Missy Prince on Gardening
1. What's something about gardening you wish lots more people knew?
You have to have good dirt or you're asking for trouble. It seems obvious but I'm always having to explain this.
2. Who photographs gardens? Why do they do so?
Langdon Clay, Stephen Shore, Beth Dow. Because plants are alive and beautiful and fascinating? I can't speak for them. I do it because I'm always looking at them.
3. Do you have a garden?
Yes. Technically it's not mine because I don't own the property, but it's mine in every other sense. I live in an eight unit apartment complex with extensive landscaping that I started about ten years ago and continue to build upon. When I first moved in there were no plants, just a courtyard with concrete and grass. I planted some things in front of my apartment and when my landlord saw it he asked me to do the whole property. Gave me a debit card and said go crazy. It's gone through a few phases over the years. When I first started I was obsessed with a Dutch gardener named Piet Oudolf, who has a very naturalistic style. I used a lot of his pet plants at first. Lots of dramatic flowering perennials. Some worked well and others tried my patience. One of my main goals was to have something blooming at any given time of the year. Now I'm less interested in flowers and more interested in foliage. Over time the garden has become a little less fluffy and wild and a little more structured and focused on evergreen texture. It's an ongoing experiment.
4. Who's the most interesting gardener you've come across?
Sean Hogan, who owns Cistus Nursery on Sauvie Island just outside of Portland. He's a designer, nurseryman, plant hunter, and author. His bank of knowledge is vast and he has unusual taste. The amazing display gardens at Cistus are filled with varieties of plants that you would not expect to see here in The Willamette Valley - climate-adapted plants that do well despite their exotic origins of South Africa, Australia, South America, Mexico, The Southwest, and The Mediterranean. He's traveled all over observing and collecting seeds from plants that have the potential to thrive in our summer droughts and mild wet winters. The nursery is really interesting to walk through. It's organized according to global habitat: Mediterranean, Southern Hemisphere, Araucana, Xerophyte, Laurasia, and Secondary Xylem are some examples of the sections. There is also the Zonal Denial area, which contains plants that may or may not survive, depending on how willing you are to coddle them. When you walk around the place you definitely sense the unique mind behind it.
5. When do you feel it's time to stop gardening and make photos, and the other way round?
Photography eclipses gardening most of the time unless something really needs to be attended to. I never want to stop photographing to garden, whereas I do exhaust my desire to garden. By the end of summer I am so burnt out on plants I start to think I don't care anymore. And I really don't care for about four months. It happens every year. But once spring rolls around and things start coming to life I get really excited again. That reawakening period is the only time I might kick photography to the curb for a minute. But only for a minute.
6. Describe the best earth you've ever worked in.
Dark, fluffy, and fresh smelling with lots of worms and other critters crawling around.
7. What should people may more attention to ornaments or sustenance?
There is room for both, but I personally enjoy ornaments more than sustenance. I absolutely love and prefer to eat food that I grew myself, and it's important to have the option of eating organically, locally, and seasonally, but the satisfaction is of a more practical nature. I'm more excited by the evolution of the ornamental garden. It can look so different from month to month and year to year. I love that shifting quality and the unpredictability of how a design will work itself out.
I guess your question is about what people in general should do, not about my preferences, right? Considering the state of our agricultural system it is perhaps more pressing that people grow their own food, whereas it is not so pressing that they have pretty plants to look at. Though really, food gardens can be quite creative.
8. How does your photography follow the seasons, like your gardening has to?
There are certain times that I prefer to photograph certain places. In general I don't get as excited about summer light because the shadows are harsh. The golden hours (and pink hours) are the most exciting times. The desert works in summer because it is so wide open and relatively shadowless. Of course fall brings the most heavenly light and that is when I love to take photos anywhere but that is my favorite Mississippi time. Winter in The Pacific Northwest is prime shooting time for me because the sky is a softbox all day long. I love the gloom. It's a great time for landscapes. Nobody wants to go outside so you get nature to yourself. With all of that said, I'll shoot anywhere anytime.
9. Are you a similar gardener and photographer or are they too different to compare?
Yes. I'm obsessive, slow, and meticulous in both capacities. Once I start it's hard to stop, hunger and thirst be damned. In my own garden even the sun going down doesn't stop me. My boyfriend calls me The Midnight Gardener because I keep going under the street lights and tenants' porch lights. When I do stop I still think about it. I make lists, research plants, look at blogs, draw plans, anything to keep my mind there. This happens in spring and early summer until I hit a wall. I'm the same with photography except I rarely hit a wall. If given the chance I'll drive for 12 hours many days in a row to take photos. Exploring mode is hard to disengage. In the darkroom I can print for twelve hours and never sit down. I have to pack a lunch or I won't take a break to find food until I get the shakes or have a headache.
In the garden I agonize over composition. I'll move a plant over six inches if I think it will look better. And I stand and stare forever imagining how something will look later. Likewise, I often stare through the viewfinder for a long time just imagining how the shot will look. "What are you doing when you do that?" a photographer friend asked me recently. "I dunno, just looking," is all I can say. I'm just slow and I like to consider things. One time in the darkroom I was scrutinizing multiple copies of the same print, each different by one point of color. A fellow printer asked what the hell I was doing because he couldn't see the difference. I excel at nitpicking. I think I can see a difference and that it is really important, but often I get home and I, too, can't tell them apart.
10. What's a plant you wish you could grow but doesn't work out for you?
Opium poppies hate me. I've only tried them a couple of times but on both occasions they grew spindly and flopped over. I probably need a back forty to do it right.
11. Leave us a favourite home-grown recipe.
Padron peppers sauteed whole in butter and salt, scrambled fresh eggs, and heirloom tomato slices with salt and pepper.