Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
March, 2011
Regional Report

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Rob Cardillo captures springtime at Chanticleer, with its expansive drifts of daffodils and clouds of redbuds in bloom.

A Pleasure Garden Through the Lens

It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it. Getting up before dawn. Being serenaded by early morning songbirds. Carrying tripod and cameras from one awesome scene to the next.

Award-winning photographer Rob Cardillo has a career most of us would envy. Fortunately he shares. His work brings us into gardens we might never visit, as well as some we may enjoy firsthand. Cardillo's latest project is of the latter -- photos for Adrian Higgins's soon to be released book, Chanticleer: A Pleasure Garden (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

More than forty of his Chanticleer photos are on exhibit at the Wayne Art Center in Wayne, Pennsylvania until March 19. For a firsthand experience, Chanticleer Gardens, also in Wayne, is open to the public starting March 30.

Cardillo began visiting and photographing Chanticleer in 1997. For this book, he and Higgins, separately and together, observed the gardens over two growing cycles. "We chronicled the charms and dug deep into the corners of this amazing forty-eight acres," writes Cardillo. "Even after dozens of visits, I'm always surprised at the sheer beauty."

He photographed at all hours, in all weather."Early mornings are simply magical at Chanticleer -- or any garden for that matter," he adds. Autumn is his favorite season. "The colors and textures are incredibly rich but much less predictable as the garden declines."

For each three to four hour shoot, he'd walk a different path though through the entire property. "I had a mental checklist of specific garden moments I wanted to capture -- the cherry blossoms falling into the raked forecourt, for example. But I always had time to follow my muse. My best pictures are often those that I don't plan."

Higgins, Chanticleer Executive Director Bill Thomas, and Cardillo culled thousands of images "for photos that conveyed a strong sense of place, even with the closeups." After a little post-production work a la Ansel Adams (spotting out dust, adjusting contrast ratios, bumping up colors), he rendered them with pigmented inks and archival papers.

What does he look for in a garden to photograph? "A sense of style. Gardens are made by people. Who they are usually comes through. They create a world and can imbue it with warmth, beauty, mystery or surprise. I especially love gardeners who know their stuff but don't always conform to rules. Coming from a family of painters and musicians, I liken it to modern art or jazz. You learn the rules first, then bend and break them to suit your vision."

Cardillo also does personal projects viewable on his website. While visiting Rome, he shot candids of tourists then paired the results for added humor. He's building a body of work based on parking garages.

Here are some of Cardillo's photo tips:
1. Know your camera. Even the tiniest of point-and-shoot is capable of so much -- but you must read the manual (even though it's three times the size of the camera!).
2. Look at light. Learn how it moves, see its subtleties, moods, meanings. Understand how to translate light's qualities through the lens.
3. Always experiment. Digital photography has erased the cost factor of film. Play, play, and play. Make images that ask questions, show relationships rather than objects, and just delight you.

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