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Tuesday 30 August 2011

Hips…make some wartime syrup!..

A quick sketch of some rose hips. It’s “research” for a nice little job to draw 9 medicinal plants for the labels of a lovely range of herbal products. The first one is the rose… whose “hips” have been used for many and varied medicinal remedies over the years and are edible too. It seems that Rosa rugosa hips are the preferred ones for eating. Rose hips are packed with vitamin C and allegedly can help lots of things.. from coughs and colds to rheumatics and digestive problems.

So in these frugal times hedgerows can help keep us healthy and the wild rose bushes here are laden with these pretty fruit. Here is some wartime advice:
ROSEHIP SYRUP The recipe distributed by The British Ministry of Food 1943: 'The Hedgerow Harvest'

2 pounds (900gm) of hips: Boil 3 pints of boiling water. Mince hips in a course mincer and put immediately into the boiling water. Bring to boil and then place aside for 15 minutes. Pour into a flannel or linen jelly bag and allow to drip until the bulk of the liquid has come through. Return the residue to the saucepan add 1½ pints of boiling water stir and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Pour back into the jelly bag and allow to drip. To make sure all the sharp hairs are removed put back the first half cupful of liquid and allow to drip through again. Put the mixed juice into a clean saucepan and boil down until the juice measures about 1½ pints (852ml) then add 1¼ (560gm) of sugar and boil for a further 5 minutes. Pour into hot sterile bottles and seal at once.

Source: The Hedgerow Harvest, MoF, 1943 via Woman’s Hour.. where else ! :)

 Another nice old quote, whose provenance I cannot find, says this:

'Children with great delight eat the berries thereof when they are ripe and make chains and other pretty geegaws of the fruit; cookes and gentlewomen make tarts and suchlike dishes for pleasure.'

This not-so-gentle woman is still contemplating her haul of damsons and windfall apples but thinks this year she really should give rose hips a go! Mother would be proud!

rose hips bg

Rose hips from Grafham  I only had to walk a few yards to find bushes laden with hips. The bushes have a graceful arching  habit and ferocious thorns. Our kitchen window was reflected in the glossy surface ..will report back on syrup progress!

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Friday 26 August 2011

Wild Damsons and “Flowers of the Mind”

I went for a walk yesterday, between the showers and up behind the reservoir, along a seldom used track. I was really looking for some blackberries but despite the huge numbers of brambles lining every path, they were disappointingly small and scant. Then I came to a dark shady patch where two trees, taller than the hawthorns and sloes, meet overhead. The ground beneath was littered with the small dark fruit of a wild plum. They are beautiful, velvety blue black to crimson, some with a powder blue bloom and some split open, revealing that liquid greeny yellow interior. They are also deliciously sweet. I ate a few. They were warm from the sun. I remembered happy days of eating my way round Leu Gardens, then filled my pockets and walked back, feeling the crushed fruit slowly seeping through to my skin.

Here is a quote from Katherine Mansfield which sums up where I found my damsons, and where I, too, like my mind to be. 

"The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody's fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind."
— Katherine Mansfield


 wild damson bd

A solitary fruit on a twig, the drought curled leaves are stiff, already autumnal tattered and dry.

 wild damsons col bg

Six little fruit which survived the pocket intact. Just beautiful..:)

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Thursday 25 August 2011

Bombus hypnorum, on the drawing board

I have almost finished this little hypnorum, the pretty Tree Bumble Bee.  I have some more details to add to the lower half of the image, just something to personalise this painting for Caroline who has commissioned it. It is always so nice to be able to add something which makes a painting that bit more special.

Monday, the bee

 Hyp 1

Tuesday, the cherry blossom

hp 2

Wednesday, adjusting and re assessing.

hyp almost

almost there….

Monday 22 August 2011

A Few Bird Sketches, but am humbled by masters.

I have been working on the hypnorum painting today.. this is the second time I have started it. (First time around I managed to drop some paint on the pristine white paper when I was about half way through.. sigh).

I am also trying to resume sketching everyday and at 4.00 the weather was still  beautiful so I took a sketchbook out, determined to try to sketch some birds.

