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Friday 23 December 2011

A Very Merry Christmas to you All.

At last, the year is on the turn and I am feeling optimistic about 2012.
I am hoping for a mild Christmas so that I can continue painting the shed, but if it’s cold and wet I shall be inside reading my Christmas book “Creating a Forest Garden” by Martin Crawford. True, it is slightly ambitious for my mud patch but I am optimistic about that too.

I have just finished Marty’s honey bee for her site Beezations,  Her bees, she tells me, are shivering upstate! I sympathise. Marty, I wish you and the girls well for 2012.
marty's honey bee bg

And so, bee friends, bee converts and even those still not quite sure; while you are browsing the garden catalogues please add a few seeds for bees to your basket, order an early willow, some late Michelmas daisies, or plan where to put that bee house.  Your reward will be an exuberant, productive and buzzing garden.. and what could be nicer.

I wish you all Season Greetings and thank you for all your support, on the blog, through your kind comments and emails, for buying prints, postcards, originals and BUZZ books. You have all helped keep me and the bees going and make the ups and downs of 2011 end on a high note.


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Monday 19 December 2011

Ideas, Sketches Plans and some 2012 Dates

I have been spending every spare minute outside, even though it’s cold, the lure of the shed and my garden is irresistible.  My work room also looks out onto the garden, which in some ways is a mistake as I spend hours gazing out onto the bleak leafless scene. I, of course, am seeing something different. I am seeing the magnificent flower filled vista that it surely will become. I have started making some rough sketches,  just of what I have for now. It will be interesting to see how it changes!

plan correctedcol back colplan front 

I am also watching the birds, hesitant at first to try a new bird table, but they are coming. Blue tits, great tits, the gorgeous long tailed tits  robins, chaffinches, sparrows, blackbirds, starlings, pigeons and of course magpies. To encourage them I have put the bird feeder by the hedge giving them some perching places but it’s too far away to see very clearly. When I have more foliage in the garden I can edge them nearer to my window. 
I have done some rough sketches but I need lots more observation and drawing time to understand them. But as always its better than nothing!  So,some robins, delightful long tailed tits who swoop into the garden in little gangs and a couple of ring doves disconsolately sitting in the bare apple tree.. they sat there in the rain almost motionless, for nearly an  hour.. nice and easy to sketch!

robins pagebglong tailed titsbg  pigeons bg 

On the Bee Front

I have been busy sending out print and book orders and have a commission for a new set of the Big Six Bumble bees and two more individual bees.  This is wonderful because it gives me a chance to try some new plant/bee relationships and do some more research. So far I am just at the very scribbly thumbnail stage.

Marty’s Bee, Marty eventually decided to go with the first rough of the Honey bee and Goldenrod.  So one more rough for her approval and then on with the painting.

bee and goldenrod 2bg

More projects: Ceramics and the Bee Book.

In between the ups and downs of this year there has been lots going on behind the blog.. I once referred to the blog as the outwardly serene swan of my life whereas in reality I am paddling madly in the background, trying to keep things going!  Sometimes I look at my heaped desk and wonder if I will ever get straight. 

I have been developing a range of BUZZ ceramics with a small UK company which we will be launching ( hopefully) at the International Gift Fair in Feb and also working with Marc of the excellent Foxleas website to try to get our Bee Book knocked into shape. We both feel there is a need and a gap in the market so are putting together the first manuscript and design.  Lots of work!

Two exhibitions, and my Bugs Beasts and Botanicals Workshops

I have two fantastic return visits planned next year.

Nature in Art

I will be Artist in Residence again at the wonderful Nature on Art in Gloucestershire and this time I am also running a two day Bugs Beasts and Botanicals Workshop. The workshop is March 31st & April 1st and I am Artist in Residence for the week 2nd to 9th April, which is Easter week.

Easton Walled Gardens

And I am back to the lovely Easton Walled Gardens in June for a week long exhibition starting June 3rd with an accompanying two day Bugs Beasts and Botanicals Workshop working in the beautiful Gardens there  on 7th & 8th June  This will be as part of their “Meadow Celebration” event over the Bank Holiday June 3rd and 4th. 

