Photography may be all about light, but townhouses are all about shadows. In a tiny garden surrounded by walls, with the neighbors' houses spitting distance away*, shadows are eternal. They may move throughout the day, but they never vanish altogether. Sunlight is likely to enter the picture as mid-day glare, not the "golden hour" of sunrise or sunset. In my garden, for a couple of weeks in April and September, the rising sun does shine through the narrow space between houses; for 15 minutes or so the flowers in its path glow in a gentle radiance. The rest of the year, the sun doesn't top the walls until mid-morning. For living in, that's just dandy; for taking photographs it isn't ideal. (And if that's the worst thing I have to complain about, life is pretty darn good.)
I'm certainly not complaining about an excess of shade in July. It's a welcome respite in the afternoons, generally cool enough to be enjoyable even when the temperature is in the low 90's. The garden at this point of the season is primarily a green garden, an effect I rather like in mid-summer when so much else is brown. Like shade, greenery is a welcome respite: cooling, soothing. None of the foliage is particularly dramatic—no eye-popping purples or limes—but I often prefer my dramas quiet in any case, more about slight changes of expression, and less about car chases and explosions. Subtle greens in shade are just the right kind of drama, I think. Each change in texture or color is like a lifted eyebrow, an upward tug at the corner of a mouth, a speculative tilt to the head.
Not that there's anything wrong with a good car chase, of course. Or with explosions. (In movies! I just mean in movies!) One of the nice things about a townhouse garden is the stark contrast between light and shadow. (Nice for photography, at any rate, if not always for plants.) At almost any sunlit time, you can find a deep, velvety backdrop not too far away. When the sun is just right, even if only for 15 minutes every other Sunday, it lights up the few flowers in the garden like fireworks, from the normally gentle salmons of licorice mint
|Gaura lindheimeri 'Whirling Butterflies'|
The contrasts between dark and light, foliage and flowers, lifted eyebrows and explosions: I'm still amazed at what extremes a small space can hold, at what transformations a few minutes of sunlight can work. I'm in the mood to be amazed, because even as I'm writing this, rain is falling. It's not the first rain of summer (and hopefully not the last), but it's the first to soak through the cushions on the Adirondack chair, the first with potential to fill the rain barrel. If it lasts for more than 15 minutes I'll be surprised, but the sky suggests (with a subtly lifted eyebrow) that there may be more where this came from. Suddenly the air is fresh, and the trees are dripping. Thunder is rumbling across the whole great arc of the lower atmosphere. The breeze smells sweet. Dry, dusty New Mexico looks clean and alive. What a transformation; what a lightning-fast journey from one end of the spectrum to the other.
It's been every bit as good as a car chase.
* Note: spitting is rude.