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

Monday, 30 January 2012

A Start with the Bee Plants & Bombus lapidarius sketch

I have spent many, many hours over the past month reading books, seed catalogues and online advice about how to plan the garden, what to plant, where and why. The planning has involved a lot of staring at the mud patch, a huge amount of digging and moving barrow loads of soil from A to B and then on to C and sometimes back to A again. We have added a couple of new paths, constructed two simple raised beds, (hopefully correctly placed and orientated) and excavated a small hole, now plastic lined and water filled which will, without doubt, become a magnificent wildlife pond. 

 Some fascinating pond progress:

pond 1  

pond 2

pond 25

pond 3

It’s a small thing, but wonderful because a patch of shimmering sky has suddenly appeared in the lawn and, when the light is right, is bounced up into the kitchen to dance high on the tops of the cabinets and ripple on the ceiling..Quite lovely.

 Planting the pond

This is not my first pond but the first I have tried to create with regard to native plants and wildlife. Luckily I found the extremely helpful Puddleplants who can provide wildlife friendly collections for native and ornamental ponds. So the pond is now started and after some excellent advice from Annette at Puddle, the first plants to go in are: 

Deep water plant: Fringe Lily,
Oxygenator: Starwort 
Marginals: Marsh marigold, Purple loosestrife, Yellow flag, Water mint, Forget me not, Bog bean, Brooklime, Cotton grass, Carex and Penny Royal.

I will add more as they become available, but (and this is doomed to fail) will try not to plant too much. It’s a problem because I tend to get over-excited about the possibilities and over-optimistic about the greenness of my fingers.
I am beginning to edge the pond with stones, have made two escape slopes for hedgehogs and small mammals, have an overhang to create a shade area and some old roof tiles and bits of wood waiting to be placed around the edge which will give cover for frogs etc.
I won’t be having any fish. Advice indicates they are not compatible with other wildlife, although I did like to see the brilliant orange flashes of my small goldfish in the previous pond who, for years, seemed to share their home companionably with frogs, newts and sticklebacks.

And more working bee drawings…

Working on the the garden, revising the rats nest of electrics in the roof and trying to get some heart into the ugly bungalow by opening up the chimney for a woodburner, seem to have caused a huge and disproportionate amount  of mess and chaos. Everything has been covered in plaster dust and mud and my work room has been piled up with “stuff” so artwork has had to take a back seat for a couple of weeks. But I am back to the working sketches now and to Bombus lapidarius, the Red Tailed or Stone, Bumble Bee.

I never get tired of watching this bee. Luckily for us they are very common. The queens are big and extremely beautiful, so very velvet black and so very flame red. They were the stars of my bee walks at Heligan. Every day for two weeks, at 2.00 pm,  perfectly on cue, the workers zoomed in and out of their nest. We would walk over to a patch of rather unpromising ground by a tree where there was a small hole in the earth. “Just watch” was all I had to say. The Oohhs, Ahhhs and delighted smiles were very rewarding.

They like to nest on the ground, under things, often at the base of walls or under sheds (yes…I am hopeful).. hence the name the Stone Bumble Bee. I have been looking out on BWARS for early sightings, one was possibly seen on Christmas Day but nothing reported since then.  Looking at the forecast for this week I hope they are still hunkered down.
I am still undecided about the flower. The possibilities are many because they forage from a wide range of plants.  Thoughts are maybe a scabious of some kind.

lap rev lap3 bg

PS. Most fun and satisfying recent gardening activity: buying a cheap garden shredder to chop up the massive pile of mixed hedge loppings and then using them for mulch… How green are we?? …3 hrs of legal and productive destruction…highly recommended :)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

From One Shed to Another

We are still slowly clearing Dads house and the difficult decision has to be made… to sell or to rent.. we are procrastinating. Practicalities of life mean that neither my sister nor I can live there at the moment but we are both reluctant to part with this lovely house and all its memories. For me, it’s the garden I love so much, particularly the trees, old nameless varieties of apples, the fig tree, the huge and ancient box tree, the magnificent copper beech, the oak planted from an acorn by Dad, the weeping ash and the massive sycamore which stands by the gate. Most were there long before us and hopefully will be there long after us….

