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.

Spring has Sprung

Bicolor Iris (work in progress).

I've been working on this painting of a lovely bicolor iris, from my garden photos taken last year. As you can see, I'm using colored pencils under the watercolor to outline some of the veins and delicate features on the falls and standards. But alas, it's hard to stay on task when the weather has finally taken a turn.

Last Friday the buds of my yellow magnolia were starting to open, just as overnight frost was imminent. The flowers, which I've yet to see fully opened and unmarred, were looking so good... I bought a special cloth that is supposed to protect them and draped the tree with it.

Yellow magnolia hybrid 'Butterflies'
Unfortunately, the temperature must have been quite extreme, and when I took off the cover a couple of days later, all the buds that were partly open were burned. Only a few buds that till had their outer covering survived, and are starting to unfold now. We then went from overnight frosts last weekend to eighty-degree weather in a matter of days!

King Alfred daffodils in the back yard

Thalia and Tazzeta narcisus in the front

Front yard by the walk.

 Other flowers are not as susceptible, thank heaven. My daffodils, both the yellow' King Alfred' and the white 'Mount Hood' are looking better each year, along with the perfumed Thalia narcissus. The grape hyacinths too are emerging. It's been very dry, less than an inch of rain in the past few weeks. Storms tonight are supposed to bring us one to two inches, and I really hope these will materialize.

Blue and white Grape Hyacinths.

The warm weather over the weekend was irresistible so I spent yesterday afternoon and part of today working on my garden--moved the Hydrangeas and a Holly-leaved Osmanthus that I'd planted too close to a holly out farther. It was hard digging up the well-established plants, and I had to cut a few large roots that went very deep, I hope the plants will survive.

Last weekend David helped me assemble my cedar-board raised bed, and I put in the liner and have it about 2/3 filled with good garden soil, almost ready to plant. This year I decided to try growing artichokes, so I started some from seed indoors, hoping for a decent crop. I'm also growing some basil and leaf lettuce from seed, and later on Sugar snap peas and perhaps Japanese eggplant will go in the raised bed.

The Kwanzan cherry in the front should be in full bloom by the middle of the coming week, and I can hardly wait to see all the other flowers that are hopefully on the way as a result of the previous years' labors.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Spring Paintings

Rhododendrons in the Mist, pastel, 9" x 12."

Here's a couple of new pastel paintings for this spring's Art at the Mill show. The one above was done from photos of last spring's week-long botanical excursion to SW Virginia with the Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS). This particular day when we visited Cumberland Gap was the only rainy day we had. It had been pouring in the morning, but the rain had started to let up a bit when we drove up this hilltop. The spectacular view of the valley below was completely veiled in mist, it was very cold and wet, but the Rhododendrum minus on the hillsides covered with soft pink blossoms looked lovely in the moody light.

The View from Sky Meadows, pastel, 9" x 12."

This other pastel was done from a photo taken a number of years ago on an overcast day. The lush grasses on the rolling hillsides hadn't been mowed yet, and the sprinkling of white dogwood flowers in the thickets of trees were echoed by the dots of the houses in the small town of Paris beyond. It's a classic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround us here in Virginia.

Crocus thommasinianus, last week of February

Early daffodil 'February Gold' in first week of March

White hyacinths, first week of March

The first signs of spring are popping up in my garden--crocuses, early daffodils and white hyacinths are emerging. Unfortunately, this particular hyacinth clump was dug up and eaten (likely by ground hog) just a few days after I took this photo. I've sprinkled powdered hot pepper on the flowers as a deterrent to future depredations--let see if it works. The deer don't seem to find the C. thommasinianus too palatable, thank heaven, and daffodils are known to be toxic to them, so those are safe, but it's a constant battle to keep all these pests from eating everything in my garden. They're particularly ravenous at this time of the year.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sky Meadows in Spring

Sky Meadows in Spring, pastel on Wallis paper, 9"h x 12"w.
Photo of Sky Meadows Sate Park

I've been working on a couple of small pastel landscapes for the Art at the Mill 2018 Spring show. This one is based on a photo I took a number of years back when I visited one of our nearby state parks, Sky Meadows. The park is located in a beautiful area of rolling hills at the eastern base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The day was overcast, and the grass had not been mowed yet... the creamy spikes of the blooming grasses echoed the sprinkling of white of the dogwood blossoms peeking out of a thicket in a delightful symphony of greens and cream.

Sometimes a simple photo can be a great opportunity to explore composition, and for this painting I brought the edge of the grassy hill closer to the viewer to push the line of the trees forward, leaving the bluish mountain range to be seen through the emerging leaves of the trees. For the sake of comparison, below it is the photo the painting was based on.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Winter Blooms

Orchid 'Scent of a Woman'

The mid-winter doldrums are upon us, a prolonged cold snap has brought unusually low temperatures recently. Evidence of the snow flurries that came down on the last days of the old year is still on the ground in my back yard; there is very little else to see out there. What better time to enjoy the blossoms of my house plants indoors?

Brassidium in bloom

The orchids in my bathroom are at it again--this lovely Brassidium hybrid  has bloomed faithfully around this time for the past four years. Some years there are more flowers than others; this year one spike opened before Christmas, and two others are still developing. The flowers should last till about mid-February or perhaps later.

Another hybrid, the Oncidium Ruffles 'Scent of a Woman' put out one flowering spike. This orchid is more unpredictable, it usually flowers in early spring, but this year it started to bloom much earlier, and is flowering at the same time as the Brassidium.

