Leaf of the Day:More Tea, Lovely Bees..and the Untrustworthy Orchid

I spent a few hours today at the Gardens taking slightly different routes. With all the clearing of undergrowth and general tidying up, some of the usually overgrown parts are accessible and today I found some new trees and went “off path” by the lake shore and in amongst the trees in the South Woods. If you don’t venture off path you will miss things like the Midnight Horror tree, the Wax Jambu, and one of yesterday’s finds the Looking Glass Tree. When/if I have more time I will draw my own map of the gardens, but here is a shot from the wonderful Google Earth (don’t you just love to fly around the world with them!).

It makes the Gardens look so neat and compact that it is hard to believe that almost every week I find the odd lost person, looking for the exit. But there are 50 acres and over 3 miles of paths.
So today I wandered from top right to top left all along the shore and then down to bottom left in amongst the many winding paths of the South Woods, which are just visible amongst the trees. You can understand why I am there so long, especially as I am stopping to look at everything as I go. The formal Rose Garden shows so clearly here in the centre here but is somewhere I seldom visit.

So, short of time today, just a couple more drawings of the lovely tea plant and two photos from today with the bees with the tea flowers. They were so busy they didn’t even notice me.

I am very very fond of bees.
Given the very worrying recent decline in their numbers I feel we should all have a hive in the back garden. My parents kept bees. Not only are they wonderful and endearing creatures, they are vital to our planet’s well being and ours too. Without their tireless pollination a third of our food crops would die, to say nothing of the wild flowers and trees that the animals rely on. To be without them is unthinkable. Here is an extract from the recent book “A World Without Bees” by Alison Benjamin & Brian McCallum, who were looking into the causes of the decline in the bee population. Partly to blame in America may be the factory farming attitude to commercial bee keeping where bees are shipped by the lorry load to pollinate crops all over the country.

“They are driven thousands of miles on the backs of huge trucks from the far corners of the United States, their hives stacked five-high. Half of all the 2.5 million honeybee colonies in the US make this annual cross-country trek from as far afield as Massachusetts in the east and Florida in the south.

They are even flown in from Australia to boost the numbers for the pollination task. It’s hard not to see an analogy with other migrant workers and their plight.

The writers compare this with their own back garden hive;

This intensive, migratory beekeeping is a far cry from the hobby we pursue in our small back garden in south London. The only move for our bees was from the apiary where we collected them to the spot by the wall where their hive has sat for a couple of years. From this sheltered location, they happily forage from spring right through to the end of autumn for nectar and pollen among the parks, gardens, railway sidings and tree-lined roads that dot the Battersea landscape. In the process they make enough honey to keep us and them well fed throughout the year.

There is something magical about watching your bees return home after a hard day’s foraging on a balmy summer evening. For many urban apiarists who work all day in an office, they are an antidote to the stresses of city life. Creating a rural idyll in a corner of a housing estate was our small way of trying to reconnect with nature. It fulfilled something we knew was missing from our lives, a feeling we couldn’t quite put our finger on, but is now being termed “nature-deficit disorder”.

You can read more of the extract from the book here and I will be back with more bee related things next week.

This morning I happened to glance at the orchid and suddenly there behind my back with no warning or fanfare was a open flower. It was still tightly wrapped yesterday. I just knew this would happen. I am going to be away for 2 days and by the time I get back the wretched thing will no doubt have opened up completely, my opportunity for some flower-opening sketches missed. Untrustworthy indeed and I know I am not the only one who thinks orchids are a bit suspect.
I am away for two days.. we are having a weekend break to see the sea.. yippee…

Tea Camellia, Flower and Pod

Leaf of the Day: Tea and Tornadoes

We are on tornado watch today, looking out for “tornadic activity”. I had to go out but was careful not to wear my red shoes and Toto had to stay at home with Ant, although it is just the season to whisked away on some exciting holiday adventure. I don’t think we did actually have a tornado just very blustery heavy rain so it wasn’t too bad. It’s shaken a few leaves down and I am sure there will be some fallen fruit at the Gardens when I go tomorrow.

