Monday, December 5, 2022

Lawn to Forest


Forest Scene, colored pencil.


Recently the Virginia Native Plant Society asked me to do some illustrations for a brochure they are developing called "Your Lawn Wants to be a Forest." The idea is to encourage homeowners to turn an ordinary dull lawn into something more environmentally inviting by planting native trees and other vegetation. Or, by simply not mowing the lawn, allow it to develop into a meadow, which will eventually grow into a forest.


Left Hand Meadow, colored pencil.


It's a challenge to find a way to illustrate the concepts in the brochure, and I loved our graphic designer's tip of using color in just some places for accent, rather than over all. This wonderful idea allows me to do a detailed drawing of the plants in sepia pencil, and then bring in touches of color to pop up and call attention to elements of the plants and associated pollinators.


Right Hand Meadow, colored pencil.


I created the sketches using plants from my own garden and the surrounding woods. I have lots of photos of these--it's impossible for me to draw a plant accurately from memory, I need to have a photo or the real plant in front of me to be botanically accurate, which is essential for an assignment like this.

Unfortunately, the last sketch has proved problematic--it seems that the common mullein, which I see all around our area and in my garden, is not a native. So, I'll have to try to find a way to turn that mullein into some other native plant.

The interesting thing as I read the text of the brochure, is to realize that my gardening efforts have instinctively followed its advice, except that I haven't confined myself to all native trees and shrubs. As an eclectic plant lover, I have a predilection for Japanese maples, as well as flora from the southwest and western states and I've indulged it with some success. 

Not all the plants I buy native to our western regions have prospered here--as I've learned, our native clay soils are too dense for some of these plants, but it's fun to experiment and see what will do well here.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Recent Art and New Projects

Iris 'Afternoon Delight' watercolor, 21"h x 13.5"w.


Now that fall is winding down, with the approach of winter I tend to spend more time in my studio. There are still have a few garden chores to do--spring flowering bulbs to be replanted--which will have to wait for some warmer days to complete. But, more time in the studio gave me the opportunity to finish the iris 'Afternoon Delight' that I'd started earlier in the summer.

And, I have new pieces on the way. I found another heirloom pumpkin among the local fall displays that was just lovely! Its intricate shape, colors and the bloom on it cried out for this one to be rendered in colored pencils. I'm using a piece of left-over hot-pressed Saunders Waterford paper, perhaps not the best for this kind of drawing, but, why not?

I learned that this variety of pumpkin is called Musquee de Provence, and with two memorable trips to Provence in mind, I decided to "pose" my pumpkin with some dried lavender sprigs and a sheaf of wheat I had hanging around. Here's a photo of my set-up.


Musquee de Provence pumpkin photo.

The sun coming in through the window gives a dramatic lighting effect which I like. I started my drawing with a dark sepia pencil, and did some shading for a grisaille underdrawing, then started adding touches of color.


Musquee de Provence - Stage 1

Continuing to add more color, wheat sheaves, deepening the hues and shadows.

Musquee de Provence, colored pencil - Stage 2

Musquee de Provence, colored pencil - Stage 3

At this point I was looking for some advice on how to get the effect of the bloom on the surface of the pumpkin. It was a great subject to bring up at our regularly scheduled Zoom meeting with my colored pencil peeps--the Chickahominy Colored Pencil Artists. Judy had some excellent suggestions which I'll be trying out over the next week or so to bring this puppy to a conclusion.


Pages from Botanical Journal, Year 2


The first week of October was the one-year anniversary for the Botanical Journal I started last year, and I continue to have fun filling my sketchbook with the objects I find around my garden as well as those I collect on my wanderings on the home turf. The pages above had three sketches from last year, and now two more--the flowering stem of one of my new houseplants, Echevarria 'Lady Aquarius,' and a prickly seed pod I found right by the door of our polling place. I have no idea what plant that prickly seed pod develops from, but it's scary-looking!


Page from Botanical Journal, Year 2

Last weekend I went out with the Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS) to see some of the "big trees" in our neck of the woods. We met at Skyland, inside Shenandoah National Park and there saw several state champion trees: a fan-leaved hawthorn tree, a Colorado Blue Spruce and a Japanese Yew (non-native, these two were planted there). From Skyland, we drove down to a place on the Shenandoah River called Foster's Landing where there were: one enormous persimmon tree, and several Bladdernut trees, one of which is the State Champion. Bladdernuts are not exctly majestic, they're rather smallish trees that grow in wet sites such as riverbanks. The bladdernuts in the sketch above were collected from that site.

