Garden photographer Saxon Holt (along with his partner-in-crime, writer Nancy Ondra) is entirely responsible for getting me into ornamental grasses about a decade after everyone else had already gone crazy over them. I just couldn’t see the appeal in a non-blooming, non-fruit-produing plant, but then I found Grasses: Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design and was nearly sold by the cover alone. I spoke to Nancy recently and admitted that although I have found her writing to be very clear and quite useful, I owned the book for some time before I got around to reading it. The pictures weren’t just good, they were an utter distraction. Pure garden porn. It is still one of my most-looked-at books, and it’s about grass.
Saxon Holt is to blame for these gorgeous photographs, and he’s now blogging (dare I say ranting?) about garden photography at the new group blog Gardening Gone Wild. He’s done what I’ve always wanted a garden photographer to do: show us what really goes on at those garden photo shoots. He gives us before-and-after photos of a meadow and asks some interesting questions about the creation of plant porn. Should he have shown the meadow in its inglorious, covered-with-leaves-and-not-particularly-well-lit state to give us a sense of what it really looks like, or should he have raked up the leaves and found the perfect angle, and waited for the perfect light, to create a truly beautiful photograph that will inspire us?
He also shows a snapshot of a Santa Fe garden and compares it to his final, perfectly composed, tighter image that perhaps makes the garden seem more lush and full.
Are these images misleading? Do they set gardeners up for unrealistic expectations and, ultimately, disappointment and feelings of inadequacy?
Yes and no. On one hand, I think gardeners would be well-served by photos of "real" gardens, in and out of season, just as we’re better off seeing images of "real" women of all sizes and shapes as opposed to stick-thin models.
On the other hand, our own vision is selective. We don’t see everything all the time. We zoom in, we focus, our eyes come to rest on one spot. So perhaps Saxon’s camera is doing the same thing.
And I confess that as much as I like the idea of showing "real" gardens in their true inglorious state, those lush images of ornamental grasses inspire me. If Saxon came to my house and photographed the garden that Grasses inspired, I doubt he’d be able to get a single decent photograph. It’s very much a work in progress still. But when I look at it, I don’t see the weeds and the mistakes. I see the images that inspired it, and I keep going.
Hey Saxon: Do people really stick cut flowers into their borders for photo shoots to make them look like there’s more in bloom? Come on, you can tell us.