Finding inspiration in local woodlands for our garden design
Take a walk in the woods for a little inspiration
There is nothing like fall in Ontario to inspire a Woodland gardener.
When the leaves change along with our weather, it’s the perfect opportunity to load my dog, Holly, into the Subaru along with my camera gear and head out to the forests and fields surrounding our home. Luckily, Holly and I don’t have to go far to experience mature forests and some spectacular fall scenes, but even if we did, getting out and about at this time of year is a top priority.
Especially on a rainy, overcast day when the colours are at their most vibrant.
Not only is it an opportunity to give my cameras a workout, it’s a vivid reminder of how simple, yet beautiful a natural Woodland garden featuring native trees and plants can be.
If you ever wondered whether a Woodland garden is right for you, a slow drive through the forest stopping to admire the details of a small stream, the texture of the hickory or the elegance of a birch grove on the edge of a forest, should make the decision an easy one. There is no better place to go to find inspiration for your own woodland garden.
This is the inspiration we can take home with us and try to recreate – even in a small way – in our own gardens.
Recreate nature in your backyard
Our small backyard birch grove, made up of three clump birch all planted about 10 feet apart, was inspired by a birch grove I remember walking through regularly probably 30 years ago on my fall strolls along the Niagara escarpment at Mount Nemo Conservation Area in Halton, just outside Burlington Ontario. But I suspect that inspiration also has its roots much further back when my wife and I vacationed in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains during October. I remember admiring the beauty of the groves of Aspens with their white tree trunks and yellowing leaves standing out in the magnificent landscapes.
We can’t recreate the wide-open spaces of the mountains in our backyards, but we can use that inspiration to recreate a version of this that reminds us of those memorable times. (Rick Darke’s now out-of-print book, “The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest” illustrates this approach perfectly.)
Closer to home, a single maple in full colour stands out in the forest despite competition from other trees surrounding it. An inspiration to plant our own maple in our gardens. If space is a problem, consider a smaller tree that gives you much the same effect. A Japanese maple, though not a native tree, can provide that hit of red throughout the year. I have three Japanese Maples in the front garden and each has their own unique fall color display ranging from a deep red to a vibrant orange. A native dogwood or serviceberry – single or multi-stem – both smaller native trees with good fall colour are excellent alternatives that also have the benefit of outstanding spring flowers and berries that will attract a large variety of birds and mammals.
On a smaller scale, the moss-covered rock rising out of the forest floor dotted with a tapestry of coloured leaves can be the inspiration for a similar boulder added to the empty area under the maple in your backyard. It is a perfect example of garden art that is both natural and ever changing with the seasons. Place the moss-covered boulder near a bird bath and give our feathered friends a place to land before hopping to the birdbath. Filling the bird bath daily is also an opportunity to gently spray your mossy boulder to keep it looking its best and stop it from drying out.
It’s also the perfect opportunity to photograph backyard birds on a natural mossy boulder. Maybe you are lucky enough that the mossy boulder itself has a natural shallow pool where water gathers. (If you visit the rockeries of local nurseries early in the spring, when the new shipments are delivered, look for a rock with a natural shallow hollow already there. If you find one, don’t hesitate. Grab it. They are not easy to find.) In some cases, small hollows can be carved out of an existing rock to give you a similar experience.
On my most recent walk through the forest, there were no garden beds, native grasses were long and naturalized, the forest canopy was often layered with mature trees – many of them in various degrees of decay and snags perfect for wildlife looking for a home. Many of the smaller shrubs like Highbush Cranberry and Alternate-leaved dogwood (Cornus Alternifolia) and trees were loaded with berries and nuts providing life-giving nutrients to our feathered friends and woodland creatures preparing for the long winter ahead. Native ground covers, too, like virginia creeper, bunchberry (Cornus Canadensis) and Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) show off their berries. Under the canopies of large trees, leaves form a magnificent and colourful ground cover providing a warm blanket for the wildflowers and small creatures, and hunting grounds for birds and mammals that depend so much on these fallen leaves. (For more on leaving your leaves, check out this post.) Hidden among the fallen leaves are millions of eggs and pupae that depend on the fallen leaves to provide a warm incubator until spring arrives.
There were no rakes here, no leaf blowers to break the glorious sounds of nature, no gas-powered vacuums to shred the leaves and destroy any life in them… no bags of leaves lining the edge of the forest waiting to be carted away by massive “garbage” trucks.
It was simply nature in all its simplicity and glory inspiring us woodland gardeners to slow down and accept it’s natural beauty.
Fuji X10 is ideal enthusiast camera to take with you everywhere
In these days of the iphone, Samsung and other smart phones with top-notch cameras built into them, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would pay good money for a small compact camera often referred to as a high-end, point-and-shoot or enthusiast camera.
There is no question that cellphone camera’s are ideal for so many uses including garden photography. (Check here for an earlier post on using a camera phone to photograph your garden.)
But if photography is more than a passing interest, and you love the feel of a high-quality, elegantly machined piece of equipment, or you are looking for a second camera that easily fits into a pocket while still providing excellent image quality, then you might want to consider a high-end point and shoot camera.
The good news is that there are many available on the market both new and used. Most are not necessarily from today’s most popular names in photography, and range in price from about $400 Cdn. to several thousand dollars.
The camera market is changing so rapidly that it’s difficult to keep up, so I won’t even try.
I can talk about the Fujifilm X10 (click for full review) that I have used over the past several years and that I took with me on my recent fall foliage outings. There have been several iterations of the camera since the release of the X10. But essentially they are small upgrades to the original X10. One reviewer described the Fujifilm X10 as a “camera where its innards are as progressive as its exterior is nostalgic.” I could not agree more.
For enthusiasts who care about the camera specifications: It has a 12MP 2/3 EXR CMOS sensor; a 28-112mm equivalent F2.0-2.8 lens; an optical viewfinder with 85 per cent coverage; a 2.8-inch LCD display, shoots raw and jpeg images and can shoot 7 frames per second at full resolution or 10 fps at 6MP.
It also features a macro setting and super macro setting for getting up “close” and “real close” to flowers and insects.
That fixed 28-112mm lens is a fast lens, which helps you get sharp images of your garden in the low light of early morning and late evening without a tripod. To ensure sharp images, the camera also has built-in shake resistance.
The first time I saw the Fujifilm X10 I had to have it. A digital camera with the elegance and ease of use of a Leica, with more features than any garden photographer would need. Above all else, it featured what every former film photographer dreamed of – the ability to dial in specific nostalgic fuji films but in digital form. Every nature photographer has a soft spot in their hearts for the vibrant colours of Velvia; portrait photographers loved the softness of Astia, and for everyday use there is Provia. In addition, photographers have the option of dialing in Black & White film complete with filters for that Ansel Adams look.
Velvia is my choice for any garden shots involving highly colourful flowers where I need to pull out that vibrancy. Astia adds a lovely softness to early, mist-filled mornings.
So what makes this a great camera to document your garden? Besides having all the necessary features to help you create beautiful garden images including closeups of flowers, larger garden views in low light, multiple frames per second to capture wildlife and a variety of film choices to create different effects, its greatest assets are its small size and its inherent ability to inspire you to pick it up and actually take photos with it.
Not unlike my outing into the natural woodland to draw inspiration, photography enthusiasts can draw similar inspiration from an elegant camera that encourages you to pick it up and capture the garden in all its beauty. These enthusiast cameras, unlike bulky 35mm SLR cameras, are compact enough to carry around with you on a regular basis and will inspire you to document the changing seasons in the garden and explore the artistic images that are there just waiting to be unleashed.
And, if that is not enough, just think about how much better your instagram account could become.
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