City Green:Public Gardens of New York. Mick Hales recalls photographing the book. Part one- Getting in Early.

Wave Hill Aquatic Garden
The Aquatic garden at Wave Hill comes into its fullness later in the season and is a great place to learn about water planting.

Mick Hales recalls photographing the book City Green: Public Gardens of New York published by Monacelli Press. Written by Jane Garmey.

Getting in Early.

Photographing landscapes and gardens for the book City Green: Public Gardens of New York, gave me a chance to really explore the richness of NYC gardens open to the public. New York has a wealth of different gardens as well as parks, which add to the quality of life for New Yorkers and visitors.

When Photographing gardens the most important times are early morning and late afternoon. If it is a day with clear sky and very strong daylight it is much harder to photograph, especially in the middle of the day, the contrast is too high and colors are washed out. Most gardens are a combination of different shades of green which in a soft even light can read as many different hues, but in harsh light plants loose their subtlety and appear very reflective or dark.

Getting into the gardens early in the morning for City Green proved to be more difficult than I had expected. Many of the gardens required extensive clearance to enable me to photograph with a tripod.

Scheduling in advance means you have to deal with whatever weather the day gives you. I had to travel from Columbia County into New York City, which was around 120 mile drive, to arrive before the sun got too high, and too strong to shoot, which meant leaving home around four in the morning.

With some of the locations I would arrive after the long drive, anxious not to miss the early light in the garden only to have to wait hours for a garden’s PR person to come into work.

I have now published around 40 coffee table books and recognize that acquiring access is one of the major issues to it’s success. One of my favorite books which I wrote as well as photographed is called Monastic Gardens. We photographed in monasteries in France, England and America for the book. I spent a long winter writing letters asking permission to photograph inside monasteries. These days e mails help to speed things up but people are still very busy and it can take a long time to arrange a shoot.

Gardens change so quickly that a day or two can make a huge difference in their appearance. A burst of hot weather, which often happens in the spring, can push bulbs and spring flowering trees to cycle through blooms in days rather than two or three weeks.

I remember traveling to photograph the garden of Oca, in Portugal, for House and Garden magazine, the night I arrived there was a sudden freeze and snow fall. The garden was destroyed when I got up to shoot in the morning, it looked the antithesis of a Portuguese garden and I came away with very little exposed film. That is a long way to go to return empty handed.

Gardens are fickle and photographing them takes a lot of patience. The number of times a gardener has said to me, ‘I wish you had been here a week ago the blooms were terrific, now a lot are over.’ I would wish they had told me two weeks ago that the blooms were coming in and I would have changed my schedule.

Get your copy of City Green; Public Gardens of New York, and find out about the wonderful gardens waiting to be seen the next time you have some time in NYC.

West Side Community Garden from the book City Green.
Springtime is especially beautiful in New York with thousands of bulbs in bloom.

Mick Hales

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