A Photographer looks at Lotusland

Through the Lens

By: Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt is a professional garden photographer who contributes regularly to Pacific Horticulture and is widely published in books such as Hardy Succulents, The…

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Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla. Photo: Saxon Holt

Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla. Photo: Saxon Holt

The last time that I visited Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California, I was there on assignment to photograph prehistoric plants, those that existed in a sad time before flowers. Lotusland is well known for its Cycad collection, but I was particularly impressed by the garden’s collection of Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla), that were growing ever so much taller than the potted plants I was familiar with that are commonly grown as houseplants or little Christmas trees.

I guess because I was already stretching my neck to look up at the trees, I continued doing so as I walked the garden. Everywhere I looked I found leaves and branches creating patterns and shapes against the sky.

The branches of tree aloe (Aloe barberae) look like sparklers in the sunlight. Photo: Saxon Holt

The branches of tree aloe (Aloe barberae) look like sparklers in the sunlight. Photo: Saxon Holt

Lotusland is a fantastical garden. And so beyond my understanding as a garden photographer that on my first visit many years ago, I did not take a single picture. Certainly some of that early incomprehension was due to my garden naïveté and some was surely due to the difficulty of taking photographs in the bright sunny light of Southern California. Now I use those light conditions to my advantage. Indeed, it is only with strong light that the photographer can create a glow through leaves and foliage.

Australian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi). Photo: Saxon Holt

Australian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi). Photo: Saxon Holt

This magnificent specimen of a mature Australian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi) in the Lotusland landscape and a brilliant sunny day created a special opportunity for making a picture.

Tip: All of these photos were taken using a tripod and carefully metering the exposure; in the dark shade beneath trees the camera exposure needs to be opened up 3 to 4 f-stops to reveal details of the trunks and branches.


Ganna Walska Lotusland
Santa Barbara, California
www.lotusland.org

Because Lotusland is a public garden in a residential neighborhood, advance tour reservations are required to visit, call (805) 969-9990.