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

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Grey Skies and Ginkgo Sketches

It has now rained almost constantly for two days now,  not much in the way of beautiful clouds or apocalyptic storms but just gloomy grey skies. Have they been sent as a reminder of what the UK has in store for us? It’s time to seriously sort out, throw out, sell up and pack. I am now being ruthless.  It’s less than 3 weeks to go to our moving day. 

However to lift my spirits a bit I have started thinking about my next commission which  involves, to my delight, the wonderful gingko tree. I went to Leu Gardens a few days ago to collect a sprig of leaves. They have quite a few ginkgo trees which I wrote about long ago,  back in September 2008. when I drew three little leaves for  “Leaf of the Day”  see Ginkgo Leaves.

ginkgo  

The leaves have been in the fridge and although not quite as bouncy as when I first brought them back, they are fine for sketching.   I hung the sprigs from my lamp to draw them.

ginkgo branch sm

The curious leathery leaves with their deeply ridged surface grow in groups from little nodules along the branch. Their flat fan-like shape and very long petioles allow them catch the slightest puff of wind and flutter so beautifully in the breeze. (I am reminded so much of the Cottonwood trees we saw up in New Mexico.) The raised vein structure in the leaves themselves is rather odd,  branching from just two parallel veins they repeatedly divide into two and do not join.

 ginkgo sm ginkgo 2 sm

Sketchbook drawings,  pencil 12'’ x9”

The Ancient Survivor

When I first wrote about them I was fascinated to learn more of their ancient and wonderful history and I quote again this passage from the really excellent site The Ginkgo Pages, which really sums up the appeal of this tree.

"As the paleobotanist, Sir Albert Seward (1938) remarks: "It appeals to the historic soul: we see it as an emblem of changelessness, a heritage from worlds too remote for our human intelligence to grasp, a tree which has in its keeping the secrets of the immeasureable past."

Dating back a staggering 270 million years, it rubbed shoulders with dinosaurs, in fact it predates them. It is unique, in an order entirely on its own, the Ginkgoales. Once widespread over America Europe and Asia, it was thought to be extinct but the wonderful explorer, physician and naturalist Engelbert Kaempfer found it while visiting Buddhist monks in Nagasaki 1691. He brought seeds back, planted them in the Botanic Garden at Utrecht where I think the ancient tree still survives and, talking about survival,  it is one of the few trees that survived Hiroshima.

I am struck that  it seems glib to summarise the story of Darwin’s  “Living Fossil” in such a few words.  So stop for a moment and ponder on those bald statements, the links to a time we can barely comprehend, the extraordinary journeys of the early explorers, the survival of some things which defy the most awful destruction dreamed up by man. It makes our little individual lives, our petty concerns and preoccupations seem so trivial.

Consider the gingko and be humbled!

And do go and read Cor Kwant’s Ginkgo Pages!!  More ginkgo tomorrow.

8 comments:

Dan said...

The gingko really is an ancient tree! I love your sketeches, and the fact that you really seemed to have enjoyed 'working' with them!
Dan
-x-

Ellen Rathbone said...

Very cool indeed. I tried planting a couple gingkos when I first moved here, but they didn't survive. I am madly in love with their leaves - my parents had one in their back yard. I've even started a quilt that features gingko leaves. Yep - nifty plant.

Carol said...

I am deeply humbled by the majestic Ginkgo and by your talent! I have only recently started botanical drawing again and I am greatly inspired by your drawings. Your words are equally moving. Lovely post!

Jill said...

Fascinating trees and facts, I remember the first time I encountered a gingko back in the 70s in the botanical gardens at Royal Lemington Spa

Ngaio said...

One of my fav trees by a country mile, they grow well here in NZ, just don`t plant a female Gingko, as the fruit smells like something dead !

I press the leaves and tiny flowers, the yellow buttery colour in autumn is divine, but so is the fresh green of spring - an amazing tree with prehistoric leaves that never seem to get bitten by bugs, the waxy coating on each leaf protecting it.

b briccola said...

these drawings have an sweet oriental feeling, the way they hang.
http://
1thousanddresses.blogspot.com/

Lucy said...

Gingkos are lovely trees. The leaves are special.

I met my first Gingko in Geneva and was introduced to it as a 'prehistoric tree'. For a long time I took it literally and thought this individual tree had been standing there for several million years. I was impressed by the way it had maintained its youthful looks.

Lucy

P.S. It turns out I can't even spell it properly. None the less, I have treasured its pressed leaves for about thirty years.

sharp green pencil said...

Thank you all for your wonderful and interesting comments. I sometimes think I should integrate your stories into the main part of the blog! It's a wonderful tree.

Yes Dan I really did enjoy working with them!

Ellen.. a ginkgo quilt would be wonderful..! I can just see the colours.

Carol..you are very kind,, but I think the ginkgo just has the edge! :)

Jill .. I am thinking of checking out those gardens now. thank you

Ngiao.. yes I had read about the terrible smell of the female tree. what a shame .. do the male trees have to live a solitary life then :)..I have yet to see the flower..

b.briccola Thankyou so much.. the "dresses" are very beautiful!!

Lucy..I would like to have seen that tree..I am not quite sure where the oldest tree is, I guess the wonderful Ginkgo Pages will have it! .. and the spelling, well at first I hadn't a clue :)

I am hoping I can get some leaves in my luggage....