Patio Patrol

In close-up, this paved area at the end of Barbara’s brother’s South Ossett garden is a miniature landscape; a sun-baked plateau dissected by a network of canyons. Brown ants patrol the edges of a dense forest of mosses.

Moss is still green in the crevices but on the surface of the concrete paving slabs, it’s dried up. White whiskers give the clump a little protection from the direct glare of the sun.

Spore capsules of the mosses are like pepper-pots on wiry stalks. One (left) has split open, leaving the teeth around the rim splayed out, like the petals of a miniature daisy.

Spots, Stains and Splatters: Crustose Lichens

There are a few spots of a dirty yellow crustose lichen on the concrete. It’s dotted with orange sporangia, each with a narrow yellow rim.

This black crustose lichen looks like little more than a tar stain on the concrete but my macro photograph reveals a surface cracked like dried mud.

A white lichen looks like splatters of paint. In close-up almost every individual scale in the colony is dotted with a small depression, perhaps the lichen’s spore-producing body.

I’m guessing that the single orange sporangium is a different species of lichen – probably the yellowish species – that has become engulfed by the white one.

Bluebottles and Bumblebees

When I drew these a month ago on 11 June the temperature was climbing to 34°C, 92°F, in this sunny corner, so insects were active. A half-size version of a bluebottle touched down while a small marmalade-coloured bumblebee visited the white clover at the edge of the lawn.

I was soon adopted as an extension of the habitat by a small brown spider which climbed over me.

Peony Seedpods

With our peonies, I much prefer drawing the seedpods to the frilly magenta pink flowers. Peonies are related to buttercups and the other place where I’ve seen pods shaped like a court jester’s cockscomb hat is on the kingcups by the pond.

Unlike the kingcups, the pods on the peony have a furry covering. As they ripen they turn from light green to a light ginger brown. They’ve yet to open but some of the pods on the kingcups have already split to disperse the seeds.

An Unlikely Warble

4 p.m., 1°C, 34°F: A grey afternoon; a blackbird’s scolding alarm call. One hundred wood pigeons disperse from the wood – or, more probably, from the field behind the wood – flying over quietly as I draw our compost bins.

There’s an unlikely warble, which soon gets extemporised; only a song thrush would improvise such a varied and eccentric song.

Twenty or thirty winter gnats are dancing in a loose column, five or six feet above my bedraggled square of meadow.

There’s a thin song from a robin and repeated nasal chirrs from a blue tit. As sunset approaches every bird seems tetchy and alarmed, then there’s a strident insistent call that sounds exactly like a house alarm. Hang on, it is some kind of alarm which my neighbour is testing out.

The First Day of Spring

Hellebore: Noodler’s Ink won’t dry when it’s so cool.

Today is the first day of spring, at least meteorologically speaking, but, with a cool breeze this afternoon, the temperature here in the back garden is a wintry 45°F, 7°C.

As a change from Apple Pencil and iPad in the comfort of my studio, I decide to spend an hour drawing in the garden.

The Noodler’s Ink in my Lamy fountain pen won’t dry when it’s so cool, so I move on to a UniPin fine line fibre tip.

Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night

Perhaps encouraged by the supermoon – which was 10% brighter than the average full moon – a blackbird was singing at 2.30 this morning.

Long-tailed tits feed on the fat-balls a couple of yards away from me as I draw the hellebore.

wood pigeon flies overhead, spots me and veers away.

blue tit eyes me suspiciously from the feeding pole.

 

Snowdrops

The fibre tip isn’t fluid enough for me to work as quickly as I’d like on sketch of a log pile by the holly hedge, so I try my Lamy Safari fountain pen. Lamy ink isn’t waterproof, so it runs into my watercolour but I try to make the most of the effect.

Snowdrops do well around the pond and under the hedge at the end of our garden.

Petty Spurge

Petty spurgeEuphorbia peplus, is a common weed  of gardens and waste ground but its tiny green flowers look quite exotic in close up. Those horned glands give it a hint of the extra-terrestial.

The winged capsules are the female parts of the flower. There are three here, the central one much larger than those at top and bottom of the picture. Each capsule has a tuft of stigmas (five on the lower one).

Appropriately, the male flowers are the ones that are sporting the stag’s horns (which are glands). Again, there are three in the photograph and I think that on the tips of the stamens of the top one there’s a hint of yellow pollen.

The the small beak-like fleshy ‘leaves’ that can be seen clasping the top and bottom flowers are a structure that is special to euphorbias called the cyathophyll. I think that must be a botanical term for ‘cup-like leaf’ because phyll means leaf and cyathos is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘A cup or ladle used for drawing wine from a bowl’.

The larger ‘leaves’ clasping each flower are bracts, which look very similar to the leaves in this species. Each umbel of flowers has three rays (primary branches).

The petty spurge is not thought to be a native to the British Isles but is believed to be long-established here, since before 1600.

Blackbirds at Dawn

Anglers Country Park, this morning. Photo credit: Barbara (my trusty Tough TG4 let me down temporarily this morning, so here’s the equally good iPhone version of what I was going to photograph).

