Leaf of the Day: Crucillo Sprig and Seedling Update

Today I am having a studio and balcony sort-out day. In my “studio” which is the other bedroom I have the small nature table which is now covered with bit of pods and twigs and leaves. They are all getting out of hand and occasionally a seed pod explodes and seeds ricochet around the room. It is Ant’s perfect adventure playground of course. Yes, Ant is still here. Why? The balcony door is open day and night. He must just prefer to be inside I suppose, yesterday he was mountaineering in my jar of brushes.

I also have a few pots on the balcony where I optimistically plant things, sometimes bits of stem that I have drawn, sometimes small cuttings and the occasional seed. Many are doing well. I am particularly delighted that the “leaf” of the beautiful Red Rhipsalis here is growing, my Soapberry seedling is a now a tiny tree, the Crown of Thorns and Stapelia which Pedro gave me are thriving and all the leaves of the various Sansevierias are sprouting roots and the piece of Devil’s Backbone here is beginning to zig zag its way to heaven.

My seedlings are doing well too. The tiny Desert Rose seedlings look like little plants already. There were 6 but I managed to knock the head off one of them.

And to my amazement the Silky Hakea here seeds have sprouted. On one of my visits a few weeks ago I noticed that the Hakea I like so much is dying. All the beautiful pods had opened up and almost all the seeds had gone. This may be a natural part of its life cycle as it has to be damaged in some way for the pods to open, but I did manage to find three intact seeds and wondered if they might germinate for me. My methods are haphazard to say the least and because I like to see how things grow I just use damp kitchen towel in an old upside down plastic fruit container. After only a week they had sprouted and here they are just shrugging off their seed coats, looking happy and relatively healthy I think.

But my favourites for the moment are the two spindly and comical Gout plant seedlings. They sprang out of their pots within a few days of planting and I am entranced by their elegance and vigour.

Bill and Ben… not quite twins, but related.

I´m afraid I have called them Bill and Ben .. well, a little silliness has to creep in every now and then. My American readers were probably spared the much loved UK 1950’s children’s TV programme with the two flower pot men puppets and the very annoying Little Weed..

Image from Whirligig TV here

I need some more time and a better sample to continue the cotton drawings so today I drew the little crucillo sprig that has been waiting for a couple of days now . It seemed happy enough in some wet oasis but the leaves are just beginning to droop.

It is labelled as “Randia laetevirens” Crucillo Bush, the name meaning “little cross” for obvious reasons. It was the cross formation of the white stems that caught my eye and the leaves are dainty but there are some very sharp spikes on the ends of the twigs. I have not been able to find out very much about this particular variety but Austin and Honychurch writing about the Randia aculeata (White Indigoberry) in “Florida Ethnobotany” say it is described as the “little cross” in South American countries and the branches sold as small Christmas trees in the winter.. so this must be a close relative. I will amend this post if I find out.


Leaf of the Day: Resolve, Review and Desert Rose Seedlings.

It’s the end of September, a grey, dull and drizzling day, the world economy is collapsing and its autumn. Autumn is not my favourite season. At least here, the dreary UK signs of autumn, fleeing swallows, dying plants and darkening evenings are not so obvious and, as it cools, we are opening up the blinds and windows and doors. I have cleaned the apartment from top to toe today and I am making a couple of new resolutions.

Today also marks 9 months of drawing and writing about plants and life here in Florida.
My back-to-basics art plan for this year was always to just draw and observe, and not worry too much about a finished piece of work and this will continue, but I have to plan for an possible exhibition next year so I need to push things on a bit.
So I am resolving to work outside at least one day a week…and spend less time on the computer!!.. I have been planning to get back outside and that chance encounter with the two artists last week at Leu was the deciding factor. That and the experiences of the beautiful landscape of the West still vivid in my mind, and some very interesting reading I have been doing since I returned.
One is a large glossy book called ” The Painted Sketch”, American Impressions from Nature 1830 – 1880″ by Eleanor Jones Harvey. It only covers a very narrow time span and deals solely with American painters but charts the rise of the acceptance of the artist’s sketches as “desirable and marketable works of art in their own right” and explains the role of the sketch for these artists and their public. They were an intrepid bunch going into unknown territories complete with oils paints, boundless enthusiam and a huge air of adventure.
“Armed with their sketch boxes, leading artists traveled to remote locations in North and South America and Europe to search out exotic landscape subjects. The public came to equate their adventurous spirits and fortitude with the American character, which gave added popularity to their small field sketches of natural wonders.
Fredrick Church’s small works, in particular, are wonderful. Here are three of them.

Clouds over Olana… 8″x12″..

