February 29, 2020

Camellia watercolor
Camellia forest at the Descanso Gardens, 2/23/2020 (watercolor, Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

Last Sunday I met a friend and her “just turned” 5 year-old son for a bit of garden wandering and of course some sketching. Once inside the front gate of the Descanso Gardens my friend’s son said he wanted to draw some animals. We immediately went in search of some. I told him that sometimes I had seen deer, rabbits and squirrels wandering, or scurrying in the wooded areas. We soon came to a small creek and there before us was a pair of mallards. We decided to sit for a moment to see if we could sketch them. I had packed three pieces of rolled up bubble wrap just in case we three might need it. I passed it out and we sat down and began sketching. The ducks were bobbing up and down, looking for something to eat. As you might have guessed the birds didn’t linger very long and soon floated away out of our view. We also decided not to linger and moved along too. Without any plan, other than trying to catch a deer grazing on plants near the rose garden, we walked on. I showed him a “less traveled” path for humans at the back of the garden. As he was “newly 5” he asked if we might see a mountain lion and/or a poisonous snake on this path. I told him that such sightings would probably not come to pass, but that we might instead need to be on the look out for poison oak. Of course that was the wrong thing to say as he then seemed wary of joining his mom and I on the trail because I had mentioned the word “poison.”  What was I thinking?!! And of course he carefully noticed every gopher hole in the ground, telling us for sure there was a snake and/or large spider, ready to pounce, living in each one. We finally reached the top of the hill without any poisonous mishaps. I wanted to show him my favorite secret place. (I had forgotten I had taken them to this very spot in January 2019, and of course he remembered and reminded me that he had already been there.) We rested for a couple minutes there anyway and headed down the hill on the other side.

Finally, we got to a kind of open space where we could see this camellia-filled landscape. In the late 1930s, Mr. Boddy (the owner of the Descanso at the time) planted camellias under these magnificent oaks. And in the 90 years since the original plantings it’s easy to see that his camellia forest has become quite a spectacular pink sight when the flowers come into bloom. We’d had a bit of rain the day before and it looked as though a blanket of blossoms had been knocked to the ground because of it. The air between the blossoms on the ground and the blossoms in the branches seemed to take on a kind of pink hue. This actually brings me to what used to be a pet peeve I have with regards to camellias. (You probably can’t imagine who could have ever had any problem with these gorgeous flowers.) It all starts with the fact that the blossoms on any given plant all open at the same time. And once the mature flower gets any amount of rain on it, many of those soggy flowers seem to get too heavy to hang on and they drop to the ground all at once. (I imagine that you are still wondering how anyone would have a problem with this. I mean, look how beautiful the ground looks—like pink confetti, right? Stay with me.) In my past Grass Valley garden the massive flower drop meant that in a day or two it would be time to rake up the blossoms as they would have turned brown and gotten very slimy and slippery on the wet ground. (Ok, I’m done.) But this SoCal camellia dropping event didn’t bother me at all. This is because the fluffy soft pink blossoms hadn’t gotten brown yet and the site of pink all around was spectacular and I would not be called upon to rake up anything. Let’s hear it for camellias on the ground!

Descanso tree, Feb 23
Descanso Gardens tree, 2/23/2020 (watercolor, Inktense pencil and Fude fountain pen)

We were ready to sketch and I had found us a nice nearby bench for three. It seemed my young friend did not want to sit on the bench, and suggested we should sit again on our bubble wrap on the ground. And as he was “just 5” this request did not really seem unreasonable as we had just sat in the dirt and gravel to sketch a pair of mallards. I’m sure he thought this was how it should be done. I passed out the bubble wrap and we settled on the ground just in front of the bench. I did a quick sketch of a tree nearby, showing my young artist friend favorite colors, brushes, and ink pens. I was very impressed by his interest. He listened very carefully to what I had to say and tried all the materials I presented to him. I think he really enjoyed the Inktense pencils as it was easier to control compared to applying big wet blobs of watery paint on paper. By the time we were ready to go, he had done 3 watercolor sketches and we had been there for about 40 minutes. I must admit that I didn’t do the camellia landscape watercolor on the spot, but instead took a bunch of pictures and did it on Monday when I got home from work. (It was just too much fun to sit and visit with his mom and do the quick watercolor sketch of a tree you see here.)

My young artist friend will be starting kindergarten next year and I told him that I remember drawing when I was in kindergarten. I think I have already written about this first “artistic” memory when I was “just 5,” but it’s always pleasant for me to retell that Santa Clara story again. Here is what I said: I remember sitting at a table inside my kindergarten classroom one CA afternoon. I was using all the crayon colors in the crayon box to make a picture on a piece of light-colored construction paper. It was a bright afternoon and I could look through an open door that connected the kindergarten yard with the classroom. My classmates were racing back and forth out there. But I so remember my kindergarten teacher visiting with me as I sat at a table inside. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I can picture a pleasant smiling woman nearby.

That’s a pretty great memory for one CA girl, right? I hope my young artist friend will have many such memories as he grows up.

Camelia heart
Photo of heart made from downed camellia blossoms, 2/23/2020
Camellia love
We love camellia blossoms at the Descanso Gardens, 2/23/2020
Camelia mom
Mom loves camellia blossoms, Descanso Gardens 2/23/2020

Not much to say here, except you can maybe see why I no longer hate to see camellia blossoms on the ground. I hope you too can enjoy the garden artistry of carefully arranged pink blossoms.

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