Monday, July 23, 2018

One for the Birds

Carolina Wren on hanging basket.

This summer I found a Carolina wren nesting in one of my hanging baskets of flowers on the porch. She spooked and flew by like a rocket when I was watering the baskets, grazing my cheek! I took the basket down, peeked in and found a tiny nest with one egg in it. I hung the basket back up and tried to make sure I didn't disturb her too much, though the baskets need to be watered every couple of days at this time of the year.

One morning a couple of weeks later, as I was opening the window blinds, I saw the wren perched on the chain, holding an insect in its beak. The baby or babies must have hatched--she dove down head first into the basket, then some motion with only the tail visible, and she flew off again. Moments later, another wren appeared--the same bird or its mate?--with an insect in its beak, and repeated the performance.

What a marvelous opportunity to get some photos of this! I ran upstairs to get my camera. I was lucky to capture these few shots. My photos were taken through the glass of the window, poking the lens through the blinds, so they're not as clear I would like, but even so, it's a privileged glimpse into the habits of these small creatures.

In the one above, you can only see a bit of the tail, as the wren feeds her young. She then emerged and perched for a few seconds before flying off in search of more food.

We've also noticed a nesting pair of red-headed woodpeckers perching abound one of the old oak trees in back of our property. It's harder to get photos of them, since the tree is quite a distance from the deck, and my camera can only zoom in a little, but it's fun to watch their antics. I've seen up to five different birds flying in and out of the area, it seemed that at least two were males with the classic red head and beautiful black and white plumage.

Red headed woodpecker in the evening

In the shot below I managed to get one pair--a male and a female or juvenile. They were diving down into the blackberry bushes just below and then flying back to the trunk of this old oak tree at the edge of our property.

A pair of Red-headed woodpeckers in the morning.

I've also seen some ruby-throated humming birds in our yard, but these have proved impossible to photograph. I'm still learning about the birds in our area. Quite a few species are new to me, and so much fun to watch!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Red Pinesap

Red Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys), colored pencil, 14" h x 10"w.

Last year Herb and I took a day trip to Pandapas Pond near Blacksburg, a site well-known to botanists for its amazing fungi and other unusual species. Pandapas Pond is about a three to four hour drive one-way from our home, and I had seen Yellow Pinesap there on a previous excursion to nearby Mountain Lake Biological Station a few years back. This time I wanted to look for the red form of Pinesap. Although some botanists believe the yellow and red varieties are two distinct species because they flower at different times of the year, the species have not been reclassified so far, both are known as Monotropa Hypopitys. The Yellow Pinesap blooms in early August, whereas the red form blooms in early to mid September.

I had asked Gloria, a local lady whose blog Virginia Wildflowers I follow, to let me know when the Red Pinesap was flowering, and in early September--its usual blooming time--she confirmed that the spikes had emerged, so I could plan my outing. Gloria gave me some very helpful hints on the places where the plants could be found.

Pandapas Pond

We took along along a picnic to enjoy in this lovely setting, and after lunch, we set out to find the Red Pinesap. We took a trail that led up a hill behind the pond and found ourselves in a forest thick with Rhododendron maximum as the understory.

Rhododendron trail.

The moist shady areas under these Rhododendrons constitute an ideal environment for plants that lack chlorophyll, such as members of the Monotropa family, as well as fungi. On the trail near the pond I saw a beautiful clump of Indian Pipe, another member of the Monotropa family, and knew we were on the right track.

Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora).

As we continued up the hill, I looked closely at the forest floor--these diminutive plants blend so well with the duff that it's hard to pick them out from among the dried leaves. Eventually, the slanting sunlight helped to highlight several clumps of Red Pinesap off to the side.

Red Pinesap on the forest floor

Some of the clumps were huge! Getting closer to photograph them, I could see the delicate bells of nodding flowers were a soft coral outlined in creamy yellow, the stems a more vivid red. After the flowers have been fertilized they begin to turn upward until they become upright, then the seed drops through the capsule down to the ground. There were flowers here at all stages of development. It was a good thing few people were about--I must have looked an idiot lying down on the forest floor trying to get the best angles on these plants!

Clumps of Red Pinesap.

Close-up of fertilized flowers.

Lovely clump of Red Pinesap
Same clump from a different angle

I took photos with both my camera and phone, and it's interesting to note that the colors of the phone photos are more garish that those from the camera--the colors seem very artificial compared to my camera's which appear more natural to my eye. That is why I chose to use the camera photos as the basis for my painting.

We wandered along off trail, finding more and more clumps of Red Pinesap all over, some were incredibly lush! After taking lots of shots for my painting, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking back slowly towards the pond, enjoying a wealth of other plants and fungi, some of which you see here.

Emerging mushroom?

