Friday, May 17, 2019

More Garden Beauty

Virginia Fringe Tree in East bed.

My garden looks so wonderful at this time of the year, it's hard to choose what to post! The succession of flowers and combinations of color is serendipitous. This section of the bed above is an example--I didn't exactly plan it, it was populated with the trees and shrubs that appealed to me at the time, and that I believed would do well in an eastern exposure where the soil retains more moisture. The bed started with the Full Moon Maple 'Shirasawanum' on the right, another Japanese maple, a dark red-leaved variety called 'Bloodgood' on the other end, and a tiny Rhododendron in the middle (the last two not visible in this shot). Over the next five years I expanded the bed by joining those three plants into a larger island bed and filled it in with the variety of plants you see here: Virginia Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) on the left, a dark purple Columbine that has spread, Ageratum and some hollies. I love it when chance results in such surprising beauty!

East bed looking the other way.

My front walk in the rain.

On the other hand, the area by the front walk was a bit more planned, with a variety of sedums and creeping thyme (Woolly and Red thyme) interspersed with low shrubs and a Double Knockout rose. I wanted to present the effect of a Persian carpet with different colors and textures around the walk, and it's taken a number of years for the plants to grow dense enough to create the effect I envisioned.

Irises in front yard.

West side front bed with Alliums, Roses, Iris and a Peony.

Iris 'Victoria Falls' in the back

Bi-color iris in back yard

The irises started to open around the first of May, and are still putting on a great show. There is something about these regal flowers that is impossible to resist. One particular surprise was the yellow dwarf iris variety called 'Bluebeard' I planted in the back yard last year-- I had not expected it to be so short, with a pale, startlingly blue beard. I hope these new irises will gradually spread to fill the area with masses of color.

Dwarf iris 'Bluebeard'

The roses and Clematis are now preparing to burst into bloom--some of the rose buds have begun to open, but I expect the peak of bloom in another week or so. It's been a very rainy May so far, and my flowers are loving it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Spring Parade

Cherry tree in front yard.

The cherry tree in our front yard reached peak bloom on Easter Sunday--what a heavenly sight! Short-lived glory, after a few days the leaves grow out enough to overshadow the remaining blossoms, and the rest blow away. As the cherry blossoms fade, the dogwood flowers begin to open and the new leaves unfurl.

From the porch.

The creeping Phlox in the front yard continues to expand and cover more ground each year. As spring unfolds, the Redbud tree in back made a nice show, but the new daffodil beds underneath don't amount to much yet--it will take a couple more years before they fill out.

Back yard on April 21.

Flowering Quince

I managed to save my flowering quince from the worst of the winter depredations by fencing it off with plastic mesh, but the deer still managed to nip the ends of the branches that stuck out. There were still plenty of the charming double flowers for me to enjoy.

Carolina Silverbell Tree (Halesia carolina)

The Carolina Silverbell tree bloomed much earlier this year than last, though the flowers seemed smaller than last year's, and had a rosy tint. I wonder if the difference is due to poor soil nutrients or simply a normal year-to-year variation? Many trees have cycles of several years of poor to so-so flower production after one peak year of blossom. Since my tree flowered for the first time last year, perhaps this is one of those off-years.

Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides )

The bed of Grape Hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) and Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides) is looking good. The pink and white varieties planted two falls ago haven't grown as much as the blue ones planted several years earlier, I've no idea why. I usually find a number of the blue Muscari springing up in odd places across the lawn where I hadn't planted them--the squirrels like to dig them up and re-plant them at their whim--so this spring I've been digging these up and putting them back where they should be.


Now is the regal irises' turn. The first to open in my yard was this stunning bi-color I planted in the back last fall--I forget the name of the variety--though it has only one flowering spike this year, hopefully there will be more next year. Behind it I planted a light blue iris called 'Victoria Falls' that is about to open, and in front is one curious dwarf yellow iris with a light blue beard, aptly named 'Bluebeard.' Unfortunately, it had only one flower, and I didn't get a photo of it in time--it's just closing up in this photo.

Iris bed in back yard.

Front yard.

The front bed is just starting its annual show, which may not be as spectacular this year because I divided the plants early this spring. The recommended practice is to divide them in late summer or fall--but I had so much other work to do I put it off until after the ground had frozen. The plants seem to have weathered the transplant fairly well, but they may not be as full as in other years.