On my last visit to Leu I collected a couple of tiny seedlings from the ground around the Tea Camellias,Camellia sinensis. I would be so pleased if one of these grew. These and the Lipstick tree, which at the moment is looking glorious with its red spiky pods, were the first plants that Pedro wanted me to see in the Garden…the tea of course because I am British and true to form, we do drink lots of tea. I have drawn a leaf and pod before here and I wrote a little bit about tea and my complete ignorance that the tea I drink is from the leaf of a camellia. At the moment it is in full bloom and so pretty, the small flowers are very delicate and the whole bush is alive with bees, so I wanted to make a few more studies while I can.

There is so much to write about tea, its history, its complicated and precise preparation, the rituals and very individual ways of drinking it: black, white, with or without sugar, lemon or not, tea bags or loose leaf, brewed in a tea pot, in a cup, served in a mug, in fine bone china, etc… etc…all so personal.

The tea-plant originated in southern China, and was thought by the Taoists to be an ingredient of the elixir of immortality, a belief still held dear by many British people today. It was claimed to relieve fatigue, delight the soul, strengthen the will and repair the eyesight The Buddhist monks drank tea to keep awake while meditating and there is a rather gruesome legend which says the tea plant grew from the eyelids of Bodhidharma who cut them off in disgust at his own weakness in falling asleep during a particularly long meditation. He thew them down on the ground and from the eyelids sprang the tea plant, a gift to us all to aid alert meditation.

On a more lyrical note there are several Chinese poems about tea translated by Martin Tai here This a beautiful poem from the Sung Dynasty about the making of tea written by Su Dong Po, with a note by the translator.

Fetch water from the river to brew tea
Living water must be boiled with living fire
I fetch deep clear water by the Fishing Rock
A big bucket saved the moon into a jar for spring,
A small scoop divided the stream into a bottle for the evening

This poem has a distinct style, it described the essence of tea brewing: tea must be brewed with living water, with out it one cannot extract the full aroma of tea. Dong Po knew this very well indeed. I lived at Fu Sa county for a while, and did fetch water from the river to brew tea; the color, aroma and taste were excellent on all three counts. That location also produced the best tea in the world, probably due to its water. Brewing tea with such water enhanced the aroma. Even cloth washed with this water looked extra clean and white, this is an indication how light and clean the water was.”

Ah yes, how very important the water is! Tea made with limestone filtered water of Linconshire tasted so different from the tea brewed with soft Yorkshire water. My father used to long to get back to a “good” cup of tea after visiting our relatives in Leeds.

The painting is of one little seedling complete with its pod. I doubt this one will survive having been out of the water for too long. I feel guilty. I have put it in pot with the others to salve my conscience. Tomorrow a flower and maybe a pod.


Tea Camellia Seedling

Leaf of the Day: Tea Leaf and Seed Pod

A small, new, tea leaf and a seed pod, just splitting open to reveal a fat round seed inside. A drawing for Pedro who took me to see the tea plants at Leu Gardens the other day. I have to admit I didn’t really know what a tea plant looked like, despite years of seeing the PG tips lady picking tea on the box, and I had no idea it was one of the camellia family, camellia sinensis. Shame on me, the amount of tea I drink. This leaf is new and bright green with a reddish stem and smooth edges whereas the older leaves are slightly toothed and much darker green.
This pod has two seed chambers where others have three. I will be making a few more drawings as they are delightful shapes. The young leaves (top 2 and the bud) are harvested, rolled and fermented (oxidised) before they find their way to the teapot as black tea. Green tea is made with unfermented leaves. Amazing! The regular supermarket tea is not very good here. It’s very weak and each bag is individually wrapped with an annoying tag, but at least we have not had it served to us with salt water yet.

This funny little drawing started as I was trying to balance the pod and leaf on the top of a couple of pieces of paper torn out of a sketchbook which were propped up on my drawing board. I thought they looked nice just as they were so that’s how I drew them.
I have just had a memory of tea chests, weren’t they wonderful?

Tea leaf and Seed Pod