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Meet David Perry: Garden Photographer (2022 Annual Meeting Speaker)

Meet David Perry, Seattle-based garden photographer and speaker at the 2022 HPSO Annual Meeting on November 6th. In this profile, get to know David and read some of his tips for taking better garden photographs. You can learn more about David at his website.

What are three pieces of advice for people to take better photos of their gardens?

Truth is, we nearly all crave some sense of intimacy in our lives and most of us walk through our days experiencing much less of it than we would like. So in a world that offers so little intimacy and leaves so many of us still hungry for more, think about how to make pictures that invite the viewer in, that make us feel we are part of the moment rather than passive observers looking on from outside the moment, from the cheap seats beyond the railing.

Instead of shooting pictures of the nouns, the actual ’things’ that are your subject, think about making pictures of all the things that describe those nouns. Show us the adjectives, the adverbs and the prepositions. Help us to understand the time of day, the time of year, the weather, the play of light, the texture of the leaves and bark, the sense of depth and scale, relative to something else. Help us to understand a plant’s habit, and ideal situation. Show us juxtaposition and mood, happy companions, and use your composition to create a sort of visual fengshui, helping us move from that place you want us to enter a scene through the picture to the place you want, ultimately for our eyes to come to rest.

Most of us take pictures with far too much in them, which makes it difficult for our viewers to really feel the magic that we were feeling when we shot them. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Pare your pictures down to their barest possible essence. Show less, get closer, be aware of bright green hoses and other nuisance distractions in the background that will call to us, pull our attention away from the magic you wanted us to see. Move and shoot again, change angles until those distractions are no longer in your picture. Show us that you care, by being careful enough to help us find that golden moment you’ve struggled to share with us.

Photography by David Perry

What gardening book do I wish to see written?

I would love to read a book about seeing into the future, interviewing those especially astute garden and landscape designers with a magical measure of this gift about how they visualize the way plants of such different textures, sizes, colors and habits will come together and knit themselves into magical vignettes over ten, twenty, thirty year continuums. I am constantly awed by this ability (which I certainly do not have), to see far into the future, understanding how trees, shrubs and perennials will become a cohesive and beautiful community in time, and how they plant them, spacing them appropriately so that as they grow and spread they will be able to achieve that visually delicious sense of balance, beauty and interdependence.

I’m not sure who should write it. Someone with a poet’s heart and a reporter’s ability to get people not used to talking, to talk without fear of reprise or being made fun of.

Photography by David Perry

What plant is undervalued that should be grown more often?

Rabbitbrush. It makes everything it grows next to look better. It is a stunning, architecturally interesting native that grows in poor conditions, doesn’t need to be babied, provides shelter and forage, and adds a wonderful, sculptural texture to any garden scene that it might thrive in. Combine with stone and ornamental grasses for a long blooming, low-water native garden that birds, pollinators and wildlife will love. I know, I know, you’ll probably not find it in any nurseries, but that doesn’t make me any less a fan. And as garden strategies change by necessity, I really think plants like this are almost inevitable as sleepers just waiting for their moments in the sun.

Photo credit David Perry

Rubber Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa)
By Sarah Malaby

Rubber rabbitbrush is also known as gray rabbitbrush, or chamisa. This perennial shrub is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) along with sagebrush, with which it is often found. Rubber rabbitbrush is highly variable, with several different subspecies located throughout the western United States. It is typically distinguished by having whitish to green flexible stems, felt-like matted hairs, and narrow, thread-like grayish-green alternate leaves. Shrubs are rounded and generally two to five feet tall, but can reach as high as seven feet. Flower heads are made up of 5 small, yellow, tubular flowers, and are arranged in dense, rounded or flat-topped clusters at the ends of the branches. Flowers bloom from August to October as other plants are fading, providing vivid color and a pollen source for insects late in the summer. The shrubs reproduce via an abundance of small, wind-dispersed seeds and can also sprout from the base.

Rubber rabbitbrush occurs as a dominant to minor component in many plant communities, ranging from arid rangelands to montane openings. It thrives in poor conditions, and can tolerate coarse, alkaline soils. Dense stands are often found on degraded rangelands, along roadsides, and in abandoned agricultural fields. The species is useful in soil stabilization and restoration of disturbed sites. The deep root system establishes quickly and plants produce large quantities of leaf litter, helping to bring nutrients to the soil surface from the deeper rooting profile. Rubber rabbitbrush is also gaining popularity as an ornamental; the white/gray foliage, abundant flowering, and tolerance for poor conditions makes it well suited for desert landscaping.

Native Americans reportedly used rabbitbrush as a yellow dye, to make a medicinal tea, and for chewing gum. The forage value of rubber rabbitbrush varies greatly among subspecies and ecotypes. In some locations, it can be an important browse species for mule deer, pronghorn, and jackrabbits during fall and winter. It also provides cover for mammals and small nesting birds. Livestock generally forage only lightly on this species and it is considered to be of little value to all classes of livestock…

Photography by David Perry

What is one of my favorite gardening books?

The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden
by Stanley Kunitz

I love this garden book perhaps more than any other I have yet encountered. A hundred year old poet talks about gardens and poetry and draws parallels in their creation, maintenance and design. It is wise and kind, and magical. It is not in the least pretentious. It has a palpable sense of honesty and awe. I’ve given several copies away over the years and wander into and around within it on a regular basis. Stanley helps me remember what is important…

Thank you for sharing, David!

You can learn more about David on his website, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube accounts.


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