I will also be running a couple of extra Bugs, Beasts and Botanicals workshops at Easton, joining forces with the excellent Live and Learn Organisation  these will be:

19th April: A short half day taster course

26th April: A full day at Easton.. fab!

Stamford Arts Centre

Also with Live and Learn at Stamford Arts Centre, Lincs to run some “Bugs Beasts and Botanicals”  workshops,

25th Feb :  Learn to Draw botanicals a taster 3hrs.

24th March : Bugs beasts and Botanicals a full day

I will be posting more details of the workshops and shows as I get them.


That’s all for now !

Friday 16 December 2011

First Snow

We woke to snow. First snow may not really register with many here, especially after last year’s bitter Winter, but for us, soft, sun loving, warm climate returnees it is the first real snow we have seen for many years.

It’s strange stuff, it muffles and chokes and clogs things. It turns things into something else, transforms places into somewhere else. The white grass is quite shocking. The sky is darker than the land. Things don’t look quite right.

Starlings, crows and rooks look even an blacker black ... and I am reminded of Robert Frost’s curious poem. A favourite of mine.


The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Robert Frost

snow in the garden bg

The other day I had taken down 3 small bird boxes that had been abandoned in every way .. left high and dry and disintegrating up on the side wall. I am going to give them some TLC and replace the perches. They are standing by the conservatory door waiting to be attended to and this morning their little roofs covered are with snow. I can see them from my work room, so made a sketch.

bird boxes sketch  bg

Then I thought this was a rather nice image, so painted it again and added a robin. I was watching the robins yesterday and had made a few sketches.

rob bird house bg

Hmm almost Christmassy!

It’s lunchtime now and all the snow has gone…

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Tuesday 13 December 2011

Auntie Bessie’s Aspidistra

At the weekend we went up to Dad’s house to bring back a few more bits and pieces and the last of the house plants. Recently on Gardeners Question Time,  Pippa Greenwood was saying how difficult she finds it to throw away surplus seedlings.  I am having  the same problem with Dad’s pot plants.  I had already transported the tender begonia, the money plant I resurrected from the greenhouse a couple of years ago and a nice little cactus, back to the Ugly Bungalow where it is at least a bit warmer. Three more questionable plants were left to survive until we had more room in the car. This time they looked forlorn and abandoned, so back they came. The croton I fear is on its last legs, and the ancient poinsettia, I think given to Dad 2 years ago, is straggly and woody and has lost most of its lower leaves, but the one plant which is more or less the same is the Aspidistra.

It is really mine. Given to me by my Auntie Bessie and at a rough count it has been with me for over 30 years. I left it with Dad eight years ago. “You will look after Auntie Bessie, wont you Dad?” He waved his hand. “It can go in the porch.” 

In its life it has survived incredible neglect, latterly because Dad really had forgotten it even existed. It has been cut back to nothing, had its leaves ignominiously snipped and trimmed of those unsightly brown ends and those same poor leaves have been repeatedly trapped in the door because it was really too big for the porch.  It’s been subjected to drowning and drought by turn, endured blistering heat and freezing cold. It lost most of its leaves last year, so on a visit home and in a final kill or cure attempt, I repotted it and sure enough on my next visit some months later a few new leaves were struggling to unfurl, imprisoned by rock hard dry soil. “For Christ’s sake will someone please water this plant!! 

And so it has survived, suffering in silence in the porch. .. I think its problem is that none of us really like it.  But none of us can bear to kill it… because in effect it is Auntie Bessie… and we all loved her very much.

So here it is, uncertainly left in the hall for now, where it is, again, too big. It seems to hover like the rather unwelcome guest who hasn’t taken the hint to leave. We bump into it and brush past its leaves.  An appropriately ugly plant for the Ugly Bungalow. Do two ugly’s cancel each other out? No. But despite its brown tipped leathery leaves and its lopsided growth, its incredible tenacity has earned it a duty of care and a grudging affection. It is, from floor to top of the highest leaf, 3ft high.

auntie bessie aspidistra bg

Sketch done with chunky water-soluble pencil… nice for quick work.

