"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Leaf of the Day: Little Kurrajong...and toothache..

I was not sure if I would be doing a drawing today as most of the day was spent at the dentist..well 2 dentists to be precise. So in the gap between one and the other I drew this pretty leaf to try to take my mind off the complete horror that is my normal dentist experience.

I have now found 3 enclaves of Aussie plants at Leu. This Little Kurrajong or Rusty Kurrajong Brachychiton bidwillii is side by side with the tea oil tree, and the very strange Firewheel tree and a couple more eucalypts, one with the beautiful rainbow coloured bark. You would not find these too easily as they are by a fence and need some clambering and spider defying to reach.
The young leaf that I have drawn is covered with fine orangy coloured hairs which no doubt contributes to its 'rusty' name. Apparently most forms of Brachychiton bidwillii drop their leaves before flowering and as the tree ages the flowers appear in bunches of up to 50, sprouting directly from the trunk, as well as normally on the twigs and branches.
All these wonderful photos are from TopTropicals.com here where I go so often for information and images.





And look at these marvellous pods. The tree at Leu is very small and perhaps is not planted in the best place because I have never seen either flowers or pods, but maybe next year.



The whole family of Brachychiton are very interesting and very varied, with pretty flowers, here the Brachychiton populneus, Kurrajong, Bottle Tree,



and with fabulously shaped trunks, as in the Brachychiton rupestris Queensland Bottle Tree, similar to the gout plant.



I found several references explaining that the name Brachychiton is from the Greek, brachys, 'short' and chiton, 'a tunic', a reference to the coating on the seed? I am not quite sure how this fits so hope to find a seed.
The bidwillii of the name is after John Carne Bidwill an English botanical collector of the 1840 - 1850 period and man of many talents and responsibilities who amongst other things became a director of the Sydney Botanical Garden for a while. He met a grim and untimely death, "in 1851, while marking out a new road to the Moreton Bay district, Bidwill became separated from his colleagues and was lost without food for eight days. He eventually succeeded in cutting a way through the scrub with a pocket hook, but never properly recovered from starvation, and died on 16 March 1853 at Tinana at 38 years of age."
Info from Wiki
here

I can testify, emphatically, that drawing as a cure for toothache does not work (as I found for whole of the last week). I returned from the various dentists without any more holes drilled in my jaw for now, but with yet more antibiotics, which will make me nauseous, and a painkiller that would floor an elephant. I somehow don't think that is an end to it ..sigh... If I were made of tougher stuff, like those true early settlers I would forgo the pills and potions and be chewing on a leaf from the Toothache Tree, which I first saw over near Tarpon Springs. I know the exact location of the one at Leu, its name tag has been uncovered during the recent cleaning and tidying. That's where I am going tomorrow...
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Little Kurrajong Leaf


Monday, 29 December 2008

Leaf of the Day: Lemon Eucalyptus

I seldom see the overflow car park used at Leu but today the post Christmas crowds were out in force. I think more because it was a free morning and "something to do with the kids", than a sudden great outpouring of interest and affection for the natural world, but it was the perfect morning for a garden walk. Many people are here on holiday from the frozen north and they look in wonder at the citrus trees hanging with fruit, the giant pummelos, the beautiful butterflies, the roses and the just opening camellias.
I went to look specifically at more of the Australian plants and to find out exactly which eucalyptus the beautiful white trunks belonged to. They are Lemon Eucalyptus Eucalyptus citriodora.


3 Lemon Eucalyptus at Leu Gardens

They are beautiful immensely tall trees with all the branches clustered at the crown so no chance of taking a leaf without shinning up 50 ft or more. However there were some old fallen branches and after ferreting around in all the debris at the foot of the trees I found a cluster of the little urn shaped seed pods. They are much much smaller than the big bloodwood pods from last week and of course the leaves from this mature trees are the characteristic elongated shape. When not old and twisted and broken like the ones I have drawn the leaves are a beautiful sickle shape.
The white trunks have bark so snug fitting it looks like tight skin, wrinkled at the joints and there are several strange pock marks above the branch scars. I have no idea what they are.



The lemon scented oil from the leaves is steam distilled and used as an insect repellent although I didn't particularly notice a lack of mosquitoes around the trees. It will have small white spidery flowers in panicles.




