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

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Mahonia and B terrestris

The very first shrub I have planted in my new garden is a little Mahonia. I grew one in my garden in Deal, where it gallantly survived the shade of a row of leylandii, hardly ever saw any sun but still grew tall and handsome, brightening up a very dark corner every winter. Here it will cheer up an equally gloomy spot and once it gets going will provide sustenance for a variety of insects. Even though it is tiny, it is already providing a brilliant flash of yellow which I can see from the kitchen window when I am washing up.

I went up to Dad’s garden on Thursday where there is a magnificent untrimmed specimen of, I guess, about 12 feet. It grows under the huge copper beech while another smaller one lives on the shady half moon bed. Reading more about Mahonias it seems the genus was named by Thomas Nuttall in 1818 in honour of Bernard McMahon, 1775-1816 famous for his first seed catalogue of USA plants. The great Lewis and Clark Expedition which collected specimens of the mahonias was planned from his home but it seems a shame he was remembered after his death!

Since I started looking out for bees, mahonias have proved to be very rewarding  Early insects and bees just love them! Looking through my photos from last year I see bumble bees, B lapidarius, B hortorum, honey bees and of course B terrestris queens which is why I am teaming them up for this painting.

B lapidarius and Mahonia, March 2011


ter and m flip

My first thumbnail rough which I flipped.

b terr 1 bg

Bombus terrestris and Mahonia, second rough.

I brought a flower spike (correctly called a raceme) back from Dad’s house to sketch. His big Mahonia could spare one. I have never really looked closely at a spray of the florets before. It is quite complex, opening out from tight greeny yellow buds through neat little cadmium yellow flowers to overblown brownish papery remnants,  then leaving a fringe of little bright green seed heads some turning black and shriveled. Hmm it is complex!

Mahonia sketch b

Getting to know Mahonia …….

7 comments:

Elephant's Eye said...

Will you break your pattern, and show the flowers in colour this time? Or stay with the pencil? sketch of the plant?

Blackbird said...

I cannot get enough of this bush. Maybe because it flowers in winter, when we are so deprived of flowers. I also love the scent and how it appears to shine with its bright yellow. And I haven't even mentioned the bumblebees and other bugs yet...

Anonymous said...

My mahonia here in north Florida is just starting to bloom. I planted them because the birds enjoy the fruit, but I enjoyed seeing question mark butterflies on them last winter.
You might look under your father's plant for seedlings. We get quite a few.

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

A Mahonia is indeed handsome, I love the big shiny leaves. We found one struggling away in one of our borders. Much hacking and chopping of other 'stuff' later and he is coming along nicely. And of course, the bees can get at it now!

Mary said...

I find we cannot truly see all the beauty of the natural world around us until we try to explain in in words or draw what we see. Thanks for helping me 'see' the beauty around me.

PatioPatch said...

recently bought 2 for a friend's shade garden - winter is not the same without them.

sharp green pencil said...

Thank you all! I am glad this lovely plant has so many friends.

EE: Good question but no actually I wont be doing anything different for these paintings, still black and white flowers with the coloured bee. They are follow up commissions and this way of portraying them seems to please people!...but maybe when a new commission comes in :)..it will be a daring step.The double bee with the coloured shell was a heart in mouth moment!

B: Great to know you are a fan too.(Readers!! Blackbird has an excellent natural history blog and recently posted about another fabulous insect shrub "laurustinus" (Viburnus tinus)http://abugblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/buzzing-laurustinus.html)

Anon: Ahhh... Florida sun! after a day like yesterday I could do with some!Mahonias can at least cheer up the dreary winter here... and thank you for a great tip re the seedlings. I am up to Dads tomorrow and will have a look!

SS: I have to admit to feeling rather envious of a border big enough to discover things in!Glad you have rescued it!

Mary: you are so right!Having to drawing or explain something really makes you look and inevitably you find something fascinating, beautiful and totally surprising.

PP: what a very nice friend you are!(to both humans and bees!!)