I learnt this term a few months ago, shortly after I purchased my new camera.
Bokeh is the Japanese word for ‘blur’. It describes the blurry, blobby, smeary or smudgy background you get against the foreground image which is in focus.
I took a few photos of the bright border this afternoon. I wrote a post on Monday about colour contrasts (Using the Colour Wheel to Plan your Garden). The bright border is a place of contrasts, with contrasts of colour, shape and form. I thought I would try to capture some of these. As I was looking back on the photos I was struck by the beauty of bokeh.
I like the way that the smudgy bokeh radiates outwards from the ink-splash shape of Centaurea ‘Jordy’. I also love the contrast of the sharply-focused, nearly-black anthers and the white highlights of the silvery green foliage in the background.
I wrote on Monday about my obsession with purple and orange . When I was taking this photo I was trying to capture this combination. I have nice blobby bokeh here, like a finger-painting. This makes a nice contrast with the fountain of Hemerocallis fulva ‘Flore Plena’.
When I was about twelve, I realised I couldn’t read the writing on the board at school. I had been creeping ever closer to the telly at home. It must have occurred to someone that I might need an eye-test, and I was found to be short-sighted. When I put on my new nerdy specs, I was utterly amazed to find I could see every leaf in far-away trees, and every blade of grass in a field. I thought I had been given the most amazing glasses ever. My dad explained that this is how vision is supposed to be.
Bokeh is how the world looks to me if I don’t have my glasses on or contact lenses in. I have brilliant near vision. This is handy for a bookish person, and someone who likes peering closely at flowers. It is not so handy for recognising a loved one across a crowded room.
In the photo below, I know that that is Rosa ‘Benjamin Britten’ behind the buddleia because I planted him there, and he doesn’t have legs. I put him there because his coral-pink blobby blooms look so lovely behind the panicles of Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’.
If I feel my way around Benjamin (ouch. He can be a bit prickly), and bring his blobs into focus, then you see the swooshes of the Buddleia behind. Lors, I love everything about Benjamin Britten.
The blobby effect caused by my myopia is possibly why my brain likes to tune into colour. My unaided vision is like an abstract work of art. Depth is flattened, and texture melts and merges. What is left is colour. Beautiful subtle variations of colour.
Here you can see the sharply focused Salvia ‘Amistad’ in the foreground. The stems and buds are hard and metallic, whilst the petals are silky. But in my blurry short-sighted background Geranium ‘Rozanne’ has been softened into vague but mystical mauve blobs. Some are blueish mauve, some are more pinkish. Some are more whitish, some are greyish. There is a lovely contrast of green and magenta pink a the bottom of the frame. That’s Phlox paniculalta ‘Starfire‘. There are any numbers of pinks and greys. Oh, and in the top left corner is an echoed blur of the steely Salvia. I love that.
This next photo is not so close-up, and so the bokeh is not so flat. I’m trying to remember which lens I used. I think it is still the Macro lens, but I stepped back a long way. The bokeh is not so flat and smudged; you can make out the shapes of the Geranium and Phlox behind. I like the hill-like shapes of these; it is like a landscape. I really love the variations on green in the bottom right quarter. There are so many greens in the world. I am glad my camera can capture a few of them. I love the contrast of the arching Crocosmia in the foreground with the soft blobs and pillows of Geranium and Phlox in the background. I will be talking more about ‘form’ next week…
I love the layers of colours in the next photo. Though the Crocosmia is in the foreground and the leaves are in focus, the flowers are all at different depths, so are mostly in very soft focus. The orange Hemerocallis behind is more blurry, the magenta Phlox behind more blurry still. It is set off by the dark green blobs of its foliage, and there are very vague blobs of magenta Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’ and lilac Geranium ‘Rozanne’. Then a backdrop of greens. I like the balance of colours here; this is exactly what I want in the bright border: highlights of hot, flaming colours, and backdrops of cooler, darker blues, purples and greens.
My daughter had a gorgeous sundress when she was younger. The fabric had a buff background and bright pink cherry blossom print. I loved it. This photo with the parched lawn as the buff background reminds me of that dress. Phlox is photobombing again. In the foreground Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’ is picking up the phlox’s bright orange-magenta, in the throat of each flowerlet.
The reverse arrangement shows the Phlox in focus and the Buddleia spilling over its head like a fountain. The bokeh smudges the background flowers and foliage outwards, away from the central subject, as if they are standing back to admire the Phlox. I utterly love this combination of magenta and purple. The Phlox picks up the purple in the centre of each flower and in the stripy spiky calyces of spent flowers.
Let’s have a light-and-dark contrast. Here is Hemerocallis ‘Bonanza’ with its banana-and-burnt-caramel deliciousness, with a darkest green smudgy background. With a few masterful little smears of bright green. The lines of the smudges are echoes of the curves of the petals.
Bokeh is more blurry where the subject stands proud of its background. The Hemerocallis above is a good example of this. With the Euphorbia below, the plant structure is such that there are very close tiers of leaves. They get increasingly out of focus, the further away they are. Euphorbia is a really useful plant in the bright border both for its bright greens, and also for its sculptural presence. The bokeh around the bottom edges suggests the darker green of the basal leaves.
The excitement in the bright border this week has been the Gladioli suddenly popping up. The buds seem to appear overnight. They too are wonderfully sculptural, arranged in a plaited sword. I love the grey-lilac tinge with just a hint of apple green. They suggest the cool, glint of steel against this warm green and gold and bronze and copper blurred background.
The flowers at the base open first. It is like a sudden flash of silk through a suit of armour.
I love the action bokeh below. Like a sword-fight.
The texture of gladioli flowers is incredible. They are the most sumptuous, opulent, resplendent of all. They have exquisite tailoring. Look at the curves and folds of the petals! I love the contrast of the darker unopened flowers at the base of the sword. And the calm sage-green of the background.
I think I will have to post separately with all of my Gladioli photos because I got carried away!
I will leave you with Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’ and a little more bokeh. Here it is, not quite in focus, because it came up close to nuzzle me.
I haven’t captured much sunlight in the bokeh of these photos except for these last two. I love how the light is beaming down in this last one, separating into colours, and illuminating the individual Buddleia flowers.
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My aim in this blog is to share the little pops of wonder I get from gardening and from nature. You don’t have to be into gardening to appreciate these. The world is an amazing place and there are so many sensory pleasures that go unnoticed.