Flowers and Plants

The Common Fig, Ficus carica, Fruit, Flower or Carnivore?

The Common Fig, Ficus carica, unwelcome bounty!

I originally started writing about the common fig, Ficus carica, because of my annual battle with it. Our neighbor’s fig tree leans over the fence onto our yard and rains its bounty of figs onto our vegetable garden every year.  Unfortunately, neither I nor my husband or daughter eat figs. I find them too sweet, preferring fruit with a more tangy taste. Every year I spend hours cleaning up semi-rotten figs after they have smashed their way through our tomato plants before embedding themselves, like small, sticky bombs, into the mulched paths. Then the clouds of fruit flies follow. It is not one of my favorite gardening moments in the year.

Coming to terms with the common fig.

Even though I don’t like to eat figs I do feel guilty that I am allowing this food source to go to waste. I ask friends and neighbors to come and pick but to date no one has taken me up on the offer. In an effort to come to terms with this dilemma I started researching the common fig. Maybe knowing more about the plant would help me change my attitude and even motivate me to eat some of them or make more of an effort to pass them on to others at least.

I have illustrated the common fig several times for the Digging In gardening column of the Washington Post. Both times I used my neighbor’s tree for reference. I love drawing botanical illustrations, regardless of the subject, especially when I can use a live specimen, and there is no shortage of live specimens of fig in my garden!! I feel I owe this tree something seeing as it has helped me out in the past.

The common fig, a fascinating story.

Once again I start researching a plant and find myself drawn into a long and intriguing story that brings me all the way back to Neolithic times and the first farmers. By coincidence I am reading a book at the moment that has spurred on my research- The Fruit Hunters, A Story of  Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession. This book by Adam Leith Gollner is a great read and even if you have only the slimmest interest in plants you will find it full of great stories to edify and entertain.

Too good a story for just one blog entry.

The story of the common fig, Ficus carica, is a complex and multi-faceted one that merits a book or indeed a series of books. There are two aspects of the fig’s story that have delighted me and sent my imagination into over-drive.

1. The reproductive cycle of the fig and its pollination strategies.

2. The first farmers (Neolithic) who domesticated the fig.

For this reason I’m writing two blogs on the subject starting with the reproductive cycle of the fig and its pollination story.

A fruit that is not a fruit!

I should write ‘false fruit’ or ‘multiple fruit’ when referring to the fig because what we eat is in fact the flower or inflorescence (an arrangement of multiple flowers.) The fig ‘fruit’ is a flower turned inside out: its juicy, red interior made up of lots of individual flowers and seeds growing together. The pollinator, a small female fig wasp that depends totally on the fig for its life cycle, must enter through a small opening in the fig, loosing her antennae and wings en route, to lay her eggs on the female fig flowers.

Fig tree pollination-well, sometimes?

Before all you fig lovers start spitting out your figs let me reassure you. Figs have several ways of producing fruits and most of the varieties in our gardens (Adriatic, Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Brunswick, and Celeste) are self-fertilized i.e. parthenocarpically. This means that they do not need pollination to produce their fruit.

Carnivorous figs?

The fig varieties that are pollinated by female wasps (e.g. Calimyrna, Marabout, and Zidi) consume the wasp after she has done her job laying her eggs and pollinating the flowers (Does this make the fig a carnivore?) When these eggs mature into female and male wasps the males (who are wingless) mate with the females and chew a tunnel through the fruit creating an opening through which the female wasps can escape. This suggests to me that the wasps may have left the fruit to find new fruits to pollinate before the fig is eaten but one account I read said that we eat the wasp’s eggs with the fruit- extra protein for us all?

Great nutrition- keep eating your figs.

I hope my account of the coevolution of the fig and fig wasp and their symbiotic relationship doesn’t put all you fig lovers off your figs, but rather fills you with the wonder and awe that nature continues to inspire in me? Who needs science fiction when we have nature all around us. I do eat dried figs and now that I’ve learned what a nutritious food it is, I plan to eat more. According to Wikipedia, figs are one of the highest plant sources of calcium and fiber and USDA research on the Mission variety found that dried figs are richest in fiber, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium and vitamin K, relative to human needs. They also contain many antioxidants.  So keep eating your figs and maybe I’ll figure out a way to dry some of my neighbor’s next year.

Aislinn Adams

Hedge bindweed, Calystegia sepium, teaches a hard lesson in humility and patience.

