Capturing best of gardens through a camera lens

Date: Friday 8th December 2017

THE Gardeners of Eden were happy to welcome Val Corbett to their November meeting. Her subject was gardens in the north of England and beyond, and, as an extra bonus, she gave some photographic tips to aid the group’s efforts at recording their own and others’ gardens.

Val began with a re-minder that Cumbria is nearly always wet and windy, but that does not deter spirited residents from making gardens. She began in Appleby, at Church View, where the terraced garden is densely populated with good traditional plants which will thrive in local conditions.

Then she took her audience to Portinscale, near Keswick. High Moss has a wonderful laburnum walk, a carpet of daffodils in spring, and magnificent rhododendrons and azaleas in May. There are pretty iron benches to sit on to admire the scene and the views.

Crossrigg, at Cliburn, has a charity evening opening, and others by arrangement. This garden has espaliered apple trees around a formal square lawn which is broken into with a stone pond and formal beds with masses of purple alliums in the spring. Behind the apples is a square pathway along sheltered and shady borders.

At Culgaith, Mr. and Mrs. Reay, at Eden Lea, have created structure in their garden with clipped conifers. It is a large garden with atmospheric ponds and misty lakes, swans and Japanese bridges.

Henley Syke, at Catter-len, is a small garden but it has been cleverly divided into “rooms” by using hints of fences and hedges, and incomplete gates to create different feelings. There are cloud-pruned conifers in the front garden, and a fedge with a big arch in it has been made along the back boundary, giving a view through to the fields beyond.

At Larch Cottage, Melkinthorpe, the private garden is now open. There is a prolific kitchen garden and the chapel is intriguingly decorated inside with paintings of the owner’s wedding held there recently.

Highlands, at Arnside, has a huge variety of hostas, including miniature ones, further dwarfed by a large stone snail, as if daring any others to come near! There is real mistletoe growing above a stone sculpture of a kissing couple.

Broom Cottage, at Long Marton, has a woodland feel, and logs have been stacked imaginatively against an archway. There is a productive garden here too.

Warnell Hall, at Sebergham, is an excellent garden with wonderful terraces of herbaceous borders, a ha-ha, a delightful parterre-style vegetable garden and some wonderful topiary — the head gardener was previously at Levens.

After speaking about gardens in Lancashire and Yorkshire, Val took her audience to Northumberland and then north of the Border, painting a picture of some most interesting gardens in a variety of styles and flavours.

Val shared some advice about taking good pictures. To capture photos of flowers, she suggested getting down to their level for a better impression. Sometimes the viewer wants to see the whole garden, so she suggested finding a higher spot from which to take a photograph, such as a bedroom window. Val has used a ladder sometimes. Herbaceous borders are quite difficult, but the advice is to stand further back and use a long lens. Take a shot of the length of the border at an angle.

Framing your photograph can make a winner. Use whatever is to hand, such as a gateway, or an archway. Even windows and doorways can be pressed into service. Think about some interest for the foreground, said Val, showing an orchard with apples in baskets at the front of the shot, and another with a barrow and tools.

The light makes all the difference, said Val. The audience was encouraged to get up early, and check the weather forecast. Val’s photograph of astilbes on a dull day in the rain was wonderful. Some cloud and not too much wind is ideal, but early or late for the best light, muted colour and long shadows.

Back lighting is a nice idea, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it, she said. So long as the camera lens is shaded from the direct sun, interesting photographs can be taken. Use your hand to shade the lens, or position yourself where a tree will block the sun. Often only a small change of position will be needed.

Try to find a focal point for your picture, such as a bench among the planting, or a statue or other hard landscape feature. When taking portraits of flowers, focus on the stamens and use a wide aperture so the rest of the surrounding foliage is out of focus and will not be distracting.

Be ready and prepared for the lucky moments when something surprising happens. Val showed an example of a stag and a sheep having a face-off, very entertaining, but it was just a lucky chance. Take masses of photographs, and then save only the best.