Bearss lime tree

My lime tree was laden with fruit when I brought it inside this fall--I counted nine limes. Two have been harvested so far, and there are about seven or eight more, with more blossoms setting fruit. It seems the frequent feedings are paying off. I don't recall ever having a lime tree as prolific as this one, despite the constant attacks of ants and accompanying scale insects.

Tabernaemontana divaricata

Other exotic plants are also blooming--I've been growing this small tree known as Butterfly Gardenia (Tabernaemontana divaricata) for a couple of years, and it bloomed last summer, but this is the first winter it has bloomed. The flowers are lightly scented, but relatively short-lived, lasting about 3-4 days before fading.

Yellow hibiscus

I almost left the large yellow hibiscus tree with a braided trunk that my sister Silvia gave me a couple of years ago, outside to perish with the first frost, because the huge plant seems to attract mealybugs like a lightning rod. It's a constant battle with them both indoors and out, and the bugs tend to spread to other plants. But the flowers are so beautiful, I decided it was worth keeping. Spring seems so far away at this time... a little indoor cheer is welcome.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Great Blue Lobelia

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) watercolor and graphite, 20"h x 14.5"w.

Here's my latest botanical art piece painted for our Botanic Artists Society of the National Capital Region (BASNCR) show at the Center for the Arts in Manassas. The exhibition "Nature's Pharmacy" opening on November1st will feature plants that were traditionally used for medicinal purposes throughout history.

As the new Exhibitions Chair I've been working hard to assemble this ensemble of artwork, media and techniques by twenty-two of us artist members of BASNCR. Starting with logging the entries, developing the list of works and arranging to get the artwork from artists who live farther away to facilitate delivery their pieces to the gallery, it's kept me really busy.

It's been difficult for me to carve out the time to finish the piece I had committed to painting for this show. I had originally planned for this composition to include a pencil drawing of a clump of Lobelias behind the flowering spike in color that is the focal point, but I didn't have time to add the drawing. I may yet put this in at a later date, since the piece seems a little bare to me without it, but there is no time to draw it for this show.

Lobelia growing in my garden

I bought this Great Blue Lobelia at last year's Arborfest at Blandy Farm from one of the local native plant vendors, and put it in the east bed last fall. It has grown into a handsome clump that I photographed over the summer at different stages of blossoming. I'm hoping it will spread more next spring so that I can take a few offshoots and plant them in other beds which I'm expanding this fall.

Close-up of the flowers.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Garden Interlude

Caryopteris 'Longwood Blue' with marigolds

After a very dry June, July and August, usually our driest months, brought plenty of rain. My rain gauge recorded over eight inches in July and five in August. The plants responded gratefully. Above is one my new beds in the back, with Caryopteris 'Longwood Blue' and a dwarf Fothergilla to the right, surrounded by marigolds and a black cotton plant behind the Caryopteris.

Black cotton (Gossypium herbaceous 'Nigra')

Close-up of  black cotton flower

I grew the black cotton from seeds collected at the USBG last fall. I should have started the seeds indoors earlier, as the plants developed much too slowly after being set out in the beds, and didn't begin to bloom until late August. I haven't seen any seed pods yet, so I may not be able to continue the line unless I am lucky to collect more cottony seeds at USBG during our upcoming BASNCR fall meeting. The flowers are quite lovely with their intricate veining. I would love doing a painting of this plant, as well as the one in the photo below.

Cuban Raintree (Brunfelsia nitida)

One pleasant surprise was this single flower on my Cuban Raintree plant which I've been growing for the past year. I set it out on the porch this spring hoping it would bloom, to enjoy its heavenly scent, but only one flower appeared. This is supposed to be the Cuban "Galan de noche" fabled for its perfume--but it seems to be a fussy plant at these latitudes. Perhaps it may do better next summer, if I can keep it going during the winter...

East bed in the evening

All of the native plants I put in last fall are performing well--the hardy Ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum) above, and the Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) have both grown lushly in the east bed among the Japanese maples. The Carolina Silverbell tree (Halesia carolinana) on the back left is growing into a respectable-sized shrub. Herb helped me plant a Sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) in front of it in late spring which unfortunately died back to the ground, and is regrowing from the roots; it's only 6" tall at the moment, and is a slow-growing tree, so it will be a while before it looks like much.

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
The back yard in July

Despite the large, still-empty expanses, the backyard is gradually attracting more birds, butterflies and bees. We have a pair of nesting bluebirds nearby that have raised several broods in the past couple of years--the fledglings like to visit our deck and we enjoy watching their antics. The mockingbirds love the blackberry bushes in back, and some mornings I would see four or five of them perched in the bushes, gorging on the berries. One morning I was able to observe a male Ruby-throated hummingbird perched on my neighbor's tree, preening and stretching his neck to show the telling ruby spot on his throat.
Pink striped Oakworm moth

Another morning after a rainy night I found this moth clinging to the sliding door screen. An internet search revealed it was a female Pink Striped Oakwood Moth (Anisota virginensis pellucida), an insect I'd never seen before. It stayed there for a long time and appeared nearly dead, so I waited and eventually carefully gathered it for my insect collection. Adding pollinating insects or birds to botanical paintings has become very popular lately, and I've started collecting as many as come my way for future use.

White hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutus)

Here are more photos of the beautiful seasonal flowers from this year's summer garden. Every year is a revelation of color and form, of nature's perfection. This living canvas of plants is a challenging way to create beauty, and very humbling, but the successes are so rewarding.

Daylily hybrid

Daylily hybrid

Yellow rose 'Molineux' with catmint