Destroying Angel (Amanita bigosporigea)

Coral mushroom
Yellow Waxy Cap mushroom (Gygrocybe flavecens)

I chose colored pencils as the best medium to illustrate the Red Pinesap because pencils afford the precision I needed to show all the intricacies of this tiny, delicate plant. I can work as slowly or quickly as I want with pencils, since I don't have to worry about drying time, and my illustration was completed over the course of a week. It will be offered for sale at the upcoming Art at the Mill this fall.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Work in Progress - Carolina Silverbell

Step 1 - Pencil drawing

Four years ago I planted a tiny Carolina Silverbell Tree (Halesia carolina) in my yard so that I could enjoy and paint this lovely native tree. It was so exciting to see it bloom for the first time this spring! But the flowers opened during such a rainy week that all I was able to do was take photos of it. About a week ago I finally started working on my painting.

The first step is always a pencil drawing--working from a set of my photos, I chose part of a branch that showed an array of blossoms at different stages of development, from buds barely open to spent blossoms whose petals have fallen, leaving behind the fertilized style on the stem.

Once I have a shaded drawing, I trace it, rearranging parts of the composition to show another branch with leaves unfurled. At this point, I went out to my garden to look at the tree once more, and noticed that it had developed the characteristic four-sided seed pods (it's alternate botanical name is Halesia tretraptera)... hmmm, it would be interesting to add some of these seed pods to the painting. I took some more photos and added a few seed pods to the left side of the branch, along with a few more mature leaves, to show the seasonal progression.

Step 2 - Refine the composition

I then re-traced my drawing to begin the final line drawing in ink. At this stage I did further refinements to the composition, moving the lower right hand branch a bit. Looking at my drawing, it seemed to me that my photo had led me to enlarged the branch too much--the flowers were about twice life size. It would look better if scaled down a bit, so I went to our local copier shop and had them run a copy at 95% the original size.

The line drawing was now ready for tracing onto the watercolor paper. A half sheet of watercolor paper was about the right size, and, as usual, I use my studio window as the "light table" for tracing.

Step 3 - Line drawing in ink

After tracing the drawing onto the watercolor paper, I again corrected the drawing, referring back to my photos to refine the edges and shapes of the flowers and leaves. I had selected a palette of Cobalt Blue, Winsor Lemon and  Permanent Rose for the primary colors. I mix all the other colors to be used in a painting from these three primaries for a harmonious blend of colors.

Now, I was ready to start painting. This is always the hardest part--where to begin? I chose the uppermost flowers, laying a very light wash of pink over some of the petals to bring out the shape of the flowers. I go do something else for a while until the wash dries completely, usually a walk around the garden. Another light wash of lavender for the shadows of the inner petals creates more depth and definition, then I wait again. Then to lay down some color for the trunk and branches, and a wash of green on some of the leaves.

Step 4 - Laying down washes.

It's hard to restrain myself and wait for adequate drying time, so sometimes I work on other parts of the painting, being very careful not to get close to the wet areas--a risky process. Sometimes I cover parts of the painting with tracing paper to protect it from spills. After the initial washes are completely dry, I lay more washes of color to add a sense of depth to the flowers, petioles and leaves.

Step 5 - Modeling the flowers and leaves.

Gradually, as more elements and details are brought in, the painting starts to emerge. More layers of washes go on other flowers and leaves, deepening the color and defining the edges. Then adding the green seedpods on the left...

Step 5 - Adding more leaves and seed pods.

This is as far as I've got with the painting for the moment. At this time I'll probably wait for the seed pods on the tree to ripen more so that the last seed pod on the left below the others can be shown at its mature or dried stage--I expect this won't happen until around the end of the summer or early fall. In the meantime, I'll start working on other paintings--I usually have at least one or two paintings in the pipeline.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

June's Jazzy Colors

Red Asian lilies

This has been the wettest month to date since we've lived in this area--my rain gauge has measured over 12 inches of rain so far, and the month is not quite over yet. My garden is usually a riot of colors at this time of the year, but this year, as you can see, the rains are making it spectacular! The Asian lilies started their display about two weeks ago, with red leading the way. Bright orange and yellow-orange follow as the red flowers begin to fade, and finally the yellow and pink varieties come into bloom.

Red and orange lilies
Orange and Yellow lilies

Earlier in the month the late-blooming native Azalea bakerii put on a show with orange-red blossoms, while the Azalea 'Weston's Innocence' (an Azalea viscosum hybrid) gives the eye a rest with its white scented blooms.

Azalea Bakerii
Azalea 'Weston's Innocence'

The Little Indians border continues to develop into a fanciful layer of colors. The pale gold of the Stella d'Oro daylilies complements the airy blue spikes of the Catmint. The wavy cream wands of the Itea virginiana 'Little Henry' bushes are beyond, with bright orange Butterfly Weed (Asclepias) that are just starting to bloom. I've seen a number of butterflies visiting these, including some lovely Spangled Fritillaries. Six years ago when we moved here the arbor vitae were these sad, stunted, deer-chewed evergreens, but with lots of fertilizer and TLC they have grown to more than seven feet tall!

The Little Indians in June

This pink Bee Balm (Monarda) that I had planted five years ago was not prospering in the 'Badlands' as Herb calls the weedy rear flowerbed--it had never bloomed there. Last fall I dug it up and transplanted it to the east bed where the soil retains more moisture, and lo and behold, this year it's blooming profusely! The Mexican Feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) planted a couple of years ago seems to be spreading, with new clumps cropping up here and there--this is one of the loveliest ornamental grasses, specially striking when you see its delicate blades waving in a breeze.