Here are a few words about the Lemon Eucalyptus from Stanford University's online "Encyclopedia of Trees, Shrubs and Vines". More here

The tall trunk, with no branches at all up to a substantial height, leaves a detectable record of bygone branches in the form of dimples and pimples on the otherwise smooth trunk. As a branch becomes shaded from sunlight as a result of growth in height, abscissic acid (a plant hormone), causes a brittle zone to form at the trunk. Wind then breaks the branch off cleanly. Research on abscissic acid has received military support aimed at defoliating forests. ( hmmm!)
Gum tree leaves vary a lot in smell when you crush and sniff them because the mix of oils varies from one species to the next, but with the lemon-scented gum the oil is virtually pure citronellal, known as a germicide and mosquito repellent, but with a marvelous aroma for humans. Occasional juvenile leaves can be found near ground level that have a visibly rough undersurface made up of tiny projections containing lemon oil. After you feel the sandpaper-like texture, smell your fingers! Onlookers are astonished by the fragrance; you can put these leaves in your gin and tonic!
(that's better!)

The drawing is of some tatty dried leaves with small bit of twig stuck onto one leaf and some old gumnuts. Sadly these old leaves neither smell of lemon nor are they suitable for my sparkling glass of G & T.

For much more Euclyptus info do visit Gustavo's excellent site Eucalyptologics
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Lemon Eucalyptus and Pods


Leaf of the Day: Red Box Eucalyptus

This is another of the Australian trees from Leu, the Red Box Tree Eucalyptus polyanthemos. It is growing companionably next to the Bloodwood and near another expat, the pretty lacy leaved Silky Oak, which is not an oak at all but a Grevillea robusta.
There are several other big Eucalyptus trees which tower above many of the locals. You have to either look skywards to see them or you might notice their sensuous smooth white trunks, so touchable and so beautiful. I am not sure of their particular variety.


Red Box Eucalyptus

This Red Box Eucalyptus is a small tree, or rather I should say, a young tree, as it still has its juvenile foliage the pretty fluttering grey green leaves which earn it the name Silver Dollar Gum. These disc shaped leaves with a notch in the top, some looking like little hearts, will give way to the longer slimmer mature leaves. I am not sure I know of any other species of tree where there is such a marked difference in young and mature foliage. The eucalypts are another very ancient species along with the cycads and the ginkgos, tracing their ancestry back some 35 million years.

It's late in the afternoon when I am drawing and my main drawing light is casting long shadows, which I liked, so that's just how I drew this little sprig of eucalyptus leaves and, unlike yesterday's pods, these really do have that wonderful aromatic scent. I once picked up a few fallen eucalyptus pods and leaves in Portugal and kept them in a small box. Opening this box several years later released not only that heady smell but also the memory of some hot painting days in Portugal. I remember the old ruined house, the donkey, the enigmatic ancient handprint in old plaster, the exact spot I picked them up, the friends, the heat..... and more and more. All that in 2 leaves and a pod. Now, every time I smell eucalyptus that's where I go.


**For much more info about the eucalyptus, do visit Gustavo Iglesias' excellent site Eucalptologics
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Red Box Eucalyptus



Saturday, 27 December 2008

Leaf of the Day: Boxing Day Bloodwood Gumnuts

Early on a sunny Boxing day morning all was quiet at the Gardens. There is only one day in the whole year that you cannot visit Leu Gardens and that is Christmas Day. For an hour I had the place to myself and with no plan, just walked amongst my now familiar friends, a time to reflect on almost one year of the blog and plan for the next. There have to be some changes, some developments but quite what, I am not sure. The best aid to thinking, for me, is to get on and do something else, so while mulling over my artistic endeavours I took a slightly different path from normal and came across a couple of new trees, and, to my great delight, a new pod.

I could see this tree had had flowers but way up high, much higher than my normal sight line, and not many of them judging by the number of pods, but when I saw the pictures of these wonderfully strange flower heads I was cross with myself for missing them.



Image and more info from Euclid, Australian Eucalypts website. here

This is the Australian Bloodwood, Corymbia ptychocarpa, from the Greek, ptychos, a fold or cleft and carpos, fruit referring to the ribbed buds and fruit. "Bloodwoods" are so called because of the dark red liquid exuded from a wounded trunk. There are 99 species of Corymbias which include the Red and Yellow Bloodwoods,the Ghost Gums and Spotted Gums. All are members of the Eucalypts and I had thought the pods of this one might have that wonderful eucalyptus scent but it seems not, and neither do the big glossy leaves.



