For 8+ years, I was Head of Marketing for David Austin Roses. Time well spent and much savoured, working with a lovely, warm, caring team of people, an archetypal British brand & some of the world’s most charismatic roses.
Looking back, I have very few regrets, except I have to pinch myself to believe that I didn’t take full advantage personally of the two acre rose garden in our backyard.
I’ve always wished I could take better pictures. I should have freed myself years earlier to learn by trial and error how to take decent pictures of these beautiful cottage garden flowers. What held me back?
Well… I compared my fledgling skills to those of the talented garden photographers I was lucky enough to work with. Not surprisingly, I found myself sadly lacking. We already had an extensive, rapidly expanding library of beautiful images of all kinds of roses to use at work. Better, I thought, to concentrate on doing what I knew I could do well.
Of course my own pictures didn’t need to be world class – but, at that time, the professional me foolishly imposed exactly the same standards on my images as on the work of any other photographer. So I inhibited myself from taking pictures in my spare time, even though I had a sneaking suspicion I’d really enjoy it.
Looking back, I have to face the fact that for nine summers, I could have had access to a garden filled with photogenic plant material, before or after work – at the ideal times of the day for photography, when the light was interesting and hardly a soul was around. It would only have taken a mindful, daily walk through the garden to learn to anticipate almost exactly when each rose would reach its peak of beauty.
I did enjoy several hours and even days in the garden, or at a smattering of other gardens in England, working with professional photographers as a reserve when rosarian, Michael Marriott, was elsewhere, helping to find the roses we most needed. I took a keen interest in how each approached his or her work, noticing a few simple but effective tricks of the trade.
And of course I did spend some of my spare time simply wandering or relaxing in the garden. Who could resist? Yet, for perhaps five or six years, I can’t remember photographing a single rose in the garden myself. Even after that, pretty much until 2013, my few attempts were hurried, fleeting – almost embarrassed. Despite this, I did manage to capture a few images I liked.
Time is a great teacher, if we’re open to it. I learned from talking to gardeners, rose lovers, breeders, journalists and photographers I met around the world. I visited many rose and gardening blogs and got excited about the words and pictures others were sharing. At last, I gave myself the freedom to try to take as many photographs as I wanted and to fail as often as needed to learn: to experiment, relax & have a little fun.
I came to see that professional rose photography was not the be-all-and-end-all I’d imagined, in all situations. I found room in my life to enjoy many styles of photography – including, at the opposite side of the scale perhaps, the barely in focus picture of a prized rose late in the season, still flowering, but with just a few bedraggled flowers. If a picture gives pleasure, represents something precious or helps preserve a memory, that’s fine by me.
And I found out it’s not actually all that much of a risk to put yourself on the line creatively by saying “This is the best I can do…so far!”.
As I plan to share some of my photos and thoughts here, in the interests of disclosure, I confess that I doubt I could ever have a completely impartial view of the roses I worked with for so long, even though I ceased to be a paid employee some time ago.
I loved gardening when I joined David Austin, though to be truthful, I was not a rose lover. In the course of my work, I have caught on rose thorns and torn in my attempts to get free all my favourite, flowing skirts and dresses, and have received numerous small or not-so-small personal scratches, but I willingly forgive it all. Over the years, as I learned to appreciate the individual characters of the most popular rose varieties, it seems that they stealthily rooted their way into my heart.
It’s perhaps worth making the obvious point that none of the pictures you’ll see here are official or approved – far from it. They are all my own work and copyrighted by me, unless otherwise indicated. Any views expressed are purely personal ones.
Many of the plants photographed on this website are covered by trademarks, plant patents and licenses, including David Austin’s roses. Please refer to the breeders’ websites for details.