THE WILD GLADIOLUS, Gladiolus ilyricus, is a native of south and west Europe but is considered to be a native of the British Isles with a very local distribution in the New Forest where it grows on acid grass heaths. The showy variety that I’ve drawn here is a florist’s variety of the plant, perhaps the Italian Gladiolus, Gladiolus italicus, which is the one most often grown in this country. It is sometimes seen growing as a garden escape on rubbish tips.
As you might guess, the name comes from the same root as ‘gladiator’. Gladius is the Roman word for a small sword; the name refers to the shape of the leaves.
Gladioli are members of the Iris family and I can see the resemblance to Yellow Flag.
THIS RELATIVE of the dandelion grows around the edges of the lawn, mainly on the shadier side. It tends to be larger than the Autumn Hawkbit which I drew the other day. It’s leaves aren’t as narrow as those of the Hawkbit and the teeth of Cat’s-ear don’t point backwards.
Cat’s-ear, Hypochaeris radicata, is a plant of meadows, heath, dunes, lawns and roadsides, on mildly acid soils. The ‘cat’s ear’ of its name refers to the scale-like bracts on its stem.
WRITING the labels for our latest batch of jam – Victoria Plum, which we picked from my mum’s tree on Thursday – gave me the perfect excuse to try out another colour from my new set of Winsor and Newton inks to write the labels. The bottle of purple ink has an illustration of a plum on the label but it’s a purple Damson, not a light red Victoria Plum.
This second illustration is drawn with a Q Connect fineliner with an 0.4 tip; an ordinary office pen. Both the Winsor and Newton ink and the ink of the fineliner penetrate to the reverse side of the soft, absorbent cartridge pages of my current sketchbook. I’m looking forward to finishing this sketchbook – a Crawford & Black 96 gsm acid free A5 portrait sketchbook from The Works discount store – and getting back to a more ruggedly made Pink Pig sketchbook but there’s still half the pages to go and I can’t waste them; it’s acceptable for everyday use but I have another sketchbook on the go for when I have a day out drawing.
THIS RED CABBAGE might be protected from Rabbit, Wood Pigeon and Cabbage White Butterfly under the green garden netting supported by lengths of blue alkathene water pipe but that hasn’t kept out the Whitefly which are wafting about and resting on the undersides of the leaves in little drifts. Without the netting in place, perhaps our resident House Sparrows would have pecked around and kept their numbers in check.
ON THE sunnier edge of the lawn hear the flower border there’s a small colony of Autumn Hawkbit, Leontodon autumnalis, also known as Autumn Dandelion. As that name suggests, it does look like an undernourished dandelion, but then so do so many of these hawkbit/hawkweed/hawksbeard relatives of the dandelion so in this case the name Hawkbit is a good way to remember one of the differences; the narrow leaf is deeply toothed, as if a hawk has been pecking pieces out of it.
We’ve had the odd shower but it’s been so dry during the last month that we mown the lawn only once. This has allowed some of the grasses like this Perennial Ryegrass, Lolium perenne, to flower. Ryegrass is usually included in a seed-mix for a hard-wearing lawn, which our’s has to be.
OUR LAWN wouldn’t win any prizes either as immaculate turf or as a wild flower meadow but wild flowers, weeds and garden escapes manage to find micro-habitats within the 40 square yard south-east-facing slope where they can take hold. On the worn route to the garden path by the shed, on the shadier side of the lawn, there’s a patch of White or Dutch Clover, Trifolium repens; the most luxuriant growth of moss amongst the grasses is in a flattish area near the middle of the lawn and Dog Daisy, Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, has crept in from where it originally grew in the flower border.
Orange Hawkweed, Pilosella hieracoides, also known as Hen-and-Chickens or Fox-and-Cubs because of the way the unopened buds group around the flowers, grows at the top end of the lawn near the patio, where it’s drier and sunnier. It’s a naturalised hawkweed that grows in grassy and waste places. As it spreads by underground rhizomes and can become a weed, I had better remove the few plants that have become established during this dry summer before it takes over.
Cherry Log Fungus
‘It looks as if someone has put a dollop of mashed potato on the log!’ says Ellie; this fungus is growing on a log – the trunk of a flowering cherry – that has been left as a makeshift bench at the corner of the car park at the Denby Dale Road entrance to Thornes Park (or to be more accurate, Holmfield Park).
