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.


A couple of stems of chicory escaped when I mowed the meadow area, but I might as well enjoy drawing them while they’re still here. They’re going to go as I need to keep it under control to give some of the other wild flowers, such as bird’s-foot trefoil, red campion and red clover, a chance to thrive.

Perhaps I should start eating it: buds and leaves are edible and the roots have been baked, ground and roasted as a substitute for coffee. I can’t see me giving up my Fairtrade, rain-forest friendly latte.


8.35 a.m.: A dunnock chases a shrew across the lawn but the shrew ignores it and continues its zig-zag pattern of foraging. It disappears into a small hole for a minute then pops up again in the same place and continues its investigations, pushing its nose amongst the grass stems.

It has lighter-coloured ears; it is whitish beneath and it has a stiffish looking tail which to me looks wider in proportion to its body than I’d expect. It has velvety light brown-grey fur. I’ve shown it too brownish here.

Shrew v. Blackbird

A male blackbird paces along a few inches from it, following its progress, but it seems too diffident to peck at it.

10.40 a.m.; Not so the female blackbird, which pecks at the shrew which is now foraging at the foot of the bird-feeding pole; she pecks at it several times and it scuttles off to take cover in the nearby flower border.

6.30 p.m.; The shrew is still around, busily investigating the turf by the edge of the lawn.

8.30 p.m.;hedgehog snuffles about beneath the bird feeders.


Sad to report, the following day, following non-stop rain, the bedraggled shrew had expired and was lying on the lawn. Its body measured 5.2 cm, its tail about 4 cm.

The Dog and Conifer

My friend Matthew tells me that this conifer was just three or four feet high when he moved in to his house forty years ago. It has gained its sculptural bonsai character without any help or training from human hands; it was his dog Toby who for many years used to cock his leg up against it. The conifer died back on that side but Matthew let it keep on growing and although the leaves never sprouted back on that side, the new growth above developed normally.

I would have liked to have had more time to draw this Persian cat but, as always, the cat is the one who decides when the sitting is over.

Grey Heron

7.35 a.m.: The Grey Heron is back this morning. Attracting an apex predator is a good sign that there’s plenty of life in the pond but I can’t help worrying about the effects of repeated visits on our frog and newt populations. Perhaps I should cover one end of the pond as a refuge for them. A miniature water-lily would provide some cover.

The heron leaves the pond, preens briefly then flies up to the shed roof. It cranes its neck to choose its next course for breakfast: our neighbours’ carp.

I don’t think that this will go down well, Sean was so proud that his carp had produced a single baby this year, so I open the window and it flies off.

Veg Beds

A sketch to remind me where we’re planting things this year. We always struggle to remember exactly what we planted where when the new season starts.

British summertime started today; the days are getting longer, the soil is warming and, over the past week, the hawthorn hedge has turned bright green as the leaf buds open. We’re getting ahead with the garden; I put the Vivaldi second early potatoes in yesterday and we put the Stuggarter Riesen onion sets in earlier in the week. The alkathene piping and netting are there to stop the blackbirds pulling them up. In a few weeks, once the onions have started to put down roots, we’ll be able to remove the netting.

As we planted the onions two pairs of buzzards circled above us, calling occasionally, in what looked like a minor skirmish over territory.

Strimming and Pruning

This morning we’ve been giving the back garden a spring makeover. While Barbara tackled the flower border (below), I strimmed the meadow area and, using a telescopic-handled pruner, trimmed back the end of a Leylandii cypress hedge that overhangs the fence from next door.

Last week, the long-handled pruner worked well on the rowan at the front but, when trying to get at some of the higher branches of the golden hornet crab apple, I found that I was constantly getting it snagged on the crab’s twiggy shoots, so I climbed a step ladder (which converts into a short ladder) and used long-handled loppers from a better vantage point in the crown of the tree.