In the mid 196Os, when we first moved, to have a fig tree seemed impossibly romantic and exotic. Some years the figs even survived the full two years and ripened. The tree is still doing well, hard pruned every year, its ancient limbs supported by equally ancient branches from other, long gone, trees.  It sits in a sunny sheltered spot by an old stone wall and is the guardian of the potting shed.



The dilapidated and now tottering potting shed is one of my favourite places and according to Dad has a venerable history. It seems that in a former and more significant life it was part of the cricket ground buildings at RAF Cranwell. Now I know for a fact that Douglas Bader played cricket at Cranwell and so maybe, just maybe he once graced its humble portals. I don’t know when it gave up its raffish life and was decommissioned into quiet village retirement  because it always seemed old. Dad solicitously patched, painted and propped it up over the years but now water is seeping in. Ivy has twisted its way through the sagging roof and the internal wall is collapsing. Its glazed frontage is bowed and the long neglected contents wreathed in cobwebs and muffled with dust.

 

The shed was operations HQ for the garden and full of the stuff you would expect to find in the sheds of thrifty gardeners.  Everything was saved recycled and reused. There is an WWII jerry can with petrol for the mower, along with the metal funnel wrapped in a stocking for filtering. There are old, unraveling, wicker baskets full of knotted garden twine, bundles of netting, wire, a bag of fertiliser bags, pots broken and whole, bits of wood, tiles, buckets full of soil improvers, many plant tags, a bunch of old keys, old galvanised watering cans hang from the ceiling, an ancient metal pump sprayer, tools, sharpening stones, oil cans, scythes, hoes, rakes, spades, forks etc etc, other unidentifiable bits of iron and Dads old army kit-bag now green and mouldy but seemingly intact and, most enchantingly to me, the wooden clockcase where once a robin made its nest and of course a horseshoe over the door.

Then there is my shed here at the ugly bungalow,  now finally finished, equally lovingly patched and painted but, like the bungalow, characterless and empty.

My shed, first sighting in September, pre buying.. I thought it had potential!

shed first

Shed Jan 2012,  now finished after many coats of paint and a new roof and some general TLC.

myshed

So, for nostalgic reasons, along with a large dollop of that inherited Yorkshire thrift I am moving some things from Dads shed to mine. The old basket of twine, some pots, some tools etc. They are not sitting too well at the moment in the pristine newly painted interior, but I guess a year will mellow things and it gives me enormous pleasure to do the light digging with my Mothers “ladies” garden fork, trim the hedge with Dads much sharpened shears and plant up the old pots with new life.
I have brought the clock case, hoping that maybe a bumblebee will take a liking to it and of course I have the spare old horseshoe .. still to be nailed above the door, which once adorned the dainty hoof of my beloved dapple grey mare and will remind me of clip clopping round the Lincolnshire country lanes.

jennys shoe

Sentimental? Moi???…. :) I guess old age is just taking its toll…

Wonderful things, sheds…and for those of you who also love your sheds, you can show and share your passion on Readersheds.co.uk. The Potting Shed will be up there soon!

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 …….

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Bombus pratorum and the Hairiness of Bees

For this six bee commission I  have decided to paint the male of this species. I saw so many of them last year and they are simply enchanting. They were zipping around the tiny flowers of the cotoneaster in the churchyard here. They are easy to spot because of their bright lemony yellow colour and orangy tail, yellow moustache and long silky hair. They are extremely pretty.

 The Hairiness of Bees

Bumble bees differ quite considerably in the quality of their hair. B hortorum for example, has quite long scruffy hair whereas B lapidarius  has closer short dense hair more like velvet. The hair may differ between male and female. The term used for bumble bee hair is “pile” (which always makes me think of carpet). The hairs are referred to as “setae” and have a particular quality. Here is the explanation from the excellent BumbleBee.org which is packed with expert info.

