Maroon & Orange Iris

Maroon and Orange Iris // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsYes, it’s another post about an iris. And yes, it’s another post with yet another purple-y and orange iris. But this one is different… this one is more maroon! And I think it may be the prettiest one yet.

So why am I still discovering new irises in the yard, after living here for almost two years?

Here’s my theory! Bulbs use all their stored up energy to bloom, and once the bloom fades, then they start to store up energy for the next spring. So if you chop back the leaves of a bulb too soon, it won’t have time to store up enough energy for the next year, and may never bloom again. This house sat empty for three or four months, before I moved here in the summer of 2010 – so my gut feeling is that these irises last bloomed that spring, when there was no one here to water them, and then the heat of early summer caused them to die back too soon. So they were too exhausted to bloom in the spring of 2011. But this spring? They’ve had over a year of regular watering, and they’re in good fertile ground, so they decided to go for it this year!

And here’s a little photography note for my non-photographer friends, who want to take better photos of the flowers in their own gardens… If you look at the images of Ugly Iris I blogged two weeks ago, and compare them to these images, you can see the difference a little sun makes. The Ugly Iris images were shot at the very end of the day at about 6:00PM, with some golden light coming from the west, as the sun set. Not a whole lot of sun – but some gorgeous golden glow from that side of the sky. And these images today were shot earlier – about 4:30PM – but it was cloudy and not quite raining, but it’s been kind of misting all day, on and off. I love the golden glow of the Ugly Iris images, but I also love the really saturated colors you can get on a cloudy day! Point is, you don’t have to shoot flowers when the sun is high in the sky – in fact, you will likely get more interesting images if you shoot when the light is more interesting!

So are there any other secret flowers about to bloom in my yard? I don’t know, but I hope so!

Maroon & Orange Iris // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The Ugly Iris

My mother instantly loved it. My grandmother instantly dubbed it “The Ugly Iris.” And when I saw it all I could think about was grabbing my camera and documenting it, because I have never seen an iris like this before.

Instead of the violet or royal shades of purple I’m used to seeing, it’s a dusky dark purple, and depending on the light can look almost like a dark dusky pink. And instead of the bright yellow accent parts, the part of the flower called the beard is bright orange, and the lower petals, known as falls, start out purple, then go to ivory, then a light orange, and then purple again. It’s so different than any other iris I’ve ever seen! And it’s the only one, and it didn’t bloom last year – it was a total surprise when it came up in my front yard – since all the other irises are either the traditional violet shade of purple, or a bright yellow.

I googled and it appears it’s a Tall Bearded Iris, known as Raspberry Fudge. Interesting. But I can see the raspberry moniker – since the color seems to shift between dark dusky pink and purple, depending on the light.

Raspberry Fudge Tall Bearded Iris // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Raspberry Fudge Iris // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Tall Bearded Iris // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsPurple and Orange Iris // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

So what do you think? Is it truly The Ugly Iris? Or is it beautiful? Or something in between? At first, I thought it was interesting, but I wasn’t sure if I would have actually chosen it. But the more I look at it, the more I like it. It’s growing on me. And as you can see by the images, there are two more buds on that stem, so I’ll get two more chances to figure it out!

Science and Health, and Art…

Pink Blossoms // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsTime for a little truth…

I got sick, which was completely unexpected for someone as healthy and strong as I’ve always been. Plus I’m a non-practicing Christian Scientist. I wasn’t supposed to get sick.

After months and months of languishing, I finally went in for surgery. It was a Tuesday, and they finished surgery on a Thursday, and I didn’t wake up until Friday. And then I couldn’t walk. And no one knew why. For 18 days.

Completely and totally unexpected.

But this isn’t a post about almost dying, or the fright I gave my poor family, or the fright I gave my doctors, and it’s not about pain and suffering. This is a post about gratitude. It’s a post about the light, after the dark. About love, and the absence of fear, and the voice of God when I needed to hear it most.

I am lucky. I am blessed. I am grateful!

