Life on the Elegant Ivy.

Yesterday on a beautiful sunny Sunday I spent a good hour just watching the comings and goings on one of the ivy bushes which grow on waste ground near the railway tracks. These scrubby bits of land are a tangle of brambles and ivy and both yesterday and today the ivy was alive with happy insects. Here are a few: Ivy bee sunning itself,

Honey bee and ladybird,

Bombus lucorum I think,


Drone hoverfly I think and lucorum..

beefly and luc

A very sleepy and slow B terrestris. I wondered if this lovely big bee was getting close to the end of its days?


As well as bees, wasps, flies and ladybirds, the bushes were covered with butterflies but just the one species, the pretty Red Admirals and so many of them. All were so intent on feeding that I could get quite close.


There was one huge hoverfly. I think the biggest in the UK and another insect mostly found in the South. Sometimes called the hornet mimic hoverfly, (you can see why), this is the splendid Volucella zonaria.


There were many other little hoverflies, and two sorts of wasps, this one was having a brush up.


and on some nearby brambles, what I think is a ruby tiger moth caterpillar

which will, with a bit of luck, turn into one of these,

Wonderful picture by Ben Sale of the Ruby Tiger moth Phragmatobia fulginosa from the

*Update…I found one in my garden in Grafham in 2016…beautiful

Everything seems to like this ivy bush much more than other varieties in the town. I wonder why? Perhaps the nectar is different. But this particular bush was covered with life whereas other were largely unvisited.

This one has very elegant deeply lobed leaves. I put a leaf on the windowsill to sketch it (the dead fly has now gone..). This is my only available surface at the moment so I sit with my sketchbook on my knee, but the shadows are lovely.

Elegant Ivy Leaf….

ivyb ivybg

Pencil sketch 6”

Leaf of the Day: Pretty Coleus or Flame Nettle

Looking like a nettle leaf, a member of the mint family and brilliant in a thousand different colourways this is such a charming little plant. Here it grows happily in a shady garden spot. They are so forgiving to even the worst of neglectful owners and as I remember, respond willingly to even the most ham fisted attempts at propagation. Pop a piece in a glass of water and soon you will have a new little plant.

The coleus was introduced to the UK in the mid 1800s and became the must-have plant. Brought over from Indonesia they were easy to grow and the colours were fascinating as you were never quite sure what you would get from the seeds. The colour variations are many and beautiful. Here is a lovely old print from 1880 of some popular varieties, from here.

There is a renewed interest in coleus now and somehow its perky friendly aspect has won it some very strange variety names. I imagine that enthusiasts chat to each other in a sort of lingua-coleus.
From ‘Mr Wonderful’ and ‘Prissy Primrose’ through ‘Tickle Me’ ‘Flirtin’skirts’ ‘October Wedding’ ‘Saucy Tart’ ‘Heavy Breathing’ ‘Dead Drunk’ ‘Careless Love’ ‘Sin’ to ‘Dark secret’ ‘Stormy Weather’ ‘September Divorce’ and ‘Brighter Day’ they read like the plot of a brief modern marriage…. ‘Mama Mia’ !

Mine, I guess, would be “Sloppy Painter”, I think I am going to order one today.

If you have an interest see the amazing variety here at Glasshouse Works There are 282 colourways recorded.

Coleus, Flame Nettle

Leaf of the Day: Spotty Dumb Cane

This pretty spotty leaf is a very small one from a much bigger plant, which I am sure is a diffenbachia, growing in a shady side road here.
The diffenbachia is a well known houseplant in the UK and another to be treated with some respect. It’s called the “dumb cane” with good reason as the plant contains tiny, needle sharp, calcium oxalate crystals. These puncture the cells and release a protein called asparagine, which causes severe inflammation of soft tissues. Chewing on the leaves makes the tongue swell and can restrict both speech and breathing. A guide I read here advises that you should “dissuade your rabbits, canaries, dogs and cats from snacking on the leaves.”

Its medical uses are, as you can imagine, interesting.
The German pharmacologist G Madeus in 1938 writing about some if its unusual applications had found that Amazon Indians used it, not only as an ingredient for poison arrows, but also to sterilize their enemies. In parts of the Caribbean it used to be thought that chewing a leaf was an effective temporary contraceptive. I can only assume that your lover would be struck dumb as well…. “whispering sweet nothings” would become more truth than romantic foreplay, some ladies possibly finding it an added attraction to be spared the verbal encouragement.

