Back from my hols.

I don’t seem to have spent much time at home in the last two weeks!

Firstly we visited Oxford for a 50th birthday treat. Botanical highlight of the trip was the Merton meadows at the Oxford University Botanical Gardens. These stunning prairie-style areas (from seed sown in situ) were at their peak, we were both very taken with Echinacea pallida especially. We had a chat with a lovely lady working in the gardens (and trying to coax a fledgling Robin out of a greenhouse) and she very kindly sent us a list of the plants used and explained the meadows in some detail. I really liked Gladiolus papilio ‘Ruby’ too. ‘Ruby’ is apparently a hybrid; we do grow the normal G. papilio in the garden but it is frankly a disappointment as it flops over so that the (rather dull) flowers open touching the ground or submerged in the adjacent pond. It also spreads quite aggressively.

Then we were home for a day before I headed off to Liverpool to see my favourite band Low perform at the Epstein Theatre. This was my first visit to Liverpool in 30 years despite it being relatively nearby. (Purely by coincidence my first visit was on a school trip which happened to be on December 9th 1980 – the morning after John Lennon was shot. The mood in the city was rather sombre…).

My next visit was a few years later when a friend and I (both Beatles fans) trawled the city for old vinyl records. In those pre-internet days you could still find bargains with a bit of diligent searching. Nowadays second-hand shops can find the going rate to ask for something with a quick web search.

I have made some progress on the Helleborus picture, adding some extra bits in the centre of the image. I cut some temporary masks from coloured paper so that I could see how the image looked when on a card and, as a result, I’m considering adding another leaf in the right foreground and maybe the back of another flower at the top. This is likely to be a full-day job so I hope to do it this coming weekend.


Just coming into flower is another of the winter-growing but summer-flowering South African Amaryllids: Strumaria aestivalis. The flowers on this are pleasant enough but the best feature is the leaves (which are only present from October to April). They are covered in soft hairs both above and below. This bulb does increase slowly by offsets but is also self-fertile if carefully hand-pollinated and will then produce seeds. This came to me from a commercial bulb nursery nearly 20 years ago under a different name. They admitted their mistaken ID in a subsequent catalogue, where they re-named it Strumaria discifera – which is also wrong! Working from photographs and the early August flowering time an expert finally suggested S. aestivalis as the likely identity. The plant does appear to fit the botanical description so I’m happy to call it this until further ideas are forthcoming. Reading the original description paper yesterday I noticed it said the flowers were very scented; in all the years I have grown this I am ashamed to note that I (a keen flower sniffer) have never put my nose near it despite the white flowers often being a sign that scent is likely. I soon rectified this and can confirm that it is indeed nicely scented!

Strumaria aestivalis in flower in August


Strumaria aestivalis leaves in winter

From an artistic point of view this flower would present a number of challenges:

  • The three-dimensional inflorescence of very white flowers
  • Leaves with many very fine hairs
  • Multiple layers of fibrous bulb tunics of a not very fetching straw-yellow colour
  • The fact that the leaves are not present at flowering or fruiting time.

Consequently this is not a plant I have ever considered drawing. I suspect it would lend itself better to graphite rather than coloured pencil. Gouache on a dark coloured support might also work well for showing off the white flowers and hairy leaves, though I’ve never used Gouache so can’t really be sure.