Tag Archives: Botanics

Bench in the Botanics

Written today, for a picture taken yesterday.


Taken 9 January 2007

Beyond the hut, the gravel path turns right
To meet a branch that leads across the bridge.
And, nestled in its curve, a pleasant sight:
The wooden bench sits sheltered by its ridge.
Like half a hundred others in this place,
The seat’s a gift, and labeled with a name:
Our hostess here, whose memories still grace
This place she loved, and hoped we’d do the same.
Her unobtrusive presence here receives
Me with no ceremony, and we share
The silence as I sit and watch the leaves
Drop in the pond, and brush and braid my hair.
She is a gracious hostess, and her guest
Appreciates her gifts of peace and rest.

The only technical point I would make is that the transition between the octave and the sestet is, in this case, the transition from setting the scene to my entry onto the scene.

Recent Edinburgh Shots

In between trips to London, I’ve been so busy studying that I’ve taken very few shots around Edinburgh. Of those, only a few are really worth your consideration, gentle reader.

The roses are past their best in George V Park, but I still love them.


Taken 15 June 2006


Taken 15 June 2006

Splendidly bizzare monkey puzzle in the Botanics.


Taken 1 June 2006

Tender shoots of holly, Arboretum Avenue


Taken 1 June 2006

I Love My Coffee

…and it loves me back.


Taken 6 March 2006

I love this city, too, though it doesn’t show its affection in the same way.

I love the Botanics, and they show me the delicate drops of rain on a branch.


Taken 7 March 2006

The first yellow flowers come out for me, even on a cold day.


Taken 9 March 2006

The side doors of St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile stand solemn and graceful.


Taken 9 March 2006

And the door handles from the back of the cathedral have their own rhythm. (Yes, this has been cropped.)


Taken 9 March 2006

Hail, Hail!

Yesterday, while I was walking in the Botanics, I came under a sudden assault of hail. I had to shelter under an umbrella under a tree – one layer of protection was not enough.

After the white stuff stopped falling, it seemed to vanish. Only a few balls were left to convince me that it wasn’t a dream.


Taken 21 February 2006

The hailstones didn’t last, but the raindrops were beautiful as well.


Taken 21 February 2006

This shot reminds me of one of my favourite poems, No Road by Philip Larkin


Taken 21 February 2006

I’ve had a few other photos building up that didn’t really deserve their own entries. Of possible interest:

The sacred cow is coming home to roost.


Taken 20 February 2006

Plant in the car park at the Cuddy Brae. Very red!


Taken 19 February 2006

Bus stop hardware…one of those tiny details of life that looks so good up close.


Taken 19 February 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

Today was my birthday, and a very good one it was, too. From the flowers the kids gave me first thing, to the cards and the presents that started my day so well, to the very good day with my colleagues at work, it was both ordinary and magical. Even got my usual walk through the Botanics, taking the odd picture along the way, seemed a little special, though I don’t know if that shows in these phiotos.

Something sprouting through the rocks


Taken 15 February 2006

Something about this drystane wall spoke to me too.


Taken 15 February 2006

Then, on the walk home, I was struck by the beauty of these balustrades in the raking sunlight.


Taken 15 February 2006

But that was nothing to the sky over Calton Hill! (Photo cropped to remove a crane)


Taken 15 February 2006

The best moments came at the end of the day – playing tag with the kids on the walk home in the last of the sunlight. Noticing that Alex has finally figured out how to moderate his pace so Fiona can catch him. Chocolate cake. Silly kids in their bubble bath. A chance to talk to Martiin in the evening (and to thank him – I am aware that the flowers, the presents, and the cake only seemed to appear magically at the right moments!)

In some ways, having such an ordinary working-day birthday was better than having an all special day, because it made me look at my everyday life afresh and see it sparkle. I hope I can hold onto that for a while yet!

First Day Back

Back at work today, moved onto a project that I’m not expecting to be as fun as the one I’ve been on for the last 18 months. (That is a high standard – very little I have ever done professionally has been so enjoyable.) The rest of my gang is still together, launched onto something else, leaving me with the strong impulse to sulk and kick the furniture.

Rather than do that, I took a walk to the Botanics at lunchtime, getting my dose of daylight and my usual smattering of photographs. There were some OK ones, which I don’t intend to post, and some entirely uninteresting ones. But four really stood out.

Fern leaf, belly-up on the grass.


Taken 3 January 2006

Pattern: the dead leaves of a palm, still hanging from the trunk (this photo has been cropped, a thing I usually don’t do.)


Taken 3 January 2006

Lone bamboo shoot


Taken 3 January 2006

Bamboo thicket…another “pattern” shot.


Taken 3 January 2006

I also stopped by the California Bay Laurel again, just to smell the leaves. Then, completely accidently, I found the Botanic’s only tan oak (Lithocarpus densiflorus), which I had planned to search for this month. Just walked straight to it, thinking, “That looks like tan oak.” And so it was.

The Nature of Photography (and the photography of nature)

Due to a combination of factors (longer lunchtime walks, better camera phone, encouragement by commenters), I’ve been taking a lot more pictures of late.

