Photographing the Tried and True Sheets: Part 1 – Capturing the Form

Written by Mary Free, Certified Master Gardener

Quercus alba AnnotatedIn a major improvement, Tried and True Plant fact sheets now provide photographic images that highlight native plants grown in MGNV demonstration gardens and local public spaces, such as Green Spring Gardens, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens and the U.S. National Arboretum.

Master Gardeners have photographed Tried and True Plants during various stages to provide each fact sheet with examples of form, flowers, fruits, foliage and/or bark. Visiting public gardens allows you the opportunity to observe a plant’s growth habit first hand before making an investment in your own garden. Now, if you’re unable to visit a garden or the plants are out-of-season, you can see the stages on the fact sheets.

We needed numerous field trips to find good specimens. Sometimes we showed up before peak bloom or color; sometimes we arrived too late, and sometimes we could not find the correct plants. Sometimes, though, we got it right. We took and reviewed thousands of photographs to find good examples for the fact sheets.

Capturing Form
Since plants are so diverse in terms of structure and shape, it is essential to understand their growth habits and requirements so that you can select the right plant for the right place. To illustrate the growth habits of grasses, ground covers, perennials and vines, we took images of groups or masses of the different species. The airy Muhlenbergia capillaris at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens and the showy Bignonia capreolata at Simpson Gardens are examples. (The former is a good alternative to fountain grass, a common, non-native ornamental that is escaping cultivation and seeding native habitats.

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For ferns such as the delicate Adiantum pedatum in the Quarry Shade Garden, we try to show not only the mature plants but also the emerging fiddleheads, a diminutive but interesting form often neglected in the spring garden.

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Although we sometimes use images of saplings, most shrubs and trees are shown at or near maturity. (For Betula nigra we show both: saplings at the Fairlington Community Center and a more mature tree at Green Spring Gardens.) In fact, the largest trees posed some of the greatest photographic challenges.

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Frequently, it was difficult to find trees that were not eclipsed by their surroundings. For example, finding an angle without the distractions of nearby buildings and power lines to do justice to the Juniperus virginiana at Glencarlyn Library took several attempts. In more natural areas, the subject often got lost in the background of neighboring trees. On the expansive grounds of the National Arboretum, though, once we located the magnificent specimens of Pinus strobus, taking their picture was a snap.

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Next Week:
Photographing the Tried and Trues: Part 2 – Capturing Flowers and Fruits

About mgnv

Master Gardners of Northern Virginia
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