Late Summer Bee Flowers

Bees in general emerge at different times of the year and it’s easy to think they are just around in the summer when there are plenty of flowers but many species will need food in early Autumn. In September last year there were many bumble bees, honey bees and solitary bees still busy in the garden, so, in planning the bee garden some late flowers are essential. “Late” can depend where you are of course, but here are just a few:

amemone     sea holly copy

Japanese Anemone, the most beautiful and elegant of plants, and Sea Holly.
I think the Eryngiums are particularly beautiful and there is very striking one called Eryngium leavenworthii which is worth seeking out

sunflower     aster copy

Bees love Sunflowers and particularly Michaelmas Daisies. A great plant to watch bees on, as they are too busy foraging to notice you!

ivy copy      fuschia copy

Ivy and Fuschia, Let the ivy bloom for the pretty Ivy bee and the bumblebees seem to love the endlessly flowering shrub fuschia in my Father’s garden.

heathersedum smjpg

Heather and Sedum. Heathers will bloom all season for bees and plant any of the many fascinating Sedums, or “stonecrops” which look so lovely in late summer and are great for green roofs!


I will get around to making the notes on the sketches soon! It’s very hot here this weekend and not conducive to work at all!

Hot Sloth

hot sloth

Possible and Impossible New Year Resolutions and more Bees.

Happy New Year to all…..

In that wonderful lazy no man’s land between Christmas and New Year I have been contemplating the perfect person I could be if I implemented my list of resolutions.

This list is as long as a very long arm can be… not only trailing on the floor, but draped over the furniture as well.  Advice from the elegant sparkling TV presenter is to take a modest approach to this mammoth task…like eating the elephant, take it one bite at a time.

So, instead of resolving to draw every bee in the world and to single handedly convert every apiphobe into an apiphile, I have pledged to paint a set of British Bees.

I know I can do this. It will involve some more delicious research and has a tentative exhibition outcome. A “possible resolution” is to draw something every day (starting tomorrow).

Unfortunately the sweet talking Sloth of Sloth has been cosying up this last week and has to be replaced by some more bee like activity.

single sloth

The “impossible resolution” is, to be taller.
This is a perennial resolution which just stays on the list and I fondly think might be achievable one day.

Leaf of the Day: Preserving the Plants, Wonderful Wardians

Today, instead of researching more about herbaria which was my intention, I became completely engrossed in the lives of the plant hunters. My admiration for them grows in leaps and bounds. I have been reading amongst others a small paperback “The Plant Hunters” by Tyler Whittle which is full of very entertaining information about these extraordinary people. From the diminutive Albertus Magnus, 1193-1280, who walked all over northern Europe, dissuaded the Poles from eating each other and collected an extraordinary number of plants into the bargain, to the pirate plant collector William Dampier whose terrible cruelty earned him a court martial and who was the unlikely inspiration for Coleridge’s “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”. I was really just looking for how they transported the plants but got horribly side tracked for hours .. and hours..

However the problem of shipping live plants was of course a real headache for the early explorers. I can barely get a few leaves back from Leu without them withering to nothing, let alone a 3 month sea voyage. Many ways of shipping were tried, packing things in barrels, and wrapping them in oil cloths, suspending delicate things in nets from cabins roofs, and making elaborate sets of boxes within boxes but things could happen on a voyage, storm, shipwreck, mutiny ( as on the Bounty whose revolting crew threw the precious cargo of breadfruit overboard), the neglect of the crew, salt water damage, excessive heat, excessive cold and too much or too little light etc etc etc. Pests on board were a problem too. John Bartram sent boxes of new and precious plants from America to William Collinson in the UK and on one occasion a rat’s nest complete with young was found “amidst the ruin of plants and dead greenery”. Seeds were also sent but they were as tricky to keep in good condition as live plants. Dried plants were useful for identification and if the expedition could afford it an artist went along, but even drawings were subject to the same hazards.

Some early plant carrying boxes

The big change occurred with Dr Nathanial Ward’s accidental invention of the Wardian Case in 1829, which made transporting plants more successful, so much so that plant distribution, especially economically important plants, around the world would change.