Our last stop was in Luray, to see the centenary Chinquapin oak there--now there' s one beautiful, majestic tree! It's estimated to be over 300 years old. I plan to stop again in the spring to sketch it, perhaps do a plein aire painting of it. I'm gong to need a big sheet of paper!

Luray's famous Chinquapin oak

My friend Kristin and I under the massive oak.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Late Fall Color

Viburnum 'Cardinal Candy'


This year we've had a very colorful fall and the show isn't over yet. There's still color in them there leaves! 

Fothergilla with aromatic asters.

Some plants are just beginning to reach their peak of color now in early November, like the Fothergilla in the photo above. I wish the asters next to it were a bit bloomier, but the color combination never fails to amaze me. 


Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

My original aromatic aster continues to produce prodigious blooms--the pollinators love it, it's about the only flower that lasts this late into the fall.


Japanese maples on east side
Japanese maples l. to r.: Bloodgood, no Id, Full Moon

Much of my labors in the garden each fall consists of expanding and consilidating my flower beds. This year it was time to dig up the Mount Hood daffodils under the Japanese maple 'Amber Ghost' that were over-crowded. I extended the bed out and joined the 'Texas White' redbud tree to make it part of the same bed before replanting the daffodils and grape hyacinths beneath the trees.


Reworked bed with 'Amber Ghost' and 'Texas White' redbud.

Next spring I'll consolidate this enlarged bed with the one behind it, for one much larger island bed. The Shasta daisies in the Badlands bed didn't bloom much this year, despite the generous summer rains, so I'll probably transplant those and put them in the grassy strip that will unite those two beds on the west side of the back yard.


The "Badlands' in late October.

Other spring-flowering bulbs also need to be dug up, thinned and re-planted. I hope the glorious weather will hold out long enough for me to get this done before the ground freezes hard. I wonder what sort of winter is in store for us?


The front yard in late October.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

October Tints

Muhly grass and flowers in Herb's bed.

 Our first frost came two days ago, several weeks earlier than last year. October was already showing its colorful tints in the woods behind our house--the trees started to turn at the beginning of the month, much earlier than last year. The dramatic progression can be seen in these two photos taken less than ten days apart.

The woods in back on Oct. 9
The woods on Oct. 17

The swamp sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolium) usually start to bloom around my birthday at the end of September. This year the pineapple sage I planted next to them began to bloom at the same time. The two together make a nice display of bright colors. One of these days I'll find a perennial red sage that blooms at a time the hummingbirds can make use of it!


Swamp sunflowers and pineapple sage.


Over the  years, the swamp sunflowers have been spreading all over my garden. I've dug up some of them to replant in other beds, others are volunteers that have sprouted where the seeds were blown by the wind. I love their bright color and the way they complement the other plants in my garden beds!


Swamp sunflowers and grasses in Herb's bed on Oct. 9
Similar view on Oct. 19

Sunflowers in back yard.

Now the late asters are starting to open, lending another touch of color. The native aromatic asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) don't seem to spread as easily as the sunflowers, but the Aster laevis, which the deer like to munch a lot, may have spread to areas where the deer can't reach, to yield these very tall flowering stalks by the arbor vitae--I sure didn't plant those! It's possible the Aster laevis has hybridized with our native wild asters to produce these lovely high-rise flowers.


Asters with yellowing foliage of Amsonia hubrichtii.

Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)


I divided the huge clump of asters next to the deck to add to other beds, and although they are growing well, they have not reached the magnificent proportions of the original plant you see here.

West side from the deck on Oct. 11.
West side on Oct. 17.

 The Mount Hood daffodils under the Japanese maple were getting much too overcrowded, so I started digging them up, along with the grape hyacinths around them. It seemed like a good time to expand this bed and consolidate it with the base of the 'Texas White' redbud tree I planted last spring, and join the two large island beds on this side of the yard together.


Expanding and reworking two island beds on the west side.

It's going to take a bit more time--it's back-breaking work to dig up the clayey sod and incorporate a load of clay-breaker material and compost. I'm only half-way to my goal at the moment. Naturally, there are other flower beds I'd like to remodel too. As my shrubs and plantings have grown over the years, the spring-flowering bulbs multiply and become overcrowded, while shrubs and perennials outgrow their allotted spaces and begin to crowd out other less vigorous plants. Some plants succumb to the usual garden pests or get eaten by deer, moles, or voles, and need to be replaced. It's a constant chore to keep a garden in balance and growing well.


