The earliest inspirations for my photography career were in my grandparents’ garden. I have a hazy recollection of scented shrubs such as mahonia japonica, buddleja, roses and of my grandfather in his vegetable patch. I particularly remember fruits such as gooseberries, raspberries (a favourite) and rhubarb.
Despite my grandfather being a market gardener (not to mention other gardening members of my family) and my mother growing a large number of houseplants, particularly orchids and primula auricula, I wasn’t interested in gardening or photography myself until a move in 1990 to a near derelict farmhouse in Somerset, which came with a similarly overgrown garden. I started to photograph the house and garden as a before and after project and looking back, this is where my interest in both gardening and photography began.
However, it wasn’t until several years later in 2004 after working as a software tester, that I decided to go to college to learn horticulture, with a view to making this my career. The more gardening books I studied, however, the more I found myself interested in how the photos were taken. This led to more learning, this time on a workshop run by garden photographer Clive Nichols at RHS Rosemoor in Devon. I soon realised that garden and flower photography was something that I really wanted to do.
With no formal qualification in photography, I taught myself to ‘see’ pictures and progressed through trial and error by being my own worst critic.
One of the first gardens I photographed was Hadspen walled garden in Somerset, being only a few miles from me I was lucky enough to be able to hop over the gate at any time, very often having the garden to myself. Ironically it was the closing of the garden which gave me my first pictures in print, having been there to take photos when the bulldozers were there.
I think this must have been where my interest in walled gardens first began, followed closely by Forde Abbey (www.fordeabbey.co.uk) which has a great kitchen garden and an inspirational visit at any time of year. Another great walled kitchen garden can be found at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and it is particularly interesting as, since it’s redesign, plants have been selected either to be representative of the Victorian era, or to have a link to the garden’s royal roots, for example there are two cultivars of rhubarb called ‘Victoria’ and ‘Prince Albert’.
When photographing kitchen gardens, my work then inevitably crosses over into food photography, from still life fruit and veg, to fully prepared dishes. However, gardens and flowers are my main style so an ideal shoot for me would be early morning, alone in a walled garden. It’s so much more rewarding when I walk into a garden not knowing what to expect and having the challenge of finding pictures that others might not see.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust
Walled kitchen gardens are great for new ideas and varieties, particularly where they also have a cafe or restaurant to try out the new ingredients!
I’ve recently been encouraged by the latest River Cottage series to try new recipes with vegetables and be more seasonal with my cooking. My latest phase is making soups and this has spurred me to make more of an effort with my own vegetable garden. So, I’ve recently been planting new rhubarb, raspberries and sowing broad beans. There are garlic bulbs to go in soon having been converted a long time ago by Colin Boswell at The Garlic Farm (www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk). Even if I don’t manage to grow very much, I always like to ensure I have potatoes as you can’t beat the flavour of freshly dug, homegrown potatoes.
I do find it hard to go anywhere without my camera, as it’s difficult to switch off from looking for that perfect shot and although it might look like the day’s weather is set to be miserable, there have been so many times where the light has changed for the better and an opportunity presented itself.
Pursuing a career in photography is hard work. If you believe in what you are doing then always be prepared to learn and never give up. There are ups and downs but it is also the most enjoyable job I’ve ever done, meeting new and interesting people and gaining a lot of new friends along the way.
Heather Edwards’s Website: www.htedwards.co.uk
Follow Heather on Twitter: @Upwiththelark