Western Hills Garden is a treasure. Begun as a homestead in 1959 by legendary plantsmen, Marshall Olbrich and Lester Hawkins, it became one of the most influential gardens on the West Coast, alway seeking new plants adapted to the summer-dry, mediterranean climate of Occidental, in Sonoma County.

I was just learning to be a garden photographer in the late 80’s as the garden matured and became the “go to” destination for plant lovers. I never met Lester who died in 1985, but have this photo of Marshall, smiling and welcoming me, as he did for so many seekers of beautiful plants for our distinctive climate.

Marshall Olbricht at Western Hills Nursery, 1990

More than any other garden I photographed during my early years as a garden photographer it inspired me to learn about West Coast gardening.  I was certainly NOT an East Coast garden modeled after European formalism.  It was a plant collection of explosive beauty and textures.

Paths wandered through beds of shrubs and perennials juxtaposed for shape and texture.  Flowering grasses were used as billowing ornamental plants.

It was a candy store for a garden photographer just learning to see.

Western Hills Nursery. Plant collector’s garden. Drought tolerant California garden with Stipa, Echium and Lavender

After Marshall passed away in 1991 he left the garden to Maggie Wych who kept it going for many years, supported by its eclectic nursery; but the garden fell to neglect once she left.

Now the garden is recovering under the ownership of Tim and Chris Szybalski.  Literally tons of overgrowth has been removed in the past 5 years.  Paths and foot bridges have been rebuilt.  It is time for a photographic renaissance.

There is nothing like good photos to excite publicity but the new garden does not have a good library of photos to share.  I want to help change that, and am leading photo events in the garden to help change that.

First on Saturday, June 3, I am leading 2 two hour walking tours, morning and afternoon for Pacific Horticulture Society: Through the Eyes of a Photographer.  The morning walk will focus on photographing a complex garden and the afternoon session will concentrate on shooting individual plants under challenging lighting conditions. The $45 charge is a benefit for PHS.

The next day, June 4, is an intensive all day photo workshop for 10 students.  The $199 fee includes a $50 donation to the garden

The workshop is for serious students who want to learn how to work in a complex garden in the tough lighting conditions of hills and tall trees.  Student should bring a tripod and laptops for downloading photos for the critique sessions.

I will donate all my own photos to the garden and ask students to consider it as well.  The great satisfaction of a garden photographer is sharing a garden so that others gardeners can see beauty the way the photographer sees it, in hopes that good garden practices are encouraged.

Western Hills is a great garden that needs our support as garden photographers.  We will have permission to publish photos ourselves, so lets give back to the garden.  Gardeners everywhere will benefit.

Rustic bridge over pond; Western Hills Nursery, California

Participants for the Pacific Horticulture went are encouraged to bring cameras but there will be no time for instruction or critique.

The all day workshop begins at 8:30 and we will quickly get to work while the sun is relatively low, working on capturing garden design and garden rooms.  We will have our first group critique in the morning and after lunch a second photo session, concentrating on individual plants portraits and textures.

Hercules Canna Lily, Western Hills Nursery, California

Depending on the mood of the group our afternoon critique may be long and intensive, or short, and we get back into the garden for more photography.  Every workshop has its own character.  I can’t wait to get to work on this one ….

 

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