Passions — a blog

2024 Northwest Flower & Garden Festival

Every year when February rolls around it’s time once again for the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival at the Seattle Convention Center. It’s the second-largest flower show in the US (after Philadelphia) and has been inspiring northwest gardeners since 1989. I’ve been to the show nearly every year since 1996 and have photographed the display gardens many times.

The Secret Garden display garden by Nature Perfect Landscape & Design, NW Flower & Garden Festival, Seattle, WA. © 2024 Mark Turner

This year’s gardens were particularly impressive, including the Founder’s Cup award winner pictured above, called “The Secret Garden” and designed by Nature Perfect Landscape & Design. Continue reading

It’s the New Year So It Must Be Spring

'Dawn' Viburnum blossoms

We sometimes joke that spring begins on New Year’s Day here in our corner of the Pacific Northwest. Given how mild December 2023 was, there’s a bit of truth to it even though the calendar says winter has just begun. Winter gardens are quiet, but if you look around you’ll find things in bloom.

These blossoms of ‘Dawn’ viburnum, Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, are lightly fragrant. They’re on a substantial shrub we planted along the path between our house and my photo studio about eight years ago from a rooted hardwood cutting. On calm days during the winter I enjoy their fragrance on my way to and from my office.

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Northwest Flower & Garden Festival 2023

I’ve been attending the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival in Seattle since the mid-1990s. It’s one of the premier garden shows in North America and always a delight to savor in February, when spring is just around the corner and we gardeners are thinking about the upcoming season.

Afterglow display garden by Redwood Builders LLC, Landscaping and Bonsai Northwest, NW Flower & Garden Festival, Seattle, WA. © 2023 Mark Turner

Now that we’re mostly out of covid pandemic restrictions, this year’s show feels a lot more like it did pre-pandemic than it did in 2022. The display garden area is back to capacity, with 18 gardens this year. The crowds are back, too. That’s good for business, but does make it a little crowded on the show floor while you’re enjoying the display gardens and shopping among all the vendors.

As I’ve done in many previous years, I photographed each of the display gardens and created a fast-paced video slideshow to give you a feeling for the show. Like other years, the display gardens can best be described as garden theater. There’s dramatic lighting and sometimes you’ll see plant combinations that just won’t work in the real world. But you’ll definitely come away with new ideas to incorporate into your own garden, whether it’s a cool plant you’ve never seen used that way or an idea for a structure or hardscape.

Here’s the video, which runs just over 7 minutes. It’s best on a big screen. Enjoy!

35mm Black & White

Black & White 35mm Film

Since I’ve decided to rekindle my interest in working with the older and slower medium of black and white film I came to the conclusion that I should practice with 35mm film before making the considerable investment in film for my 8×10 camera.

I spent a little time online researching which films are currently available as 8×10 sheets and then ordered a couple of rolls each of the same emulsion in 35mm size. Somehow I forgot to order one I wanted to try, Ilford FP-4, so I’ll pick up some of it later. One of the films in the photo, Ilford SFX200, is an outlier as it’s not available in sheets. I’ll say a bit more about it below. Continue reading

Bigger, Slower, Harder

8x10 view camera

During the end-of-the-year holidays I pulled my Burke & James 8×10 Commercial View camera out of storage, with the idea of putting it back into service. I originally purchased this camera back in the 1970s and exposed a few sheets of film with it in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I haven’t used it since December, 1981 when I attempted to photograph our wedding with it. That was a big mistake.

I don’t know exactly when my camera was made, but I found a 1967 Burke & James catalog which shows it as a current product at that time. Since these things don’t change much and it’s a classic design, I suspect my camera is a bit older than that but there’s no way to know for sure. Continue reading

Penstemons and Gooseberries

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Cascades Penstemon

Cascades Penstemon (Penstemon serrulatus), the purple flowers in the photo above, is native to the west side of the Cascades and a prolific self-seeder in our native plant garden. It stays in bloom for about three weeks for us, just finishing up now. If I recall, we started with just one or two plants in a different garden bed a few years ago. We cut a few stems with mature seeds and spread them in this bed and now we have masses. They seem to move themselves around to where they want to grow, which is how we ended up with this floriferous border. Continue reading

Channeling My Inner Lizard

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Camp chairs among the sagebrush

Last weekend Brian and I headed over the mountains for a belated camping trip to Seep Lakes Wildlife Area, just south of Potholes Reservoir and between Moses Lake and Othello. This was our fourth time camping there, but a month later than in previous years because of travel restrictions due to covid-19. For the fourth year in a row we essentially had a lake to ourselves.

What’s the attraction to camping in a place with no facilities, no shade, and a habitat degraded by masses of cheat grass and other weeds? After a long, cool spring we were ready to soak up some heat. It was over 90° when we arrived and set up camp. We also like getting outdoors under a big wide-open sky with no one else around. We like wearing as little as possible, sometimes just sunscreen, sandals, and a hat. And we like hearing the cacaphony of birds down by the lakes. Continue reading

A Hike Back to Spring

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Massed Corn Lilies

Saturday Brian and I hiked back in time. No, we haven’t invented some marvelous time machine. We just picked a trail that started higher than where we live and hiked uphill. While it was early summer down in Bellingham, we found early spring on the Hannegan Pass trail some 40 miles up the road and 3000 feet higher in elevation. There were no other cars in the parking lot and we didn’t see anyone else along the trail, though there were a few footprints in the mud that told us others had passed this way in recent days.

Green corn lilies (Veratrum viride), just getting started, complemented masses of slide alder (Alnus viridis) in this recently-melted avalanche track. We marveled at acres and acres of this lush foliage on both sides of the trail. Later in the season these plants will be over four feet tall. Continue reading