Rods and Cones

CIMG2015I picked up a random old copy of National Geographic when I was out yesterday and opened it when I noticed the presence of an article entitled ‘Midnight Gardens’. As well as magazine’s usual stunning photographs, including the gardens of Kykuit at the Rockefeller estate in New York, designed for both day and night viewing, nighttime viewing of cherry blossom at Kyoto’s Hirano shrine and the surreal follies of Edward James at Las Pozas in Mexico, the text of this article about colour in the night garden made for intriguing reading.

Colour is, of course, mostly irrelevant in the garden at night, when even the brightest reds and oranges are a monochrome silver and grey. The retina, the article reminded me, is layered with photoreceptive cells called rods and cones, the rods detecting intensity of light and therefore also lower levels of  lightness whilst the cones distinguish colour but only with a higher threshold of light than even the moon can give. Without that, there is no colour. After closing the greenhouse lat night I allowed myself to just stand there in the darkness and look….. and it is indeed very different. You notice shapes and shades and all sorts of other nuances that are easy to miss when one is distracted by colour – the above photograph, although taken in the daytime but displayed in black and white for effect, makes this border look far more interesting than the colour version, in which I would have said it looks a bit of a non-entity and definitely past its best. I recall Christina at My Hesperides Garden sometimes uses black and white photos to highlight foliage on Garden Bloggers Foliage Days, and I can certainly understand why.

Try it (the standing outside in the dark, that is) …. I think you may be pleasantly surprised.

When not standing outside in the dark I have been standing outside in the light laying more bricks:


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4 Responses to Rods and Cones

  1. Annette says:

    Yes, I think you’re right and I also feel looking at monochrome pics lets us appreciate the quality of the planting, apart from the obvious: the colours. I love taking monochrome images and very much enjoy Sebastiao Salgado’s book Genesis exactly for this reason. Somewhat an eye opener…

    • Cathy says:

      I will try and look out for that book – sounds quite specialised? It’s certainly an interesting exercise, looking at things in b&w.

  2. Anna says:

    A most interesting post Cathy. The night time garden is a fascinating subject. You might enjoy Lia Leendertz’s book ‘The Twilight Garden’. She advocates that we should make more use of the darker hours in the garden and suggests plants that peak when the rest of the garden has gone to bed for the day 🙂

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