Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Bluebell time

with 59 comments

 

Two years ago, during the first months of the pandemic, I brought you a picture of probably the densest and most expansive colony of bluebells (Eustoma sp.) I’ve ever seen. It sprawled across a field on the south side of San Gabriel Blvd. in Leander, a rapidly growing suburb north of Austin. Unfortunately that rapid growth meant the field soon became a construction site and the great bluebell colony was destroyed before another spring came around. This year a post in the Texas Flora group announced that some bluebells had come up on the north side of San Gabriel Blvd, presumably the progeny of plants from the now-gone colony. On June 14th I went up there and, sure enough, I found some bluebells flowering, mostly in a ditch.

For the portrait above, I lay on the ground and aimed toward a patch of bright sky. (If I remember correctly, this is the first picture with a white background I’ve posted since a winecup in December 2021, and that was the first since a rain lily in March 2020.) The portrait below shows some bluebell buds beginning to open.

 

As I was finishing up my photography in Leander, I noticed a crew of mowers getting closer and closer to the wildflower-filled ditch. When a guy with a weed-whacker approached the far end of the ditch, I went over and talked to him in Spanish, asking him not to cut down the beautiful wildflowers. He asked me if I was the encargado—the person in charge—of the property. I said no, but as a citizen it was important to me to preserve the wildflowers. He pointed to a guy on a tractor who he said was the head of the ground crew, so I walked over and talked to him. He turned out to speak good English. He said the crew mowed on a schedule, and he didn’t seem at all concerned about cutting down the flowers. I asked who at his company I could talk to. He pointed to the company truck, which had a phone number on it. I walked close enough to the truck to read the phone number, called it, and got a message saying that number was out of service. It didn’t seem there was any more I could do, so I drove home.

Two days later I went back to see what had happened. To my pleasant surprise, I found that the guys in the crew had mowed a narrow strip along the top edges of the ditch but had left everything lower down alone. It seems my plea had done some good after all. Below, strictly for documentary purposes, is how a portion of the ditch looked when I returned there. Other than the bluebells, prominent flowers were horsemints (Monarda citriodora) and firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella), visible in the upper left, and two others that I’ll show in a separate post.

 

After I told this story in the Texas Flora group a couple of days ago, florally named Rose Thomas commented that the incident reminded her of Robert Frost’s poem “The Tuft of Flowers.” I didn’t know that poem, so I looked it up and found a version in which Robert Frost himself reads it as the lines of verse scroll to keep pace. I also replied to Rose: “In addition to the bluebells at the bottom of the ditch, the mowers had spared one that was flowering up high, at the level of the adjacent field, next to a culvert. Substitute the culvert for a brook, and that bluebell could have been the tall tuft of flowers in the poem.” (That will make sense if you check out the poem.)

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 19, 2022 at 4:34 AM

59 Responses

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  1. Superb !

    gwenniesgardenworld

    June 19, 2022 at 6:18 AM

  2. I love those top two photos and how very different they are. I’m always fascinated by buds and I like how these have that nice spiral to them. Great to hear you were able to sway the mowers into a good compromise.

    Todd Henson

    June 19, 2022 at 6:43 AM

    • Different indeed: each latent flower lies tightly and spirally rolled inside a bud.

      I’ve been dismayed over the years by the damage mowers keep doing to our wildflowers, which they often cut down in their prime rather than waiting till after they’ve produced seeds. This was one little victory against so many losses.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2022 at 6:58 AM

  3. I didn’t know that poem either, so thank you for the link. It is often so that a polite request is heard and the workers were perhaps pleased to be a little rebellious too. 😉

    Cathy

    June 19, 2022 at 7:19 AM

    • That makes two of us who are grateful to learn about Frost’s poem. I like your notion that the workers might have enjoyed a bit of rebelliousness.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2022 at 7:29 AM

  4. The Texas bluebells are so very special. Great story and photos, Steve.

    Jet Eliot

    June 19, 2022 at 8:42 AM

    • An extra reason to appreciate bluebells is that they reach their peak when it’s already summer and past the lush colonies of spring wildflowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2022 at 8:58 AM