These handsome trees are common in northern and western Australia and seem to grow quite happily in the southern USA too. There are quite a few Australian species at Leu, most promising wonderfully exotic flowers that I have yet to see. I am sad to say the Silky Hakea is not recovering..however, I do have 3 little seedling which are clinging onto life.

With half my mind on future plans, this a slightly absent minded drawing of three bloodwood pods, usually known as gumnuts, and a leaf. On one of the pods I could see the tantalising remains of the flower. The leaf is a lovely pale green with a central red vein and stem.

*** UPDATE JUNE 2009: Thanks to Gustavo at Eucalyptologics for the link and the drawings looks great on your site!!.. This is THE site for everything eucalyptus. see also comment below.
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Swamp Bloodwood Pods and Leaf


Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Leaf of the Day: The Thieving White Berry ..sans berries...

Well it's only two days to Christmas Day and I went out to look for mistletoe. I knew there was some because I have seen it ....here....



and, thankfully more accessibly, here......





But I was surprised when I found it was so different from the European Mistletoe. This is Phoradendron leucarpum...which very loosely translates as "white berry thief". "Thief" as in stealing life from its host tree. The leaf branching structure is different from the UK variety and I am afraid my sample sprig has no berries yet. I seem to remember them coming later in the spring last year.
Although mistletoes are labelled as parasites I read that they are not now regarded as such a threat, just part of nature's rich inter-dependant pattern, and host and mistletoe can be left to coexist quite happily in many cases. Which is good news for Druids.




I am sorry there were no berries but the thought was there.. a Very Happy Christmas to all....back soon.....

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American Mistletoe... without berries!


Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Leaf of the Day: The Handsome Leopard Plant

Today a leaf from the Farfugium japonicum, Aureomaculata the spotted Leopard Plant native to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.


Farfugioum, Aureomaculata,, with not very happy flowers

This handsome plant can grow up to 5 ft high with a leaf span of 2 ft. There are three varieties at Leu, a variegated one, Variegata, the large glossy leaved Gigantea and the spotted one Aureomaculata which I have drawn. In reality the spots look like bleach splashed on the green leaves which I am not entirely sure I like. The yellow makes the leaves look slightly sick. I knew that variegations in plants were caused by genetic mutations but did not know that these plants were called "chimera" plants. The allusion is, of course, to the classical Chimera who was assembled from the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of or dragon... a nice mixture of myth and science..


Farfugium Gigantea

It seems that Farfugiums (formerly known as Ligualrias) were introduced into England from China by the extraordinary Scotsman Robert Fortune in 1856. Mr Fortune was another fearless Victorian plantsman/explorer who I came across when reading about tea. Apart from taking the tea plant from China to India at risk of losing his life, a wonderful story which I must come back to, he introduced many beautiful and exotic species to Europe including azaleas, chrysanthemums, the Japanese anemone, tree peonies, kumquats, and rhododendrons. His travels were fascinating and his contribution to the gardens of Europe outstanding.

This is a relatively small leaf from the plant but quite a big drawing, again in the 14 x 11 sketchbook. Sometimes I can't decide which angle to draw something from, but these leaves look good from almost any direction. They have a beautiful crossover at the centre where the stem joins the leaf blade. I am sure I will be making another black and white study soon as I like its structure and prefer the spots in white!
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Leopard Plant Leaf, Farfugium


Monday, 22 December 2008

Leaf of the Day: The Chalice Vine

Today has been a glorious day with high scudding clouds and warm sun, warm enough to sit by the pool for half an hour and recover from our 16 mile cycle. I am impressed with the cyclists here, they are dedicated, they are beautifully turned out in the correct gear, gloves, helmets, skin tight clothing with strategic padding. They have beautiful sleek lightweight bikes which you could lift with one finger, tyres as narrow as razor blades cutting silently and swiftly past us on our serviceable but utilitarian bikes. We are quite envious, but console ourselves by admiring the scenery which for us only passes by at 10 miles an hour.

My drawing today is a wilting flower from the Chalice Vine Solandra longiflora.This beautiful vine has been flowering for weeks now, greeting visitors to the gardens as they enter the drive to the Garden House. This is another flower I am hesitant to pick but it is just past its best now and again there are fallen blossoms on the ground to be had.