I’m NOT grateful for the illness, I’m grateful that I lived through it, and grateful for the recovery! I’m grateful to be almost healthy again, only four months later. I’m grateful that my doctors thought I was worth saving – they could have stapled me back up and sent me back home to slowly die – but instead they dove in and took the risks and did the almost impossible. They saved me. I may have been the most complex “case” they had ever seen, but they didn’t let that stop them. I am so grateful that I was at the right hospital, with the right doctors!

And I’m grateful that God spoke to me, the night before the surgery, and let me know it would be worst case scenario, but that it would end up okay. Going into surgery I was the only one in the room who knew what we were facing – the doctors had no idea – my family had no idea – but I knew. And I was okay with it, because I had a promise from God that it would be okay. I wasn’t afraid. I had no reason to be.

And once I woke up? I woke up grateful, and I’ve stayed grateful. I feel extraordinarily blessed and lucky! How can I not?

Life changing events happen to people every day. People win the lottery, lose a loved one, fall in love, fall out of love, get in accidents, and get sick. It’s not at all uncommon. But do those events really change the people involved? I think sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is no – but in my case, I do feel changed, in a very real and meaningful way.

I am still the same basic person – I’m still enthusiastic and passionate, and I still love beauty and art – but I have a new sense of urgency. And what I want – urgently and now – is financial security and to own a home. In the past I was perfectly content to drift along financially, as long as I was artistically challenged. But now I want financial security as well as artistic fulfillment – and I believe the best way to accomplish that is to go back to the way I used to live, when I was first starting out as an artist – back to the days when I had a day job, and I did art on the side.

That may sound odd, coming from an artist – don’t all artists want to eventually give up the day job? I sure did! But now I’m looking forward to going back to working a real job. I remember the days where I created art, without any thought to making money from it, and I sort of miss those days. And while I’ve enjoyed the last decade more than I can ever express, I’m looking forward to a new challenge.

Black Tulip // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsBlack Tulip // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Back when I was in high school there were only two jobs that interested me – actor and lawyer – and I chose actor. Then somewhere along the way I discovered photography, and my career path shifted. And now? Maybe it’s time for my career path to shift again? And in a direction that I was attracted to, back in high school. I have always been attracted to the law, and while I’m not interested at this stage in my life, in going to law school, I think I’ve found a related path that will fit me just fine! I’ve been accepted to UCLA – into their graduate level certificate program to become a paralegal. The program will take a year, and I start in a couple of weeks, and I’m really excited. I was on campus this week, signing papers, and seeing where my classes will meet – and I am so ready for this!

I want financial security. I want to own a house. I want to create art in my spare time.

So today I am giving thanks for my new career path.

I’m giving thanks that warm weather and longer days and more sun are on the way!

And I’m giving thanks that I get to celebrate another birthday today! My Father says that this is the second half of my life – the first half ended on the day I went into surgery – and the brand new second half began that same day. I kind of like that idea. And I’m ready to make the second half of my life really count!

Happy birthday to me!

And the flowers? They are in my front yard right now – it’s definitely Spring in Southern California!

Baroque & Beautiful

I’ve mentioned before on this blog how much I love the Victorian ideal of a yard full of fruit and flowers – all together. They didn’t relegate their fruit trees to the backyard – they’d plant an orange tree right in the front yard, next to the roses. And grapevines would twist up and over the front porch, right next to a wisteria covered in blossoms. Fruits and flowers, in the yard, and in their art…

But the Victorians weren’t the first to love still life art consisting of fruit bowls and flowers. And in fact, during the Baroque period, a kind of art emerged that I personally find fascinating – called Vanitas, they were still lifes with rotting fruit and faded dying flowers, and sometimes the artists even included insects in their paintings.

Why would anyone want a painting of rotting fruit? Or dying flowers? Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the genre flourished, the religious message was that life is fleeting, and that death is inevitable, so you better get with it and live right! Rotting fruit and flowers symbolized how quickly life and time passes – and if life is brief, then you better get good with God now, rather than later, because it might be too late if you wait.

