Wednesday, 12th May 2004
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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end of gardenI plant the tomatoes, the cucumber and a pepper in buckets of homemade compost in the greenhouse and plant out the four courgettes in one of the veg beds, covering them with open-topped cold frames to give them protection not only against the odd cold night but also against the young rabbit which has been hopping around the garden recently.

swedeThe 'meadow area' at the end of the garden is going to take a lot more work: I planted it out with swedes (Brassica napus var. napobrassica better known as rutabagas in America) at the end of last summer and it's now time to lift them. They have pale yellow four-petalled flowers.

The few we tried weren't suitable for the kitchen - something had eaten into them - but it's a crop I'd try again. The idea of growing these was that they are a demanding crop and they will have reduced the fertility of the soil, which is what the wild flowers that I'm intending to sow require.

Brassica napa

Drawing v. Illustration

I trained as a natural history illustrator but I think you can see why I've decided to give up illustration in favour of drawing if you compare this watercolour from 15 years ago with the pen and ink I drew this afternoon. I painted Charlock or Field Mustard, Brassica napa, a wild relative of the swede, (left) for Pamela Forey's Wild Flowers of North America (1990).

For botanical illustration and field guides it's desirable to simplify and emphasise the diagnostic features of a plant. But for me the wobbly drawing on the right, incomplete as it is, with it's redrawn leaf margin (an obvious mistake) of a less that perfect specimen with the odd hole nibbled in the leaves, captures the character of the plant better than the neatly presented watercolour.

Sometimes I think I wasted the years I spent painting hundreds of botanical and natural history illustrations, invariably from photographs or with reference to exisitng field guides (where would I find an Ozark Minnow or an Indian Paintbrush in West Yorkshire?!). At the time I justified it not only because I needed to make a living, and natural history illustration was, after all, what I trained for, but also because I thought that I might be picking up some botanical knowledge along the way.

No doubt I was but not as much as I would have if I could have spent that time drawing from nature instead of regurgitating the images that other people had made. Next Page

Richard Bell, richard@willowisland.co.uk

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