“The other adaptation of the hair is that many are branched or feathery enabling more pollen to stick to them, as can be seen in the scanning electron microscope images (SEM) right, and below.

hair1ahair5

“When flying a bee builds up an electrostatic charge, the parts of a flower are usually well earthed, the stigma (the bit that leads to the ovary) more so than other flower parts, so as the bee enters the flower the pollen is attracted to the bee's hairs and even grains of pollen that are not touched by the hairs can jump a few millimetres to the nearest hair. When a pollen covered bee enters a flower, because the stigma is better earthed than the other parts of the flower the charged pollen is preferentially attracted to it. So even if the large, hairy, bumblebee fails to brush against the stigma, the pollen can jump the few millimetres necessary for pollination.”

 Text and images from Bumblebee.org

Below another Scanning Electron Microscope photo of the hairs of US species B fraternus from Duke University.

Bumblebee_Bombus_fraternus_sem1_hair duke uni

A photo submitted to Springwatch in 2010 demonstrates the attraction of pollen to bees!

image

Little bee © Mark Johnson from the 2010 Springwatch Flickr group!

Bombus Pratorum and Cotoneaster

The cotoneaster, where I watched the bees last May, has almost overtaken a particularly nice old grave in a part of the churchyard where wildflower spotting signs are displayed in the summer. I am assuming it’s a Cotoneaster horizontalis, one I particularly like with its spreading, low growing habit, the tiny dainty flowers and leaves contrasting with the lichen covered gnarly branches. There are a couple of small ones in the garden here. I hope there will be bees!

A little B pratorum male.

Working out the pose and composition.

b prat 2 bg

Mr Fluffy :)….

Painting the hair slightly ruffled hair will be a challenge.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Larks & Robins, and other early Birds

I am, without a shadow of a doubt a lark. I am awake and chirpy at dawn or much earlier. At the beginning of January I was up early, about 4.00 and looking out of the kitchen window saw what I thought was a shooting star zipping across sky. (I now know this was part of the Quadrantid meteor shower).. It was a wonderful sight and I opened the door to see if there were any more. No more shooting stars but there was some very loud singing from the nearby tall hedge.

Loud Night Singing

Since then I have been much more aware of a night singing bird (or birds), and it seems to be robins. Which does make sense because there are many robins here. Two patrol the garden every day (which I now presume are a pair, see below) and are the first to the scraps and seeds we put out in the morning.  I don’t know much about birds really so, to me, this was very interesting.

From Ask an Expert on the RSPB site

Robins are one of the few birds that hold a territory throughout the winter so continue to sing when the majority of other birds have stopped.

Robins are often one of the first birds to start singing in the morning and the last to finish in the evening so are used to being active in low light conditions. In places where there are street lamps or other artificial light sources, robins can be triggered to start singing because it does not get completely dark. Other disturbances, like a loud noise or movement, can also start birds singing in the night.
Katherine Stevenson RSPB.

and from the delightful site Garden Birds.co.uk

….they can usually be heard singing their melodious warbling song from strategic perches, often quite high up; it sounds like "twiddle-oo, twiddle-eedee, twiddle-oo twiddle". In the winter, it can sound wistful, some say mournful, but around Christmastime the song becomes stronger and more passionate.

Robins, both males and females, hold their own separate feeding territories in the winter, which they defend vigorously. By around Christmas, many will have paired up. Initially, they do not spend much time together, merely tolerate one another, but will remain together until the following autumn moult.

I also learnt this, something I had never really noticed!

“Robins are rarely seen or heard during midsummer (July-August) when they are moulting and become rather retiring.”

I read that some people find the nocturnal serenade annoying… but I think it  is very beautiful. There is a black bird singing outside as I type. Even through the closed window I can hear it. It’s quite lovely.

In the morning now it is getting light at about 7.30 and there are a couple of blackbirds and robins waiting hopefully by the hedge. We watch them along with a variety of other birds who come to the feeders. We are seeing more and more now and they seem to arrive at different times of the day. The blackbirds and robins are the first, the little longtailed tits visit in gangs later in the day as do the starlings.

Bird list yesterday: Chaffinches, Robins, Great tits, Longtailed tits, lots of Blackbirds who all squabble, a Wren, a beautiful pair of Wagtails who come every day, 2 Ringdoves, Sparrows, Blue tits, Starlings, a Magpie.