I remember seeing a huge painting of a dinner table in a museum in Paris in 2004. I had no idea what it meant when I saw it, but I was transfixed by the fact that the subject matter – imperfect fruit and flowers – was painted so perfectly, and so beautifully. It was this huge gorgeous painting, beautifully done, of wilting flowers and food that looked way past it’s prime. Gorgeous, but oddly disturbing. I stood in front of it far too long, and kind of fell in love with the strange genre of Vanitas art. But I never thought about creating any Vanitas art of my own.

But this summer, as I’ve watched the plants in my yard wilt and wither and suffer from the heat, and as I see some plants start to die back, as we head toward Fall, I’ve sort of enjoyed seeing overblown roses fade, and my lone Hollyhock come to the end of it’s blooming life. Everything in the yard is pulling back, and withering, and it’s not unattractive – it’s just different than the lushness of Spring. Everyone is drawn to the first perfect flower in Spring – but can just anyone also appreciate the last rose of the summer?

Yellow HollyhockFaded Yellow Rose

Pink Tea Roses

Pink HybiscusHollyhock

Rose of Sharon

Hollyhockpurple flowers

Pink Flowering Tree

So that’s my first personal experiment with the Vanitas genre – not exactly the most pure of attempts, but definitely inspired by the ideals of the movement! Art, even the oldest genres doesn’t have to be stuffy – it can be fun!

And I want to make one quick point – art doesn’t have to be time consuming either, or require a lot of thought or preparation. All of these were shot very quickly just after sunset, on two consecutive evenings. I started at 6:38PM yesterday and finished up at 6:47PM – so just nine minutes the first night. And then I started at 6:22PM tonight, and shot my last frame at 6:35PM – so 13 minutes tonight. And the processing of the images took about 50 minutes total. Writing this post was probably the most time consuming part of the whole process!

As for the technical details, the first night I shot everything with a 85MM lens and the second night I used a 50MM lens exclusively – and everything both nights was shot at f/1.8 or 2.0, except for the horizontal image of the pink roses, and the very last shot of the fushia flowering tree branch, which were both shot at f/3.5.

Spring Flowers, April Showers

One of the best parts about moving into a new house is seeing what happens in the yard over the course of the first year. Sometimes the tree you sort of, kind of don’t really like all that much, breaks out in blossoms, and you’re in love. Sometimes a neglected corner starts to fill in with new growth, and then explodes in riotous blooms. I’ve heard it said that you should live in a house for a year, before tearing out any plants, because you never know what those existing plants may do – and if you tear them out too soon, you may miss some great potential.

I moved last summer, so this is my first spring in this house, and evidently the previous owners were big on flowers – because the yard is full of blooming plants. It’s very cool!

We’ve been told that some of the trees are black walnut, and when I Google them, the leaves do look right – but I didn’t find any images of the blooms that were as magnificent as the ones here. We have pink blooms on one tree, and white blooms on two other trees. They look just like wisteria blossoms – and the leaves look similar to wisteria as well, but the rest of the tree, and the nuts that form later are definitely not wisteria!

ETA: Ooops! I’ve been told that the trees are actually Black Locust, and Googling proves that to be true!

Black Locust // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsBlack Locust // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Black Locust // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsBlack Locust // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Black Locust // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Black Locust with White Blooms

There are lot of different kinds of bulbs and some primroses…

TulipsPurple Flowers


There are probably too many iris in the yard – if that’s possible.

Purple Iris

Purple Iris

During the Victorian Era, they were big lovers of fruit and flowers together – and it’s one of my favorite looks. There’s only one fruit tree in the yard – a lemon tree – but hopefully someday there will also be oranges and tangerines and apricots – all things that grow well in Hemet!

Lemon TreeBlack Tulip

And I’ll end with a black tulip. Have you ever seen a flower that elegant? It’s definitely a statement blossom!

