Roses are red … sometimes

It’s barely 9 o’clock in the morning, and already more than 60 degrees. A thin layer of soil has risen from the parched fields and tinted the pale blue sky a desperate brown. Trapped between the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascades, the Willamette Valley acts like a little oven. It’s going to be a hot day, no breeze. Good for the area’s agriculture, but not good for being outdoors.

It isn’t just the sky. There’s still a week and a half to go until the first day of summer, and things are starting to look bleak. The grasses, waist high, or higher, are starting to dry out. The leaves on the younger saplings look like empty balloons. The rivers are high from snow melt, but the smaller tributaries are dry. It hasn’t rained substantially in some time. It feels like it’s going to be a long, hot summer.

That’s why I’m out early. Hoping to beat the heat. Destination: Bush’s Pasture Park’s rose gardens in Salem, OR. Bush’s is comprised of 90.5 acres of city parkland, a tidy corner of which is dedicated to a rose garden. It’s a straight shot off Interstate 5 down Mission Street, with ample parking on a weekday morning.


Gene Boerner variety, Bush’s Pasture Park

Now is the time for roses. Whether in a garden, a yard or in the wild, roses are in full bloom. Which means it’s a perfect time to photograph them. Domesticated varieties, thick and heavy with petals, come in almost every color, running the gamut from creamy white to rich purple. Creeping, climbing; long stem, short; small or large. The focus is usually always on the bloom.

From recent walks, I’m struck by the difference between wild roses and their cultivated counterparts. Wild roses, like their relative the blackberry, are aggressive when establishing themselves in an area. They form thickets of dainty green leaves and thorns, dabbled with clusters of pink. Each flower bears five crepey petals and a bright yellow center, open for business with bees and other pollinators.


Wild Wood’s rose, Portland-area

Wild roses have been around for 35 million years, domesticated ones for several thousand, and, the ones we more commonly know, for a few hundred. This selective hybridization has created some truly beautiful flowers. Bush’s Pasture Park, according to their estimate, contains around 100 varieties. Your interests may vary, but the luscious red of the Mark Hatfield variety and the twisted trellises with their menagerie of climbers were standouts.

Whether you’re photographing the prim roses of a garden or their hardy counterparts in the woods, choosing a subject can be a little overwhelming. As always, the best bet is to find something of interest, something unique. I happened to be at Bush’s just after they watered with sprinklers. Shooting water drops on flowers makes for some great photos. There’s also the opportunity to catch a bee or other insect looking for pollen and nectar. In addition, spiders take this same opportunity to catch those insects, and you’ll often find a spider hidden neatly in the inner petals of a bloom. Look for well formed flowers, or, on the flip side, wilted and crumbling flowers that might make a statement or have interesting texture. Keep your lighting in mind and pay attention to highlights or back lit petals and leaves. Avoid flowers in light that is too intense, as they will often shine or become iridescent.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to stop and “smell the roses”. It’s easy to get caught up in the shooting photos. But, be sure to take some time to enjoy the place you are visiting. I spent about 2.5 hours here, which included the adjoining Deepwoods Museum and Gardens. Bush’s also has a rhododendron garden and a camas field, both of which might be worth revisiting in the spring.




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