Archive September 2013

Longwood Gardens: A September Late Afternoon Walk

Posted by on Sep 30, 2013 in My Blog | Leave a comment

If you need a little peace in your day, enjoy a minute and a half at Longwood Gardens on a September afternoon. The sun is low in the sky casting a golden light.  It’s so quiet, except for the singing frogs. Take a deep breath. All is well.


Fall Garden & Yard Tips

Posted by on Sep 19, 2013 in My Blog | Leave a comment

It’s that time of year again.  Time to pull things out of your garden, cut things away, store for next year.  As a summer lover, I’m really challenged by this time of year.  I have to consciously turn my thinking around to embrace the shortening days and cooler temperatures.

When I find myself longing for the long, warm days of July, I’ve come up with a trick.  What I do is jump ahead and compare September to February, instead of July.  In that light, like magic, September becomes one of my favourite months!  I know … it’s a really cheap trick, but suddenly 20C/70F seems pretty good.  The sun is out, it’s dry, and with a sweater, it’s actually warm out.  All you really need to do is embrace it and dress for it.  And then what you find out is that there’s a lot to discover and enjoy even in those months that aren’t your favourites.

So, here we go.  As part of my embracing of the season, here are some Fall Garden and Yard Tips:

Don’t Plant Your Spring bulbs Just Yet – The Later The Better!


Even though Spring bulbs are now available as early as August, it’s better to wait to plant them.  In fact, the later you plant, the better the chance of having blooms in the Spring.  Planting too early is risky because a Fall warm spell may encourage your blooms to start and then be killed by the first cold spell.  In most places in the U.S. and where I live, in South Jersey, it’s best to plant after Halloween and before American Thanksgiving.  In Canada, depending on where you live, it might be a little earlier.  (See my note on Plant Hardiness Zones below.)

Also, it’s a good idea to clean up any debris when you’re done planting.  You don’t want to leave any hints to the bulb-stealing squirrels that there’s something delicious for them if they dig deep enough.


Don’t Prune Anything in the Fall.


It’s tempting to prune now so that things look nice and tidy over the winter months.  However, Fall is too late to do any pruning.  Basically pruning stimulates growth when the plant should going dormant so it can survive the colder months.  Also, any new growth you stimulate by pruning is more vulnerable to the cold, which could jeopardize your entire plant.

 Also, if you have a tree that flowers in the Spring, the flower buds are already formed for next Spring, so if you trim it now, you won’t have blossoms in the Spring.  It’s better to prune these after they flower in the Spring.



Pruning Timing:

Dead of Winter: Prune dormant trees (and roses)

Spring: Summer Bloomers

Late Spring:  Prune Spring bloomers after they blossom in Spring


Plant New Trees and Shrubs Now, Instead of in the Spring.


Trees and shrubs planted in the Fall have a higher survival rate than those planted in the Spring.  Plus, a lot of plants are on sale this time of year.  Once again, earlier is better than later.  September is ideal!







Another way to survive the changing seasons is to get in tune with the Earth itself, which embraces the ebb and flow of bounty and rest.  It’s we humans that cling to our ideas of what we like and dislike.  Let’s follow nature’s example and let it be what it is and enjoy it for that alone.

Plant Hardiness Zones

When I moved from Toronto to Southern New Jersey a few years ago, there was a noticeable difference in timing of planting various plants.  In fact, I would plant my garden an entire month too late in the Spring, and then flowers wouldn’t make it because they didn’t have a chance to get started before it got too hot.  Or, I’d try to buy Mums in the Fall and I’d be too late and they’d all be sold out and done, done, done. That’s when I started paying attention toPlant Hardiness Zones’.  I still don’t get it right all the time (old habits are hard to break), but I’m getting there.  I’m also careful about providing timing advice, as it truly does depend upon where you live.

Source:  You Bet Your Garden

Dahlias: I think I’m in love.

Posted by on Sep 12, 2013 in My Blog | Leave a comment

I’m having a little fling with Dahlias this week.  Have they been hiding behind other flowers all summer or did this beauty just appear as summer winds down?  I’m not sure, but right now I’m entranced.


Photo by Karen Harbin

Not knowing this flower well, I went to the library and did a little research.  (Yes, an actual physical library!) They’re indigenous to Central America and were brought to Madrid in the late 1700s.  The Spanish had a hard time with them as they assumed they were a tropical flower and kept them warm.  It was the Swedish botanist Andreas Dahl who figured out they didn’t mind the cooler weather, and since then these tubers have thrived.  There are now hundreds of varieties of Dahlias, ranging from structured symmetrical wonders to more rangy varieties.











The impressionist painter Claude Monet was a Dahlia lover and grew them in abundance in his garden.  Monet’s 1873 painting The Artist’s Garden in Argenteuil (A Corner in the Garden with Dahlias) was one of many paintings of Dahlias.  You can get a copy at


The Artist’s Garden at Argenteuil, Claude Monet

He’s not the only Dahlia lover.  There are Dahlia Societies all over the world.  Check out The American Dahlia Society to find out if there’s one in your area.  Lots of information and tips about Dahlias at that site.


