Leaf of the Day: Bald Cypress Knees and Lizards at Kraft Gardens

Eerily beautiful and tranquil, the huge primeval, moss draped, pines of Kraft Gardens dominate this narrow strip of land on the banks of Lake Maitland here in Winter Park. It’s a strange place situated in a very wealthy suburb where great mansions and estates, many built in the 1920s, jostle for prime waterfront locations and moorings, so it is one of the few places that the lake shore is accessible to us mere mortals. There is a strange austere exedra too, built by the shore, where you can sit and while away an hour or two with a book. It has the lovely inscription “Pause Friend And Let Beauty Refresh The Spirit” carved in fine Roman capitals .

Nobody much will bother you but remember you are not alone here. Far from it. Should you feel a prickling of the hairs on the back of your neck it is because you are being closely watched by the many many creatures who live or pass through this little haven. Squirrels, hundreds of lizards, anhingas, ducks, herons, egrets, woodpeckers and ospreys will have seen you and be monitoring your every move. Initially you see nothing but gradually you become aware of rustlings, chatterings and dartings and, sensing something approaching, look out of the corner of your eye to catch a glimpse of a white egret or two strolling amongst the trees or squirrels playing. Every footfall scatters lizards by the dozen.
Yesterday, because it is nesting season, the great trees were alive with building activity, affectionate chirpings, squabbles and flappings. There must have been 20 egrets, some flying backwards and forwards with huge twigs, 12 very noisy anhginas, and 2 great grey herons. An osprey glided in from the lake with a big fish in its talons and perched high on a pine tree eating its prey. On the lake a pair of gorgeous mandarin ducks, so handsome and glossy, pottered about in the reeds making plaintive cheeps. They very conveniently perched on a raised nest box for a while so I was able to sketch them.

So today I am posting some photos and sketches from Kraft Gardens. I was fascinated by the “knees “of the Bald Cypress (taxodium distichum) which grow along the water line, they are the most extraordinary shapes. The Bald Cypress is a characteristic tree of southern swamplands growing in stagnant pools, and forming wide buttressed trunks, together with these strange woody “knees” which project from the water. The knees are outgrowths from the tree’s roots and it seems that they provide extra aeration for the root system. Clinging onto the knees are the wandering roots and leaves of the adventurous syngonium podophyllum the Arrowhead vine.

My favourites are the sketch of the anhihga in the tree and the waterlily leaves, both have potential to be developed futher. They are done with a Pilot pen the V5 which is soluble so to add a bit of shadow just wet with a brush. It’s a very useful and quick sketching aid.
My sketch book is 6 x 8 inches.


Bald Cypress Knees

The Big Beautiful Sun

One week on and the big beautiful sun has replaced the big ugly freeze. We live by Lake Killarney and this morning I went out early to see what was going on. The bird community was getting on with its very busy day. Immediately by the jetty there was a little blue heron hunting in the reedy grasses, a pair of mallards hanging around the boats and a delightful fat little moorhen who pottered up and down for about an hour. The large white egret was perched on a nearby mooring post and two of the beautiful anhingas flew down from their roost to snake their way across the lake, no wonder they are called the snake bird. They swim with their bodies so low in the water that only their long flexing necks can be seen. A huge flock of cormorants settled in the centre of the lake, seagulls flew up and down and the ever present big dark vultures were slowly circling way up in brilliant blue sky. The osprey I had seen a couple of days ago carrying a fish in its talons passed by high and fast and behind me in the pines on the shore the excruciating squeaky grackles flocked, flew and regrouped before dashing off. How wonderful to have all this just off the I4 motorway!
I was looking at the reedy grass to draw. It’s a marsh grass of some sort,
Maybe Salt Marsh Grass or West Indian marsh grass, I don’t think its Sawgrass. It was full of dragon flies well damselflies to be precise. I could see 2 types at least, the blue ones and the small red ones. I was going to try to identify them but was dismayed to read that there are over 500 varieties in Florida. Red and blue will have to do for now.
It was a beautiful morning. The water was so still the reflections were perfect.

A few pages from my 6 x 8 “sketchbook. Birds are hard to sketch, herons are easier as they move very slowly as they hunt. here is the marsh grass, the moorhen and the little blue heron.