Monday, April 22, 2019

First Plein Air of the Year

Asian Garden at the Museum of Shenandoah Valley, watercolor, 10"h x 14"w.

The Outdoor Painters of the Shenandoah held its first plein air outing of the season last Wednesday at the gardens of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester. The gardens were filled with seasonal blooms: flowering Cherries, Magnolias and Redbud, with hundreds of flowers such as Bluebells, Bleeding Hearts, and Daffodils below the unfurling leaves. Ten of us artists were there to make the most of the day. It was an overcast day, but as it wore on it became brighter and warmer, and by afternoon, the sun was peeking in and out of the clouds.

The Museum gardens are fairly large, and after taking them in briefly, I decided that the pond at the Asian Garden, surrounded by stonework and flowers, with a tea house beyond, would afford the best subject. Choosing where to place myself was tough--someone else was already occupying the conveniently-placed bench at one end, and I didn't want to block the path from other visitors. Eventually, I settled on a large paving stone that jutted out a bit into the pond, surrounded by low evergreens, that gave me a few square feet to work in.

Photo of the Asian Garden

The composition was challenging, and needed some editing. I chose to place the large tree by the pond at the one-third mark of my paper to sculpt the curve of the pond, and balance it with the stone path on the right. I then rearranged some of the trees and compressed the area around the tea house to fit it in. The small Kwanzan Cherry by the path was edited to just a couple of blossoming branches entering the picture diagonally. While I worked, a pair of Mallard ducks hung around the pond, an ideal setting for a nest.

It would take the entire day to finish my painting, thus it was fortunate the soft light didn't offer much in the way of changing shadows to chase. Around noon, I took a break and walked back to the picnic area to join other artists for lunch. Back at my spot in the afternoon, I decided to add one of the ducks to my painting--such a lovely spring day!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Yellow Magnolia Blossoms

Yellow Magnolia 'Butterflies'

Finally, after waiting for three years, I've been able to enjoy my yellow Magnolia 'Butterflies' without having the flower buds blighted by frost. A few flowers that tried to open early on had their petals singed, but the majority of the buds held off. My tree is still fairly small, but it is such a lovely sight!

Yellow Magnolia in my yard.

Close-up of flowers.

Spring has really sprung this past week, and my front yard is full of daffodils and narcissi, with  patches of creeping phlox all in bloom. 'Mount Hood' and 'King Alfred' daffodils in the back yard are also blooming, and the grape hyacinths (Muscari armeriacum) seem to be cropping up in odd places as well as in the beds where I planted them. The squirrels like to dig these bulbs up and re-bury them as suits their fancy.

The front yard.

Back yard with daffodils, weather station on pole at right.

Mt Hood Daffodils.

The finches had emptied the feeder with the Nyjer seed, so I went to Lowe's and bought another mesh bag of seeds to hang from the cherry tree. This morning they were having a regular feast--I hadn't seen this many finches at any one time, and managed to snap a photo with seven of them!

Seven finches visit the feeder.

More finches came along after the first shift--they are ravenous, and at this rate the new bag will be soon be empty, but they are so much fun to watch! The goldfinches are just changing into their summer plumage. The cherry blossoms on the tree will soon open too--it will be beautiful.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Early Spring Flowers

Crocus flowers.

The first warm days of March this week brought my crocuses into full bloom. It seems there are three distinct varieties: the pale lilac Crocus thommasinianus, a deep purple variety and a scattering of feathered lilac ones. The last two were part of a mixed crocus assortment I planted there during our first fall here--as I recall, there originally were some yellow ones in this mix, but somehow, the yellows seem to have died out. With so many voles and squirrels that like to eat them, it's hard to keep these bulbs growing from year to year--the yellow ones must have been the tastiest.

Bees love the Crocus thommasiniannus

The C. thommasinianus seem to be the least palatable ones to the rodents, so they have reproduced and are forming nice clumps under the cherry tree in front. The flowers are a-buzz with bees during the sunny afternoon.

Feathered lilac crocuses on the right, and C. thommasinianus on the left
Journal sketch

And of course, I had to sketch a few for my journal. The 'February Gold' daffodils have also opened in the last days. The lavender growing behind it was starting to overtake them and had to be pruned back quite a bit. These will probably need to be divided this coming fall, so I'll have to decide where else I can tuck some of these beauties to advantage.