I didn’t get chance to draw enough of it to identify it. Some kind of bracket fungus presumably, or possibly something similar to Dry Rot.
Ellie has asked me to come along to Thornes Park to film an interview about my booklet Walks in the Rhubarb Triangle. One of the walks starts here at the statue of rhubarb at the corner of the park. The fungus provided me with a subject to draw as I waited for the film crew to arrive.
AS I WAS saying the other day, Sumac(left) seems to be out of step with the seasons; since I last drew it, some of its leaves have turned reddish, others have fallen but it has also come into frothy, cream blossom.
The Rowan(right) is changing colour too; it has already taken on an autumnal yellow cast. It doesn’t seem long since the blossom was coming out, followed by the berries, which were eaten by the local Blackbird as soon as they turned orange red.
Tilly, the Welsh collie at the Rickaro, is getting more at ease with customers in the bookshop and spending less time hidden under the desk.
MONDAY MORNING and I’m playing the waiting game again; my Mantaray art bag seems the most appealing subject that I have available so I draw it in ArtPen and Noodler’s black ink and have time to add a watercolour wash of Sepia, Neutral Tint, Yellow Ochre and Winsor Yellow for the press studs.
I WAS LOOKING through my 1972 student diary recently (see Student Days) and was reminded that on 4 October that year, at the start of my first full month at college I drew:
‘ . . . a sketch from imagination of the proposed identification chart which I thought that I might do as a large painting – in emulsion of course!’
This ‘identification chart’, which grew into an 8ft x 4ft acrylic on chipboard mural, absorbed a lot of my time for the next three years and I was still adding details to it – I think the last thing that I painted was a leopard frog in the foreground – on the eve of the degree show.
To demonstrate the process that I’d gone through, I included the original sketch in my show but I was surprised when a fellow student – a young man from the jewellery department who would go on to make a name for himself as a goldsmith – asked if it was for sale.
I was taken aback by this and explained that, as a working drawing, it was never intended to be for sale. It’s on the cheap smooth offset paper that they sold at the college shop, folded down the middle and on the back there are streaks where I’ve cleaned my brush, ring-marks from a coffee cup but at one end there are some delightful sketches of frogs in ballpoint pen, drawn by my tutor John Norris Wood when he was advising me to add some reptiles and amphibians to the painting.
I’ve just come across the sketch in a drawer in the plan chest and I can now see why my college friend was attracted to it. It’s rough and splodgy but there’s spontaneity about it that is inevitably missing in the laboriously crafted finished product.
THE AUTUMN Raspberries, variety Joan J, are beginning to ripen faster than we can eat them, so this morning we decided to make some jam. Yesterday Paul the gardener presented us with a bag-full of fully ripe peaches (which he grows in a greenhouse) so we decided put the two fruits together.
Once prepared we had just a fraction under two pounds of fruit so we added the same amount of granulated sugar, the best part of a bag. We suspected that peaches might be short in pectin so I added the juice from one large lemon.
The Three-drop Method
A professional jam-maker once told me that the way he gauged when a pan of jam was reaching its setting point was when he held the spoon and three drops dripped from it. We never seemed to get to this stage, it seemed more like syrupy fruit juice every time I tried it, so, after about half an hour, we checked using the cold saucer method. After two minutes in the fridge it was obvious that the jam was ready; it had skinned over and started to set.
You can hold a jar of the finished jam upside down and it won’t flow out but luckily it’s still easy to spread. And delicious. I can’t claim that I can taste the peaches – for me the raspberry dominates – but they do add something to the mix. There’s the difference in texture; how can I put it – a bit floury? A fruit element in addition to the berries.
If trying to describe a fruity flavour is difficult for me, imagine how difficult it would be for Alex, the African Grey, described as the world’s cleverest parrot. He had already learned the words for ‘banana’ and ‘cherry’ so when he was presented with an apple he improvised a new word for it; ‘banberry’, a combination of the two.
Alex might describe our jam as ‘peaberry’.
These watercolour and gouache raspberries were illustrations I drew for a Marks and Spencer range of bisuits back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. At that time I worked through an illustration agency, Bernard Thornton Artists.