Wild Flowers in Wild Meadows

– Posted in: Garden Photography
Castilleja miniata - Great Red Paintbrush, scarlet paintbrush, flowering wildflower, California native plant meadow

Castilleja miniata – Great Red Paintbrush in Sierra meadow

For most of the eight years I have been contributing to Gardening Gone Wild I have wanted to simply show wildflower photos. I have been enthralled by California wildflowers for more years than I have been a garden photographer. Indeed, my portfolio of wildflowers got me my first job as a garden photographer in 1984. Thank you Barbara Ferguson Stremple for your encouragement.

Sidalcea hartwegii - Valley Checkerbloom - annual wildflower California native plant in Sierra meadow

Sidalcea hartwegii – Valley Checkerbloom

At the time, just beginning to understand the fine art of gardening, I made little connection between native plants and gardening. That first job was a book about Rhododendrons and Camellias. What did I know ? Native plants were, well – wild.

California native plant meadow

Solidago elongata – Canada Goldenrod

My wildflower excursions had nothing to do with gardening, organic gardening was a fringe term used by the Rodale Institute, and sustainability was irrelevant in a time when very few considered limits to our natural resources.

Delphinium, larkspur in Sierra meadow

Delphinium, larkspur in Sierra meadow

How we have come around. Gardening with nature rather than conquering it is now honored. Yes, there are still manicured lawns, topiaries, formal gardens, and hybrid tea roses (thank goodness), but naturalism and native plant gardening are becoming more and more popular. With good reason – it’s a beautiful look, an aesthetic that says I care about my own climate.

Veratrum californicum, California corn lily, California false hellebore, native perrenial in Sierra meadow

Veratrum californicum, California corn lily

When Fran Sorin and Nancy Ondra started Gardening Gone Wild I don’t think it was for wildflowers, “wild” being a term for exuberance not plants, but I always wanted to push GGW in the direction of celebrating wild gardens. I have used Gardening Gone Wild to promote garden photography, to help gardeners to take better pictures, even write my PhotoBotanic workshop e-books, but during this entire time I have been aching to show native plant gardens and wildflowers.

Navarretia leptalea - Bridges' pincushion plant (aka Gilia leptalea) flowering annual in Sierra meadow, California native plant

Navarretia leptalea – Bridges’ pincushion plant (aka Gilia leptalea)

These wildflowers were all taken during a recent trip to the Sierra Mountains in search of meadows and native grasses. I may be a garden photographer, but I am a gardener first and photographer second. As a gardener I want plants I can sustain, and I want beauty.

Lepidium nitidum -Shining pepper grass, Martin's Meadow Eldorado National Forest

Lepidium nitidum – Shining pepper grass

In photographing The American Meadow Garden I realized the importance of modeling our garden meadows after nature and the native plants of whatever region we garden. I went around the country to photograph Rocky Mountain meadows, glades in the midwest, “balds” atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, abandoned farm fields in New England, prairies and savannah grasslands, but not to the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.

A High Sierra source of South Fork American River - Carex springs, California native plant meadow.

Meadow as High Sierra source of the American River.

I assumed I knew what I would find there, that I had enough photos in my library, and that I did not need to go take pictures. About those assumptions? Yes, yes, and no.

Artemisia arbuscula little sagebrush with Collomia grandiflora - in Martin Meadow Eldorado National Forest

Artemisia arbuscula – little sagebrush

The recent trip did validate what I expected to find: yes, Sierra meadows are full of lovely grasses and flowers in late summer. And yes that book needed nothing I had not already seen, but oh lordy how I needed to go to the mountains to take pictures. It is a need deep within me, to be with the plants, to get down on my belly and view them straight on.

Collomia grandiflora - Large-Flowered Collomia, flowering annual wildflower in Martin's Meadow Eldorado National Forest

Collomia grandiflora – Large-Flowered Collomia.

The romance of a meadow has much to do with the fecundity of the earth, moisture implicit by lushness. We are expected to roll around in the grass surrounded by nature’s wild gifts, the flowers.

Lupinus formosa - Blue flowering summer lupine in California native plant Sierra meadow

Lupinus formosa – blue flowering summer lupine

This is what I did for three days, rejuvenated by nature’s gardens, guiltlessly celebrating these plants that needed no supplemental water, no weeding, no fertilizer, no nursery.

Eriogonum umbellatum - Sulpher Buckwheat ymellow flowering wildflower above Martin Meadow Eldorado National Forest

Eriogonum umbellatum – Sulpher Buckwheat.

We may be in a long term drought in California but that does not mean the native landscape is gone. In the mountains, at the headwaters of the rivers, high up there still are creeks, and the springs that feed them begin in meadows. I knew this must be true, I am so, so very happy to report to you: I found them.

Ipomopsis aggregata - scarlet gilia in open forest above Martin's Meadow Eldorado National Forest

Ipomopsis aggregata – scarlet gilia.

Veratrum californicum, California corn lily yellow late summer foliage native perrenial in Sierra meadow

Veratrum californicum, California corn lily yellow late summer foliage

Oh, Did I say I found grasses too ?  Photos for another post begin with this:

California native grass in Sierra meadow

Stipa occidentalis v. californica, California Needle Grass,

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic.com, 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 www.photobotanic.com. https://photobotanic.com
Saxon Holt

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29 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Kerry August 27, 2015, 9:19 am

Beautiful and moving photos. Bravo!!