Daffodil 'February Gold'

It's so wonderful to see green shoots coming up everywhere! I'm hoping my yellow magnolia will have the chance to bloom without blighting frosts this year.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Spotted Mandarin

Spotted Mandarin (Prosartes maculata)

Yellow Mandarin (Prosartes lanuginosa)

I'm finally getting the opportunity to work on my painting the Spotted Mandarin (Prosartes maculata). The genus Prosartes, of which there are two species, the Yellow Mandarin (Prosartes lanuginosa) and the Spotted Mandarin or Nodding Mandarin, are members of the lily family which are perennial woodland plants native to the Appalachian region. I saw them for the first time a few years ago during a trip to southwestern Virginia with the Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS). The Spotted Mandarin is considered rare in Virginia, but not yet endangered.

Inked pencil drawing

Working from my photos, I developed a drawing of two flowering sprigs--one stem with two flowers, and another stem with a single flower. On the stem with the two flowers on the left, you may notice there is a tiny object on the stem just below the clump of leaves. This was a curious thing observed in the field: it mimics a dried leaf so convincingly that one of our team had to point out to me that it was actually an insect, a moth to be precise. I took a close-up shot using my camera's macro setting.

Unidentified leaf mimic moth

I've been fascinated by this tiny moth, and have been trying to identify it--after going through a number of insect identification sites my best guess is that it's a type of Sphinx moth, but I've not been able to find the genus or species. Nevertheless, I wanted to include the details of the moth in my painting, in order to add more interest to the composition with a likely pollinator for the flowers.

Once my inked drawing was transferred to the paper, I used masking fluid on the edges and veins--practicing the Pastoriza techniques learned last fall--and after the mask was thoroughly dry, began laying very light washes of color.

Spotted Mandarin - Step 1

With a gradual build up of colors, the shapes of the flowers and leaves begin to emerge. The white flowers are so pale and delicate, it's a challenge to articulate the tepals and other parts. The veining of the leaves is quite distinctive too, with a sort of puckered pattern. The entire plant is covered with fine hairs, most noticeable on the stems.

Spotted Mandarin - Step 2

Spotted Mandarin - Step 5

I still have a number of things to do before the piece is finished. Perhaps before it's complete, I may have the identity of the mystery moth.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A Venus Flytrap For My Windowsill Collection

Sketchbook page: My Windowsill Collection, 10" x 8".

One of my habits (which my husband finds charmingly eccentric, so much so that he now joins me in this eccentricity) is to collect curious odds and ends on my nature walks--objects such as dried seed pods, twigs, mushrooms, a tiny bird's nest, a shed snakeskin--for future study and perhaps sketching. These objects are displayed on my studio windowsill (and his office), making for some interesting conversation pieces, and some find their way into my paintings before they disintegrate.

A few weeks ago, while it was snowing and outside temperatures were in the single digits, I sat down with my sketchbook to try out ways to render one of my favorite little treasures: a skeletonized daylily seedpod. Every year I find dozens of these from my Stella d'Oro daylilies and collect the best ones; the lacy veins are just beautiful!

My first try in watercolor didn't work quite the way I had hoped, so I switched to colored pencils to try again. That version proved more successful, so I moved onto one of the mushrooms that had dried and become mummified on the windowsill.

I have several of these dried mushrooms of various sizes, the spores under the caps of these all have settled into very unusual patterns as they dried. I'm not sure this drawing of the small mushroom quite communicates. The geometric spore patterns are seen in the larger mushroom on the right, a more satisfying rendering. The colors all reflect the neutral tones of the season.

Venus Flytrap (Dionea muscipula) colored pencil sketch, 4" x 5"

About a week ago while I was shopping at our local Lowe's I saw these tiny Venus Flytrap plants on sale, and on a whim, I bought one. My plant is very small, its rosette no larger than three and a half inches across. As a child, when I first heard about the Venus Flytrap, I had imagined--as many folks who have never seen one in real life and only know of it from horror movies--that it would be the size of a pineapple plant (growing up in the tropics I was familiar with this plant)--large enough to lure a small mammal into one of its traps. In reality, the plant is quite small, ants and spiders are its primary food source; flies or perhaps a small frog are about as large an animal as it can manage. Still, its fascinating carnivorous habit and the curious triggering mechanism of its traps has given the plant a strange mythical appeal ever since it was discovered in Colonial times. 

