Sunday, 11 October 2009


It's the final day at West Dean, and the weather is dull and overcast. I was imagining this was the end for garden photography, but actually Jacqui sent us out once more (protesting "I just felt it spit on me") to tackle photography in low light.


Look at these two photos of the blue and yellow border (above). On the top one, the aperture is set to 5.6, so that the depth of focus is very shallow. This makes the michelmas daisies in the background out of focus, concentrating the eye on the foreground's pale yellow daisies instead.

The second photo shows the same view, but with the aperture set to 16. In this photo, the depth of focus is much deeper, and so more stuff is in focus at once. The problem now is that the photo looks (to me anyway) "messy", full of distracting detail. I prefer the first snap, which lets the eye settle on the foreground detail while leaving the lilac colour to provide a foil.

The point is, though, that for the first time in my life I have a choice about this.

AND I got my spiderweb photo. Result!

Saturday, 10 October 2009


I am at West Dean this weekend, a delicious establishment at the foot of the South Downs. It must be good because James has been here as well.

Award-winning blogger James Alexander-Sinclair was here to deliver his plenary lecture on why garden designers can all go in the bin, apparently; he was last seen round the back of the fruit store being told off by some angry women.

Whereas I am here for a weekend-long course on how to create a garden blog. It may seem illogical to have an award-winning garden blogger on the premises and yet fail to exploit him for the garden blogging course, but there we go. So I'm the lesser-award-winning garden blogger helping the group to work out the foibles of Blogger's odd attitude towards uploading pictures etc.

But as well as a writing person, the group also get a photography person, in the form of Jacqui Hurst. As well as being a super-duper photographer, she is also a thoughtful teacher, and I feel like I've learned so much from her in the last 24 hours (never mind the actual paying students).

In one exercise she got us to do today, we had to try taking something we'd normally put centre of the photo - like these dahlias pictured above- and instead, put it off centre. And she has me thinking about backlighting, reflections and even planning to get up before breakfast for a spot of dewy post-dawn snapping.

I know the Sock is a fan of West Dean and its courses, but I would recommend them to everyone; there are people here this weekend learning to carve gargoyles, make lace, play Schumann and paint watercolours. The atmosphere is so peaceful, with rolling hills, baaing sheep and no mobile phone reception. And the food is excessively delicious and I fully expect to be rolling home at least a few pounds heavier. You can download the whole course brochure here, and if you've ever had the feeling that there isn't enough creativity in your life any more, I recommend you do it right now.

One watercolourist enjoying the autumn sunshine.

Friday, 9 October 2009


Slightly wonky camera taking artily-not-quite-right photo of one of my favourite autumn pleasures, the sunlit spider web. 

Over at Veg Plotting Madame Veg says I had a bit of a go at her last year when she moaned about autumn. 

(I don't actually remember doing this, though I'm sure it's true.)

I do really like most things about autumn, except the days becoming so much shorter. But I love the smell of wet leaves, the sense of things winding down; even squishing the funny little fruits that fall off crab apple trees is fun! (Though they make an odd metallic bonk when they fall off at night onto cars, which still wakes me up.)

But one of my favourite things about autumn is getting on with planning for spring, so that I feel like it's not too far away. This year I am doing posh white bulbs in terracotta pots, and then a separate downmarket garish scheme in 99p B&Q buckets. You need to make drainage holes with a bradawl, not a hammer and a nail, if that's a helpful tip. Then I layered up probably far too many bulbs. 

I do love autumn, but I also really identify and sympathise with all the people saying they'd rather not bother, if at all possible. 

I think planting bulbs is the absolute number 1 top way to look forward, understanding that it's all gonna come back round rapidly. And don't forget the indoor bulbs too! Paperwhites need to be started any day now to be flowering at Christmas, which is the best possible way of all to feel that spring is really not far behind. Check the wise words of Nigel Colborn, whose excellent instructions and tasteful planting suggestions I followed last year. 

98p! 98p!!!