It is beautiful showy thing but the huge 9 inch long flowers are just a bit fleshy and similar in structure to those of the Sausage Tree and the strange Midnight Horror tree. I think this is another bat pollinated flower too.
This was too big a drawing (14 x 11 inches) to start so late in the day, so is really unfinished. Apart from wilting so much that it slowly flattened itself on the table, the flower quickly turned brown and shrivelled up at the edges. It also (to me) has that same sickly cloying smell of lilies. I am not prone to headaches but lilies have to stay firmly outside. Just one in a vase is enough to make me feel nauseous, I wonder why. Interestingly the chalice vine is related to the hallucinogenic Daturas and Brugmansias which have the same sickly headachy scent, but I should perhaps have made a light infusion of Chalice Vine tea to perk me up this afternoon.

Today was of course the winter solstice too.. the turn of the year when we begin to say goodbye to dark nights, watch the heightening sun's arc and edge slowly towards my favourite time of year, glorious Spring. I will be in England in February and hope there will still be some snowdrops..
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The Chalice Vine


Sunday, 21 December 2008

Leaf of the day: Brenda's White Garden

I am having a day off today. After 4 days (..well four x half days to be honest) of working outside I am even more in admiration of plein air painters, especially those who actually work on finished pieces in situ. It is hard work, tiring and with endless annoyances.
Firstly just finding your spot, in sun or out of the sun and should your paper/canvas be in or out of shadow. Getting all your equipment out and set up, balancing it and yourself on stools, easels, benches or just on the ground. There are bugs, there are people, there are leaf blowers and mowers. If it's windy things get blown over and there is glare from the sun and moving shadows which means that the scene has changed completely within an hour.. then there is forgetting something vital ..like a paintbrush or a pencil or a favourite colour... the list of reasons for not painting outside goes on and on.
But what you do get is a real connection with what you are attempting to paint, even if it all ends in frustration and with little to show. I have worked outside at various times in my artistic life but I have always found it difficult to concentrate and that is because I don't do enough of it. By day four I was enjoying it more. I certainly think that if you want to paint any of nature's details you MUST at some point go out there and draw from the real thing, or write notes, record colours or scribble or something. You can't see what happens around a corner or behind a tree, or feel the texture of tree bark or smell the scent of a champaka, in a photo..
I was spurred into doing this by meeting Brenda and Dennis both plein air painters who paint in the gardens from time to time.
Fortuitously Brenda has an exhibition at Leu Gardens as this very moment, "Windows to My World" so I can still have a painting of the Gardens on the blog without doing any of the work! Marvellous.. so here is Brenda's lovely little painting of the path to the White Garden, the view I also sketched on Tuesday. I know she painted this from from life as I had met her that day October the 16th to be precise.



White Garden at Leu Gardens by Brenda Hofreiter


You can see more of her paintings of Florida and a great photo of her with a bird on her head here.. http://www.brendahofreiter.com/abouttheartist.html . I must ask her how she got that bird to do that.
The exhibition continues until 11th February.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Leaf of the day: Bugs in Paint #6...Six CitrusTrees..

I was full of resolve to face the rude jogger today but of course she did not appear. The bad person in me just hopes that her heart monitor is up to 8 on the richter scale and that the perfect pet has bitten the neigbour's cat.
Aside from that, all was tranquil today at the Gardens, my last out of doors painting day, at least for this week. Squirrels were prancing and lizards basking and I finally got settled and knuckled down to sketch 6 citrus trees, but this time in colour, with minimal pencil. It's really drawing with a brush I suppose. It was rather more work than I anticipated but good practise. Here they are in order of size..

The little Oval Kumquat



The equally small Buddha's Hand citron



The Sunquat



The Ponderosa Lemon, more lemons than leaves..



The Hirado Pommelo



The huge and beautiful Duncan Grapefruit from yesterday again.



These sketches are fairly fast but waiting for the paint to dry holds me up and I am impatient to get things down. Looking at the whole tree, rather than just a leaf or flower gives you a sense of its "personality", its growth habit etc, and they are all so different. I must say that I enjoyed today and I am beginning to think about making a couple of more finished paintings of trees. Maybe a tree portrait.. but which one ? ..

