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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 12 January 2018 by Tim Ingram

Heather Angel - Flowers in Close Up. 60th Anniversary meeting.

'Flowers in Close Up' - 60th Anniversary talk to the East Kent AGS, 10th November 2017.

The ways we view plants take different forms depending on perspective.  The scientist looks to botany, genetics, biochemistry, physiology and ecology; the gardener to cultivation, colour, habit, beauty, novelty and design - and perhaps if you are a plantsman, rarity. Within the AGS the emphasis can be on the individual species as a 'specimen', but more completely as part of a community in the garden and as plants in the wider landscape.



In her talk to us in November, on Macro Photography and Pollination, the renowned Nature Photographer Heather Angel bridged these two ways of looking at plants by combining the aesthetic beauty of close-up photography with the function of the flower to attract pollinators.  The result is a much more complete sense of the precision of interaction between flower and pollinator in both garden and natural world. Her talk was based on her beautiful book 'Pollination Power', published in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in which she researched and photographed a wide range of interactions between different plant species and their specific pollinators.

To give a taste of the real quality and skill of her work I have picked out just two examples from the book, one  that would appeal to any alpine gardener of Crocus korolkowii in Tajikistan, and the second a marvellous shot of a humming bird pollinating a fuchsia!

Photography has that ability to focus both technically and imaginatively on detail, and Macro photography takes this to an epitome, but also requires great patience and expertise to perfect. This introduction to her book may not be too easy to read copied here but gives a précis of what is a really finely conceived and written volume in which the photographs have been taken specifically to illustrate the precise process of pollination in many different situations, and in a number of cases to dispel myths about which are the true pollinators of particular species.

In the first half of her talk Heather Angel discussed the technical detail of taking close up and Macro photographs, showing us various tricks for planning shots and holding the object, the novel ability of digital cameras and computer software to make images by 'focus-stacking' with extraordinary depth of field, and particularly the importance of lighting to emphasise the subject of the photograph in different ways. In the second she combined her photographic expertise with that strong knowledge of natural history to show us a wonderful range of images linking flowers with their pollinators, many taken from her book 'Pollination Power'.  In the final chapter of this book, entitled 'Flowers - the Future', she makes the connection between the natural world and 'gardens' (in the widest sense of that word), for the ways in which the latter can conserve and inform our understanding and impact on the former, quite apart from the aesthetic and intrinsic appreciation of gardens and plants alone. She describes how the Internet can play a very positive role in recording and analysing biodiversity and connecting beginners/amateurs with experts/professionals and sharing valuable information on change in the environment. This will be no surprise to many members of the AGS but at the same time illustrates how this new medium used everyday by millions in innumerable ways is something that a society like the AGS needs to embrace more effectively if it is to truly move on into the 21st century.

This was a special talk for our East Kent AGS Group to celebrate its 60th Anniversary and we commissioned a suitable cake for the evening...

The Group held its initial meeting on 23rd November 1957 with Admiral Paul Furse as Chairman and Dr. Jack Elliott as Secretary and thirteen members and four guests present, including the Secretary of the AGS itself, C.B. Saunders and Miss Davenport Jones who ran Washfield Nursery, and with an annual subscription of 3/6d! Over the following years many eminent gardeners and horticulturists joined including Pamela Schwerdt and Sybil Kreutzberger from Sissinghurst, Richard Gorer, Clive Boyce, Elizabeth Strangman and Graham Gough from Washfield, and very many more recorded in our meetings books, making for some very stimulating and exciting meetings within my own memory and a whole number of fine speakers that carry on to the present day. 

We went to great lengths to advertise the evening much more widely to photographic societies and beyond and as a result more than doubled our normal audience and were treated to a really informative and vibrant evening that crossed the interests of ourselves as 'gardeners' and those of visitors, mostly as photographers. The ways we think about and share, and record, a knowledge of plants and gardening relies heavily on photography, and taking photographs reflects back on this because of the ways we use these to tell stories. And the stories that Heather Angel told us were truly enlightening as well as being aesthetically beautiful.

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