A Subversive Tree in Baldwin Park

There are good and bad things about our new location. Lake Baldwin is good. It is one of the few Orlando lakes whose shores have not been commandeered by the elegant houses of the rich and privileged.
We can escape the heat and noise of our new box to join the dog walkers, joggers, the many “boggers” ( joggers with babies) and cyclists of all ages and abilities, to make a circuit or two around the 2 mile path.
On one side of the path are the houses and on the other is the lake, bordered by a strip of land which has been allowed to revert to its unruly origins and is now a protected natural environment.

As an ecosystem, an abandoned military base generally has no place to go but up. So it was at the Orlando NTC. Part of the redevelopment of the site has been reestablishing the original ecology. The developers worked with Florida Audubon to recreate the natural habitat of the area, reintroducing native grasses and other species.
The developers decided to preserve the shoreline around the community’s two lakes as parkland, instead of selling it as waterfront property, and to focus on passive recreation around the lakes, so that people are not “pestered with jet-skis,”
Hometown: Baldwin Park, Orlando, By Ruth Walker here.

Cycling into an ever changing head wind round the lake is not really my idea of “passive recreation” but the anhinghas, ospreys and herons may fish and swim with not much more than a rowing boat or an enthusiastic Labrador to disturb them.

The development of Baldwin Park sprung phoenix-like from the old Orlando Naval Training Centre whose four gate posts still stand. I am not sure what part the lake played in the training or what naval manoeuvres may have been practiced there as there seems barely enough room for one warship never mind a submarine as well.

But anyway, Baldwin Park has left its military memories behind, turning away from the drill and discipline to slip into the new life of an easy and relaxed residential suburb. There is a lovely doggy park on the lake which must be a perfect piece of dog heaven, complete with trees, water and other dogs.

A place where canines can frolic together in and out of the water, watched by happy and relaxed owners and, occasionally by this dog lorne person who often pines for a furry companion. I would imagine that the word “fleetpeeplespark” causes much ecstatic tail wagging in the homes of local dogs.

The strip of eco wilderness which borders the lake has some wonderful old trees, twisted oaks and tall pines. They grow in amongst a muddle of creepers and vines and seem incongruous, as only yards away are the rows of neat obedient little crepe myrtles which line the paths of orderly Baldwin Park.
These untidy old trees with their untrimmed branches just act as a reminder of the disorder of nature in the raw and amongst them is one particular tree that has escaped from an Hieronymus Bosch painting.

This is a real little monster of a tree, a two fingered salute to the neatness all around it, a little bit of a nightmare creeping into the suburbs, unremarked. I had to draw it.
From its reptilian snout, sprout three main limbs which spiral up and up to eventually clear the surrounding oaks. Its “mouth” seems to be eating smaller twigs, while the hole left by a lost branch keeps an eye on you.
I took a small sketch book and a pen, and made couple of sketches.

tree1     treepen3

Sketch Book pages 4 x 6” pen.

Then the next day another more accurate drawing.

tree 2

Sketch book page 8 x 10”

And then this watercolour sketch.

blog col sketch

Sketch book page 12” x 9”, watercolour.

I am sure it is a Sweetbay Magnolia (or even the lesser know fish tree :)….) Possibly it looks endearing but this may be its ancestor……


“Hell” from the “Garden of Earthly Delights” Hieronymus Bosch  1504,

Bosch’s trees are not quite so benign, but this odd little tree is a very good subject for an illustrator like me and I will no doubt be drawing it again. It’s a natural for etching, a medium new to me but proving to be fascinating and frustrating.. as all art is!

Leaf of the Day: Magnolia, an Ancient Beauty and a Ghost town

The Magnolia, Queen of the South. How could I take so long to get round to making some studies from this beautiful tree which grows everywhere here, big and small, in Malls, in gardens, round offices, and in the parks. There are approximately 80 different species and many of them seem happy to grow in and around Orlando.

I had no idea that the magnolia family was so ancient, but fossil remains have been found dating between 36 and 58 million years and I like to think of them growing side by side with the cycads and ferns, the ginkgos and the dinosaurs. The huge and beautiful flowers we see here on the Magnolia grandiflora are also considered a simple, primitive flower. It does not have petals as such, but tepals, a neat little anagram. Tepals are a tricky concept as they look like petals but are sepals and petals joined together. (Some well known flowers which you think have lovely petals actually have lovely tepals ie: tulips and lilies.) Another throwback to their ancient past is that magnolias evolved before there were bees so are pollinated by beetles. There is no nectar in these flowers but a rich protein filled pollen which the beetles seek out for food.

Magnolias are named after Pierre Magnol, a 17th century French botanist who was Professor of Botany and Director of the Royal Botanic Garden of Montpellier ( important as one of the innovators of the current botanical scheme of classification.) It is rather ironic, I think, that these beautiful ancient trees known for centuries by other cultures and by other names would be named after a European.
England had no native magnolias, but in 1687 the sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) was sent to the Bishop of London by one of his American missionaries. More species arrived from America and later Asia and now the magnolia is one of the most popular flowering trees gracing gardens all across the world.

The blooms here are amazing and I will, I am sure, get round to painting one of them one day but today here are 2 little furry “burrs” which you can find scattered around the base of magnolia trees after a storm. They are the centre part of the flower that remains after the tepals and the stamens have fallen away. You can see in my photo above that this flower has already lost its stamens. The dots below on the middle section of the receptacle are where stamens were and, below that, the tepal scars. The little black curls are the remains of the stigmas which were once yellow, each one leading down to its own carpel which in due course will produce the beautiful red seeds in the twisty seed pods which I, like so many other artists before me, will be drawing and painting over and over again.

Curiously, as a footnote, here in Orlando as we are following the progress of hurricane Bertha, listening for news of impending storms and severe weather warnings, considering our evacuation route and essential supplies list, I came across an account of the ghost town of Magnolia. It was once a thriving little cotton port in North Florida until, due to economic factors and a severe hurricane in 1843, it became one of Florida’s ghost towns. It seems this particular hurricane was very thorough in its devastation of the Gulf coast. The New York Herald called it “ one of the most dreadful hurricanes we have ever remembered to have occurred on this continent” . The 10 ft storm surge badly destroyed the Ports of St Leon, and St Marks, and the once thriving port of St Joseph, already in decline due to yellow fever was washed away. Once you start reading about the history of hurricanes in Florida you do wonder why anyone ever stayed to battle the weather, the mosquitoes and the tropical fevers..however Orlando’s 220,000 inhabitants are stirring, the sun is up, the lake is as calm as a mill pond, and Dan the weather man is smiling. I am going to Leu Gardens to make the most of this hurricane free day.

Magnolia Burrs