You Go, Saxon Holt


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.


  1. Garden Porn? Oops! I guess I have hundreds of books and magazines purchased for the pictures alone. Sure I tell people it is for the articles but now the truth is out. I even spend hours surfing the net downloading favorite images of particularly enticing gardens and flowers to enjoy in the privacy of my own home. Gee, I wonder if there is a self-help group for people like me?

  2. Thanks for the tip about their book on grasses. The cover is beautiful.

    I’ve been following Saxon’s posts with interest since he joined Gardening Gone Wild. After confessing to my qualms about using Photoshop to “improve” garden photos (, I found out everyone’s doing it. Now, thanks to Saxon, I’m finding out what the pros are doing to get their inspiring photos.

    Keep the inspiration coming. It’s what keeps us going during the off months. But don’t let us forget the truth about how those professional images are created.

  3. Amy,
    Glad that you discovered Saxon Holt and thanks for alerting us to his blog contributions.
    I don’t think you would be surprised if Saxon came to your garden during the death of winter and still would be able to craft an alluring and sensational garden photograph. — The guy just “has it”.
    I’ve been fortunate in the past to have worked with Saxon on a project or two and when ever he sets up for a shoot it is always a pure treat to watch this professional artisan in action.
    It’s interesting in this day of digital photography to observe that some of the best garden photographers such as Saxon, Marion Brenner and Lee Anne White still use good old fashion film to shoot with (at least most of the time) .

  4. Thank you so much, Amy, for the heads up on Saxon Holt’s blog! I own that grass book and have drooled over his garden photos for years. They simply glow with a magical quality of light. As an aspiring garden photog, I can’t wait to dive in to his blog entries to see if he talks about both the art and craft involved in making his exceptional images.

  5. Do people really stick cut flowers into their borders for photo shoots to make them look like there’s more in bloom?

    Yes …..

    You probably want some explaination. Check out a future edition of “The Camera Always Lies”.

    In response to another question, I no longer shoot film and will take up the challenges of digital post production at some future rant. I will say, I did not switch because I wanted to use PhotoShop to “improve” images. Garbage in garbage out, and it is way too time consuming to rescue a poor image. That is what the delete button is for.

    I suppose this is not the place for this Amy, but I want to be the first to rant about fire resistant plantings. Having just left San Diego (and smoked out of two days of shooting) I KNOW the publications are gearing up to do stories about fire resistant landscaping. I see the photo requests coming in, as they did after the Oakland firestorm 10 years ago. Please, please don’t let people think there is such a thing as fire resistant plantings. There are genuine things people can do, like removing all their brushy landscaping and this must be told, but I will have no part of photo requests that will suggest certain plantings will slow a wildfire.


  6. Amy-

    Just got back into town and was told by my fellow blogger, Nan, about your blog in response to Saxon’s. Thanks for keeping the conversation going. I think it’s important for us bloggers to continue to let these more intriguing and multi-layered subjects cook a bit and then return to them to conjecture and discuss further whenever we feel like it. Fran

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