Dahlias at Longwood Gardens, September 2013



Dahlias at Longwood Gardens September 2013



Photo by Karen Harbin



Photo by Karen Harbin

The Language of flowers, floriography, says a Dahlia symbolizes elegance and dignity.  When you look at a Dahlia, that’s an easy one to understand.

Care tips:  Dahlias should be planted in the spring.  They appear mid-August (mystery solved with a little research!) until frost.  You can either leave the plant in the ground and let it die and buy new ones in the spring.  Or you can dig up the tubers, store them over winter, and plant them when the weather warms up.

Floral Photography Tip – Depth of Field and Blurry Backgrounds (or Bokeh – which sounds way more fun!)

Posted by on Sep 5, 2013 in My Blog | 1 Comment

When I got my first Nikon way back in the 1990’s, I was obsessed with creating images with blurry backgrounds.  In fact, I think almost every photo I took back then had a blurry background — a look I still love.  I eventually realized that not every photo needed to be blurred.  But, I still gravitate to that dreamy, blurry look.

For anyone who is just starting out, I thought I’d do a quick run down on how to create ‘the bokeh effect’ in the digital world of today.  First, let’s explore Depth of Field (DOF).  In photography, Depth of Field refers to the amount of focus or blur, from near to far, that appears in a photograph.



A photograph with a blurry background has low (or shallow) depth of field.


Example: Low (or Shallow) Depth of Field

If you have an SLR camera (one with removable lenses) you can achieve this by setting your aperture to a low number, a low f-stop.  While there are other factors, adjusting your f-stop is the main means of controlling your depth of field.  Setting it to a low f-stop opens up your aperture.  A larger aperture means more blur.

You can adjust the f-shop on some point and shoots, but not all of them.  Here’s a list of Top 10 Point-and-Shoot Cameras with Manual Controls.



Conversely, a photograph that is completely in focus has high depth of field.


Example: High Depth of Field (foreground and background in focus)

Setting your lens to its highest aperture number, or f-stop, makes your aperture small.  (It’s counter-intuitive, but true.  Trust me.)




Example: The Bokeh Effect

You might see it written as Boke, but the most common English translation of the Japanese word is Bokeh.  It is the out-of focus background achieved using a lens at its widest aperture, which creates an out-of-focus blur in a photograph.  So Bokeh is just shallow depth of field, though sometimes it also refers to the shape light takes in a background.

Now that we have a handle on depth of field, let’s explore five main ways to create a blurred, dreamy background:


1)    Using the aperture settings on your camera, as described above.

Experiment with setting your aperture to a low number and fire away.  Take the same photograph, using different f-Stops and see what you like best.  Repeat with a different types of photographs (portraits, nature, cityscapes, flowers!) and develop your own style based on what makes your heart beast the fastest.

Note: You might hear someone say you need a fast lens to create a shallow depth of field.  What they mean by that is a lens whose aperture can get down to 2.4, 1.8, 1.4.  A “slower” lenses may only get down to an aperture of 3.5 or 5.6.  A fast lens = a more expensive lens.  You don’t necessarily need a super fast lens to achieve this look, but there may come a day where you’d like to explore this option.


2) Software like Lightroom, Photoshop, or OnOne

Some photographers prefer to create a standard image in their camera and then add effects using software.  This way, if you don’t like the blur, you have the option of removing it.  Stay tuned for some tutorials on this.

No Blur in Original Photograph

No Blur in Original Photograph

Blur Added with OnOne

Blur Added with OnOne

3)    Selective blur using selective focus lenses like a Lensbaby

There are a number of manufacturers that offer selective focus lenses, but I have to tell you – I love my Lensbaby!  It’s a lens that you can use with a number of different cameras like Nikon, Canon, Pentax, and others.  Just attach it to your camera and what you see through the lens is what you get – selective blur.  Lensbaby has a number of different lenses and accessories to choose from.  I love my Lensbaby so much that it’s going to get a post all its own in the near future.


Example: Lensbaby Selective Focus

4)    Diana (or Diana-type) cameras or lenses

The Diana camera is a cult camera that  has been around since the 60’s.  Initially they were marketed as cheap plastic cameras whose image quality was poor, and when better cameras started making the rounds, Diana cameras fell out of favour.  That is, until photography students started using them because their cheap plastic construction permitted light leakage and other issues.  This made for some wonderfully artistic photography.  Now, you can get a wide variety of Diana cameras to exercize your creative muscle.

Technically, a Diana camera doesn’t really qualify as a camera that shoots Bokeh, but it’s a camera (or lens) that shoots in a dreamy out-of-focus way.  You can get an old-school film Diana camera from Lomography or you can simply buy a lens for your digital camera through good old AmazonThe nice thing about them is that they do not cost much at all.  It’s plastic.  It’s cheap.  It’s fun.


Example: Shot with a Diana lens (This one didn’t turn out so hot. I’ll post a new one soon.)

5)    Apps

And then there are Apps.  Why pay for an SLR camera or all that software if you can buy an app for less than $5 that will create lovely effects.  I can’t vouch for any of these yet, but here is a blog that provides 5 iPhone Apps For Creating a Bokeh Photo EffectAnd here’s one for Android.


That’s the break-down on blur.  Get out there (or stay inside) and create some dreamy, blurry photos!


See Tip #1 – Soft Light





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