by Marybeth Kampman
The rainy days at the end of winter find many of us curled up in front of the fire doing some virtual gardening, perusing garden catalogs. A book that should be included in your stack of things to be read is the manual to that new digital camera that Santa brought you this year. You may discover that your camera can serve as one of your most useful garden tools.
It is fun and enlightening to take regular photos of your garden. One approach is to stand in the same spot(s) in your garden once a week, or month, and snap a picture. At the end of the year you will have a very clear idea of how your garden has progressed through the seasons.
You may also choose to chronicle the growth of a certain plant, your favorite or your problem child. Taking pictures of plants that are your pride and joy when they are at their peak is a common thing to do, but what about taking a few showing their progress throughout the season? You will find that you become more appreciative of the intricacies of Mother Nature as you follow the life cycle of your plants. If you choose to focus on the plant that just doesn’t seem to thrive no matter what you do, you may be surprised at the information that presents itself in a series of photos taken over the season.
It is also very helpful to take pictures of the layout of a bed, noting color combinations or plantings that work well together. It will help in the future seasons if you are interested in rotating your plants or just remembering those plants that seem to get lost in the foliage of the overly exuberant ones. Unsure of who that stranger is that took root in amongst your flowers? Snap a photo of the intruding plant and take it to the garden store or library to identify it.
Try taking before and after pictures of how and where you planted. Bulbs come to mind. Did the gophers really eat your bulbs or did you just forget where you planted them? How deep did you plant that rose—did you try adding different amendments this time? Take photos as you work—shoot a photo of each of the steps you take in planting or transplanting. Take a picture of the bag that tells what amendments you are using and one of the measuring cup to document the amount you used. A picture of the tag that came with the plant is also very handy to have. I often find when referring to them later in the season that they were labeled with seemingly disappearing ink.
When you prune take before and after shots—not only will you feel good about your day’s labor but you will have a record of the way you went about the task. Use the photos as a reference to find out if you were correct in cutting that main branch—did it really encourage the growth of the smaller ones? Take another shot in a few months and compare; learn from your work. If you hire someone to do the work, chronicle what they are doing so that it can be repeated if successful or changed if not successful.
Got a plant that is sick or not thriving? The Master Gardener at the desk in Novato will welcome you with open arms if you bring in a sample and photos of the plant growing in your garden. (Master Gardeners volunteer for UC Cooperative Extension.) Putting a problem in context really helps the problem solving process.
Or how about the plant that is covered with tiny little bugs? Sometimes even using a magnifying glass it is difficult to really see the critter and even harder to describe it to someone else. Don’t despair—most digital cameras, even the less expensive and older versions have a macro setting. Macro mode will bring you up close and personal to whoever is taking up residence among your plants. You will not see exactly how magnified the subject is until you download and view them on your computer screen.
There is one caveat to using the macro mode and that is that you will need to stabilize your camera. The easiest way is to use a tripod. There are many inexpensive tripods available that work quite well. Because of the magnification and large aperture used in macro mode, any motion of your hand puts the photo out of focus. You may even consider using the timer setting on your camera. Set up the shot, start the timer and stand back and let the camera do the work. The photo will come out flawlessly because the camera shake will be eliminated.
When the sun comes out, go out and take photos of your garden. Next year at this time you will find yourself engrossed in gardening catalogs and in your personal garden album.