Dr Ward had an interest in entomology and ferns but lived in a very polluted part of the docklands in industrial London, and neither the ferns nor the butterflies thrived. However he was aware of the importance of clean pure air for the survival of natural things and in his own words,
“I had buried the chrysalis of a sphinx [moth] in some moist mould contained in a wide-mouthed glass bottle, covered with a lid. In watching the bottle from day to day, I observed that the moisture which, during the heat of the day arose from the mould, condensed on the surface of the glass, and returned whence it came; thus keeping the earth always in some degree of humidity. About a week prior to the final change of the insect, a seedling fern and a grass made their appearance on the surface of the mould”

His curiosity for how long the ferns could survive in this sheltered environment (in fact for 4 years until the lid began to rust), led to the hugely important botanic/economic discovery the Wardian Case.
The success of the cases wasn’t just the fact that they were made from glass but that they were sealed and not disturbed, providing the plants with a stable climate in which to travel. If you have ever had a terrarium you will know how delicate the micro climate inside can be.

Photo of a replica Wardian Case from the National Maritime Museum here
Ward was determined to test his cases well though and so on his orders two cases were stocked with native plants in Australia. These already proven “bad travellers” were put aboard a clipper and sent to England.
Stocked with Plants notorious for their tenderness and their reluctance to leave their natural habitat they were sent on the long storm wracked voyage round the Horn. Between Botany Bay and the Pool of London the plants were subjected to variations of temperature from 20 to 120 degrees. They were rolled sideways and tossed backwards and forwards on the swell and roll of two oceans. But at the end of it all when Dr Ward went down to the quayside and opened his cases he found the plants secure, fresh and green and full of promise. His confidence in the cases was entirely vindicated”
Exerpt from the “Plant Hunters”by Tyler Whittle

The new Wardian cases in which seedlings could be planted and transported enabled Robert Fortune, who I wrote about before in regards to tea, to transport the 20,000 smuggled tea seedlings from China to Assam, to start India’s tea industry. Rubber tree seedlings, after germination in the heated glasshouses of Kew, were shipped successfully in Wardian cases to Ceylon and Malaysia to start the rubber plantations and Joseph Hooker was able to ship many new and different specimens back to Britain from his four year Antarctic voyage.
A Wardian case from Kew gardens. see hereThe Wardian Case being filled in the photograph remained in use at Kew until the 1960s when air transport and other means superseded it.

Below are two examples of the decorative Wardian cases which I particularly like for the inclusion of the cat and bird looking on, perhaps a little nonplussed at being shut out of their normal haunts.

….More on pressing plants
There is so much information on the web re pressing / preserving flowers and I am sure that many had or still have old flower presses, or like me, just make do, but an easy plant press and proper collecting instructions can be seen here from Fort Hays State university

And there is a nice PDF on how to make a pressed specimen from The Fairchild Gardens with a sample of the correct label here.
If I had time I could get very involved in developing and keeping a herbarium but I will save this delightful pastime for when I get my dream garden.

Its Saturday ………..

Leaf of the Day: Assorted Wildlife…Otters, the Kmart Ospreys and the Wailing Limpkins

We went out cycling this morning and to my complete astonishment saw an otter basking on the shores of Lake Rowena near the Orlando Museum of Art. An otter, here in the middle of this big city, only yards from 6 lanes of traffic, unbelievable. It slipped into the lake and swam away too fast for me to photograph.
The otters here are river otters. This is one of many great photos taken by Jessie Dickson of the otters at Viera Wetlands here in Florida.. go and see more all together in one album page here.

This adorable pup is from the Tampa Bay Aquarium where they breed and rescue river otters. more here

Even after a year here I am completely enchanted by the huge variety of wildlife I find in this very urban environment, helped enormously by Orlando’s many lakes, over 2000 in about a twenty mile radius. If I go to the lake here I will see ospreys, ducks, anhingas, moorhens, coots, various herons, terns, grackles, egrets big and small, and platoons of strutting ibis. We live next door to a dreary concrete Mall but the ospreys have a nest on one of the big floodlights in the Kmart car park. It is not advisable to park underneath this light unless you want your car covered with twigs, droppings or bits of rotting fish, tidy housekeepers they are not.