I made a quick sketch on a torn out bit of paper this morning in between bee drawing.  The robin was sitting a stick outside my window. I intend to get to grips with painting birds later this year.

rob  bg

Go to Brett Westwoods page on the BBC where you can hear its pretty song with lots of others and don’t forget the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Watch for one hour on 28 or 29 January 2012 and send in your sightings!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Do Bees Have Characters?

It is something I often wonder when I am painting them. I am not particularly fanciful or overly sentimental but I do like to express something of what I think might be a bee’s character. “Characteristic” is probably a more acceptable term for the naturalist or scientist. There certainly do seem to be differences between species and within species.. we describe different honey bee strains as “docile” or “aggressive”.  But that’s not really character. Do bees get depressed or elated, is one Queen more attentive to her brood than another,  one worker a harder worker than another? I don’t know.

I had been reading Sladen’s wonderful “The Humble Bee” again to remind myself of his observations, which were both affectionate and important. I think he would have voted for character. He raised broods of bees in his garden and study so that he could watch and record them. Here he has found a searching lapidarius queen to take over small orphaned colony.

“I first introduced the queen to the brood. While she was yet an inch away from it she suddenly abandoned her ordinary dull and careless manner and , standing at attention , stretched out her antennae…. Then she advanced cautiously, and when half a minute later she reached the brood she showed great satisfaction and immediately stretched herself over it.”

On another occasion he has taken a queen out of her nest to eradicate some pesky ants. When he puts her back he notes.

She was very pleased to get back to her brood. When I came to fill the honey pot I found the lump of comb had rolled almost off the sacking, so I hollowed the latter in the middle to retain it. The queen seemed to consider the brood to be insufficiently covered and ran about pulling and detaching bits of nest material with her jaws and carding them with her legs. She even tried to bite little pieces off the edges of the sacking. While thus occupied she frequently returned to the brood and always when she reached it emitted little buzzes of pleasure.”

from FW Sladen’s The Humble Bee 1912.

Sketches

I have been doing some more sketching to get me back into the shape of bumble bees. They pose problems because I like to try to show some part of the eye. Again it’s a human response ..we seek out eyes to engage with, even if they are not “eyes” in our sense. But their hunched shape means that in quite a few views the head is hidden.  

bumbles bg

 

bumbles 2 bg

For the B terrestris and honeysuckle I was wondering if I should tilt the view to look up, more of a worm eye view.  But with this bee it’s important to show the long head, the tongue and the characteristic two yellow stripes on the thorax

hort bg

Eventually I decide on a side view.

So this Bombus hortorum will be “reaching up” with its front legs, approaching a honeysuckle flower.

To be less anthropomorphic perhaps I should just say “raising its front legs” because “reaching up” can signify a very human, emotionally charged, action. It can be a request for help or for an embrace, an attempt to grasp something just out of reach, or to hold onto something to prevent a fall, or an appeal to be lifted up.

I have watched bees, especially bumble bees, reaching up to grasp the edges of petals. Sometimes you feel you want to give them a helping hand and very often if you gently offer a finger for them to rest their back legs on they will willingly accept. This is very non-scientific language I know, but it’s very endearing behaviour. 

hort b sm

…and as my aim is to win the affection of kind hearted people and recruit them to the bee cause then my Bombus hortorum, here, will definitely be “reaching up”.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Garden (and others’) Note Book(s)

With this new garden I have decided to try to be systematic. I somehow know it will not last but it’s worth a try. So I have started to keep a list of the plants already in the garden and the plants/seeds I buy. I would like to think I will carefully note their position, their progress, what I feed them with, cropping yields, (there’s optimism for you).. and of course bee attractivness etc

So I looked around for a notebook. I think I’ve mentioned before my aversion to new note books or sketchbooks and so the part-used old notebook tucked into the seed box at Dad’s house seemed both apt and appealing. It’s a small 6 x 3 3/4 inch blue hardback with a grey cloth spine. One of those anonymous note books without a makers name which you used to find in the old fashioned stationers.  A great size to put in your pocket.

the book bg

At the front there are a few pages of notes from a holiday in Madeira. Mum has noted the children running home from school, Dad has made lists of costs. At the back are notes detailing “Good Local Walks”, plant lists and plans for the garden i.e., “move white potentilla to west fenceeliminate wild onion weeds” (sorry Mum,  I know they are still there). The earliest entry is 1987 and notes have been made by both Mum and Dad.

