The crab cactus is a hybrid which often goes under the name Zygocactus. One of its parents, Schlumbergera truncata, is a native of the coastal mountains of south-east Brazil, near Rio de Janeiro. It is an epiphyte, growing on trees, or a lithophyte, growing on rocks.
12.15 p.m., 60°F, 15°C: As I draw the blackthorn from the end of our garden, rival blackbirds are singing about a hundred yards apart at the edge of the wood. It’s a great stereophonic accompaniment for me as I work and it occurs to me that the less mellow, hurried song of the dunnock sounds like a tape being rapidly rewound.
I’m also hearing great tit, wood pigeon and a crow cawing.
Later I see a magpie fly down to our garden hedge, alarming the resident male blackbird. The magpie disappears into the hedge but emerges, I’m relieved to see, without any evidence that it has located and robbed the blackbird’s nest. Keeping an eye on the fracas, a carrion crow flies down to next door’s apple tree, a song post for the blackbird.
Harvey, a border terrier, is the sort of dog that likes to sit and watch the world go by, so sitting at an outside table at the Caffe Capri suits him. Unfortunately as I’m sitting with a latte drawing him there’s a hail shower. The waitress rushes around clearing the other tables but luckily we’re under the canopy which gets pummelled by the grit-sized hailstones.
Deciding on a change from watercolours, I start with a ‘flesh coloured‘, that is Caucasian flesh coloured, crayon then add a touch of blue for shadows around my veins followed by light shading of orange and a wine red before working into the shadows with the brown and a touch of black. I add a hint of yellow to the highlights. The only colours in my selection of twelve Stablio Swano thick colouring Trio pencils that I don’t use are the two greens, and I don’t remember using the purple.
4.15 p.m., 43°F, 6°C: The blackbird loves what I’m doing with the compost bins. It wrecked the new heap that I was building up in neat layers sprinkled every few inches with Garotta compost activator by tugging out pieces of moss, which I guess it has been using for nest building. Now it’s getting into the bin with the old heap of well rotted compost which I’m in the process of spreading onto the onion bed. It’s scouring the bin for food items but it breaks off briefly to fly to the top of next door’s apple tree, bursting into melodious song in mid flight.
A wood pigeon flies over, getting up enough speed on the downhill section of its flight to ‘freewheel’, stiff winged, up the apex of a neighbour’s roof. I’m not sure if the intention was to impress the wood pigeon sitting on the television aerial but they’re soon joined by a third pigeon and there’s a lot of bowing and cooing. So much pigeon courtship takes place on ridge tiles.
Look in a field guide and you’ll find a bewildering variety of forget-me-nots. I resorted to picking a stem and comparing it with the life size illustrations by Ian Garrard in The Wild Flowers of the British Isles, enabling me to identify it as wood forget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica, which, as the name suggests, is found in damp woodland but also on rocky soils in mountain areas.
It is also found naturalised in grassy places as a garden escape and this plant, growing by the pond, may have arrived with a plant that we’ve brought from my mum’s, as she had drifts of it in amongst her shrubs and flower borders.
10 a.m., 51ºF, 11ºC, 75% cloud, slight cool breeze.
10.45 a.m., 50ºF, 10ºC, cool breeze, 90% cloud: As I draw there’s only one brief visit by a pollinator – a bumble bee – to these Spanish bluebells, so perhaps there’s not much in the way of nectar this morning.
When we revamped the border earlier this year we took out a dense clump of Spanish bluebells by the hedge that never produced much in the way of flowers. They were already here when we moved in over thirty years ago and since then they have multiplied vegetatively by producing offset bulbs. I’ve seen no evidence of them spreading by stolons (creeping stems), which some websites say is possible. The bulbs are able to pull themselves down into the soil by shortening their roots, so the clump went down to about a foot below soil level, one bulb piled on top of another.
Unfortunately this introduced species is capable of crossbreeding with our native bluebell to produce a vigorous hybrids which can spread into woodlands. The bumble bee that visited our garden bluebells could easily make its way into the wood a hundred yards away where native bluebells are starting to flower.
I need to remove all our Spanish bluebells as I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the decline of its woodland relative.
2.00 p.m.: A bumble bee visited all the dog violets in a group amongst the grasses but paused only briefly at one or two bluebell flowers next to them, which suggests to me that, today at least, they’re not offering much of interest to passing pollinators.
3.15 p.m., 50ºF, 10ºF, 85% cloud, 30.1 inches, 1022 mb: My first job this morning at 6 a.m. was to flip open the studio skylight window and emphatically bang it shut again to shoo off a pair of mallards who were tucking into the tadpoles in our back garden pond. Yes, I know that all of those thousands of tadpoles can’t possibly survive but I somehow feel responsible for them. As I draw these kingcups, I can see them constantly coming to the surface, so the ducks haven’t made much of an impression on their numbers.
4.40 p.m.: This dandelion has sprung up amongst the chives at the edge of the herb bed. Although the Noodler’s brown ink that I’m using is waterproof, I do struggle with adding a yellow wash; it seems to pick up just a hint of the brown ink.
I was recently reading Exotic Botanical Illustration with the Eden Project and noted that authors Thurstan and Martin advise, in the context of botanical illustration, never to choose any yellow that is described as ‘cadmium’ as it will be opaque. Alternatives include ‘transparent yellow’ which I’ll try when my cadmium yellow and cadmium lemon run out.
As I’m working, a nuthatch visits the sunflower feeder at the other end of the lawn.
Meriel Thurstan, botanical artist
Despite clearing out so many cocoons last autumn we’re still finding that the odd bee moth is emerging from some hidden corner or another. We’ve had no more than half a dozen appear fluttering around the living room in the last month but recently they’ve been mainly the males so today when I found a female I took a closer look. When I spotted her by the back door, my first thought was that I’d found a snout moth because of the prominent palps projecting at the front, which the male lacks.
Bee moths, Aphomia sociella, feed on old cells and debris in the nests of bumble bees and wasps. Last summer we had literally thousands emerge via cracks in the floor when we had a bumble bees’ nest behind the air brick at the front of the house. They pupated, spinning tough sticky silken cocoons, often bunched together, in every dry, dark corner they could find. We ended up buying a new carpet!
Link: Bee moths make their first appearance in May last year.