The east bed in June
Pink Bee Balm (Monarda)

The yellow Daylilies under the red maple tree are lush. The new bed beyond was planted earlier this spring with a group of discontinued Daylilies on sale from the Gilbert H. Wild & Son catalog. A few flowers of these new varieties have opened, but it will probably take at least another year, maybe two, before they can match the splendor of the older bed.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis) under red maple tree.
West side garden

The native Wafer Ash tree (Ptelea trifoliata) I planted last fall died back to the ground and took such a long time to re-sprout I thought it was a goner, but it's finally making some progress with all this rain. It should eventually grow into a small tree; I wonder how long that will take?

Wafer Ash tree (Ptelea trifoliata)

The new raised bed for veggies is also coming along, with the sugar snap peas almost ready to harvest. The artichokes are growing so slowly, I don't know that they will yield much in the way of edibles, but it's fun to try something new anyway.

New raised bed for veggies
Lavender in the front yard
Front yard on a rainy evening

The lavender in the front is so lush--the bees love it! The front yard is finally shaping up as I envisioned, a Persian carpet with an intricate interweaving of colors and textures.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Brief Glory

Dawn and Dusk
Rose 'New Dawn' and Clematis 'Etoile Violette'

This year my climbing rose and Clematis growing on the porch was, as you can see, glorious! Sadly, also brief--a series of storms and constant rain shortened its beauty to about one week. By Sunday evening when the rain stopped my backyard gauge had recorded six inches!

The Red Double Knockout rose seems to be indestructible and lovely as ever, but my other roses haven't presented a display as gorgeous as the previous year. The very dry fall and winter probably did the damage.

Double pink Peony
Peonies and roses

 The double pink Peony came through beautifully, and so did the red "Simplicity' rose. The yellow Alliums (Allium moly) in front are multiplying well, but only a few blooms have appeared on the 'Petal Pusher' roses. You can't win them all. Let's see what the rains bring forth in a few days.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Iris and the Spring Garden

Bicolor iris in colored pencil and watercolor, stage two.

How time flies when it's spring! My garden has grown so much since my last posting, that the particular bearded iris I was in the process of painting from photos came into bloom once again, and is now fading. And I'm only halfway into the painting... Here is a shot of it in my garden this year.

Bicolor iris in my garden

It's always great to be able to work from a live subject--you see so much more detail than in a photo, even a good one. The subtle changes in color of the falls and the striation near the beard, the veining... all so beautiful! Here's a recent progress shot of my painting.

Bicolor iris painting, stage three.

So much has already bloomed and leafed out, where to begin? Here are some photos of the seasonal progression, arranged more or less in sequence, to show how the plantings are developing.

Carolina Silverbell tree (Halesia caroliniana)

Close-up of the Silverbell flowers

It was exciting to see the small Carolina Silverbell (Halesia caroliniana) sapling I planted four years ago bloom for the first time in early May. Such a delightful sight--I hope to illustrate this beautiful native plant soon. It's only about four feet high right now, but should eventually reach 15 to 20 feet in height.

Front garden with iris and White Dogwood

With every passing year there is more in my garden to admire, it's hard to decide what to feature. What follows is just a sampling.

Pink Dogwood

West garden seen from the deck

The beds under and around the trees on west side of the garden continue to expand. Last fall I connected the small Witchazel and pink Dogwood trees to form a new triangular bed and have planted it with daylilies (just emerging). The Grape Hyacinths (Muscari) and the Spanish Hyacinths (Hyacinthoides) at the base of the Zelkova made a nice showing this year. You can see a few pink and white bells that I added the previous year, gaining ground.

Blue, pink and white Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Front bed by the garage

The creeping Phlox in the bed by the garage is spreading, and the purple heads of the Globemaster Alliums by the roses make for some nice color combinations. The 'Coral Charm' Peony produced more blooms this year than last, but as we got hit with a few 90-degree days, they were so short-lived, I hardly had a chance to photograph them.

'Coral Charm' Peony

During the past week the weather changed dramatically--very stormy, with close to six inches of rain--I've never seen my garden as soggy as this, the soil is positively boggy in places. Hopefully, the welcomed rains will bring on a great burst of bloom shortly. Here's what other parts of the garden look like at the moment.

Irises in the Little Indians bed.
Japanese maples in the east garden.
Coreopsis with Blue Salvia and Catmint on the west side.

The backyard island beds continue to expand. The addition of a birdbath motivated me to add some new perennials, and some annuals will be interspersed soon. The red Honeysuckle 'Major Wheeler' is climbing up the trellis and its blooms should attract some hummingbirds.

Backyard island bed.
Backyard from the deck.
Clematis and Sweet William in island bed.

The strange hangings on the Kousa Dogwood 'Rosy Teacups' beyond, are garden pots hung to weigh down its branches--a strange trick to re-shape the tree, I admit, but the branches need to be opened up for a better display. I'll end with this shot of the salad bowl growing on the deck.