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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Painting the Sweet Pinesap

Sweet Pinesap (Monotropsis odorata), watercolor, 14"h x 10.5"w.

After the adventure of finding this rare plant in its habitat, creating a painting in the studio to convey its charm and beauty was equally challenging. It took a couple of months for me to to find the time to even start. I began by studying my photos, deciding which ones to use, how to stage the plant, and at what scale to paint it. The plant is so tiny it would need to be shown at three to four times its actual size in order to reveal the details.

Stage 1: pencil sketch

I chose the photo I had used for the opening image of the series, which shows a side view of one flowering stem on the left and another from the front with the colors appearing unusually vivid.

The sketch looked somewhat unbalanced and obviously needed another element on the right to complete the composition. I found another photo showing a stem with one single flower and added it on the right to complete the composition as a triangle. I pondered on the best way to tie the three flowering stalks together, and decided painting the leaf litter on the forest floor was ideal, as it would unify the disparate elements and show how well the plant was camouflaged. The dried pine needles offer clues about this plant's association with white pines and hardwood forests.

Stage 2: ink line drawing over the shade and shadow study.

After the shade and shadow pencil study, I was ready to trace the line work in ink and transfer the drawing onto watercolor paper (Fabriano Artistico extra white). Now I could finally begin the painting.

Early stage of the painting.

As usual, I get so involved in the doing that I forget to take photos of the process as I go along, but here's one intermediate shot I remembered to take. The finished painting is above.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Devil's Steps and the Eye of the Needle

The Devil's Steps Trail

After our visit to the site where the Sweet Pinesap grew, my friend Dr. Matt Klooster had to get back to his family, so he drove me back to the Hemlock Lodge. It was a bit late for lunch at this point, but I had the rest of the afternoon ahead, so I went back out to explore more of the Natural Bridge park trails. The most challenging trail led back up the ridge to a place called the Devil's Steps on the left, flanked by the Eye of the Needle on the right.

The Eye of the Needle

Although it had stopped raining during the night, as I climbed up the hill I noticed there was a good deal of run-off filtering down through the sheer limestone cliffs, making virtual waterfalls in some places. I reached the place where the trail forked and saw there were many steps going up either side. Upon closer examination, I decided it would be smarter to ascend up the Devil's Steps-- harder work, but since the trail seemed wetter, footing would be easier going up hill. Once on the ridge, I could walk around and descend from the Eye of the Needle, which seemed to have less run-off.

Going up the Devil's Steps
Looking down

It was hard work getting up all those steps, but the spectacular views and the pockmarked cliffsides were more than enough reward. I can't imagine what it must take to maintain a trail like this... There were quite a lot of folks on the trail, thought the trail was wide enough only to allow passage single file. I gave priority to those coming down, especially some who had young children with them.

Hikers descending the Devil's Steps

Last stage of the Devil's Steps

I held my breath as I saw this young couple going down those slick rock steps carrying their toddler...
They made it in one piece, whew! Then it was my turn to start up.  Looking down this chute from the top was incredible.

Looking down

Once on the ridge it was easy going. There was more Trailing Arbutus growing on the rocky ledges among the rhododendrons. The Eye of the Needle could not be seen while standing on the ridge, only the steps leading down showed the way.

Trailing Arbutus among Rhododendrons

Coming down from the Eye of the Needle

Eye of the Needle steps

After the Devil's Steps, these steps seemed tame by comparison, and I was glad these were much drier. I was all tuckered out by the time I got back to the lodge in the late afternoon, but happy to have accomplished my purpose. I only hoped my photos of the Sweet Pinesap had turned out well enough to be usable for my paintings.

Eye of the Needle steps

This would be my last hike here, as I would be leaving early tomorrow morning for the seven and a half hour drive back home. I felt a great sense of accomplishment, and to have hiked such a beautiful site as Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky was an extra bonus. I hope to return some day, perhaps when the Rhododendron maximum is in bloom.