I saw and photographed quite a few Venus Flytrap plants on a botanical excursion to North Carolina's bogs a few years back. Those plants were lush and well-nourished, with rosettes some five to six inches across, and many were in bloom. The flowers are white with delicate green veining, and the top of the stalk is held well above the level of the leaves, so as not to trap its pollinators. 

Venus Flytrap flower

Venus Flytrap (Dionea muscipula) from North Carolina

Venus Flytraps are known to be difficult to grow, and I don't expect mine to last very long--I'm keeping in in a saucer filled with distilled water, since our water is so alkaline. But I'm hoping to get a painting of the Venus Flytrap done before my live model succumbs.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Pages from My Journal

Crocus developing buds, Feb. 3

This winter I've been forcing some crocus bulbs, and decided to record their development in my new art journal. On Feb. 3 I started sketching the elongating buds with colored pencils.

Crocus flower bud.

Two days later, I drew the same bulb (again in colored pencil) as the flower bud began to show.

Crocus flower bud opens.

A few days later, I again drew the same bulb, this time combining colored pencils with watercolor pencils, blending with water.

Crocus flower is open, new bud emerges.

A couple of days later, I again recorded the progress of the crocus bulb when the flower was open and a second bud was emerging, using the same colored pencils/watercolor pencils combination. I will continue to record the development of this crocus bulb and see where it leads...perhaps a small painting documenting the entire cycle of growth?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Portends of Spring

Forcing Crocuses Indoors.

Recently the famous groundhog in Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil, came out of his burrow at sunrise and "didn't see his shadow" (huh? It was sunny in Virginia, one state away), portending that winter is about over. Considering the low temperatures were in the single digits all last week, I'm a bit skeptical about that, although in the afternoon temperatures rose to the upper forties and snow was melting.

But I can't deny that this morning as I was waking up, I heard a cardinal's call--it was 21 degrees outside. The cardinals are getting ready to nest--nothing unusual about that, cardinals normally nest about this time of the year and their eggs hatch some three weeks later.

Narcissus shoots emerging.

Better indicators of impending spring may be some of the plants in my yard: I noticed that the buds on my flowering quince were beginning to swell, and that the witch-hazels were in bloom.

Witch-hazel flowers (Hamamelis virginiana)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Pink Lady Slippers

Pink Lady Slippers (Cypripedium acaule), watercolor, 16"h x 13"w.

I'd been wanting to paint a grouping of Pink Lady Slipper orchids ever since I came across that amazing patch in the forests of Fort Valley a few years ago. I finally started on my painting just before Christmas. I used the same process as usual: start with a pencil drawing, refine it, do some shade and shadow studies, and ink the line drawing to transfer onto the watercolor paper. This time I skipped the light and shadow study, since the photo I'm working from seemed fairly straightfoward. The flowers in my photo already composed nicely into an arc, and the leaves surrounding them set off the flowers well.

The challenge here was to select a palette that uses the transparent watercolor pigments I've been transitioning toward. With the old palette from Brookside Gardens, I would have used Permanent Rose for my red; the closest equivalent to this pigment is Quinacridone Coral. Other primary equivalents were Indrathrene Blue and Vanadium Yellow, and I added Quinacridone Gold for the brownish tones of the sepals and petals and Bright Blue Violet for the magenta veins.

Step 1: washes on the flowers and leaves

The flowers were so tempting that I painted the two on the left in just a few passes, before even getting some washes on the leaves.

Step 2: building up the color

As I began to refine the leaves, I used a new brush, a Neef comb, which has these great "teeth" to make thin parallel lines, very useful for painting vein patterns. I'm almost finished, but I'm going to let this painting sit around in my studio for a while, to see if I need to add anything. Maybe a hint of  some of the missing petals on some of the flowers, darkening a few parts of the shadows?

I intend to enter this painting in the BASNCR group show organized by the Richmond area artists, "Ancarrow's List: Native Plants By the River's Edge" which will be exhibited at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, VA.