In light of this alarming information I think that, in addition to the treasured pets, you need to dissuade your man from snacking on this plant lest he be rendered both speechless and useless. (There must be a joke in there somewhere..)


Dumb Cane

Leaf of the Day: Variegated Ginger

This weekend summer arrived as the clocks went forward and the temperatures slipped backwards. The weather at the moment yo-yos from stuffy, hot and humid to very cold. We had some torrential rain on Friday and now I see that all the deciduous trees are beginning to get new and bright green leaves, catkins and new flowers.. I will not be able to keep up with them.
I made myself go back to the coloured pencils today and so here is the top 12 inches of a very large variegated ginger leaf. I liked the patterning so concentrated on that. They are another municipal plant seen in the Mall borders and office block gardens. This is the Alpinia zerumbet a member of the edible ginger family the catchily named Zingiberaceae. It can grow to a tall and exuberant 6ft as do many things here in Florida. If only I too could add a couple of inches here in this luxuriant climate. (upwards, hard ..outwards, all too easy)

I still am not happy with how the pencils feel. I sharpened them religiously but still miss having the point of a nice springy brush to draw fine lines with.. these feel terribly clumsy in comparison. It also seemed to take an age to just get some basic colour down. However I will persevere. Left to my own devices I would use then quite differently but the constraints of the course require accuracy rather than flamboyant approximation.
There are some artists who do produce exquisite work in coloured it’s not the medium it’s just me.

Variegated Ginger

Leaf of the Day: Crown of Thorns

This is a very strange little plant. I saw it growing close by, in the border under the bauhini tree. Initially I had no idea what it was and kept this small piece here in the studio for about a week in water. It is so pretty and I am hoping to propagate it despite the thorns.
The drawing is in pen and ink and comes with a few sketches I had made on the side of the page. (..a bit like showing your workings in the old maths exams). The main drawing is done with a fine felt tip pen, the sketches on the side with dip pen and brown ink which I still prefer for its more expressive line.
Crown of thorns is a succulent, belonging to the Euphorbiacea or spurge family which also includes the poincettia, casava and the hevea rubber plant. (there is the most fascinating short article here about rubber.) Its Latin name is euphorbia milii.
Euphorbias appear to be named after Euphorbus a Greek physician to the interesting King Juba II (approx 50 BC to 19 AD) of Numidia a region of north Africa now Algeria. The “milli” after Baron Milius, who introduced the species to France in 1821.
As you can imagine it was thought to have been the plant used for the “crown of thorns” worn by Christ which may be, in part, because of its pliable stems but there are other contenders for that role.
The latex from the spurge family is toxic and can cause dermatitis, have stupifying effects if ingested, and as the name spurge implies, has been used as a purgative in medicine. It is just another delightfully dangerous addition to my growing list of poisonous plants .. the garden is a hazardous place and my enemies had best beware my newly acquired knowledge!

Crown of Thorns

Leaf of the Day:Trees and Rooks

I have three small sketches today. One is a drawing of the rooks in the village which I did quickly from the car when coming back from Lincoln 4th Feb. Its just felt tip pen in my sketch book with a bit of smudgy wash. The second one is the rook from the top of the Weeping Ash(See previous drawing) which I drew from the dining room window. This one is with a dip pen and ink on a piece of paper from a watercolour “experiment” that I had chopped up. It’s brown ink ..I think French Sepia. ( I always try to rescue something from failures.. I have lots of bits of failures! ) The bird was somewhat wind ruffled, but I think it looks a bit more like a blackbird in my drawing.
The last one is a tree experiment done mostly with a razor blade.. a neat trick I learnt on Nicholas’ course. Its interesting to see how the three different techniques work.

Trees and Rooks

Back to Posting and New Projects

I am now back from two weeks in UK, an week´s excellent art course in Sarasota, a weekend in Fort Myers and have just finished and posted my first submission for the course I am working towards. I am getting back to the blog and I have quite a few drawings to post from the last 3 weeks and will be posting them retrospectively. Some are already there but I still have some catching up to do.

