May 2, 2020

Castilleja
Castilleja (CA native wildflower) botanical, 1991 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

For whatever reason, I seem to be on a botanical roll at the moment. I recently shared an old  “botanical-like” rendering of a Melastome from the Cloud Forest of the Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. Last week’s offering was a recent monk’s hood compilation from the internet and this week’s botanical is an old rendering of a California wildflower from an Atascadero hillside I explored long ago. 

It all started when my son asked me to do a series of poisonous plant botanicals. His positive enthusiasm for such a series of works was matched with my positive enthusiasm for not wanting to engage in such a project. He wanted me to start with monk’s hood and then proceed to other delightfully deadly, but beautiful, flowers. He had also measured a part of his forearm for a monk’s hood tattoo and given me those dimensions for my sketch. So, yeah, not that enthused. Find your own art, right? Anyway, as time went on he told me he wasn’t really going to get that tattoo and my interest in what he might be considering perked up considerably. (Not the tattoo, but the flower.) Then I made a sketch the size he wanted for his finished botanical and a week or so later I began grudgingly looking for a usable sheet of illustration board in those dimensions. I didn’t think I had any larger pieces anymore and it’s not something I can just run down to an art store and buy anymore. It’s just not that common or easy to find. Years ago local hometown art stores were common and would likely carry all Strathmore papers as a 30 by 40 inch sheet. All you had to do was look through stacks and stacks of paper to find whatever you wanted. I was always looking through such stacks in such stores. You used to be able to find everything from rabbit skin glue, that was used by Renaissance painters as sizing for their canvases, all the way to synthetic brushes of every size, shape, price and/or proposed function. There just aren’t many independently owned brick and mortar art stores you can dig through anymore. (It feels like it’s the same for independently owned bookstores too. Right?) The larger art store players that are around today seem to have changed a bit too. I used to order all kinds of materials from Daniel Smith by mail, including the Strathmore illustration board I now seek. Just a few weeks ago I looked to see if I could order paper online from them, but found they only carry paint now. Daniel Smith used to have a large catalog that was filled with every imaginable art material. They even had rabbit skin glue listed in the catalog. Oh well! Thank goodness I can order what I want from Blick’s online.

So, once I knew I had what I needed to create a fresh batch of botanicals I asked my son what he wanted, hoping that none of the plant material he was thinking of had any connection to a poison, the word “poison,” or “implied poison.” He said he liked a whole host of flowers that I love, like roses, orchids and hydrangea. Yes! All I was missing for this new, and now exciting, botanical adventure was a trip to the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, but it’s spring and you might imagine that everything is in bloom in SoCal! And I’m also sure I don’t need to remind you that the Descanso is closed right now. Such a disappointment.

Roses aren’t really as common as you might think. They do take a little care and are susceptible to a couple common pests that can just decimate them. Gophers love roses, and not in a good way. A friend from Paso Robles told me of a rose garden that had been planted by her husband for their anniversary. How romantic, right? I guess they lasted only a couple years. It seems that one night her 8 mature rose bushes were nibbled completely off at the base, all gone in a single night. Roses are also susceptible to aphids, mildew and something called black spot (no pirates here…). If you live where there are deer, they can be a huge problem for your roses as well, even if you have them in pots right up against the house. Another Paso friend told me deer would come that close to eat her roses. She said it sounded like someone was walking around in high heals in the dark on the deck.

But I can’t go to my beloved Descanso Gardens to look at roses. What should I do? Thank goodness I remembered various gardens in Glendale where I have seen spring roses in the past. There are a couple houses in nearby neighborhoods that immediately sprang to mind. One corner house has a most amazing display of about 20 identical orange blossomed roses (variety unknown), with just as many clumps of identical ornamental grasses (this variety also unknown). This time of year it’s quite a sight of texture and color with masses of spiky golden puffs of soft grasses beside a sea of velvety orange rose blossoms. Crazy, but the house is quite unforgettable really. So, the other day I went on a rose adventure, but went past this garden and headed straight to a nearby friend’s Glendale garden. He had told me that his roses were looking quite spectacular. It was kind of a funny moment when I got into his backyard as he stayed in the house, at an appropriate social distance. We just smiled and waved to each other through the back windows. I took pictures of some absolutely stunning roses that day, and they included the following: Marmalade Skies, McCartney Rose (named for Paul McCartney), Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sterling Silver. Each flower also had such an amazing scent. I don’t know which one my son would like me to turn into a botanical, but I would be happy to render any of the roses I saw and smelled the other day. Stay tuned. 

Descanso Gardens update

You can still visit their website descansogardens.org

For a real spring treat, go to the “Now Blooming” section and click on the “bloom calendar.” There you will find what blooms in the garden by the month. And if you do look there you will see that roses are first on the list of May flowers. Scroll down below the list and there are some lovely shots of roses and other spring lovelies. Not sure who took the photos, but imagine there must be gardeners about the place, even now. But among the photos are a couple videos of goslings wandering carefree where ever they please as there is no humans to bother them. Whoever took the short videos of the goslings also added some music—pretty cute. Somehow it’s nice to know that the birds are enjoying the Descanso Gardens right now and they could probably care less about the roses in bloom. 

And Happy Birthday Megan!

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