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December 2011

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Camera never lies …

Rachel Darlington finds the camera is an important tool of gardening


I find it hard to imagine what gardening was like before the advent of the digital camera. I am an ardent believer in the use of photography as a gardening tool, even going so far as to say that of all gardening tasks, photography is my favourite. There may be purists who will insist that taking photos is not gardening, but I beg to differ. I believe that finding the time to look carefully at our gardens and to record this year's achievements is as important as mowing or mulching.

My mother was a keen gardener back in the 1980s. I remember dinners on the patio, bumping heads on drooping bunches of grapes, which no one ever dared eat. I remember the pond, that started life as a glorified puddle but was enlarged three times until it became big enough for every visiting child to get thoroughly wet in. And I remember buying clematis for my Mum's birthday to feed her almost obsessive love of this big-flowered climbers. But I don't remember my mother ever photographing her garden.

A few years ago I came across a forgotten envelope of my Mum's photos. Once, it seems, she had granted herself the luxury of shooting a whole roll of film on her garden. Such extravagances were never undertaken lightly. A roll of unexposed film cost money and then there was the expense of having the roll developed and printed, having no guarantee that any of the photos would even be worth keeping.

The packet of photos displayed mixed results. Most of them were no good as the sun had been too bright on the chosen day and had washed out the blue of my mum's hydrangeas and the pink of her roses. Others were poorly composed, which was hardly surprising since my Mum would have had little practice at garden photography. But one thing the photos did show was that lady's mantle had the upper hand in the garden.

She originally planted lady's mantle as edging on her patio and, enamoured by the pretty leaves, she had let it self-seed. The result will be no surprise to anyone who has grown this perennial themselves. It tends to overwhelm a garden, seeding into the middle of clumps of more desirable plants, making it difficult to control. While the result of giving lady's mantle too long a leash was not immediately evident to my Mum from observing the garden, it was immediately obvious from the few photos that she had taken. It will be no surprise that my mother went on a fanatical eradication campaign after seeing her photos and the garden was soon the better for it.

Of course, nowadays it is very easy to photograph our gardens, to delete the photos we don't like and to upload the rest for comparison and display. It is an invaluable way to chart progress, year on year, or from season to season and shouldn't we be using all the tools at our disposal?

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