Documenting flowers we enjoy and want to see again can begin with our first spring flowers and a smart phone camera.

Paul Harens is a retired Yankton High School teacher of language arts and social studies whose likes include growing plants and taking pictures for his own satisfaction, and to share with others. He’s a self-taught photographer. His pursuit of these avocations led him to teach a photography basics class and arrange a show of his work, “The Untrained Eye” at the Mt. Marty Bede Art Gallery in February. He enters photos in the “Mighty Mo” exhibit featured by Yankton Area Arts. His specialty cards are displayed at the G.A.R Hall and Scott Luken’s Studio in Yankton. Contact email:

Some of his photo subjects are flowering plants that he maintains in his yard. Harens grew up in Huron. Ernie Meyers from Gurney Seed and Nursery was Harens’ early connection to Yankton.

“How I got started with plants was my mother,” Harens said. “She had a lily garden. She had every kind of lily that she could get her hands on in that garden. When Ernie Meyers would come to the State Fair, Mother would sit with him for a day.”

Harens’ mother had a mulberry tree and Meyers thought that it was the northern range of this tree. With shared plant interests, Meyers became family friends.

When Harens moved to Yankton, he introduced himself to Meyers as his mother’s son from Huron. Meyers asked what he needed.

“I want to plant roses,” Harens said. But he didn’t want to go through the annual rose protection steps his mother did in Huron.

“Ernie told me, ‘You go to that bin and pick out five. Next fall, cut them off and pick off the leaves. Next spring, if they don’t come back, come back and buy five more.’

“I’m not picky about kinds of roses; I look for color. I have red ones, a yellow, one turns pink and yellow. I have a miniature rose my wife got as a gift. We stuck it in my backyard hosta garden. I get lots of blooms from it,” Harens said.

When he retired, Harens wanted to learn more about photography. One of his favorite photos is a rose with rain drops on the petals.

“It had been raining all morning. I went outside and the sun came out and I took a picture of a rose. I took pictures of it from different directions. Shoot it how you like it; not how anyone else likes it,” he said. “Please yourself first.”

He often focuses on a single flower and uses the flower setting on a digital camera for a close up to get the best picture. The subject is clear and the background fades behind. That conveys what he as photographer intends to be the focus of the picture. He positions his body to the level of the flower before shooting. For another alternative, he may use a standard or macro lens and tripod to shoot down at an angle of a grouping of miniature roses. This may give better perspective or aid steadiness. He watches for shadows or other things in his field of view that distracts from the subject.

“One of the easiest plants to take pictures of is a clematis. You have the blooms and greenery and simple background,” he said.

“A reason I plant so many flowers is my wife loves fresh flowers all year long. She prefers the ones from our garden — rose, iris, gladiolus,” he said, “and here’s a tip.”

He helps stimulate growth of his glads by putting the bulbs (corms) into a bucket of water with a couple tablespoons of Miracle-Gro overnight before planting. He plants them about six inches deep.

Not all of his plant photos are from his yard. He’s also a fan of flowers in public parks around Yankton.

“One place I take photos every spring is on the south side of Memorial Park. The city tulips are just beautiful and great for pictures,” he said.

Another of his spring photo favorites, is the pasque flower.

“Eight or nine years ago I planted a pasque flower in a flowerbed — the space was as big as a laptop computer. It grew. I don’t do a thing to it. I don’t cut it back. I left it alone. I rarely water it extra,” he said, “and I don’t pour water directly on it.” He adds more pasque flowers as he finds them for sale.

“I haven’t taken classes in photography, except for hearing talks at the Yankton Area Photography Club. (See their Facebook page.) I take pictures every day. Don’t run out and buy another camera right away. Research it first, and decide what you want to do with the camera. Use the camera you have; that’s how you learn,” he said.

He recounted a recent photo experience at the NFAA Easton Yankton Archery Complex.

“At a tournament, they had a photographer who showed us how to better take pictures of the archers as they competed. I asked him how many does he take to get a good one? He said that he takes over 2,000 a day,” Harens said. “He told me, ‘Out of them, if I get 10, I’ll be lucky.’”

Share tips from your outdoor or indoor plant experience, give us a tour of your plant site, or tell us about other plant-related topics. Our focus is plants of our region and people who grow them. Contact Attn: Brenda Johnson or write P&D, 319 Walnut St, Yankton, SD 57078, Attn: Brenda Johnson. See the Plant Exchange Blog at or “Plant Exchange Blog” Facebook page for more plant topics.

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