shade, and the capture of carbon to offset the other effects our lifestyles impose on the climate. A lawn without other levels of plants becomes more like a green desert.

At their very best, lawns have a shape of their own that complements the movements in the landscape. They weave a yard together by offering the negative space to highlight multiple plantings, a focal point and distant views. At their very best, they give landowners a great reason to walk around their landscape — behind rather than on a machine, taking in nature’s offerings even as we alter them.

Chris Chanlett is a retired landscape gardener in Summers County who operated Groundworks Nursery with his wife Torula for over 30 years.

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Home gardeners can learn plenty at State Fair

California State Fair

Where: Cal Expo, 1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento

When: Daily through July 30. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays- Thursdays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Sundays.

Admission: $12; seniors (age 62 and up), $10; youth (ages 5-12), $8; children age 4 and under admitted free. Parking, $15.


Celebrate 50 years at Cal Expo with all your State Fair favorites. Nearly 100 master gardeners will staff the information booth at The Farm, home to the fair’s demonstration gardens and 90 edible crops. Learn about water-wise landscaping and beneficial insects, too.

10th annual Capay Tomato Festival

Where: Capay Organic, 23808 State Highway 16, Capay

When: 3-11 p.m. Saturday, July 22

Admission: $20 in advance; $25 at gate

Details: 800-796-6009,

Taste heirloom tomatoes, tour the farm and enjoy farm-fresh food plus live music and family fun. (Food and drink sold separately.) Proceeds benefit the Kathleen Barsotti Non-Profit for Sustainable Agriculture.

Scott Brothers House Party

Where: Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento

When: 7:30 p.m. July 22

Admission: $48.75 and up; special VIP packages available

Details: 800-225-2277, 916-808-5181,

HGTV’s famous Property Brothers come to Sacramento for a live stage show, filled with their fun videos, snappy banter and home renovation know-how.

Pacific Flyway Wildfowl Art Classic

Where: DoubleTree Hotel, 2001 Point West Way, Sacramento

When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, July 22 and 23

Admission: $5; children under age 12 admitted free.


Sacramento is bird central and inspiration for local artists, craftspeople and collectors. Besides duck carvings and decoys, see a wide range of bird-inspired arts and crafts. Some real live birds will be part of the family fun. Lots of activities for kids, too.

Debbie Arrington

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Garden tours, kitchen remodeling and more

Arty gardens

Take a self-guided stroll through lush southwest Minneapolis landscapes at the Tangletown Gardens Art Garden Tour, while helping to fund public art and garden projects in the Twin Cities. The tour is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 22; pick up maps at Tangletown Gardens, 5353 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls. The event closes with an evening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. at the garden center, with music, dancing and refreshments from Wise Acre Eatery. Tickets are $25 in advance; $30 tour day. Go to

Pollinator garden tour

Interested in gardening to benefit bees, butterflies and other pollinators? Learn more at a free garden tour sponsored by the Andover Pollinator Awareness Project. Five gardens will be open for self-guided tours, including a shade garden, acreage with fruit trees, a garden with bug management by chickens, prairie landscaping with native plants, and a low-maintenance pond buffer with wildflowers and prairie grasses.

Hosts, including Master Gardeners, will be on hand at each home to answer questions. The tour is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 22. A tour map is available at or in person at Andover City Hall, 1685 Crosstown Blvd., during business hours Monday through Friday.

Kitchen remodel class

Learn about pollinators on free garden tour in Andover.

Skyrocket: A catchy trumpet – Casper Star

Whenever Christine Peterson posts new content, you’ll get an email delivered to your inbox with a link.

Email notifications are only sent once a day, and only if there are new matching items.

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PCMG offer advice for sustainable, healthy plants and gardens

As temperatures continue to climb, the Parker County Master Gardeners Association (PCMG) offered their advice for keeping sustainable, healthy gardens and plants throughout the season and year-round.

The “Sustainable Sites Initiative,” developed by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, provides core principles and guidelines for sustainable gardening, PCMG member and past president Jerry Parr said.