Mum and Dad’s notes: A list of plants and a page entitled “Spring 1998, after a long (cold) dry winter” with an enigmatic small end board sketch of something measuring 8 x17 x10 inches.

 My first notes in the book with sketches of the garden.

my notes bg

As I was entering my first list, “Plants I Have”, I was also listening to the radio, to the fascinating BBC’s History of the Written World.  Melvyn Bragg was discussing how important writing was and possibly still is, to science. “how the invention of writing made the scientific revolution of the Enlightenment possible “ and how the note books of scientists were key in the processing, recording and passing on of information and ideas. They were discussing Newton’s 1665 notes made in his twenties, of an experiment on his own eye which involved pushing a bodkin in between the eyeball and the bone and changing the shape of the eye. On the BBC website there is Newton’s page …how wonderful. Isn’t the potency of the handwritten note and drawing extraordinary? Even looking at this image on a computer screen sends a shiver up my spine. Prof Simon Schaffer describes the note books as “paper laboratories”  a marvellous description.

c091e0125f6cfb8dabf04f33f989b407839aaf97
The text reads "I took a bodkin and put it between my eye and the bone as near to the backside of my eye as I could: & pressing my eye with the end of it there appeared several white, dark and coloured circles.” You can listen to all of “The Written World”  episodes on BBC Iplayer.

I can’t, unfortunately, make a comparison between the content of these notebooks, I can only find a comforting similarity in practice. Newton used both ends of his notebooks.. as did my parents. My own inconsistency is so great that I use note books randomly, middle, end, upside down and sideways.. but there is very seldom anything on the first page. I shudder to think what that might signify.

The University of Cambridge is making  Newton’s Papers available online see here for a wonderful, absorbing and humbling look at the work of an exceptional man.

There is, delightfully, a wealth of other inspirational notebooks on line. Here is Darwin’s famous “tree” from his Notebook B. 

image

This note and sketch “depicts the branching system of descent with modification which he realized could explain the relationship between different species in the same class or family.”  from Darwin Online.

And one of Leonardo’s notebook pages from the British Libraries, Turning The Pages site  where you can view manuscripts and note books from composers writers and artists etc.

image

This page is from around 1508 “This double page forms a single sheet containing notes and diagrams relating to balances and weights, with a sketch of a cockleshell in the margin” Hmm…nice sketch.

I embrace the internet and computers for all the wonderful things they have made possible, especially enabling me to access these fabulous documents from my desk….but I hope people still continue to jot down their lists and thoughts in notebooks in their own hand and not on the impersonal keyboard. A world without hand written notes would be an anodyne and soulless place.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Garden Ghosts and An Interesting Plant

Taking over a garden is a curious business, initially you feel an intruder and hesitant to make changes. In my case it is definitely an uneasy new relationship, where circumstances have thrown both parties together, not necessarily by choice.
For my part I have to persuade this neglected garden that my intentions are both honourable and benign.
For its part, I am hoping for some cooperation and surprises. I am very aware that this garden has its own character, its own strengths and weaknesses and that hopefully we can combine our talents to create something lovely. There will be things to negotiate, some ground rules to establish and both compromises and discoveries to be made.

Ghosts and Discoveries

Currently I’m in the discovery phase. Although superficially there is not much in this garden, as I explore a little more, a distant history of love and care is becoming more evident. I have found the old remains of a compost heap, its archeological layers revealing a thoughtful past. Digging has unearthed faded plant labels, and a few pale name sticks belonging to the ghosts of plants long gone plants: rue, carrots, santolina, and snow in summer. There are piles of rocks, and pebbles which are from somewhere else, the leg of a plaster dog, a small concrete toadstool, 2 shiny spiral shells, and some odd pieces of Lego still glowing brilliantly in the earth.