Marilyn Cornwell August 27, 2015, 9:53 am

Every image is gorgeous with flowers I don’t get to see – thanks so much!

Bob Beyer August 27, 2015, 11:14 am

“People garden in order to make something grow; to interact with nature; to share, to find sanctuary, to heal, to honor the earth, to leave a mark. Through gardening, we feel whole as we create our personal work of art upon our land – BUT nothing compares to what the Creator has already given us in nature”.
(Source unknown, but love this)

Brian Derrick August 27, 2015, 11:21 am

What beautiful photographs! It’s hard to believe uncultivated can be so gorgeous, when sometimes as gardeners we struggle to get things up and going. I’m looking forward to planting desert adapted wildflowers for Arizona. I found a local resource that sells seeds of local wildflowers (as well as vegetable seeds adapted to the low desert) it has really made a difference in my gardening success.

Saxon Holt August 27, 2015, 12:04 pm

Thanks Kerry – the flowers inspire, I just document

Saxon Holt August 27, 2015, 12:06 pm

Thank you Marilyn – few of us get to see these flowers, which of course, is part of the appeal; though here in California some of these are becoming more common in gardens, the Sulpher Buckwheat for instance.

Saxon Holt August 27, 2015, 12:07 pm

I think this requires an “Amen!” Thanks Bob.

Saxon Holt August 27, 2015, 12:10 pm

Finding seeds of local plants is SO important. We see many flowers marketed as “wildflowers” but without saying where they are wild. All flowers are wild somewhere. Good luck in the desert – embrace the aesthetic and accept the downtime as dormancy.

Angie August 27, 2015, 2:20 pm

Such beauty!! I favor the Shining Pepper Grass.

Saxon Holt August 27, 2015, 2:45 pm

Isn’t that a nice one Angie ? I remember years ago coming back form a photo excursion to the desert and coming back with stories for my kids about pepper grass and salt grass.

Lee Cash August 27, 2015, 6:10 pm

Hi, I am new here, I started the first few pictures and through I would look at the one I like best, Then go on , But they all are so beautiful, I had to look at them all very slowly!

Jude Parkinson-Morgan August 27, 2015, 8:23 pm

Saxon. You have excelled yourself here good sir! Such gorgeous images. Hope these are going on your Summer Dry website so they can be viewed widely? Thank you for sharing.

Saxon Holt August 27, 2015, 10:01 pm

Thanks for dropping by Lee. Glad you can find no one “best”. Enjoy

Saxon Holt August 27, 2015, 10:07 pm

Jude – Thank you mam. A much longer article is in the making for the “Summer-Dry” section of the PhotoBotanic site (free to members)along with its own gallery of photos in the Archive. The summer-dry site is, for the moment, only a place for plants in gardens.

Lynn August 28, 2015, 7:21 am

What a perfectly lovely way to start my morning. Thank you.

Donna August 28, 2015, 8:35 am

Very wonderful sentiments, images and words, Saxon. I too have the same feeling when in nature and its meadows. Here with our drought, the meadows are lacking bloom. Most plants have browned unfortunately. Even my own garden native plants are looking weary. Donna from garden walk garden talk. Still can’t post from that blog, so I tried my nature blog.

Saxon Holt August 28, 2015, 12:34 pm

Thanks Lynn – I had lovely mornings in those meadows.

Saxon Holt August 28, 2015, 12:38 pm

Hi Donna – Thanks for making the effort to make a comment. I want to hear more about your trouble expositing (off line). The meadows I found are in the mountains at the headwaters of rivers. If one looks, meadows are there. More on the PhotoBotanic site.

jim August 29, 2015, 6:59 pm

wow this is a beautiful collection of pictures , I usually find some great stuff just by stumbling upon them will have to come back when i have more time to check out the rest of this site . really loved the close up picture of the Lupinus formosa excellent work thanks .

Saxon Holt August 29, 2015, 7:15 pm

Thanks of dropping by Jim. I bet you are using California natives in your own work.

jim August 29, 2015, 7:22 pm

yes we do looks like I might get some new ideas from your site thanks again.

Hector August 31, 2015, 12:06 pm

The California corn lily looks amazing, even in the late summer stage! Thanks so much for the great pictures Saxon!

Saxon Holt August 31, 2015, 6:25 pm

Thanks Hector – I assume you liked both the corn lily photos. I was amazed to see both the flowering ones and the ones with beautiful fall foliage.

Emily September 1, 2015, 5:53 am

I am such a fan of big, gorgeous meadows and your photos definitely reflect their beauty.

Saxon Holt September 1, 2015, 11:20 am

Thanks Emily – I hope you will check out my meadow blog at PhotoBotanic

Hector September 1, 2015, 11:49 am

Saxon, Yes! I love both and how they add color and texture to the scene.

Saxon Holt September 8, 2015, 7:53 pm

Ahh Hector – love your comment; thanks

BOGUSIA October 12, 2017, 3:24 am

Hello Saxon, what is the name of the first flower? Thank you in advance.

Saxon Holt October 13, 2017, 4:03 pm

Thanks for you interest. In hoping others may want to know, I have added the caption onto the post:Castilleja miniata – Great Red Paintbrush in Sierra meadow

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