Hedge bindweed, Calystegia sepium © Aislinn Adams 2009

A new greeting card.

This week I post another botanical illustration from my Washington Post ‘Digging In’ gardening column days and the subject of my latest greeting card design- part of my Botanical Illustration Series #1. In this series I combine my illustrations with favorite quotations. For this card I’ve chosen the quote:

“Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there.” Thomas Fuller (1654-1734)

When I read this quote I think optimistically of all the serendipitous plants that turn up in the garden. Often I have bought a plant from my local nursery only to find another species has hitched a ride in the pot. I have acquired some interesting specimens this way: a happy and welcome accident.

Hedge bindweed, Calystegia sepium, not a ‘happy accident’.

This week’s blog subject is definitely not one of those ‘happy accidents’, rather the opposite. Hedge bindweed, Calystegia sepium– formerly known as Convolvulus sepium– is a troublesome weed by anyone’s standards.  This vine twines counterclockwise around plants, often overwhelming them. It is also a well-traveled weed as it can be found throughout the temperate regions of both the northern and southern hemispheres. Calystegia means “covered calyx” while the older name, Convolvulus, means “to entwine” -a name that says it all.

Why do I celebrate this plant in a blog and as a greeting card?

When Thomas Fuller wrote this quote in the 18th century I doubt he was thinking of this troublesome plant. So why do I choose to celebrate this plant not only in a blog but also as a new greeting card? The answer is not that easy to explain.

© 2010  Aislinn Adams

I like my botanical illustration of hedge bindweed in spite of the actual plant’s bad behavior. But this is not the main reason I’ve created this card. The truth is that while working on this design I also battle with the plant in the wildlife garden or ‘naturescape’ (natural landscape) at my daughter’s elementary school. For three years I’ve worked hard to create this naturescape and I don’t want to loose it to this fast-growing plant.

Hedge bindweed- a difficult weed.

In my experience this weed, while not an ‘invasive exotic’, is one of the most difficult to remove from a garden, almost impossible in fact. At the moment it is succeeding quite easily in taking over a large area of the naturescape. Last spring I organized a group of energetic volunteers to pull the weed but within a few weeks it was back again: fresh spring-green shoots pushing through thick hogfuel bark mulch.

I have wasted a lot of time worrying about this plant, wondering how I can get rid of it, imagining it taking over the whole naturescape- kudzu-style.  Maybe by creating this card I hope to weaken the spell this plant has cast over the naturescape- and my mind. Maybe by combining this botanical illustration with a thought provoking quotation I can view it from a different perspective and maybe by thinking more philosophically about this plant I can lessen its power.

My ‘Coyote plant’?

This is my ‘coyote plant’. You know Coyote the Trickster of Native American fame. It teaches me that all my efforts to create the perfect naturescape with lots of well-behaved native plants -not always the case of course- is foolishness on my part. I can’t control nature, even this small area on the south side of my daughter’s school.

Grudgingly I learn that I have to respect this plant: its tenacity to keep growing in spite of all my efforts to eradicate it, and to admit that it too has certain qualities that could be called beautiful. But I will keep pulling it and as soon as school starts again next month I will organize another volunteer day of weeding. In the meantime I will reflect on this quotation and learn to live and let live- for the moment anyway!

Aislinn Adams

A Well-Travelled Exotic Insect- The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.

© Aislinn Adams Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and nymphs.

A ‘botanical’ illustration that walked into my blog.

All my blogs so far have been about my botanical illustrations. This week however, while continuing to write on the theme of fruit and vegetables, I write instead about an insect. This one appeared in our bathroom a few weeks ago. It left such an impression that I had to write about it. I have illustrated many insects for the “Digging In” gardening column of the Washington Post. Most of them have been garden pests but not all. This insect, above, is definitely a pest and has the potential to become a serious problem for fruit growers.

A stinkbug!

The mottled brown, six-legged creature, sporting dark antennae with white bands towards the tips, is only three quarters of an inch in length but hard to miss on our white linoleum floor. I immediately recognized it as a stink bug because of its shield-shaped body- they are also called shield bugs. My first thought was; how on earth did it get into our upstairs bathroom? Later I learned that this species takes shelter in houses over the winter.

We have a very permissive attitude towards insects in our house, with only a few of the usual exceptions. After all, we live in an old house full of nooks and crannies and very attractive to insects. Usually I, or my daughter, carefully release any tiny visitors to the outdoors.