Someone tried to improve this heavy soil with bags of sand, I found one buried behind the shed. Wooden edging was carefully laid and a swelling  curve was made in one of the borders just to relieve the straight lines. By the hardstanding is a boat tethering hook. I find all this a quite fascinating and quite touching.

The Cat Flap

But, most poignantly of all, clearing the undergrowth from around the shed revealed a, now rusted, cat flap. I wonder who it was, which Tiddles, Fluffy or High Priestess-Slayer-of-Mice snoozed away their sundrenched afternoons in there. How many saucers of milk, how many fond strokings and caresses were administered and how many little animal offerings were laid in return at the kitchen door.
I think I will restore it to full working order… just as I will take a strip out of the wooden perimeter fence to allow small creatures both access and escape.  Who knows what little animal might need a refuge.

the hidden cat flap bg 
Tiny sketchbook note.. pre shed-painting.

 An Interesting (American) Plant

As I go I am trying to identify the plants which already grow in the garden. At  this time of year you have to take care, you really don’t know who or what is sleeping or where.  Already in the desolate wasteland of the front mud patch there are a few bluebells struggling up through the gravel and some daffodil leaves are emerging by the fence… hope!

And over by the fence there is a tall leggy shrub which still has a few leaves. Over the last few weeks I have driven myself mad trying to identify it. Then I stumbled upon it by accident ..it is a Fremontodendron and a completely new plant to me.

These are the leaves,  a small mallow shape but with a very rough pale underside, rather like sandpaper.

fremontodendron leaves

and this is how it will flower…hopefully…

 Fremontodenron ….the Flannel Bush

Photo Flannel bush 'California Glory' from the RHS website.

Family Malvaceae

This showy shrub is originally from the Southwest USA and Northwest Mexico, but does appear to be a good UK shrub, for a sunny wall particularly. Mine does not have a wall to snuggle up to, only a low fence and a bit of hedge and I would not say it is particularly happy… I am watching the poor thing being lashed by the rain and wind as I write, but it is a rather nice discovery and I am looking forward to those bright happy flowers. Should we be feeling the lack of Florida sun (yes, we are) this will help cheer us up. 

In fact if we are missing the USA there have been some odd comforting reminders here. We bought the ugly bungalow from a (non gardening) American lady who left a few cleaning products, so when I opened the cupboards there were my old USA friends; Clorox, swiffers, some unidentifiable soaps and bleaching products, all with USA labels, she will have bought them from the local USA air base shop. And now this USA tree… which I am certain she did not plant. She will, I think, have been totally unaware of the presence of her compatriot over by the hedge.

Not only is this handsome plant from America, it is also named after an all American hero,  one “John Charles Frémont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890), an American military officer, explorer, and the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States”

There is a fascinating and very enthusiastic website about him http://www.longcamp.com/ which has many accounts of his exploits.

“His enterprises are full of hardship and peril,
and the wildest romance.
To sleep under the open heaven,
and depend on one's rifle for food,
is coming about as near the primitive state of the hunter
as a civilized man may well get;
and yet this life, in this case,
is adorned with the triumphs of science.”

…Walter Colton

It seems he was a complex man, but amongst other things was an extraordinary explorer and botanical collector.

“In the course of his five explorations of the West, Frémont collected over 1,400 botanical specimens, many new to the taxonomy--163 new species or varieties, 19 new genera.”
Below is a surviving specimen sheet of Scutellaria antirrhinoides var. californica, Scullcap, collected on one of his hair raising trips to the West. One where many of his horses and his collected plants were lost.

Image and info again from the Longcamp site, see botany.

Fremontodendron Leaf

A small sketch of the leaf…which was beginning to curl by the time I got round to drawing it.

fremontodendron leaf bg

I am glad to have this plant growing opposite my studio window. I will be reminded of sunshine and friends, both animal and vegetable, back in the USA and of those extraordinary explorers of the 19th century who I find so fascinating and so inspirational. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

New “Big Six”: First Roughs

It’s back to work now and I have started the new “Big Six Bumble Bees” commission and have moved on from scribbled notes to thumbnail roughs. This is where I sort out what I am doing and why, and where I check that they will work, not only as individual paintings, but as a set. I think they will be hung in a line rather than in a block and I know they will all be framed the same.

