This is New Mexico ?

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Garden Travels

Festival Green, the entrance to Rio Grande Botanical Garden

It is such fun to enter a botanic garden with no expectations, not knowing what, or if, there will be anything to photograph.

I was in New Mexico recently, among other things photographing the Domenici Courthouse, a Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES™) project. SITES™, the landscape equivalent of LEED, now has projects becoming certified and I am delighted to begin photographing them.


Domenici Courthouse, SITES™ project, Albuquerque

On my last day in Albuquerque I went to the Rio Grande Botanic Garden hoping to find some perennial color and sustainable garden ideas for the Southwest. To be honest, I had not heard good things about the Botanic Garden and was suspect of any garden with such a huge lawn component, like their Festival Green.

It is a funny thing that we see what we want to see sometimes, and see only one side of a story. I had heard from sustainability friends that the Botanic Garden was misguided and had too many gardens that used too much water.


Sasebo Japanese Garden at Rio Grande Botanic Garden

That is very true with the big Festival Green lawn and the Sasebo Japanese Garden but this botanic garden is meant to be an oasis in the arid West, a place locals can go to enjoy the outdoors, play, stroll, and relax. Sometimes the public good is well served by a bit of extravagance.

And I DID find the Xeric Garden, the Pollinator Garden, the Arroyo, the Sand Hills, and the Desert Mountain gardens. A map of the garden is found at the end of the post.

Wonderful Achillea was covering the Xeric garden, a meadow in all its glory, making a wonderful contrast to the Festival Green lawn.

holt_1112_033.tifBut most unexpectedly, at the end of the day I stumbled into the Children’s Fantasy Garden.


I felt like I had fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole.  Everything was out of scale.


As I walked past an outsized flower pot and under a huge flower “growing” out of it, I noticed a bee.


A hidden speaker suddenly erupted, and was startled by intense buzzing .


What fun!  As a parent I worried that kids would by now be crying.  As a big kid I was grinning ear to ear.

I went through the maze and truly got lost, making many wrong turns, finally entering a series of tunnels – mole tunnels.


Light came through a series of holes open to the sky as if I were a rodent looking up.

While I delighted in being underground, taking photos was a huge challenge.  It’s dark in those tunnels; and the sky is bright. A great time to use a Photoshop technique of merging different exposures, expanding the dynamic range of the camera sensor.  Many cameras now have built-in HDR (high dynamic range) settings that will automatically use multiple settings.

I do HDR merge in my post production where a single tool in Bridge will merge the frames I select.  The key to making it work is to use a tripod for tack sharp (and unchanging) focus and thus NO change in composition when the multiple images merge; and being sure to adjust the exposures by means of shutter speed, not the aperture setting which subtly changes focal depth of field.


Four frames selected for HDR merge of dark tunnel

Often these merged images initially look ghostly and flat but that is easily corrected with other tools.


Notice the hose nozzle has appeared from the shadows.

This is New Mexico ?  It could be anywhere a Botanic Garden chooses to be creative.

However one more quick photo tip takes advantage of the truly New Mexico feature of the garden. There is a Heritage Farm section in the garden with an old Southwest style farmhouse.   A ready made photo opp with red peppers drying on the porch.


This is a charming Old West home but the peppers are what make it so special.  If that is the story I want you to see, I’ve got to get a lot closer, find a good photo angle, and make that the story.


Not that is New Mexico.

Rio Grande Botanical Garden map

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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3 Comments… add one

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John Rusk July 11, 2014, 5:46 pm

A beautiful garden wonderfully photographed, with a tale well told. You make me want to travel to New Mexico just to see the garden.

Thanks John – If you like these photos wait til you see more of the Xeric meadow. We both love the dry gardens. I’ll keep you posted. – Saxon

Suzanne July 12, 2014, 7:44 pm

What a great garden! The children’s area, with its irresistible invitation to explore a magical garden as if one were no bigger than a mouse is such a fabulous idea. I will definitely put this on my list of gardens to visit. Thank you also for the interesting lesson on camera magic!

Thanks for dropping by Suzanne and if you get to Albuquerque, yes, not to be missed. – Saxon

Catherine July 13, 2014, 2:18 am

What a fascinating photo-merge technique, Saxon. And I love the the look of the xeric meadow

I will be posting more of that xeric meadow. Glad you liked it too. – Saxon

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