Swenson Gardens


Photographing Flowers in Full Sun

DSC05864Who doesn’t want to go outside and photograph flowers on a nice day? That was the case this evening while making the nightly rounds through the fields. Why then do most of our pictures look washed out and highly saturated? Yes you may have guessed it, too much sun! Sure we could wait till sunset but then the colors seem to fade with the sunlight so how can we shoot nice pictures in sunny conditions?

DSC05862These photos of the sub species peony ‘huthii’ were taken minutes apart. The difference is not in the camera settings but in a diffuser. Diffusers are readily available at any camera store and quite reasonable. Because it was windy tonight I didn’t set up the tripod holder but had Cara, a budding blogger and photographer, and my wife Becky hold it a few feet away from the bloom to yes, diffuse the sun. Looking back at a previous post regarding a prime shooting day with clouds acting like a huge diffuser but still having some sunlight enhance the colors in the photos. Yes this may require purchasing some more equipment like a tripod, diffuser holder and a 24″ to 48″ ROUND diffuser, but for those sunny shots, well worth the $200 to $300 investment for everything. I think the two diffusers I bought were $40 and $80 for the larger one. They come in different colors but I like the white reflective one.

DSC05845I just love the foliage on intersectional hybrid peonies. There is still the debate on what to call them. You may have seen Itoh’s, Itoh Hybrid, Intersectionals and intersectional hybrid peonies. We have chosen the terms intersectionals and intersectional hybrid peonies as they truly are two ‘sections’ of peonies that have been crossed. Toichi Itoh was the first hybridizer to cross these magnificent peonies and thus we do recognize his plants when we sell those varieties. Taking photos of ‘green’ foliage is again a challenge in sunny conditions. Even the green gets washed out and over saturated with too much sun.

DSC05847Now look at this spectacular intersectional hybrid peony seedling with the use of a diffuser. Pretty amazing, right? Time to diffuse the sun and get our photos back! Happy shooting!

Peony field jottings…

DSC05811 DSC05806 DSC05799Some new arrivals in the fields today! I had to try out my new camera tonight even though the sun was a blazing. I had mentioned earlier about moving up to a Sony A99 full frame body; however, based on my success with the A77, I actually went with an A77 mk ii. After speaking with Paul Nedrud at National Camera Exchange, it just made more sense to go with this body as the end product is already wonderful with the lenses that I have. The old adage of ‘its in the glass’ really makes sense! The better the lens, the better the picture! These were shot with the 24-70 Zeiss lens with a B&W pro xs nano MRC circular polarize filter. One tip when shooting with a circular polarize filter is to have the sun perpendicular to your subject. No diffuser was used so this is full sun shooting with spot on color even with Lil’ Sweetie on the right. Red is a bear to shoot in full sun. With over 6″ of rain in the last week, fields are very muddy. Color wise just a few varieties are starting to bloom. Will keep you posted on additional Peony Field Dates as the color starts to pop. This morning when I walked the colorful dogs it was 35 degrees. No frost on the ground like they are having about an hour north of here. Tonight is forecasting a balmy 38 degrees. Can’t believe how cold its been but loving the moisture. I heard that we are now out of drought conditions! Thankfully though our beloved peonies are drought resistant anyways! Happy gardening!

Additional composting team members?

DSC05829DSC05819For those of you following Facebook, now the bloggers are getting their first glimpse of our composting team. Nothing on our farm goes to waste! (ha, ha) All our fertilizer, aka compost, is raised and produced on our farm. That way we know for sure where our compost come from. The pasture and hay that we produce has had no chemicals applied to the source material for compost. The team is composed of short and long legged Dexters, a Scottish Highlander and a cross breed. They are very adapt at eating grass and hay so they fit well into our operation. All waste material, aka, manure, is then pushed into large piles, the heat from the summer reduces it down, its turned over a few times to make sure all is composting well and then wintered over to kill any remaining seeds that may have made it through the cows many stomachs. That compost is then spread back on the pasture and hay fields to provide natural, organic and micro nutrients. Now the best part, this compost is then used on our peony fields 2-years in advance to prepare for their planting and propagation. We are so blessed and thankful that the composting team is with us as they truly are the key to wonderfully rich soil. Both mom (cow) and daughter (heifer) are doing great! For those of you who are not familiar with Dexter cattle, they are very friendly amidst their horns and are 1/3 smaller than a normal beef cow like Angus and Herefords. These are examples of long legged Dexters. The color on the calf is called ‘dunn’. They are dunn, red or black in color.

DSC05824DSC05818This is one of our biggest cows whose name appropriately is ‘white face’. She too had a calf today and both are doing great. Mom has a few different crosses most noticeable is the Hereford having the white face (remember an earlier post of Redd and Brownie?). She also has some Texas Longhorn and Scottish Highlander. Now the daddy, Buford, is our long legged Dexter bull (who by the way is a big baby and loves to have his back scratched) that lives naturally with the herd. Will have to post a pic of him someday but Facebook followers have already seen him. So his new son has lots of crosses but is absolutely a charmer! This makes 5 new team members this spring and thankfully all are doing great!



Peonies offer many color changes!

DSC08702For most of us ‘peony lovers’, color often equates to their bloom color. I beg to differ this time of year. Many of you grow different varieties of peonies and may feel the same as I do when it comes to the first sign of growth above ground in the spring. Many shades of green light up the dull and drab site locations as they begin their life cycle. Once photosynthesis is in full swing, goodbye chartreuse and hello green. I’ll post some pics later after this ‘secret’ variety sets its blooms.





