Sunday, September 30, 2012

Birthday Roamings

Yellow Ladyslipper seed pod

Yesterday was my birthday--one of those significant numbers--and after picking up veggies, eggs and other staples at our farmer's market and doing some chores, I decided to treat myself to an afternoon of leisure. I found our local library, got myself a card and checked out the two items allowed first-time users.

After lunch I loaded my paint kit and headed out to tackle the view from a local vineyard up on Freezeland Road. Before doing that, since it was so close, I wanted to check on the Yellow Ladyslipper orchids and see if any seed pods had formed, so I took a short walk on the Trillium Trail at Thompson Wildlife.

I was rewarded with one find--a healthy, plump pod--at one of the well-established stands. I also managed to locate the specific clump I had drawn and photographed last spring, but alas, this one had been growing right by the side of the fire road, and some kind volunteer had mowed the track since I'd been there during summer. The poor orchid had been decapitated-- if one of the flowers had set a seed pod, it was gone now!

This has given me the idea of trying to map out as many of the orchid stands next spring to try to record the Yellow Ladyslipper orchid population to see how they migrate and spread through this site. This may all become part of my Certificate Project for the Botanical Illustration Certificate.

My walk took a bit longer than anticipated, and by the time I arrived at the vineyard, it was around five o'clock--a perfect time for the Golden Hour . I went inside to ask the owner permission to paint, and was informed that it was fine but they closed at six sharp; they wanted everyone out so they could shut their gate. That gave me less than an hour to set up and paint--an impossible proposition--there was no point in even taking my kit out; I would have to come earlier the next time. I took some photos of the views and left.

 * * *

The early sunlight was sparkling on the dew in my new garden this morning so I slipped out front (in pajamas!) to take this photo showing the new dogwood tree we added, and some colorful mums. We still need to replace patches of the red mulch with more suitable brown and add a few more accent plants, but gradually, my new garden is starting to take shape.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Working On The New Garden

New plants in front yard

Last weekend Herb and I undertook replanting this small bed in front of the house (the weekend before we'd transplanted the hollies that were there). Herb started digging with a pick to break up the rocky-clayey shale, then we worked in several of bags of good topsoil from the garden center before planting. The three cherry laurels 'Otto Lukens' under the windows went in first, then the dwarf Nandina to the right by the steps, and lastly the miniature golden cypress and the aster to the left.  We mulched it all and finished up with generous watering. By this time we were covered in dirt and sweat so we went in to shower before dinner.

The central portion along the walk was set aside for the saffron crocus I had ordered from White Flower Farm along with some sedums, a new variety called 'Angelina' with a lovely soft green foliage. The plants arrived mid-week, so yesterday I worked up more soil (and sweat!) planting those, as well as one of the two evergreens I bought last week at Brookside Gardens' annual plant sale. Another aster on the other side of the walk and the lace-leaf Japanese maple in the pot were bought at Springtime Garden Center in Front Royal that morning.

New additions to the garden

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Observational Studies

My class set-up

Pencil sketch (gesture & plant habit)

My Botanical Illustration classes have started once again, and this fall's challenge is Observational Studies and Composition 308. We were to bring a plant in bloom for class that would last through this course and the next one (about six weeks). I'd planned to bring an Episcia from my houseplant collection, but the Episcia was not cooperating and there were no blossoms, so in desperation I went out to our local stores to find something suitable.

I found a lovely Dendrobium orchid (species not identified) at Lowe's at an affordable price, and knowing orchid blooms last a long time, this seemed like a good choice. Orchids are a fascinating family of plants--there's so much complexity, altogether too much to learn!

I had not been expecting such a crowd at Brookside Gardens so early on a Saturday morning, but as it turned out yesterday was their annual plant sale fundraiser. I was early for class, so I went out to check the plants before class started and ended up buying a few perennials for my new yard.

Our first step in class was to do some thumbnail sketches to decide on our composition. Once we'd selected an arrangement for the sketch, do a gesture drawing of the plant life-size, to which we'd gradually add detail and shading for a finished sketch of the general plant habit. My Dendrobium was so tall, I had to set it up raised a bit off the floor so the flowers would be at eye level.

Flower and leaf detail with colored pencil

From there we would go on to sketch significant details of the plant such as flowers, leaves, stems, and make notes about shape and color. We had a number of reference books where we could look up plant families and take notes about our plant.

Among the fascinating things I noticed about this particular Dendrobium species was a spur in back, which contains the nectary. The spur is a general characteristic of Dendrobiums which usually have scent. By the afternoon one flower had attracted a tiny bee (which I included in the frontal view of the flower below). Orchids tend to have their sexual organs fused into what is called the column which is opposite to the showy bottom petal, known as the labellum. I also learned that orchid flowers are generally rotated 180 degrees on their stems so they are actually upside down! The botanical term for this is resupinate.

I won't bore you readers with all the stuff I learned about orchids in general and Dendrobiums in particular--I still have not been able to identify this particular species, other than to say that the flower has a Phalaenopsis-type of shape (though Phalaenopsis is a completely different genus the flower form bears a resemblance). In addition to thousands of species, there are millions of orchid hybrids, and Dendrobiums are very popular so the chances of being able to identify this one conclusively are probably slim.

Flower details showing the spur in back
Stem and leaf details
I must pull all this together into a one-page botanical study for next class.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A New Blank Canvas

Herb in front of the new house

Now that we are settling into our new house and the high heat of summer is almost gone, it seemed time to tackle the garden. As you see, our new garden is pretty bare, and what little there is appears to be struggling to survive. No wonder--our neighbors had warned us that we were on a hillside of mostly shale and clay, with very little topsoil. I am finding out just how right they are--gardening here promises to be back-breaking work!

I have been consulting with the owners of Springtime Garden Center in Front Royal for landscaping help, and decided to start with a red maple tree for the left side of the house to give us a little afternoon shade. They recommended a fast-growing hybrid, 'Autumn Blaze,' and we've agreed they will come next week to plant it and deliver some new foundation plants (which we will plant ourselves to save a money), along with some good topsoil and mulch.

I think some cherry laurels under the dining room windows in the central section where the gable is would look nice, but that requires moving the existing plants, some stunted Japanese hollies. This past week after work I toiled removing a patch of weedy grass that was there behind the hollies. Yesterday it was time to start moving the hollies. I noticed that a couple of hollies in the bed to the left of the garage were dead, so I removed those and began expanding the holes to receive the other hollies.

 The soil was incredibly hard and rocky, even after a wetting from the morning rain. I worked up quite a sweat breaking it up and mixing bags of good topsoil with some of the present mulch to move two bushes. Their root systems were shallow, but well spread out--I teased them out carefully so as not to damage the roots too much. I couldn't budge the other two hollies and was so tired by then, it was time to call it a day.

Herb saw me covered in dirt and sweat from head to toe when I came in to get a trash bag and snapped this photo, which I think says it all.  I really hope new growth will make the work worth while. The arrival of plentiful rain today seems a heavenly blessing.

In the meantime, the local wildlife makes itself known--here's a little lizard that likes to hang out on the porch among my potted plants--we've nicknamed him Izzy. I believe it's an eastern fence lizard.

And above is an enormous beetle Herb found on our driveway and photographed--we think it's an Eastern Hercules beetle--it's about 3'' long, and we've never seen anything like it before.