On a technical note, all of these were shot between 4:09 and 4:30PM this afternoon – so a few hours before sunset – and the wind was blowing hard for most of those twenty minutes. I used a 70-200mm lens, at f/4.0, ISO 320, and as high of a shutter setting as was possible. Part of the challenge was in shooting flowers that were blowing and moving – and still trying to get a perfect image, that looks like the world was perfectly still when it was taken. The 70-200mm is my least favorite and least used lens, but sometimes it’s fun to shake things up and force yourself to do things in a slightly different way than you may be used to.

Shaking up your art – especially when you’re doing something as trite as shooting flowers? It’s a good thing! So grab an unfamiliar lens, shoot in a windstorm, whatever! Just shake it up and see what magic happens…

And as I sign off, raindrops are starting to hit the roof again… Hopefully the very last storm this season!

Wildflowers in Menifee

Purple Wildflowers in Menifee // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsYellow Wildflowers in Menifee // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I’ve heard the wildflowers in the desert are really magnificent this year – we got a lot of rain in January and February! But even if you don’t get out into the true desert, you can find patches of really pretty wildflowers just off the freeway, all over Riverside County. These images were taken this afternoon, eleven minutes apart on McCall Road in Menifee, on the corner of Encanto for the first image, and on the corner of Sherman Road for the second – in other words, less than a block from the freeway.

The Pico Promenade in April

We’re in the middle of a heat wave – and I love it! It feels like summer… So I went for a walk along Pico Promenade today, and shot all the flowers in bloom along Fallbrook Stream, in Fallbrook California.

Wisteria on Pico Promenade

Bright Sun


Pico Promenade

Pico Promenade

Pico Promenade

This last image may be my favorite of the day – it’s my favorite fence in front of the old Packing Plant – again!

More, More, More!

So Many Pink Blossoms

Exactly eleven days after the last post, this is what that same tree looks like. Just amazing. I really do prefer the first image – but I can’t get over the opulence of the second image. Spring is on a rampage!

And catch the orange California Poppies below – our state flower, and one of my all-time favorites!

Desert Hot Springs, California

One big benefit to all the rain we got in January and February, is the wildflowers in March! I was out in the desert today – out by Palm Springs – and everywhere you looked there were wildflowers in full bloom. It was a gorgeous day too – warm and sunny with a big beautiful blue sky.

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Yellow & Blue // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

House in Desert Hot Springs

For some reason I can’t really explain, I really like this tiny little house. Maybe it’s the colorful window coverings? Maybe it was the quiet? The only sounds were some chickens clucking in the distance. Maybe it was because it was smack in the middle of the best field of wildflowers I found? Yeah, that’s probably it.

When I got out of my car, a jackrabbit came crashing out of the brush only a few feet away from me. I love jackrabbits! They’re like mini kangaroos with massive hind legs and they soar when they jump. He wasn’t too afraid of me, he only went a couple of dozen feet away, and then sat and watched me as I worked. I kept expecting him to hop away, when I turned my back, but every time I looked over, he was still there, sitting totally erect, with one eye on me.

Jack Rabbit

Can you find the jackrabbit? It’s tough. If you look at the two brown cactus in the center of the photo, he’s sitting right in front of the base of the cactus on the left, and he’s in profile.

Bee in Desert Hot Springs

I also saw a few healthy bees. Lately all I’ve seen have been dying bees, on the ground, walking in circles. It’s a real crisis, so I was happy to see some bees doing what bees are meant to do – hopping from flower to flower and helping to pollinate the world. We need the bee!

And I saw lots of wildflowers and cactus and brush – really pretty stuff!

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

I can never resist beauty…

Orangey Pink Blossoms

Orange and Pink Glow

I love both these images – shot yesterday – but the second one positively glows. It looks like a watercolor painting to me. It was shot at f1.2 at 1/2000th of a second, and only the petals nearest to the camera are in perfect focus – the rest are just a beautiful blur.