We have a chattering belted kingfisher which every night flies around the apartments. It’s big and very noisy. I see the alligators, turtles and snakes at Leu. Out in the suburbs, where we first stayed, there was a bobcat trotting along a forested scrubland trail at dusk, as well as huge sandhill cranes who barely move as you pass. There are the ever present circling turkey buzzards, hawks, big serious owls and the ponderous wood storks. There are colourful woodpeckers, we saw one of the big red crested pileated woodpeckers today, brilliant red cardinals and sweet little mocking birds. Frogs, toads and more. All this and I am not even looking for wildlife.
A few weeks ago we went to Myakka wildlife reserve and saw, as a well as a bald eagle reliving an osprey of its catch,and the obligatory alligators, the strange little Limpkin. Aramus guarauna. My less than perfect photo does at least show how well camouflaged it is.

It is so called because of its awkward gait and is also known as the Crying bird because of its distinctive call, a piecing wild sounding scream or wail which it makes especially at night. The noise was so disturbing that the early Florida pioneers “mistook the call of the Limpkin for the haunting wails of tortured souls in the night time swamps”. It has also described as,”a hoarse rattling cry like the gasp of person being strangled, like “little boys lost in the swamps forever;” or ” an unearthly shriek” with the “quality of unutterable sadness.” Many tales and legends arose from this eerie sound and in parts of the Amazon they believe that a crescendo of limpkin calls foretells that rising river levels have reached their height.
Its eldritch shriek has also been immortalised in the soundtracks of old Tarzan movies and more recently in Harry Potter. Cornell’s Macaulay Library provided the voice of the Winged Hippogriff, read more here and listen to a great recording of its call made in Florida in 1956 here. I understand it is very annoying to have Limpkins nearby if you are a light sleeper.

Audubon’s Limpkin is wonderfully evocative…I still think he is the best by far.


This is the Pencil & Leaf sloth of sloth, signifying a day off drawing.

Leaf of the Day: Peacock Iris and an Upsidedown Sloth

The trials of the natural history artist ..the problem with models.
I chose this pretty iris to draw today as I needed to try a more delicate flower with the coloured pencils. It is dietes bicolor, the peacock iris or Spanish iris.
If I had been doing this drawing for myself and without the botanical painting course in mind I would have put in a dark background to set off the pretty delicate colours and to show the flower as we would normally see it. I was in two minds whether or not to put one in. There are certain conventions or purist schools of thought that would not include any background and there is a distinction between Botanical Art and Botanical illustration. Botanical Illustration is more scientific and is usually for the purpose of identification of a species. Botanical Art allows for more personal interpretation whilst still keeping to the principles of accuracy and detail.
I have spent quite a few hours this week thinking about all this and looking hard at the work of contemporary botanical artists. I do see back grounds now. I may add one to this piece later.
Sadly I wont be able to use the same flower as it has now defiantly curled up its petals into a tight fist and is about to drop off its stem. One day that’s all I had. I am getting very tempted to use photographs. I am going to write about this in another post because its an interesting discussion for artists and for buyers of art.

Identification of species pre camera, of course would rely on seeing the actual object or someone making a drawing from it or sometimes working blind from just a verbal description.
There is an exhibition at the Queens Gallery in Buckingham Palace London “Amazing Rare Things” created in collaboration with David Attenborough. It is an exhibition of Natural History drawings which date from the late fifteenth century to the early eighteenth century, “a period when European knowledge of the world’s flora and fauna was transformed by voyages of discovery to Africa, Asia and the Americas. Through painstaking examination and description, Leonardo da Vinci, the collector Cassiano dal Pozzo, Wenceslaus Hollar, Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian and Mark Catesby hoped to comprehend the natural riches of an ever-expanding world. “
DO go to the website ( above) to see the work even if you can’t get to the exhibition..(and there is a book too.)

David Attenborough describes beautifully the dilemma which must have faced the pre-camera artist here in relation to dal Pozzo’s Sloth. Dal Pozzo commissioned artists to draw for him, probably from specimens and skins, so have a kind thought for the artist confronted with the skin of a 3 toed sloth. He did his best and gave us a fiercesome beast with sharp teeth teetering along on its tip toes. How was he to know this strange creature spent its life suspended from a tree branch.. what an absurd notion!

Collection of
Cassiano dal Pozzo
Artist unknown 1626

But it’s lovely, isn’t it .. just for the very fact of its careful and earnest inaccuracy. The exhibition continues until September, its on my list.

Peacock Iris