There’s a fiery sunrise but, unlike yesterday, there’s no frost and the pond isn’t iced over. As they often do at this time of year, blackbirds have gathered on the lawn first thing and I’m pleased to see that one song thrush has joined them as thrushes – song or mistle – haven’t been a regulars in the garden this autumn.

Anglers Country Park

We take a stroll around the lake at Anglers Country Park, south-east of Wakefield this morning. About seventy-five pochards are resting in the quiet corner of the lake near the Main Hide, while a smaller flock of wigeon, perhaps 20 or 30 of them, are at the less-sheltered far end of the lake.

It’s a while since we saw a treecreeper, so we’re pleased to see one meticulously making its way up a trunk of one of the conifers in nearby Haw Park plantations. There seems to be a reasonable number of wrens about, so hopefully they won’t be caught out any prolonged severe winter weather.

The star bird of the morning though, is back at the car park, coming down to the bird feeders: tree sparrows, perhaps a dozen of them. The tree sparrow population has plummeted in recent years, so it’s good to see them again.

Link

Room on the Broom trail at Anglers Country Park, an ingenious way of breaking up the two mile circuit of the lake for younger children (but wouldn’t it be better to get them really interested in ducks instead?).

The Majestic

I drew the magnificent pile that is the Majestic Hotel on a short break in Harrogate last month. Forty-five years ago, in August 1972, as part of my final project on the Graphic Design course at Leeds College of Art, I organised an exhibition at the Harrogate Festival about the life of Yorkshire composer William Baines (1899-1922) and a recital of his music by pianist Eric Parkin at the Majestic.

Drawn on the train from Leeds.

Harlow Carr

On our visits to Harrogate, we invariably head up through the Victorian park of the Valley Gardens and continue through The Pinewooods (left) at the top of the slope to Harlow Carr, RHS gardens.

With its vegetable and flower gardens, woodland walk, meadow area and alpine house, there’s always something to see, whatever the season. There’s even a woodland bird hide.

Veg Patch Insects

12.30 pm, 23°C, 71°F: On a visit to the RHS gardens at Harlow Carr, Harrogate, I spend half an hour drawing some of the insects that are visiting the vegetable patch.

At first,  it’s the fly, a house fly or one of its close relatives, basking in the sun on the arm of the garden chair that attracts my attention but apart from going through a grooming routine, as flies habitually do, it’s isn’t engaged in any interesting behaviour.

drone fly visits a yellow tagetes flower, as does a small white butterfly.

Bee on Sweet Pea

A black bee on a sweet pea flower bends its abdomen upwards, takes the stamen between its back legs and transfers its white pollen  to the underside of its abdomen. It appears to be sipping nectar simultaneously.

Watering Cans

I bought this two gallon (10 litre) galvanised watering can at the closing down sale of a hardware store on Wood Street, Wakefield, c. 1983. It’s a traditional design, the sort that my dad used.

It’s the easiest of all my cans to fill, just leave it under the tap of the water butt. But don’t forget about it and leave it overnight as I did recently, draining what was left in the butt.

This green plastic Ward’s watering can is my current favourite; it’s well-balanced to carry down the garden and free-flowing but easy to control when you’re watering. Not the finest of sprays from the rose, but I don’t have delicate seedlings to water these days, so that”s not a problem.

This 5 litre Haw’s watering can would be the best choice for the gentle watering of seedlings and, with it’s long spout, you’d be able to reach a tray at the back of the bench.

I first become aware of Haw’s watering cans at Kew Gardens in the winter of 1976-77, when I set off to draw tree ferns for a coal forests illustration (detail above).  I’d been looking forward to drawing in tropical warmth but the greenhouses were closed for maintenance, so I stood outside in freezing conditions, drawing the tropical scene.I noticed that the all watering cans dotted about the greenhouse were Haw’s, so I decided that, if they were good enough for Kew, that would be the one that I’d go for.

I bought one in the sale at the hardware store. In those days Haw’s watering cans were metal and this one had been hanging on the display so long that the joint between spout and can had opened enough to allow water to seep out but I filled it with plastic padding and used the can for years. It appears in a sample illustration (left) which I painted when I did some work on Dr Hessayon’s bestselling Garden Expert Guides.

We bought this as a spare can, a bargain from a DIY store or garden centre but it works well: the wavy handle is well-balanced for carrying and for watering.

From a garden gift hamper, this cream-coloured retro metal can is intended to be decorative rather than practical. The rose is soldered to the spout but it works well, giving the plant a gentle dousing.

Finally, we bought this one litre Haw’s plastic watering can for plants on the kitchen windowsill. With that long spout, it’s a slow but precise pourer. The brass and plastic rose produces a gentle spray.

Garden Hand Tools

I’ve just sent my latest article off to the Dalesman, so I decided that I could allow myself to do a drawing just for the fun of it. I love working with these hand tools which I carry around the garden in this plastic bin (a container from a live Christmas tree from about twenty-five years ago).

The last essential that I need to complete my set is a hand potato harvester, which would save me the inevitable speared potato when I use a fork; how have I managed without one all these years? Besides, it would give me another tempting subject to draw. Perhaps for next year, as we’ve already started this year’s potato harvest: the first of our Vivaldi second earlies were lovely; not huge quantities of them, but what there were were delicious.

The washing up bowl is full of gardening gloves.