Here's my story: Why I'm able to be here, illustrating Garden
AtoZ, explaining garden how to, diagnosing your tree troubles, and
so on. If you want just the facts about me, not the story, you can
click to my bio, in our press package.
Developing an eye
My grandmother left her home on the shores of Lake Superior and
lived in California for a while. As a kid, I loved looking at the
photos she had from that time. They showed people I knew well, in a
landscape and situations quite foreign to me.
I also loved comic books. Still do. Something I love about them
is how a great comic artist can walk you through and around a scene
from all angles, and arrange all those perspectives on one page in
I got my first camera shortly before getting married. It was an
average camera but there was nothing average about where I pointed
it, or how many pictures I made. I had unending subject matter,
just in nature, sports, and two big families -- between myself and
my fiancée, Janet we have 11 unique, talented siblings. Janet and I
both had good paying jobs, so we never had to skimp on film,
developing, and photo albums for storing the results. Look from
enough angles, and take enough pictures, and some of them are bound
to be good... I know that now, but back then I just thought I was a
Another thing I didn't see then but can see now in my mind's eye
as well as in my photo albums from the time, is that I was
capturing and depicting my world to mirror the best, most artistic
comic books in my collection.
Time off for kids
When Janet and I had kids -- Sonja, and then Cory -- and I
stayed home to raise them, some people said, "Too bad. Your
photography will take a back seat." I guess it did for a little
while, when Sonja and Cory were babes in arms. Never bothered me,
though. It was the very best job I ever had, raising them.
Eventually, I had a hand free for a camera again. At about the
same time Janet began writing and teaching about gardening and
needed pictures to illustrate books and classes. There I was, with
two photogenic children -- and often a gang of others since a
stay-home parent does become a magnet for loose kids! -- and all of
us living in gardens full of hundreds of kinds of plants. Great
subjects once again, and now, lots of use for the results.
Everyone off to school
Once the kids were in school full time, I got serious about what
my new career would be. I'd been a heavy equipment operator and
mechanic's assistant -- great stuff to know but not what I thought
I'd do all my life. I dreamed of being a photographer, and re-upped
in college to follow that vision. With what I learned, and the
experience I got working in the college's photo lab, I knew I could
That's summa (cum laude) gardener!
While I was at school, we decided to grow my wife's part-time
gardening business into a full-time affair. As part of the deal,
the next time I chose electives I took some that would contribute
to that business, including a class in ornamental horticulture.
Those of you who garden know the next part of the story, although I
was clueless at the time. That is: once hooked into gardening, a
person does not ever get loose. I finished my years toward a photo
degree by graduating summa cum laude with a certificate in
New angles, and always dirt under the nails
My real education in gardening and photography is field-based,
however. Literally. Every day on the job, there was a different
site and objective. We had our eyes opened to what goes on between
the lines and behind the scenes in horticulture texts, and knew
others would benefit from seeing them, too. So we dug, tended, and
created beautiful beds and I shot before, during, and after.
I took a single shot at many angles and exposures then spent
hours --- years -- deciding what worked best, when and how in
garden shots. Still, I would come back to refine shots or shoot
more, because our use of a photo in a class or article pointed out
the need for one more angle. I've ruined some cameras and lenses in
the process of shooting with muddy gloves but we've been so into
learning about gardening and showing others 'how to' that even when
times have been toughest, financially, we've always found a way to
replace equipment and keep shooting.
File that under "Coincidental good luck"
I've worked for 24 years now in gardens as well as in my
photographic library. It was a big job to store tens of thousands
of slide images, and then a hundred thousand digital files. We had
to be able to find any one of them whenever we needed it, to
illustrate our own writing, prepare classes for the gardening
school we'd started, fill publishers' requests, develop
presentations for other speakers, and provide images to marketers.
Fortunately, I started out with a strong catalog system and stuck
with it. Today, we do all we did before plus make and retrieve
images for thousands of pages on a website, and my filing system
still serves us well.
Maybe that seems a strange thing to include here, but it's
important. I didn't know when we started doing it, how important it
would be to have an accessible library. That and other things just
came together to make this work I do now, possible.
Writing: In for a caption, in for a chapter
I stuck to illustrating for about ten years. I left writing to
my wife and others, except for my class materials. Those I
developed in outline format, so they didn't seem to count. Then,
about ten years ago, my wife laughed and said, "With your pictures
and captions, we really don't need my text!" That made me think
about what a student had said, "You must write this down! What
you're saying makes such good sense and it's not in these
So I accepted an offer to write for Michigan Gardener magazine. In
addition, for 12 years for our school I moderated an on-line forum
of close to 15,000 students of our school. As with my first camera,
I got so much practice writing the how's and why's that it just had
to become comfortable.
Last seen, best scene: Behind the lens
Still, I'm at my most comfortable behind a camera. That's why I
fit right into a community of gardeners who don't want to be told
what to do, they want to be shown how to do it themselves!