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Diggin’ In: Landscape photographer shares his ‘growing’ experiences

April 18, 2016

When Saxon Holt was a kid, he "had" to garden. It was not an option.

"I remember my father’s vegetable garden where I had to weed and pick and cut the grass," says Holt of his childhood in Newport News, Va.

"My mom would pay me a penny for each dandelion I would pick in the walkway. That was not enough incentive and I was not very good at it.

"I never knew there was any ‘book learning’ about gardening until I started looking for work as a garden photographer about 30 years ago," he says.

"My education was my parents saying ‘go do it’ and then trial and error when I first started my own gardens."

Now a lifelong gardener and professional landscape photographer — www.saxonholt.com — Holt is also an author. His e-book, "Good Garden Photography" was awarded the 2015 Gold Award from the Garden Writers Association as best overall garden book published in 2014.

He’s also passionate about native plants, which were not a part of Holt’s childhood gardening experiences. In fact, he never recalls his mother, former Newport News City Councilwoman Mary Sherwood Holt, even mentioning native species back then.

Now, his mother has taken a keen interest in native plants, especially those with the word "virginiana" attached to them, he jokes.

"I have tried to kid her, without success, that many plants with virginiana as the species, such as the Eastern Red Cedar Juniperus virginiana, or Thimbleweed, Anemone virginiana were simply first described by a pioneering botanist but are actually quite common across the entire eastern half of the country," he says humorously.

Nowadays, Holt lives and gardens in California, where he cares for mature oaks, several meadows, a small vegetable garden and a "wonderful shrub border." California natives are very much a part of his garden, and a new photo project that will illustrate the state’s native shrubs.

"Gardening with natives connects the gardener to the land and helps them appreciate their local ecosystem," Holt says.

"Too often people take their local habitats for granted and don’t see the natural beauty. Using natives can help us connect to the land where we are and understand it."

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HOLT’S FAVORITES

These native plants are some of Saxon Holt’s favorites:

—Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa. Blooms June-September with flat-topped clusters of bright orange flowers. Grows one to three feet tall, likes sun to part shade and average to poor, well-drained soil. Drought tolerant, does not transplant well. Deer resistant.

—Wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa. Blooms June-September with rounded cluster of tubular, lavender flowers. Grows two to three feet tall, likes sun to part shade and any dry-to-medium soil. Minty, aromatic leaves traditionally used to make tea.

—Wild blue phlox, Phlox divaricate. Blooms April-May with clusters of one-inch blue flowers that are slightly fragrant. Grows one to two feet tall, and likes part shade to shade and rich-average, well-drained soil. Good woodland ground cover, appreciates mulch and fertilizer. Deadhead to prevent powdery mildew.

—Alum root, Heuchera Americana. Blooms April-May with small pale-green flowers on tall spikes above foliage. Grows six to 12 inches tall, and likes part shade to shade and rich, well-drained soil.

Semi-evergreen groundcover, burgundy and silver markings on winter foliage. Deer resistant.

—Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. Blooms April-June and August-October with inconspicuous flowers. Grows 40 to 60 feet tall, and likes sun to part shade and average, dry-medium soil. Drought tolerant. Nectar source and host plant for Luna moth. Produces fruit when seven to eight years old.

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