Japanese maples on the east side (Full Moon and Bloodgood)

My Chrysanthemums didn't do well this year, they have very few blossoms. Only the deep purple-red in the front yard looks like much. I need to refresh the plants--buy some new ones or move them to other locations in the garden. Mums don't like to be in the same spot year after year, and need to be re-planted in a different location to prosper.


Frosty Chrysanthemums

There's still time before the leaves all come down, we're sure to see more autumn color as the season progresses.

Back yard from the deck at sunset.

Dogwood in front yard on Sept. 22, starting to turn.

Dogwood in front yard on Oct. 4, turning red.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Leafing on Skyline

Wildflowers on Skyline Drive


As the leaves begin to change colors in my back yard, I thought to take a jaunt on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The "leafers," as admirers of the fall color are known in these parts, will soon be coming in droves to take in the spectacular fall display in the mountains. On weekends Skyline Drive becomes almost impassable from the amount of traffic, so driving up on a weekday is the best way for us retirees to enjoy it fully!


Rock walls along Skyline Drive

Naturally, I took my watercolor painting kit with me hoping to find an appealing view. The morning was beautiful, and the colors, although not yet at their peak, still lovely. I looked around as I drove south, trying to find the best site for painting. I don't like to set up at the very exposed overlooks, since the sun is too bright and they tend to be windier--I prefer more sheltered spots with some shade. The most appealing colors seemed to be visible right from the middle of the road, where one couldn't pull off, so I continued on.


Fall color along the rocks.


Some twenty-odd miles south I stopped at the Elk Wallow rest stop, and seeing it was already past noon, decided to turn around to try to find a good place to eat my lunch and paint. I'd noticed a hillside covered with golden Ladyferns a few miles back on the drive down, and was able to find a place with a parking area there. I pulled in and walked around a bit, trying to decide where a good spot to paint might be.


Golden Ladyferns carpet the forest floor.

There was a trail that took off towards the west down into a wooded hollow, which looked unpromising. I turned around back towards the road, and saw that the same trail continued eastward on the other side. Here the trail rose up a slope, and one could see bits of sky showing through the trees beyond the hill. The trail curved gently up this hill, with the golden ferns carpeting the slopes--lovely! Here was my spot!


A hillside of golden ferns.


I walked back to my car to get my painting gear, jacket and lunch, and brought them to the spot. At an altitude of 3300 feet, it was chillier up here than in the valley below, good thing I'd brought my jacket. After eating my sandwich I got to work and the time just flew. Several hikers walked past me, and I chatted briefly with them. Around three in the afternoon, the sun started to fade and clouds moved in, a good time to stop painting. 

I had enough down on paper at that point, that the rest of the painting could be finished later at home. Time to pack and get back in my car. On the way home I stopped at a few overlooks to take more photos, and finished my painting at home the next day.


Hogback Mountain Overlook.

Ferns at Skyline in Fall, watercolor, 14" x 11"

I hope to get back up there to paint next week and see how the colors keep changing.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Warm Springs, Virginia


Warm Springs Creek on a fall morning.


Last week I spent a couple of days in Warm Springs, VA to take part in some workshops presented at the Bath County Plein Air Festival. I was curious about the festival, which I'd become aware of the previous year, when I was at the Red House Artist Residency. 

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon to take part in the Eco-printing workshop with Nancy Buchewicz at the Old Dairy. As I entered the large room where we were going to work, one of the assistants was laying out a variety of leaves and flowers on a couple of tables in the back.


Flowers and leaves for eco-printing


The process for this type of dyeing directly from plants is actually a bit complicated, but Nancy had streamlined it a lot for the workshop. I'm waiting to get a copy of the complete process written down, since she didn't have a handout, but it seems the results are not always predictable, which is part of the fun. 

She had prepared the fabric (silk) with a mordant beforehand, in order for the fabric to absorb and set the dyes.  Each student was provided with a cloth soaked in tannin, which would give a subtle ash-brown color for the background, a plastic sheet to wrap around the scarf after we had laid out our leaf/floral design on the scarf, and a rigid rod to wrap the scarf tightly around.  Those who wished to keep the natural color of the silk for the background didn't use the tannin blanket, and simply rolled their scarves in the plastic sheet.

Nancy (second from right) turning to instruct workshop participants.

Students laying out plants for eco-printing scarves.