Birds are not really my thing but I was so very inspired by seeing all the wonderful paintings at Birdfair yesterday. I have never been to this event before, never seen so many bird paintings, never been seduced by so many alluring travel companies and by so much gorgeous techie birdwatching equipment. There were some favourite artists there and the wonderful work of Darren Woodhead He works outside on large sheets of paper and is an inspiration with stunningly beautiful watercolours which are loose and expressive with superb brushwork. He is a master.

My response today, resisting the urge to tear up everything I have ever done, has been to take out the smallest sketchbook I have and try to draw the birds on the reservoir… well, all I can say is, it’s a start.

The grebes have two babies which are learning to dive.. sometimes they all disappear together.. they call to each other constantly.

grebes 1 

My favourite terns sitting on, what I now call, tern rock. :)

tern rock

And swans looking swan like and beautiful.

 swans 1

Maybe more birds and bigger birds tomorrow.. maybe not.

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Friday 19 August 2011

“Buzz” goes to Battersea: English Wine Festival Sept 3rd


Nathan, who is organising this fantastic one day event had been to Heligan. liked the bees and very kindly asked me to display my work at the Wine Festival. It’s a very nice combination isn’t it?…! Bees and wine… a heady mix. Come along if you can and support our English Wine Growers.



Following on from the success of our last event at North & South Wines, we're proud to bring you a stunning line-up of the best the English trade has to offer.

    EVENT › ENGLISH WINE FESTIVAL with artist Val Littlewood

    DATE › September 3rd 2011

    TIME › 11am till 9pm

    WHERE › North & South Wines, 63 Broomwood Rd, SW11 6HU

Showcasing wines from Bolney Estate, Chapel Down, Giffords Hall, Ickworth, Neytimeber and many more, the format will allow producers to showcase their wines to our customers in a market stall concept. Dedicated sessions with the producers will take place where customers can learn more about wine and wine-growing in England.

Nathan will be showing artworks from Val Littlewood. Known as 'the bee lady' Val painstakingly captures instances in the lives of our fascinating British bees.

More details at

Tickets for this all day event are on sale now at only £5 each. Book yours now.

    We look forward to seeing you there.
    Nathan, Marco and Harriet


Ahhh…Nathan,  that made me giggle… “ the bee lady !”………. :) 

If you are around in London on that Saturday come along and join us!

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Cobnuts and a mini Rhino at Twigworth

They are curious companions I know, but in the grounds of Nature in Art there are quite a number of animal sculptures. One I particularly like is a mini rhino, caught in mid stride, thundering towards the cafe. It is also the small, but fierce guardian of a rather nice Cobnut tree.
rhino bg

I should have put a scale on here but he is only about 3 ft high

I liked to get to the Gallery early, before the visitors, and had to walk past this elegant little tree to get to the studio. My arrival caused much agitation up in the leafy branches which would quiver with a panic of squirrels, all frantically grabbing a nut or two before scampering away. Should you walk under the tree you will find yourself hobbling over a carpet of the hard little nut cases, opened, chewed and discarded by the squirrels. 

I took a few back to the studio to darw when there was a lull in the visitor numbers. I do like their shape and the twisted husks which look like horns.

cobnuts bg cobnut bg

I don’t  know anything about cobnuts except that you can eat them and they are a sort of hazelnut but the Kentish Cobnut Association has info and recipes. It says that squirrels are quite a pest and can strip a tree in doesn’t however say anything about rhinos. :)

I also liked the twisted trunk of the tree which seems to be made up of a bunch of small trunks almost twining round each other. I sat sketching by one of the large standing stones, looking over the shoulder of the rhino, which is, I think, as close to a rhino as I will ever get.. The sculptor is Terry Mathews who lives in Nairobi. 

cobnut tree and rhino bg

Twisted trunk of the Cobnut tree with charging Rhino, pencil. Nature In Art, 4th Aug 2011

Wednesday 10 August 2011

The Tall Hollyhock at Twigworth, a Night Stop for a Bumble Bee.

I mentioned the hollyhocks at Twigworth yesterday. One, particularly, was immensely tall, we estimated about 9 ft. The hollyhock, Alcea rosea is so beautiful and a real favourite of mine.Their long towering spikes of flowers and little round seed pods were constantly swaying in the wind. This interestingly made it quite tricky for the bumble bees to land. But land they did, working round the central stamen and getting completely covered in white pollen.

bee pollen

Early one morning before opening up I sat on the lawn and made a measured sketch. I noticed that a very still little white tailed bumble bee was curled round the stamen of one of the flowers. I rather think he had been there overnight. I was a good half hour and he was still there when I left. I have seen them here sheltering under teasels for the night.