I intend to lavish as much love and affection on this plant as I am doing on the shed. ( Good Shed News: … the shed has a new roof! Ahhh joy ) but I am wondering if it will survive affection, having gone so long without. 

Some people call these passed-down plants, “Heirloom plants”… how nice. It conjures up a cosseted, pampered much-loved thing, carefully propagated and handed down. The Aspidistra just came to stay and never left… but I promise you Auntie Bessie, I will now look after it… sadly, that dreadful hat you knitted for me when I was ten just had to go. :)


Friday 9 December 2011

Glorious Goldenrod

Goldenrod is a fascinating and wonderful plant. We do have a wild goldenrod here in the UK Solidago virgaurea (European goldenrod or woundwort). It’s another plant that likes scrubby wasteland areas and  is sometimes mistaken for ragwort.

My USA Goldenrod moment
USA goldenrods are very beautiful, varied and … of course, can be much bigger than ours.  My most memorable goldenrod moment in the USA was a visit to the wonderful Thomas Edison house in Fort Meyers. It was in his small lab here that he experimented with the possibility of extracting rubber from Goldenrod, See a recent article, Bouncing Back to Life from Preservation Magazine about the restoration of the lab and about his search for rubber.

 Edison’s Golden Ticket: Goldenrod | Edison Botanic Research Corporation & Lab Part II

Here from the Edison House Website is Edison with his own huge Goldenrod (Solidago Edisonia). He crossed a common goldenrod with a huge everglades species, Solidago gigantea.

Golden Rod: Friend of bugs 

Should you have your doubts about your feelings towards goldenrods, which can be considered a weed I know, have a look at Beatriz Moisset’s wonderful set of Flickr photos called Goldenrod Zoo, here and then read her excellent article on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens website about the many (… over 300!) species of “visitors” who love this sunshine plant.

Golden Rod: a Useful Herb

I have a favourite old set of family books, Frederick Edward Hulme’s, Familiar Wild Flowers. This is from the Golden Rod entry.

 The generic name Solidago is derived from the Latin word “solidare” to unite, the name being bestowed from a belief in the vulnerary ( I had to look this up means good for healing exterior wounds)  virtues of the plant…The specific name was change to Virgaurea, by Matthiolus. The name is admirably descriptive and is in fact but a Latinised version of its English name , “virga” being a stem  or rod while “aurea”signifies golden.

Hulme goes on to record Gerard’s interesting observations in 1633 about human nature and rarity.. It seems that Golden Rod once was a rare and much sought after healing herb…but availability apparently bred contempt… ‘twas ever thus…?

Gerard writes in his “Generall Historie of Plantes” 1633:

In my rememberance I haue knowne the dry herbe which came from beyond the sea sold in Bucklers Bury in London of halfe a crown an ounce. But since it was found in Hampstead wood …no man will giue halfe a crowne for an hundredweight of it:….Our phantasticall physitions when they have found an approued medicine and perfect remedie they wil seeke a new ( and more expensive and profitable??) and farther off, and by that meanes, many times, hurt more than they helpe.”

Hulme goldenrod bg

Hulme’ s European Golden Rod,  from “Familiar Wild Flowers”  Cassell 1910 (approx)

Frederick Hulme was another of those many fascinating Victorians who observed, drew, recorded and shared their passions for the natural world. More of him another time.

Goldenrod notes & sketches

Wild Goldenrod can sometimes be confused with Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea. or I think now renamed Jacobaea vulgaris.
Generally the leaf of ragwort is different, much more deeply lobed. goldenrod v ragwort leaf bg
However Broadleafed Ragwort, Senecio fluviatilis Wallr has a rather similar leaf. 
Does this help? Hmmm…

goldenrod senecio flu

Goldenrod and Broadleaved ragwort, preserved specimens from the fabulous resource the UK and Irish Herbaria online.   
It’s a wonderful site to browse and  I have been too busy reading to do much drawing but did make a prelim page of notes.

 goldenrod notes bg

There is so much to discover about Goldenrod, especially about the insects it supports, from beautiful plume moths to bees and hoveflies and little gall wasps. All that has to be another post .

