Leaf of the Day: May Day, Flora and the Toog Tree

“March winds and April showers soon give way to sweet May flowers”

The first of May, a day of celebrations redolent of pagan worship, of nature and of new growth. Songs, poems and rituals abound to welcome spring, and the return of growth, of love and of optimism. Flora is about to tread the earth scattering flowers as she goes.

“Now is the month of maying, When merry lads are playing, fa la,
Each with his bonny lass, Upon the greeny grass. Fa la.
The Spring, clad all in gladness, Doth laugh at Winter’s sadness, fa la,
And to the bagpipe’s sound, The nymphs tread out their ground. Fa la.”
Madrigal by Thomas Morley 1595.

Flora ..a detail from Botticelli’s Primavera.

If I were in the UK I would be drawing the hawthorn blossom as superstition allows it to be brought into the house only after the first of May, but not blackthorn blossom. I should definitely be getting up early to wash my face in the dew but should definitely not “cast a clout till May be out.”
I may look down into the waters of a well at noon to see my true love’s face and should I be young and pretty I might be the chosen “Queen of the May”, a symbol of fertility and regeneration but also a reminder that life is fleeting as in Tennyson’s beautiful poem “Queen of the May.” 1833 whose careless heroine is destined to live only till the New Year .
Here are just 3 verses..

“You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow ’ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
The honeysuckle round the porch has woven its wavy bowers,
And by the meadow-trenches blow the faint sweet cuckoo-flowers;
And the wild marsh-marigold shines like fire in swamps and hollows gray, And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
All the valley, mother, ’ill be fresh and green and still,
And the cowslip and the crowfoot are over all the hill,
And the rivulet in the flowery dale ’ill merrily glance and play,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May
. “

“Flora” Evelyn De Morgan 1894.

Compare this very Victorian maid ‘s coy attitude with the steady and knowing gaze of Botticelli’s Flora. One, a pretty ideal of Victorian feminine beauty, the other a reflection of the power of the old goddess and a force of nature to be reckoned with.
It is also interesting that in this painting the tree in the background is a loquat… ( id) a spring fruit.

Today I am celebrating the start of part three of the course which will involve more colour and more leaves, with a little sketch of the Toog tree leaf, bishofia javanica.
I can’t find out why it’s called a Toog tree but the fallen leaves had caught my eye. They are interesting because they seem to fold in half as they dry out and so make beautiful shapes, they also have a bright red interior which makes them stand out amongst the brown leaf mould. The toog is a big handsome tree with a dense canopy valued for its wood and the welcome shade it casts in hot climates. Apparently, according to Florida growers, it is somewhat unruly too as it is known to easily break up pavements and house foundations and cause a litter problem, but surely, better these pretty leaves than empty MacDonald’s cartons.

Toog Tree Leaf

Leaf of the Day: Persimmon 482 and Lotus Eating

Today I walked down to our other local supermarket Publix. It is probably the Tesco of Orlando whereas Albertsons is more the equivalent of Sainsburys. They both have excellent fruit and veg counters. I am short of time today and I saw this little persimmon or sharon fruit which I thought would be both nice to draw and good practice with yellows and oranges.

The American name ‘persimmon’ is adapted from the native Indian word pesimin, early settlers would learn from the Indians to leave it on the tree to ripen until well into October or it is a bitter fruit. Recipes for cooking with persimmons and making wine are many and various as are the varieties of this fruit.
The “Diaspyros lotus” , the date plum, translates loosely as “fruit of the gods”, and is one of the contenders for the wonderfully dangerous lotus fruit mentioned in the Odyssey. Eating the fruit erased the memory. The desire to return home was replaced by the desire to stay in idleness and pleasure with the “lotus eaters”. Odysseus had a problem persuading his men back on the boat..who could blame them.

A passage from Tennyson’s strangely alluring poem “the Lotos Eaters” explains their feelings.

“Round and round the spicy downs the yellow lotos-dust is blown.
We have had enough of action, and of motion we,
Roll’d to starboard, roll’d to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.
Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind. “

Perhaps my occasional expat longings for home might be cured with a plate of these delicious fruit.

I spent most of the day considering my watercolours, reading up about which are transparent and making yet more colour charts. My approach to watercolours has in the past been a bit haphazard and as it is really important to keep colours clean and fresh for botanical painting its time to be more disciplined. For anything you need to know about watercolour visit http://www.handprint.com/ It’s a fantastic site, full of technical information about every aspect of watercolour. I am going to put a links box for good art sites on soon.
Meanwhile the coloured pencil work continues.


Leaf of the Day: Snowdrop

No spring garden is complete without snowdrops. Here is a sketch of three from under one of the apple trees. As I am in Tennyson country I feel I should favour his snowdrop poem.. simple and optimistic. It was written late in his life in 1889.

The Snowdrop
Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid,
Ever as of old time,
Solitary firstling,
Coming in the cold time,
Prophet of the gay time,
Prophet of the May time,
Prophet of the roses,
Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid!

Alfred Lord Tenyson