After we had the scarves ready, we wound them tightly with some flexible cord and tied them. They were now ready to go into a steam bath. Nancy had two giant steam kettles for the prepared and wound-up scarves, and she put those using leaves in for a full hour. Those with only flowers, for a half an hour. At the end, we each retrieved our own scarf and unwrapped it to see the results. Some turned out fabulous, though I must say mine was a bit disappointing--some of my fern leaves didn't leave as much of an imprint as I had hoped. I imagine if one keeps experimenting, eventually one learns which leaves are more suitable, and what colors of dyes one can obtain from them.


Anderson Cottage, east side.


After the workshop was over, I headed to check in at the Anderson Cottage, the B&B I had booked for my stay. My two-room Tavern suite on the west side was in the oldest part of the house, built over two hundred years ago. The house itself has a fascinating history, some of which was written down on an informative sheet in my rooms. 

Later I met up with my friend Amanda, the lady who offers the Red House Artist Residency where I spent four weeks last summer, and we had a wonderful dinner at the Waterwheel Restaurant, down the street from the Anderson Cottage.


Front porch at the Anderson Cottage

Warm Springs Creek


The next morning I went out to look at the garden in back, and found this lovely view of Warm Springs Creek. It was quite chilly, and there was vapor wafting over the creek, which flows from the springs at about 98-102 degrees. I would have loved to take the time to do a small watercolor of this charming view right then, but I had signed up for a foraging workshop in the morning, and needed to get out in time to be at Chimney Run Farm for "Off the Eaten Path."  The young couple who ran the B&B were kind enough to serve my breakfast a bit earlier than usual so that I could have enough time to enjoy it without rushing.


Presenter Allan Muskat (on the left) with foraging workshop participants.

Our "Off the Eaten Path" group consisted of about 15 people, and thank heaven the owners of the farm, Leigh and her husband Bill, had extra coats and gloves for those who might need them. I'd forgotten to bring my gloves, and it was so cold wearing my light fall jacket, that I took them up on the offer--I don't think I would have lasted the hours outdoors without those!

I was a little disappointed that the workshop was more about the philosophy of foraging rather than the practical information I was seeking, but be that as it may, Allan was very entertaining as he pointed out ordinary garden weeds that are edible and can be used for flavor or seasoning. We tasted yew berries, taking care to not ingest the poisonous seeds.


Jack O'lantern mushrooms
Jack O'lantern mushrooms

I think many of us had hoped for some edible mushrooms, but we found only one exhuberant patch of Jack O'lantern mushrooms in the area where we were. Despite our having signed releases that we wouldn't sue if something we ate didn't agree with us, I think Allan was concerned that later on someone might eat poisonous mushrooms that had not been properly identified, so he stayed away from that subject.

The gills of the Jack o'lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olearius) are phosphorescent in the dark, and although we couldn't appreciate this phenomenon during the daytime, he showed us some photos he'd taken at night, where you could clearly see this. This is the origin of "foxfire," that mysterious glow that can be found in certain places in dark woods.


Preparing the foraged foods.


Toward the end of our workshop, a table with an electric skillet had been set up, and Allan had some of the ladies in the group chop up the greens we had foraged on our walk with some black walnuts, sauteed it all and then served this on a cracker for each of us to taste.

Allan Muskat cooking foraged food.

In the afternoon I did a small sketch of an antique child's wheelbarrow at the Anderson House before I attended the artist talk. I was hoping to find at least one watercolorist among the group, but the artists who presented were all oil painters. I did learn the one watercolor artist in the group used very heavy paper (300#) which he then sprayed with some sort of impermeable varnish, and his pieces were not framed with glass, which I suppose makes it easier to frame quickly. Although I liked his work, it wasn't traditional watercolor.

In the evening, I attended the foraging lecture, where we heard more about Allan's philosophy as a forager. An interesting man, I learned that he's the son of Cuban Jews who came to the U.S. about the same time that I did and settled in Miami. We chatted about our mutual Cuban roots after the lecture, when the Warm Springs Gallery presented us with an amazing spread of exotic foraged food: pawpaw custard, pine needle sugar cookies, chocolates made with wildflowers, so many unbelievable treats! There wasn't much room for a regular dinner after that, but I decided to go to the Warm Spring Inn for a light repast anyway--it wasn't very good, the dish was too salty for my taste.


The back yard at Anderson Cottage


The next morning I got up early to do a little sketch of the creek, but the conditions were a bit different. It was not as cold, but cloudier, and the beautiful effect of the vapor over the water was not there. Still, it was fun to paint from the little bridge over the water to try to capture the scene.


Sketch of Warm Springs Creek.

I started my drive back after breakfast, hoping to get home before the rains from hurricane Ian arrived in our area.