Study for under Niagra…11″x 17″

Off Iceberg, Newfoundland… 4″ x 11″

Thomas Cole’s sketching box… 17″ x 13″ x 2.5 “

I love these sketches. I love to see the brushstrokes, the handwriting if you like of the individual artist and the confidence of the work. It’s often difficult for non painters to really appreciate the mastery and virtuosity of these works. So many people still equate “a good painting” with
photorealism. The value of these works and the works of plein air painters today is that they record things in situ and for me, there is an honesty about a painting made in this way. It’s not too hard, if you learn a few skills, to copy a photo at home …working outside is a different matter. Talking about one of Church’s sketches from an Ecuador trip in 1857 the writer notes that it,
“bears all of the hallmarks of plein air execution, notably bugs and dirt trapped in the paint, fingerprints from handling the wet sketch in the field and distressed edges from rough treatment in transit” … Fantastic.. a few bugs can often improve a sketch.

Deciding what to paint or draw is the first problem? What will I do? There are not really many remote and uncharted areas of Orlando to explore. Well something small and simple to start with, maybe just a charcoal. It doesn’t really matter what the medium is … it’s just getting out there to do it, that matters.

Desert Rose Seedlings and Pod
Following on from yesterday I thought I should perhaps record the (hopeful) progress of my Desert Rose seedlings.
I had written about Desert Rose and drawn a small branch here
The big pod I had first collected had split and opened before I could draw it, but I did take this photo.

Each side of the 2 arms of the pod split and opened up and the fluffy seeds flew off round the room. I had rounded them up and then had rather abandoned them to an inelegant old tinfoil pastry tin lined with damp kitchen roll. That was the day before we went away, two and a half weeks ago now. They grew, are still growing and I hope I can keep them growing, green fingers firmly crossed..
Here are the seedlings and the empty pod plus a seed. …


Desert Rose Seedlings, Seed and Pod

Leaf of the Day: Skulls and Roses, Artificial or Otherwise

It’s Tuesday already and I am late posting Monday’s drawing due to being distracted by holiday plans. I have been to Leu to look at the arid garden again this morning, to see if I could understand some more about the desert plants I may see when we get to New Mexico. I have also spent a few hours browsing the magazines in Borders to see what sort of art will be on offer in Santa Fe. There are some very good artists, (and some very bad!) and of course I will be going to see the Georgia O’Keefe museum.

“View from my Studio New Mexico ” Georgia O’keefe

I am very familiar with her work but to see the paintings together with the landscape that inspired it will be fascinating. Thinking about her work and the desert etc I had decided to draw this little piece of the Desert Rose bush. Somewhere in my mind I was sure she had painted a Desert Rose… but I can’t find one. The flowers are very pretty but what I particularly like are the branches which are gnarled and twisted making the whole plant a lovely shape, and they are covered with beautiful pale greeny blue lichens. It is such an attractive little plant and another one for my hopeful propagation trials.

Also last week I had found a small skull in amongst the leaf mould in the forest. At first I thought it was a bird’s but I now think it belonged to a squirrel, there is one little tiny tooth left. It’s a delicate and fragile thing . The two seem to want to be painted together..so, “tiny skull and desert rose”, by way of a small tribute to Georgia O’Keefe..they couldn’t be more different in scale or execution though could they.

I was interested to learn, some time ago, that she had used artificial flowers in her work. particularly in the skull paintings which she did when she was in New Mexico.
Sometimes in moments of despair when I have been struggling with dying wilting things I must admit to having thought about going across to Michaels and getting the artificial version. There are thousands of them and they are pretty good! The tutors on the course would never know ! I haven’t succumbed yet but if I do, I can deflect any criticism with ” If it was good enough for Georgia O’Keefe it would be good enough for me.”

This is from an interesting website here about her life, this page shows more of the skull paintings which shows some of the desert paintings.

‘She explained that her idea to use flowers came about while she was sorting through some artificial flowers,
“when someone came to the kitchen door. As I went to answer the door, I stuck a pink rose in the eye socket of a horse’s skull. And when I came back the rose looked pretty fine, so I thought I would just go with that.”
Although the use of flowers is indicative of the Southwestern influence since artificial flowers are often used to decorate Hispanic graves, most eastern viewers of these paintings found them more surreal than anything else.’

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York

The Desert Rose is Adenium obesum, is a native of East Africa. It is a succulent, and forms more of a bush than a tree. If you want to make a bottle shaped base you have to expose the roots and turn the plant.

Again Top Tropicals have some great photos of what is sculpturally possible.

The pods are great. I had one and again,within 1 day it had split and the seeds had floated around the studio..so never managed to get a drawing.. too much to do, too little time!


Desert Rose and Skull