So my initial considerations are these:

  • Which bee with which flower
  • A variety of poses
  • A variety of flower shapes
  • A variety of designs… i.e. left to right, central, bottom or top heavy.

The paintings are for a bee enthusiast who has a very beautiful old house in Lincolnshire, the flowers need to reflect the garden and of course be compatible with the bee. ie tongue length etc.

Scruffy notes….

rough 1

 First Designs

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Things may well change but for now the Bee/Plant combinations are these:

Bombus pratorum:. The Early Bumble Bee with Cotoneaster. This is a small bee with a short tongue. I saw many of them at Grafham last year on Cotoneaster in the churchyard… and it’s a little compact flower with an arching design to the branch.

Bombus terrestris: The Buff tailed Bumble Bee with Mahonia. Mahonia is, year after year one of the very best winter plants for early bumblebees. I have just planted one here and saw terrestris queens on Dad’s Mahonia last year.

Bombus hortorum: The Garden Bumble Bee with Honeysuckle. The long tongued bumble bee who can access the nectar from the long tubular flowers of honeysuckles. It’s again such a favourite country garden flower.

Bombus lapidarius: The Red Tailed Bumble Bee on cosmos/daisy type flower. I love to see bees running around the top of flowers.. it may change into a thistle, but I wanted one central flower head for the set.

Bombus pascuorum: The Common Carder Bee with a foxglove. I saw so many of both at Heligan. A different shaped flower as well.  

Bombus lucorum
: The White tailed Bumble Bee on lavender. I had to include lavender, not only is it a true favourite with all bees but it is also a later flower.

roughs

Reassessing

When I added a bit of colour I realised all the yellow and black bees were facing the same way and both of the redtailed bees were facing the same way. This wont do… 

comp2bg

So I flipped the terrestris /mahonia, which looks fine, and then the lapidarius, which doesn’t alter the design at all. That’s better. It’s just a small thing but keeps the variety of pose, direction, and design that I want.

comp bg 1

That’s all for today!….

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Double Happiness for an Auspicious New Year

Here it is, a New Year, and an already auspicious 2012.

Here we are, starting a new year in the UK, the first time for 8 years.

Here before me is my new garden for which there is hope, behind me the ugly bungalow for which there is perhaps less hope.

And here, in my head, are lists of resolutions longer than the tap roots of a happy dandelion…….. Ahhh, the lure of a list of good intentions.

But why auspicious? Well, first thing this morning two magpies were dancing on the lawn, what luck! …and secondly, for some reason I happened to look at the Chinese calendar for this coming year, and to my delight it will be the Year of the Dragon… my Year! 

Bathing in the sweet expectations of glorious things to come I am standing by the kitchen door surveying garden progress. I had hoped to have finished the shed by today and although it’s not quite there yet, the small pond is half dug and the muddy wasteland of the front lawn has the foundations of a new path. There is a little collection of shrubs in pots waiting to be planted and the leylandii are cowering by the east fence. They know their days are numbered.

Today, for me, is a day to contemplate the coming year.. to mull over the resolutions, to sharpen the green pencils, clean all the brushes and continue painting the shed.

I hope that for you, today is also one of hopes and dreams.

And here to wish you double happiness are two Chinese magpies by Northern Song Dynasty artist Cui Bo from an ancient and most beautiful scroll.

“Double Happiness”

magpies and hare

This painting has the title "Double Happiness," a reference to the pronunciation of the Chinese word for magpie. "Two magpies" was pronounced the same as "two happinesses," so a painting of two magpies was a pictorial metaphor for double happiness and thus an appropriate subject for a painting to be given to someone to express congratulations

The painting is signed and dated 1061, making it the earliest such signed and dated painting and is kept in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

from: A Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, prepared by Patricia Buckley Ebrey. Washington University.

A Very Happy, Fulfilled and Joyful New Year to you All!