I’ve been in love with photography since I was 15 or 16, when I got a 35mm camera (a Pentax ME Super) from my parents along with free run of the darkroom. I spent a year or two exploring the world as seen through a lens, and inhaling vast quantities of extremely interesting chemicals.

One of the things I learned early on is that other people don’t see the same things I see. Yes, we both look at a tree and go “Big thing, brown on bottom, green on top.” But something in me is also going “Oooh! Oooh! Pattern and regularity of leaves as they grow, shapes of trunks and branches! Wow!” Seriously. For every tree unless I consciously shut it off. I walk through the Botanic Gardens with my mouth open, or smiling irrepressibly, when I go alone. I also get that feeling from a lot of repetitive patterns and textures. (Ask Martin about my reaction to the hobbit cloaks in the Lord of the Rings films.)

But I found, showing my “Oooh! Oooh! Pattern!” shots to other people, that they didn’t get the same buzz. My mother once said it looked like I’d just pointed the camera at everything and taken a picture. The two decades since then have been spent, at least in part, trying to find ways to show other people what I see all the time. I do things like choosing a contrasting element against the patterned background, or photographing patterns with other redeeming features, such as good colour saturation.

But the other day, I found a link to a set of photos by professional photographer Jim Brandenburg. Although I’m intrigued by the specific challenge he set himself – 90 days’ photography permitting only one exposure a day – what really delighted me is that some of his pictures are ones I would take myself (if I were his technical equal). He can use pattern, and pattern alone, to lead the viewer into the shot. His quaking aspen shot, the Patterns of Branches, and most of all his picture of Norway Pine grove are all part of what I have been trying to capture for twenty years.

I’m not discouraged to have seen these shots – far from it. I’m excited by the chance to learn from them. Maybe I can find other ways to lead people into the world I see, and show them how beautiful it is.

Today, at lunchtime, I made my first attempt at a “pattern” photograph that did not use a contrasting foreground element to focus the viewer.


Taken 20 December 2005

On an unrelated note, I also got my camera to do this ghostly image (entirely untweaked, I promise you!). It’s of the disused Scotland Street tunnel, which has one brave plant trying to eke out a single-leaf existence in its shadows.


Taken 20 December 2005


I think I need to set more challenging objectives for my lunchtime walks. I found two of the three madrones (Arbutus menziesii) on the first day of searching. The hunt did take me into a bed that I hadn’t wandered through before, but actually, one of the madrones is visible from the road outside the gardens.

Anyway, the proof:


Taken 13 December 2005

One of the reasons I like madrone so much is its papery bark. On the younger branches, it peels off in entire sheets, exposing the green underbark. On older wood, it alligators like a charred log, which is much less dramatic.


Taken 13 December 2005

The thirteenth was an overcast day, which made it difficult to take photos in natural light (I don’t use the camera’s light). The ones I got were either against the sky (this one has been lightened considerably to bring out the red in the leaves),


Taken 13 December 2005

…or lucky shots, still enough not to blur but slow enough to get the tremendous colour saturation that comes from overcast day photography.


Taken 13 December 2005

I will have to pick a more evasive plant for my next quest.

Found it!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been engaged in an occasional search to find my favourite California native plant, the California bay laurel, in the Botanic Gardens near work. As you can see from the link, although the website has a bed location, it does not have a clickable link to the bed map. This made me wonder if the entry were old and outdated. Was the tree still there?

Even if the bed map entry was correct, I wasn’t sure where in the bed the tree would be. That bed happens to include a building as well as a number of plants, so it’s not the easiest place to search. Particularly for a plant I wasn’t sure was there.

But today, I found it.

The proof:


Taken 12 December 2005

I knew the tree before I saw the label, of course.

The bay laurel grows in all of the places I spent my childhood. It’s an integral part of the species mix up at my parents’ cabin, where it was a traditional headache cure for the native Americans in the area. It grows on the UC Berkeley campus, and indeed I got into occasional trouble for climbing it there. And for many years, one grew just outside my bedroom window in Piedmont.

The fragrance a broken leaf brings me right back to those places and those times. I brought one back to the office (bad of me to take it, I know). Each time I smelled it, I had another tiny flashback to my past, and another microburst of homesickness. The mix of bitterness and memory reflects the nature of the bay laurel itself.

Bay laurel is in the family Lauraceae, the same family as European bay, laurus nobilis, (as well as cinnamon, avocado and sassafrass, but that’s another story). Bay laurel has about a third more resin ducts in its longer, narrower leaves than its European cousin. The fragrance and flavour are slightly different between the species: the California bay is sweeter and sharper, the European slightly more bitter. It can be used in cookery much the way its relative is, but one should use only part of a leaf where the recipe calls for a whole bay leaf. Californian bay is also more of a tree and less of a hedge than its European counterpart, and is useless for topiary.

Soup, anyone?


Taken 12 December 2005

(Next target: Arbutus menziesii, also known as Pacific Madrone.)

(While downloading pictures from my camera, I also ran across this one from last week.


Ivy stems.


Taken 8 December 2005