“Their proposal is aimed at changing the way we design and maintain our landscapes,” Parr said. “[Their program] has has the goal of creating beautiful landscapes while reducing the use of water and other resources. The Sustainable Sites Initiative attacks the problem with a variety of methods. 

“It has at its core the following principles: Treat water as a resource, value your soil, conserve material resources, foster environmental stewardship, and preserve plant materials. When these methods are applied in the home landscape it produces viable results.” 

To conserve water while keeping a healthy, visually-pleasing lawn, Parr recommended reducing “the most water hungry plant in the landscape, turfgrass.”

“Begin replacing areas of your lawn with drought-tolerant plants or hardscapes such as paths, decks and patios. Use mulch to help conserve water,” he said. “Then, install drip irrigation in these new landscape beds. Consider installing a rainwater harvesting system to catch the rain that falls on your roof, and redirect it to a ‘rain garden’ that will put the water to use and keep it on your property.” 

Good soil is essential to any garden, and care should be taken to preserve it, Parr said.

“It takes 1,000 years to create one inch of topsoil, and one day for a bulldozer to remove it,” he said. “Compacted soil caused by heavy equipment can lead to many problems that affect plant growth and lead to water run-off on your property. If you have good soil, keep it by maintaining it from year to year. 

“If, like many of us, you have clay soil, amend it by adding compost along with a commercial product called expanded shale. If your soil is sandy, amend it with compost. Make every effort to take care of your soil, and it will reward you by retaining and redirecting water to your thirsty plants.”

Composting yard waste like grass cuttings, tree trimmings and leaves helps add nutrients to the soil.

“Compost leaves and other plant materials so you can reuse them in your landscape,” he said. “Compost is a critical piece in the puzzle of our Parker County soil.”

Testing soil to determine what kind of fertilizer is needed and how much to use can improve water quality for the entire community.

“A study of our water quality reveals that we use way more fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides than we need,” he said. “This not only contributes to water pollution from runoff, it also hits the pocketbook every time you purchase a new bag or bottle. Do yourself a favor and have a soil test. Then you will know exactly what kind of fertilizer you need and how much to apply. 

“When you purchase fertilizer, go for the extended release. It will stay in your soil and benefit your plants for months. When you have a choice, choose native or adaptive plants. These plants have adapted to survive in Texas without the help of fertilizer. Use the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) philosophy for managing insects, plant diseases, and weeds. This philosophy has the application of a chemical control as the last resort.”

When choosing plants for a yard or garden, try to choose native and adaptive plants, as they require less maintenance.

“If you are clearing your property for a garden or landscaping, carefully evaluate the native plant life,” Parr said. “You may be surprised at the beauty and diversity of the trees, shrubs, and flowers already growing once the clutter is cleaned up. When adding or replacing plants in your landscape choose native or adaptive plants over the more exotic varieties. 

“It will help reduce the need for irrigation, fertilization, and pesticides. Imagine the satisfaction of looking forward to summer with confidence that your landscape will not only survive, but thrive.” 

For more gardening resources – including checklists for the rest of July and August – email, call 817-598-6168 or visit

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Lebanon plans garden tour

Daniel King poses in his garden at the corner of West Rose and Second streets in Lebanon. King’s garden will be one of six featured in Saturday’s garden tour, sponsored by the Santiam Food Alliance.

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Biz News: Newport landscaping firm designs South Korean mega-resort

Lifescapes International, a Newport Beach-based landscape architectural firm that has also done projects for major Las Vegas hotels, has designed the landscape environment for Paradise City, a $1.1-billion entertainment and gaming resort complex in Incheon, South Korea, according to a news release.

Paradise City includes a luxury hotel, casino and convention center.

“Based on our experience in designing 12 iconic resort casinos along the Las Vegas Strip, we were selected to design the overall landscaped environment and deliver on the developers’ concept for this project, which was to create the ultimate destination that would attract tourists year-round,” said Lifescapes’ president, Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, in a statement.

“Our vision was to bring the vibrant energy of Las Vegas to Korea by integrating water features and immersive gardens, thereby heightening the dramatic element of the setting and cultivating an exceptional, entertainment-driven experience,” she said.