Bee in Hollyhock… not easy to see him curled round in the middle.

hollyhock and bee bg

My slow measured sketch…

tall hollyhock bg sm 

Later a quicker sketch with black and white pens on toned paper.

 hollyhock bg

Back in the studio in between talking to the visitors I drew a pod and its little adjoining leaf. The pods are delightfully furry.
It’s a bit like the old “Leaf of the Day” times! I still have to draw the seeds but have brought a few pods back with me, along with some honesty. Nice! I am looking forward to drawing them.

Hollyhock Seed Pod and Leaf

holyhock bg

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Tuesday 9 August 2011

“BUZZ” at “Nature in Art” and Wool Carders carding!

I was at Nature in Art near Gloucester all of last week and the weekend as Artist in Residence. It’s a fascinating place. A lovely old manor house dedicated to the celebration of all things natural in painting, sculpture and ceramics, a good cafe and wild grounds. Wonderful for wildlife. Michael Porter’s current exhibition “The Glance and the Gaze” is inspiring!

Artists in Residence have a studio to work in although I have been too busy talking to visitors to actually do much but I had my paintings and sketchbooks to show and talk about. My good intentions to blog were thwarted by no internet access!

My paintings and sketchbooks and bees at the studio.

In between talking to the visitors I went out for a bit of bee spotting. There is quite an extensive wild flower area with red clover, thistles and scabious which is full of bees and hoverflies. At the front of the building are some immensely tall, beautiful hollyhocks, which were busy with bumble bees and in the same border, a patch of furry stachys where to my delight a pair of the gorgeous woolcarder bees are indulging in some perfectly textbook behaviour. 

Now please understand that this is the first time I have actually seen, with my own eyes, a wool carder bee carding. I was really quite thrilled to see  the little female come back time after time to chew the fibres from the undersides of the leaves. She curls round as she gathers them up then flies back to her nest with her ball of fluff, to use for nest building.

wool carder carding

The photo above shows the de-fluffed underneath of the leaf, and the bee busy trimming off the fibres. Nature in Art 2nd August. Photo Val Littlewood

I have never seen a nest but here from Wisconsin,  USA is a photo from the excellent Bugguide  by Ilona who found an Anthidium nest behind her  mailbox. There are two photos of the fluffy white nest, it is quite extensive, a lot of work for this little bee.

woolcarder nest Ilona L

 Female anthidium July 2010 by Ilona Loser:  Bugguide

The male meanwhile was, in turn, resting and patrolling….. resting and patrolling. He was constantly checking his territory, flying backwards and forwards between the catmint, just a yard away, where he was feeding, and the stachys leaves where he sits in the sun. He sat with his wings folded for a while before spreading them out at his sides in a very characteristic anthidium pose.

anthidium male bg 

These big beautiful furry males are able to hover and dart very quickly. It’s a very distinctive flight pattern and you can see him tirelessly chase away intruding bees and hoverflies. They seems to be a source of constant irritation to him.  I watched him suddenly zoom over and knock a trespassing bumble bee to the ground. After a tussle the bumble bee flew off apparently unharmed. It was all too quick to see if the woolcarder employed those fearsome spikes he is armed with.  

A couple of days later after some heavy rain  I found the two bedraggled bees sitting disconsolately on neighbouring flower spikes. They were still, cold and fed up, just waiting for some sun.

resting anthidium
Wet  anthidium male.

It is making me wonder if the anthidium make pairs, I have only seen these two on this patch. After warming up the male flew off but the female took a little more time, she buzzed her wings occasionally and when offered my hand she happily climbed aboard for a few minutes, warming up and spreading out her wings to dry. I was with one of the visitors who was delighted to see her and as I held her up we could see her large jaws. Her tiny clawed toes were quite clingy, I have found that a cold wet bee is often quite reluctant to leave the warmth of your hand.

It’s been a wonderful week with many lovely bee friendly people, and some new converts. Amongst the visitors were the wonderful Bee Guardians from Gloucester.. more of them tomorrow! So thanks to Simon and all the staff. I am looking forward to returning next year.

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