Field in Bloom Pic 11Friday, June 5th and Saturday, June 6th from 9 am to 5 PM. We are not open on Sundays. We will post additional dates as we get into bloom time. This photo was taken last year as the fields this year are still green with very few buds set. Please note that you will be walking through one if not two of our production fields. The field that many of you walked through over the years is now about 50% void of peonies as we start to transition most of those plants to another field. Our address is 10958 70th St SW, Howard Lake, MN 55349 and phone number 763.350.2051. Stay tuned for more info and as always, we are pet friendly (especially dogs) as long as you keep them on a leash,  clean up their type of composting material and remove from the fields!

Portrait Macro Lens Picture

DSC08654 (1)Toby (or as I call him, Panda) is seen lounging under a peony. This my photography friends was one of my toughest shots. Why? The colors of black and white are the hardest shots to get. Mainly because the auto focus on cameras cannot recognize and process those colors effectively. I mentioned the nuances of white yesterday but now lets look at black. Hover over this pic and you see will the differences. Black is not always black nor is white always white! So how do you get shots like this? Having a Sony a77 and soon to be an a99 for full frame, they have the ‘live view’ option when composing the subject. Yes I WAS a Canon shooter but having switched to Sony endears me with speed and color accuracy. This shot could not be composed as is unless I was in full manual mode. Sideline, if your camera has a ‘P’ for program button on your dial, start using that instead of the prepackaged ‘auto’ and ‘scenery’ settings. Then all you need to do is set your ISO at 100 or 200 for sunny days, 400 for cloudy/shady days and 800 for sunrise/sunset pics. If you know how to get to your white balance ‘WB’ settings, set appropriately for the day/night and get away from using the ‘auto’ white balance. If your camera does have the ‘P’ setting, it will automatically set your ‘F stop’ and ‘S shutter’ speeds. Cool huh? Now back to composing this shot manually…1) ISO 400, 2) F 8.0, 3) S 1/800 4) WB daylight/sun and 5) manual focus (why? if I were to use the auto focus (AF) it can not register black and white. I tried AF by focusing on the peony stem next to Toby’s nose and then moved the camera over to compose the shot, but it still came out blurry. The more you can get away from auto photography, the better your photos will be. Back when Swenson Gardens first started, I use to use a Canon A80 point and shoot camera. Yes 1 out of 10 shots were ok but now in the DSLR world, at least 90% of my shots are good. Yes it takes some practice and both Becky and i went through a digital photography class at National Camera Exchange as well as other classes, BUT time behind the eye piece of your camera is still the best way to learn. Happy shooting!

Portrait Photography with Macro Lens

DSC08666 (1)Macro lens are not just for close ups. I’m almost thinking in some subjects that using a macro lens really makes the details pop. Hover over the pics to enlarge and you will see what I mean. This photo was cropped; however, all photos shown on our website, blog and Facebook pages are all shot as is. We DO NOT use any software enhancement programs so you get to see all pics as is. Depending on your computer monitor, tablet and phones, colors may appear different on each device. I switch between a new 27″ iMac and a 32″ 1080p monitor and am amazed at the difference.

Macro Photography TIps

DSC08688From time to time I will offer some tips for those of us who like to get up close and personable with our subject matter. Today had perfect light conditions for macro photos. What is the perfect light condition? Cloudy, with some diffused sun penetration. You need some light penetration to allow your subject matter to pop! The dreaded dandelion comes alive with color against its dark green background. Trying out my new Tamron 90mm F/2.8 Di lens on a Sony A77 body. I also use a UV filter made by B&W and model is a XS – Pro Digital MRC nano. Yes its expensive but well worth it! DSC08714Since I love color, I like to keep my F stop around 7.1 or 8 and adjust shutter speed and ISO from there. One of our crab apple trees was loaded with honey bees (YES!) and just could not pass this up. Notice the pollen on this worker honey bee. Because the sun was peaking through the clouds, moved the white balance to ‘daylight’, ISO down to 400 and shutter speed at 1/640. The saturation of the color is amazing. I prefer manual focusing in the macro mode as automatic focus takes too long to get the shot and by that time the shot may be missed.DSC08681White is one of the toughest colors to shoot. I prefer sunlight in this case to really bring out the nuances and textures as this apple tree bloom presented itself in between the clouds. Again though this is a somewhat diffused sunlight, but what a difference versus shooting white when it was all cloudy.  Happy photo hunting! Can’t wait for the peonies to show!

Peony Field Jottings…

DSC08645With almost 3″ of rain this past week, peonies in one of our display gardens are looking great. As you can see the larger plants are early blooms, next size down are mid blooms and ones just starting are late blooms. This is why we stress planning your gardens with various bloom time peonies. Our new bloom time page should be updated soon with varieties available this season. In past years we’ve had at least six weeks of color from the first bloom to the last bloom. Fun to have ‘peony color’ this long versus having one type of variety that blooms and then you are done. DSC08647Tree peonies have set their buds and should have color in the next week or so. Tree peonies are sometimes one of the first ‘paeon’ to bloom, but this year the hybrid fern leafs beat the tree peonies. We will not have tree peonies for sale this year but maybe in the next year or two. All of our tree peonies are some of Roger Anderson’s seedlings so am anxious to see how they bloom and plant habitat. Since we are USDA zone 4a and at the colder range of tree peonies, the only variety that has made it in our fields are Japanese, Lutea and P.rockii’s. Chinese, American and Daphnes do not make it up here unless winter mulch/cover is provided. Just a word of caution to those of you who may be inspired to buy potted tree peonies and/or box store peonies, unless you know where they were raised and what if any name they are, don’t buy them! You get what you pay for. Stay tuned over the next few years as our field grown tree peony stock continues to grow and surprise us!DSC08659Intersectional hybrid peonies are just starting to set their buds. Can’t wait to see their color! DSC08663