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Wednesday 7 December 2011

Something from the Past

There is still so much to do at my father’s house. Superficially all looks just the same and I go from time to time to do a bit more “sorting”. 
When I open the door I often imagine I will hear  “Hello love, marvelous to see you”,  his customary greeting and when I stay overnight I rewind the Grandfather clock, because to sleep in the empty house without its comforting tick, tock and chime would be unbearable. As far back as I can remember the clock has marked our minutes, hours, days and years.
I go back to try and sort a few more things, bring a few useful and familiar items back to the ugly bungalow and I try hard to throw a few things away. I am failing badly here.  It is all made more difficult because Dad made notes on everything. On things, in things, about thing and under things. Little notes, in his increasingly shaky handwriting with descriptions, optimistic valuations, dimensions and dates, turn up everywhere.  I moved an old radio which was almost rooted to the kitchen shelf .. and sure enough underneath is a little note. On it is written dimensions and frequencies. It has not been looked at for years.

Then upstairs there are still the old photos. They are in 2 shoeboxes, with makeshift cardboard dividers cut from old packaging, and in old used envelopes, all roughly titled:… “Frank”, (Dads brother) “Our family”, “Other People”,” Joyce’s family”, “Holidays abroad”  etc, etc.   My sister and I have poured over them and put them back. 
When I was last home I found a slender unmarked envelope containing  just   a few old holiday snaps.  I had missed it before but, inside it, was this! Faded, and of course just about the only thing in the house without a note or a date or anything…it’s a little Polaroid, taken years ago. It must have been in the 1970’s.
It’s Mum and Dad.. Beekeepers! It made me smile..

 beekeeping ghosts

I also found one of the beekeeping suits.. I am keeping it .. just in case!

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Marty’s Honey Bee and a Goldenrod stem.

Marty contacted me a while ago to very kindly ask if I could paint her a honey bee to use on her website and her publicity for Beezations her “growing apiary of treatment-free hives at the edge of the Catskills in upstate New York”.

Marty’s hives are ruled by a variety of lovely Queen bees.. Queen Camilla is a mild Italian…..Queen Marianne II is a feisty Russian with great genes from a Pennsylvania apiary….Queen Eleanor is a Carniolan mix who was bred at an apiary in Brewster, NY and Queen Kate II is the daughter of an Italian queen who was overthrown by her subjects in the spring of 2011…..” and more.

She sells shares in her hives and will reward the shareholders with gorgeous honey from their hard working bees.. A lovely idea!

I sent her a couple of thumbnail roughs which feature either a Goldenrod or a New England Aster.. and of course a bee.

bee on goldenrod bee with aster

The general feeling, via her blog and facebook votes was; the curve of the goldenrod stem and the hovering bee! My thoughts too. It will make a versatile image for use on all of his products. Maybe labels, cards, publicity etc etc.

So the next stage is the, almost, final rough.. I will tweek it a bit more for the final painting but it’s one I am looking forward to.

b and goldenrod

I have been out in the garden again, this time giving the shed a bit of TLC. Dave my good neighbour, who is going to help with re-roofing said shed, tells me it is a summerhouse. He is a man of optimism and some imagination.

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Sunday 4 December 2011

Purging Buckthorn… again, and a sap green sketch.

Yesterday I wrote about my Purging Buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica and the “sap green” pigment which was once extracted from its berries.  Today a few more notes.
In this mild autumn the spinney by the shed still has quite a few leaves. If you are drawing trees it’s a good idea to sketch the whole thing because they all have very different overall shapes.  It’s a way of getting to know them.

buckthorn and shed bg leaf bg

Some leaves are still green, some have turned yellow and do look quite pretty, and some are in-between, with delicate two tone patterns. (I did use some sap green in this sketch.. the modern version though.)

buckthorn leaves

The bark of the mature tree/shrub is actually quite attractive. It is dark almost glossy, a dark purple brown and striped with prominent pale lenticels. These are raised pores on the surface of bark which facilitate the exchange of gases from the inside of the plant to the outside and vice-versa. There are a lot of them on this plant. Some have greened over with lichen.