I have two new projects on the go as well!…. one I have already spoken about here in the post for Feb 7th which is to get the Lincolnshire Country Food book republished and the next is to develop a website/blog which will be all about my grandparents during the few years they spent in India and Kenya in the 1920’s. I never knew my grandfather but he and my grandmother wrote wonderful letters back to Mum when she was a little girl staying with relatives in Montrose in Scotland. I am sure the web is awash with letters and photographs from India and Kenya in the 1920´s but these are a bit different because my grandfather was an engineer working for John Fowler of Leeds and took steam ploughs out to help develop the local agriculture. I have many old and faded negatives to print up and sort out, as well as the letters to transcribe, so I will be busy. I am hoping that someone will find them on the web and either fill in some missing gaps of the family history … or decide that they are a wonderful subject for a film and buy the film rights… hmmm.. I see flying pigs ..but you never know.

Just a note for my faithful readers. If you are a subscriber you will sometimes get the uncorrected, unedited version as I have to publish before I can really see how the layout has worked… (and my spelling is very bad anyway).. I do normally get things fixed in time ..but let me know if I have anything completely wrong.

Leaf of the Day: West Indian Mahogany

I found this pod in Sarasota’s harbour-front car park while attending the course there. We had had some heavy rain and strong winds the previous day and a few of these strange pods were scattered around under the trees. I had never seen these before and was completely fascinated by their structure. Most were split open with their winged seeds spilling out onto the ground but I located a couple which were fairly intact and took them back to the hotel.
Overnight they began to dry out and open up so I dampened them down a bit, wrapped them up tightly and hoped they would survive until I got back to Orlando the following week. One of the hazards of picking things up from the ground is that they may have the odd unwanted passenger and sure enough a little earwig shot out and disappeared under the couch in the room. I really didn’t fancy spending the night with a earwig so found it fairly quickly, thankfully without having to dismantle the whole room, and popped it out of the window. I will have to remember to shake things in future!

The pods did survive but as I was making this quite detailed drawing, a week later, this particular pod began to open up alarmingly quickly and by the end of the day, was quite different, one section having fallen away completely and the seeds beginning to come away.
The mechanism of the pod is amazing. It opens up from the stem end and splits into three, then a sort of inner lining begins to buckle and pushes the outer casings farther and farther out. As this happens the winged papery seeds, which have been beautifully and compactly arranged around a central core (itself attached to the stem), begin to open out too and fall away. Quite beautiful.
The leaves are pretty too..pinnate with pairs of delicate sickle shaped leaflets. At the end of the leaf there seems to be no terminal leaflet which must be quite unusual, unless I have an odd sample. The correct term is “paripinnately compound”
I include today some sketches of the pod in its closed and open stages which I made as it opened up.

This is the mahogany tree, swietenia mahogani which was used by Chippendale and Hepplewhite in the mid-1700’s and was the original mahogany shipped back to Europe at the beginning of the 16th century. Today mahogany used for furniture is from a bigger tree, the Honduras mahogany swietenia macrophylla.

This drawing is the last for stage one of the course. From March
there will be more colour !

West Indian Mahogany

Leaf of the Day: Azalea

What would I do without the Mall borders? This is from the other nearby Mall. I like to vary my leaf and flower forays. It would be deemed somewhat dubious to be seen too often hanging around the Mall not only with a pair scissors.. but, worse and more suspect, without any shopping. They love to shop here.!
This little azalea is the second piece for part one of the course. It’s pencil, but shaded with hatching rather than continuous tone.
The azaleas are in full bloom everywhere now. I should get back to Leu Gardens and Kraft Gardens very soon, both were promising beautiful spring shows.


Leaf of the Day: Tradescantia and Creeper.

The first piece for the course is a very pale outline drawing, deliberately so I hasten to add, as a precursor for watercolour painting. It was almost impossible to scan and avoid some dark shading from the paper and it does look a bit insipid here. It is from the Mall borders near Albertsons. The gardeners were weeding and thinning so this was resued from the heap of cuttings. I shudder to think what they think I am doing.. It came with this little creeper affectionately clinging on so I decided to draw both. I liked the delicate creeper against the big strong shape of the tradescantia. These tradescantia are huge Florida types..and the most gorgeous purple. This is another that will appear soon in colour.

Tradescantia, Purple Heart