  5. A lovely photo well worth the effort!

    Peter Klopp

    June 19, 2022 at 9:34 AM

  6. “… a leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared…” Lovely post – thanks for linking the poem. 🙂

    • You’re welcome. Change the scythe to the weed-eater the workers at the ditch were using, and the poem fits right in a century later.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2022 at 11:09 AM

  7. Great shots and great intervention on your part to save the wildflowers from the mowers/weed eaters. I first met you back in 2012 on a NPSOT-Wilco field trip near Briggs when the Bluebells were in bloom, if I recall correctly. I’d never seen or heard the Robert Frost poem – very apropos.
    I think that if Landscaping and mowing contractors would ensure that their staff were trained on the TXDOT’s Roadside Vegetation Management manual (available online) (or that Counties, Cities, and HOAs would make that as a part of their contracts we would see a lot more roadside flowers, and we wouldn’t have to rely on the happy coincidence of you being out on a photo shoot at the same time the mowers and weed eaters were out doing what they get paid for).
    Well done and done well while doing good.

    RobertKamper

    June 19, 2022 at 11:57 AM

    • Ah, 10 years since 2012. I do remember going on that field trip up near Briggs.

      I suspect, unfortunately, that few landscapers and even fewer mowers (essentially zero) have ever heard of TXDOT’s Roadside Vegetation Management manual. My dealings with mowers have convinced me that those people are inordinately and intransigently intent on sticking to their arbitrary schedules. In short, it’s an obsession. This one little bit of good I may have done hardly compensates for the years of prematurely cut-down roadsides I’ve endured. But if you know any ways to influence the people in charge of counties, cities, highways, HOAs, etc., go for it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2022 at 12:25 PM

      • Alas, I recently added my name as a write in candidate for my HOA, having been encouraged to do so after providing native plant alternatives to things like Pampas Grass (Big Muhly) for the rehabilitation of the median that runs through our subdivision. And was elected. But if i can live through the three year term, I might be able to influence some folks. My wildflower restoration project on the berm between my house and the green belt is being observed by the mowers, and this year only collected three bags of Maltese Star Thistle. (That’s under the BCMUD, though). Here’s to education and hope for the future…

        RobertKamper

        June 19, 2022 at 1:21 PM

        • Good for you! Let’s hope—your “Alas” aside—that you can indeed survive the three-year term and do a lot of good for native plants and mowing sanity.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 19, 2022 at 1:42 PM

  8. Thank you for the lovely poem and flower pictures! Happy June.

    Caroline Smith

    June 19, 2022 at 12:25 PM

    • You’re welcome. If this is June, summer is almost officially upon us, even as it’s been upon us for a long time in terms of temperature and drought.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2022 at 12:26 PM

  9. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ” ~Margaret Mead. And in this case, only one was needed. Well done, Steve.

    Eliza Waters

    June 19, 2022 at 2:26 PM

  10. I’m glad you didn’t find the devastation you anticipated upon your return, but many tufts of flowers for the butterflies to alight on. 🦋

    tanjabrittonwriter

    June 19, 2022 at 3:51 PM

  11. Great result!

  12. What a wonderful poem. I’d not come across it before, and I nearly wept for the ‘wildered butterfly.’ It reminded me of my first experience of truly seeing a mower, and what damage it could do. You may well have made a difference in your situation, and that’s really all we can do: deal with what comes our way, instead of ignoring it.

    As for the bluebells, lucky you to have the chance to make such appealing portraits. Coincidentally, I found one bluebell yesterday in the prairie portion of the Hamby Nature Preserve. It was enough to tempt me into a detour over to the Brazoria refuge, where I found more bluebells than I’ve ever seen there.

    The past two years there have been few to even fewer bluebells, perhaps thanks in part to management mowing and burning. This year? They won’t be as thick as what you saw in Leander, but they’re just coming on, and it looks like there may be areas with enough to make me happy. By the time I found them, it was mid-afternoon and so hot that I just couldn’t concentrate on photography, but I intend to get back there sometime this week to give it another try.

    shoreacres

    June 19, 2022 at 8:39 PM

    • I see how the poem brings back that disturbing experience you had with the purple leatherflower five years ago (which I followed your link to remember the details of). Those of us who put ourselves out there as often as we do inevitably have our (mostly bad) experiences with mowers.