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.

When I saw the stink bug I called my daughter so that she could have a good look. Then she gently lifted it onto a piece of tissue and released it outside onto our front porch. I didn’t think much of it at first. All insects are interesting and worth a second look but something about this one made me pause. It nagged at the back of my mind for a few days before I finally remembered that I illustrated a pest stink bug just like it for the “Digging In” gardening column a couple of years ago and then I remembered it’s name- the brown marmorated stink bug.

A potentially serious pest.

Of course the “Digging In” gardening column deals with gardening queries from the Washington D.C. area and not the Pacific North West. I didn’t connect the two stink bugs at first. I assumed this couldn’t be the same species all the way across the continent but rather a native species. I ‘googled’ the brown marmorated stink bug anyway. There are lots of photographs on line. I saw that our house visitor looked very similar. As I read on I felt rather guilty because I learned that we might have released an exotic, potentially serious pest into the neighborhood.

When a second one appeared in our bathroom a few days later I was ready with a jam jar and called the local extension service almost immediately. I brought the stink bug to their office and they confirmed that it was indeed a brown marmorated stink bug. However, they alleviated my guilt somewhat by letting me know that it was not the first found in the area.

A stink bug far from home.

The story of the brown marmorated stink bug is an interesting, cautionary tale. It was first found in the U.S.A. in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1998. No one knows how it got there from its native range in China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan but it is presumed that it hitched a ride in some cargo. It is a pest in its own native range using fruit trees and soy, amongst many other species, as a host plant. The stink bug has sucking mouthparts and feeds by piercing fruit and stems. For this reason it could become a serious agricultural pest, especially here in Oregon: a huge fruit growing state.

Now  found in Oregon.

It was first found in Oregon in Portland in 2004 and later in Salem – where I live. As of today it has managed to find its way to over half the states in the U.S. According to an Oregon Dept. of Agriculture information sheet only two specimens of the stink bug have been found in the Salem area. If this information is up to date this means that the two stink bugs I found may be number three and four. If you think you have seen this stink bug in your house or yard bring it along to your local extension service and have them check it out. If, like me, you don’t like squashing bugs or spraying them with pesticides, an alternative way to kill them is to put them in a container in your freezer for a while.

Aislinn Adams

My Earliest Recollection of a “Botanical Illustration” Comes From an Unlikely Source

Apple Blossom

My earliest recollection of a “Botanical illustration” comes from an unlikely source.

While browsing through my library of botanical illustrations, created for the Washington Post’s “Digging In” gardening column, I came across my illustration of an apple blossom (above). As I stopped to study it, unexpected memories surfaced. We all know the old saying- a picture paints a thousand words- but it can also paint a thousand memories. There is something about this particular botanical illustration: the way I drew the leaves, the composition and stippling treatment, that brings me back to my childhood. For a moment I experience the power of memory to transport me back to another time and place.

Another time and place.

That place is Tullamore, my hometown and county seat for Offaly in the Irish midlands. My father was a pharmacist, (or Chemist as they were called back then). He had his own pharmacy where loyal customers came regularly to get their prescriptions filled. As a small child I often visited him there and, if I was lucky, he gave me old-fashioned barley sugar, the only candies on sale in the shop at the time. I remember it as a calm, friendly place with kind shop assistants.

Christmas gift sets and nostalgic fragrances.

I particularly liked visiting the pharmacy at Christmas time. I was drawn to the gift sets, carefully arranged on green and red crepe paper, festooned with silver and gold tinsel. To my unsophisticated child’s eye they represented the height of luxury. I loved looking at those sets, their smooth bars of soap and cylindrical, cardboard containers of talcum powder, lying snugly on a bed of pastel shaded satin. I smelled their sweet fragrances – apple blossom, lily of the valley, wild rose: the lily of the valley the most exotic and intense perfume to my child-nose, the apple blossom sweet, pleasant and comforting. Fragrances full of nostalgia for me now, conjuring up the sights, sounds and smells of a warm spring day in an Irish childhood.

Earliest introduction to “botanical illustration”.

I was also drawn to those gift sets for their pretty, floral watercolor illustrations, quite probably my earliest introduction to “botanical illustration”. This memory teaches me to never underestimate the influence of any experience, no matter how small, on the open and impressionable mind of a child. I have heard it said that a person usually ends up doing in adulthood what they enjoyed doing most as a child. I look at my nine-year-old daughter, a ‘nature kid’ if ever there was one: barefoot, swinging wildly from a rope slung around the big leaf maple in our front yard, and I wonder what she’ll be doing when she’s my age.

