AS A WILD FLOWER, Common Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris, occurs throughout Europe except in the far north but it is also frequently found as a garden escape. This plant, 16 inches tall with flowers 2 inches across, has made itself at home in our flower border – we never planted it there but it has sprung up near the bird feeder.

Commn Columbine often hybridises with other species of Aquilegia grown in gardens but this specimen comes close to the typical appearance of wild species; for instance, its stamens scarcely protrude beyond the petals.

The hooked spur behind each flower gives the plant its botanical name because of a resemblance to an eagle, Aquila, but its medieval Latin name Columbina, meaning a dove-like plant, seems nearer the mark as the five flowers with their wing-like petals look like a little gaggle of pigeons getting together.

With that long spur behind the flower, it’s not surprising that the main pollinators are long-tongued bees.

Botanical Drawing

Every spring, I feel the need to learn more about botany as, in May in particular, so many wild flowers appear in quick succession. But after all the distractions from my artwork that I’ve had for the past nine or ten months, I also feel the need to get back into the habit of drawing; real drawings that you might spend an hour or more on, rather than the snatched sketches that fill the bulk of my sketchbooks.

By drawing flowers I can combine those two; I can get some drawing practice while I learn more about botany through close observation. Drawing is great from that point of view because you can be wholly absorbed in the artistic process of drawing and yet also totally involved in the scientific discipline of close observation.

This second Columbine was growing on the raised bed. It’s larger than the other plant, growing 27 inches tall with flowers up to 3 inches in diameter.

9.34 a.m. As I drew it, I was aware of a movement behind me to my left; a vole was scurrying and pausing, apparently oblivious to my presence, by the shed door before disappearing under the shed. Later it emerged again and made its way under the hatch of the compost bin.

I believe that it’s a Short-tailed Vole, otherwise known as the Field Vole, Microtus agrestis.

I went back to the first plant to draw it in close up and from above in order to show more of the structure of the flower. You get a better view of those bird-like flowers.

In his Complete Herbal, Culpeper suggested Columbine for sore throats, liver complaints and jaundice.

“The seed also taken in wine causeth a speedy delivery of women in childbirth ; if one draught suffice not let her drink a second, and it will be found effectual. The Spaniards used to eat a piece of the root thereof in a morning fasting, many days together, to help them when troubled with stone in the reins or kidneys.”

In Shakespearean English, reins is a synonym for kidneys.

I wouldn’t recommend you to try any of these remedies; Columbine is a member of the – often poisonous – buttercup family, so I would treat it with caution.

Getting back to Sketching

I FEEL AS IF I’ve got out of the habit of sketching at every opportunity but odd sketches are beginning to appear in my A5 sketchbook again, so that’s a good sign.

Inspired by Fabrice Moireau’s Paris Sketchbook, a birthday present from Barbara, I’ve been trying to shift the balance of my drawings a bit from line to watercolour. Moireau also convinced me that it would be worth trying pencil again but these recent sketches have been done in odd moments when I haven’t had a pencil to hand.

Sox the border collie was snoozing in Rickaro Bookshop in Horbury.

The back garden of the Victorian villa (top) is my mum’s, drawn on a sunny afternoon.

And that’s it, except for an old wall by the co-op car park in Horbury. Not much to show for the last week or so but better than nothing.

Nest Robber

A COMMOTION before breakfast; six Blackbirds and a Mistle Thrush are gathered in what looks to me like indignant rage around a Magpie on the back lawn which is down at the edge of the pond, attacking a plump nestling, pecking at its head. I know that I should no more wish that Magpies wouldn’t take the chicks from ‘our’ back garden nests than I should wish that Osprey’s shouldn’t swoop on trout or that lions shouldn’t attack zebras but it’s difficult not to feel involved as this turns out to be chick from a Blackbird’s nest in the Ivy behind our herb bed.

We’ve been following the progress of the parents’ nest-building and feeding from the kitchen window, only yards from the nest. They’ve been busy over the past few days shuttling in a supply of worms and insects.

Deciding that it would be too late to rescue this chick anyway, I leave the garden birds to sort it out between themselves.

But, after breakfast, when I go down the garden to open the greenhouse, I discover a second chick. It looks like a miniature oven-ready chicken, naked, plump and bleary-eyed, with a row of plastic-looking quills along its stubby wings. Only it’s parents could love it. It’s got a spot of blood near the base of its bill but is otherwise unscathed. The Magpie must have been disturbed before this chick suffered the fate of its sibling, which the Magpie carried off down to the vegatable beds to finish eating.

I put my head into the Ivy and with some difficulty spot the nest, on a twining branch on the far side of the hedge. With a stick I poke away the remains of a third chick, hanging over the nest from a twig, which the Magpie had evidently killed in its attempt to make off with it.

I retrieve the surviving chick from the lawn and place it so that it’s as comfortable as it can be in the nest. It’s still warm and, I guess, healthy enough.

I’m anxious that the parents will have desserted the nest but by the end of the afternoon they’re back again, so it looks as if they’ve found the youngster. A day later male and female are still taking turns to pop in with food so it looks as if the Magpie hasn’t been back . . . so far.