      This seems a good year for bluebells. I’d already found a few before my San Gabriel experience, and you’ve found more bluebells at the Brazoria refuge than you have in other years. Sounds like some cool portraits await your return one morning soon. Happy hunting.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2022 at 10:06 PM

  13. I hope Linda will forgive me for playing with her comment and making it “a- pealing’ portraits. I am sure, if they could, all the bluebells would be peal your praises for appealing to the mower crew to spare them.

    Gallivanta

    June 19, 2022 at 11:57 PM

    • Did you know that peal developed as a shortened form of appeal?

      https://www.etymonline.com/word/peal

      I hope some karmic good will accrue to the crew that spared the wildflowers. (And yes, crew is the same word that makes up the second part of accrue.)

      https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=crew

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 20, 2022 at 7:04 AM

      • I knew the first but not the second. I accrued some knowledge thanks to that crew.

        Gallivanta

        June 20, 2022 at 7:06 AM

        • And before sleep accrues in your mind, here’s another: fence is a shortened form of defence (which Americans spell defense).

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 20, 2022 at 7:34 AM

          • Oh! That makes sense. But why don’t Americans shorten it to fense? Maybe some do.

            Gallivanta

            June 20, 2022 at 8:56 PM

            • I’ve never seen anyone use the spelling fense. While I don’t know the history of the word’s spelling in American and British English, I can confirm that the Latin past participle from which we got our word was spelled with an s.

              In parallel with defense getting shortened to fence, defend got shortened to fend and defender to fender.

              Steve Schwartzman

              June 20, 2022 at 9:35 PM

  14. […] the ditch along San Gabriel Blvd. in Leander on June 14th that you heard about in the last post, I couldn’t help but notice a lushly flowering black-eyed susan plant, Rudbeckia hirta. […]

  15. I’m so happy those in the ditch were spared the cutter’s blade.
    I also loved the poem which I hadn’t read before.

    That second flower image stole my heart. It’s so pretty, so fresh, with wonderful bokeh. Or it could be that I just love green. 💚😄

    circadianreflections

    June 20, 2022 at 7:38 AM

    • Bluebell flowers are so large and showy that I think many people under-appreciate the buds, which as I photographer I find intriguingly shaped. Usually there’s at least a hint of the purple that normally emerges in the flowers, although I’ve occasionally seen a white bluebell, just as I’ve seen white variants of many other predominantly purple flowers.

      If only incidents in which mowers spare wildflowers were the norm and not the rare exception….

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 20, 2022 at 6:32 PM

  16. Every once in awhile life surprises us and that crew did just that for you. I imagine the crew leader either thought no one would care about the bottom of a ditch being neat or just didn’t want a piece of equipment going down there. Either way you got a good deed done, at least for now. Chances are it won’t last forever. What a coincidence that in the poem and in life a tuft of flowers survived the cut.

    Steve Gingold

    June 20, 2022 at 5:32 PM

    • My intuition is that the worker whom I spoke to in Spanish, and who was already at one end of the ditch, was more likely responsible for sparing the flowers in the ditch than the guy in charge of the crew, who seemed so unsympathetic when I walked over to talk with him. Your idea that people wouldn’t care so much about the bottom of a ditch seems plausible, too: people driving by on the street can see only the very top of the ditch, and that’s the strip that got mowed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 20, 2022 at 6:37 PM

  17. I really like the white background and I can see that you have put a border there to frame against the white of the page.

    Alessandra Chaves

    June 21, 2022 at 2:24 PM

    • Only rarely have I gone for white backgrounds. In contrast, I’ve had a whole lot of black ones lately, thanks to flash (as in the pickerelweed core picture). As you pointed out, I put a noticeable black border around the top picture to keep its background from merging with the white of the surrounding page.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 21, 2022 at 2:59 PM

  18. Oh what a pleasant surprise Steve .. I’m so pleased! Great shots btw

    Julie@frogpondfarm

    June 28, 2022 at 1:25 AM


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