Leaf of the Day: More Scribbly Drawings and a "Jammy Mouth"

Today got off to a bad start due to an encounter with a self righteous jogger and dog. She, Lycra clad, expensive jogging clothes, heart monitor, bouncing ponytail, was on the wrong side of the cycle path. Perfect pedigree pet on leash, was on the other. So where do I go? She imperiously pointed me to edge of the wrong side of the path and shouted "get over"... I, struggling to get bike out of the grass was too amazed at such rudeness to say anything .. but have seethed about it all day.
Thinking I would have some tranquil calming moments in the Garden was a mistake as I had forgotten Thursdays are mowing and leaf blowing days and today there were school trips and a wedding. I did find a really nice, tucked away spot to draw and then was besieged by mosquitoes, so moved on from there to eventually make some more sketches of trees (and plan my jogger revenge).
The watersoluble pencil I had yesterday was not up to much, this one today is a little bit darker which is better because I can work more quickly. They are very handy for sketching when you need a bit of tone without the fuss of paint.
I was saying yesterday that if people are not painters they often find scribbly drawings hard to respond to and I dread being asked to show people my sketchbooks. Today a very nice lady asked to see what I was doing. Oh dear.. I could see the disappointment on her face as she looked at my sketches. The only one that got a spark was the drawing of the house from yesterday. She was thankful there was something she could recognise. She looked at me so kindly and in such a concerned manner, like a mother indulging a child's first terrible pottery ashtray, I was sorry I had not come up to scratch. We wished each other a very happy Christmas. Ah well...

A Moringa tree,



Unidentified deciduous tree ....



The very tall Hedge Cactus.



The big Duncan Grapefruit tree, heavy with fruit and a beautiful shape both from this angle..



and from this angle too...



And the wonderful cactus which is growing in a head-shaped pot looking like some wild botanical Medusa.



Yesterday's little spider was still there today so I now have a better photo of my own. On Tuesday I had seen this little flower but the plant is very small with only a few blooms, so I could not take one to draw. Today however, two had fallen on the ground, so I took the opportunity to make three little studies of the Ruttya fruticosa.



Labelled as the Hummingbird Flower, and in profile these little 2 inch long flowers really do look like hummingbirds, but also delightfully called the Jammy Mouth or Rabbits Ears. I hope the drawings and my, for once, decent photo explain why. The nectar rich flowers are attractive to birds, bees and butterflies and, I presume hummingbirds.. do they get confused though? The plant is native to Africa and is only a tiny thing at Leu but will grow to a shrubby three foot bush with these very sweet little flowers, also in yellow... (I am still planning my jogger revenge, if I see her tomorrow I am going to shout "Jammy Mouth" at her...that'll teach her)
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Jammy Mouth or Hummingbird Flower


Thursday, 18 December 2008

Leaf of the Day: Bugs in the paint #4, Spider and more Sketches

I think after yesterday's post I was more aware then usual of spiders, and one of the first things I came across today was an almost invisible web, strung across the sea grapes, and in the middle, carefully threading and mending was this amazing little spider. I have never seen anything quite like this. I found out about it by Googling "spider that looks like a star". Well I thought so, locally they are called crab spiders.



I am sure Floridians will be very familiar with this little creature with a big happy face on his back. This is the Spiny Backed Orb Weaving spider. Gasteracantha cancriformis
My photo is not too good but here is what it really looks like from a wikipedia photo taken by Mkullen in Hernando, Florida here.



They come in a variety of different colours some yellow, some red. There is a mountain of information about them on the web, (as there would be...:)...), and I now know more about them than I really care for. But these little spiders are pretty, beneficial and harmless and one thing I didn't know is that baby spiders are called spiderlings...that makes them almost acceptable.


The garden was very busy today and I could not settle, everywhere I went I was either in the way or my chosen spot was busy with gardeners. So I decided just to sketch more or less on the hoof, with the small 9x6 inch sketchbook and a big soft water soluble pencil. I was looking more up than down today, mostly at the trees. I am fascinated by the huge live oaks whose limbs spiral skywards then arch and curve back to the ground sometimes with the accompanying frill of little resurrection ferns dancing along the length of the branch. These scribbly sketches are great for looking ...just looking, looking looking and looking again. You have to really take in everything to make even a few lines.. an exercise in reduction. At the end of it you have on paper what has interested you, even if it is only one beautiful curve. To the artist this is invaluable, to the viewer I know, it is often incomprehensible.

The first three are of paths. I like paths and especially paths that branch or curve away.
This is the avenue of Camphor trees with the right path leading down to the lake.



A diverging path by the lake



...another path by the lake.



Some cheese plant leaves



Oak limbs and cheese plant leaves



The spiralling trunk of a live oak



A view of the old Leu House, with its balconies dressed for Christmas.