The spines seems to grow on every part of the plant, below a sketch of a small branch we pruned yesterday. One massive thorn is 5 inches long very robust and very sharp. The immediate cut surface of the bark is a cinnamon brown. The largest clump of buckthorn comprises a group of 5 or 6 trunks twining affectionately around each other. We took about 10 smaller ones out yesterday and have liberated the small shed.  

bark and spines buckthorn sm

Twigs are good things to draw and if you are interested in identifying winter twigs you can download this very nice free chart from the Woodland Trust here

winter twigs woodland trust 
Winter twigs Woodland trust

It was much colder today.. our first UK winter for 8 years is definitely on its way. Brrr…

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Friday 2 December 2011

Getting to Know the Garden: No 1, The spiny “Purging Buckthorn”.

It’s one of the first things to do with a new garden. Go out and see what you already have. I am starting, sensibly with things that still have leaves.

To the left of the shed there is a tall scrubby, straggly, suckering, thorny thing which apart from the depressing leylandii on the eastern boundary is the biggest thing in the garden.
I am pretty sure it is a buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica I think. It has sent up long side shoots forming itself into a little spinney which is slowly surrounding and imprisoning the small tool shed.. (Yes I am a two shed girl! lucky me..) You would not have noticed the little shed before some of the leaves fell from the buckthorn.  It was quite a surprise to find it.  
However I am not a big fan of this shrub..each branch is armed with vicious spines and it is no beauty.. but it is a native tree and is the food source for both Brimstone butterfly and equally spiny Tiger Moth caterpillars. Hopefully in the spring I will see some of these pretty brimstone butterflies feeding on the flowers.
220px-Gonepteryx_rhamni_mounted 187px-Gonepteryx_rhamni_-_caterpillar_01_(HS)

Brimstone Butterfly and its caterpillar feeding on buckthorn. Images by Sarefo and  Harald Süpfle from Wikipedia.

Why Purging Buckthorn? Because its bitter black berries are an alarmingly good purgative…one I have not yet tried, I hasten to add…

Then, just after I had my flesh ripped to the bone by one of its thorns and was wondering if it should all be dug up, and burnt,  I read  this:

Sap Green, Or Verde Vessie, is a vegetal pigment prepared from the juice of the berries of the buckthorn…. It is usually preserved in bladders, and is thence sometimes called Bladder Green; when good it is of a dark colour and glossy fracture, extremely transparent, and of a fine natural green colour. Though much employed as a water-colour without gum, which it contains naturally, it is a very imperfect pigment, disposed to attract the moisture of the atmosphere, and to mildew; and, having little durability in water-colour painting, and less in oil, it is not eligible in the one, and is totally useless in the other.

from Chromatography or, A treatise on colours and pigments, and of their powers ... By George Field, 1835 read more from Google books here.

Well how fascinating! And there are many other references to sap and bladder green and to the dyes which could be obtained from this unfriendly plant.  Other accounts are not quite so damning.

OK, so a reprieve for this now-more-interesting shrub, for a while, at least. My friend John over on his blog Nuncketest who is busy making his own paints might just note this down for a bit of an experiment :).

I know buckthorn has gone “invasive” in the USA…maybe just another European who saw those high, wide and fabulously open spaces and understandably went wild. Who can blame it. This particular European is feeling a little hemmed in, having been put firmly back in her small UK box, for now. 

Purging Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica

Only a quick pencil sketch and notes for now. I have spent all day trying to get the heating sorted out and weather proofing the sad neglected fence.  Tomorrow, hopefully a “sap green” sketch.. 

purging buckthorn bg

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