Peony “Anne Rosse”- the human story behind the plant.

Peony “Anne Rosse”, Paeonia “Anne Rosse”.

Peony “Anne Rosse” – behind every cultivated plant there lies a human story.

This week I promised to write more about Birr Castle, Co. Offaly, Ireland, and it’s place in plant collecting history. For this purpose I post my botanical watercolor illustration Peony “Anne Rosse” from the series I painted for an exhibit in Birr Castle’s Visitor Center. I choose this peony not only because it is a beautiful Irish ‘cultivar’ (cultivated variety) but also because it’s story is central to Birr Castle’s horticultural legacy.

Countess Anne Rosse.

Anne Rosse, for whom the peony is named, was Countess Anne Rosse, wife of Michael Parsons, the 6th Earl of Rosse. The Parsons family has lived at Birr Castle in the Irish midlands for almost 400 years and it was Michael’s father, the 5th Earl of Rosse, who laid the foundation for the extensive plant collection for which Birr demesne is now known. However, it was under the careful guidance of Michael and Anne that this foundation was built upon and developed.

A shared passion for plant collecting and gardening.

The couple were very well matched. Anne Rosse, neé Messels, came from a strong gardening background and as the daughter of Leonard Messels of Nymans, a well-known garden in the south of England, she had “a profound devotion to gardening” (Birr Castle website). Michael, the 6th Earl of Rosse, was an experienced plant collector and undoubtedly their choice of China as a honeymoon destination in 1935 was the result of this shared passion. While there the Earl arranged for the first major plant collecting expedition to be undertaken by a Chinese.

6th Earl and Countess Anne became very well known for their horticultural introductions.

Many other expeditions to the Americas and eastern Asia were sponsored and subscribed to by the Earl. As a result of all this exploration and subsequent plant propagation the 6th Earl and Countess Anne became very well known for their horticultural introductions, including Peony “Anne Rosse”. This tree peony, a cross between Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii and Paeonia delavayi, is the result of two different plant collecting trips to eastern Asia by the Rosses: one by the Earl to Tsang-Po Gorge, Tibet before his marriage and the other by the couple to Yu, China in 1937(Birr Castle website).

A giant facsimile of Countess Anne’s plant journal.

The botanical watercolors I painted for this exhibit are used in a giant facsimile of Countess Anne’s plant journal. There are 24 botanical illustrations in the series: two for every month of the year. As I painted this beautiful peony named for her it was not difficult to imagine Countess Anne walking around Birr demesne delighting in the latest bloom, busily sorting through new plant specimens just arrived from China or designing a new planting scheme.

The human story behind the plant.

Behind every cultivated plant there is a human story. Many of these stories start with a solitary plant collector, usually male, braving the elements in foreign lands to find new and rare plants. The story of Peony “Anne Rosse” is different. Here is the story of a husband and wife sharing a life long passion for plant collecting and gardening. I picture them working as a team, side by side, complementing each other’s skills and I can only imagine the delight and pleasure they must have experienced seeing the first Peony “Anne Rosse” bloom.

Aislinn Adams

Botanical Illustration, Adding Color This Week.

Korean dogwood

© Aislinn Adams  Kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa

Watercolor illustration for a change!

All my blogs so far have featured black and white drawings for the “Digging in” gardening column of the Washington Post. This week I thought it was time to introduce some color by posting a watercolor illustration of Kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa. The Kousa dogwood, also known as the Japanese flowering dogwood, is native to eastern Asia and Japan but has been gracing the gardens of Europe and North America since the late 1800’s.

My neighbor’s Kousa dogwood

I can see my neighbor’s Kousa dogwood outside my side window as I write this blog. Living in an historic home in downtown Salem, Oregon, where the houses stand close together like old friends, I can enjoy looking at my neighbor’s Kousa dogwood without getting out of my chair. The tree is not yet in bloom, unlike its North American cousins, the flowering and Pacific dogwoods. The Kousa dogwood flowers about a month later.

The dogwood flower- not a flower?

I have illustrated the Kousa dogwood three times for the “Digging In” gardening column: once in flower, and twice in fruit. The strawberry-like fruit is very attractive in the fall but the flowers in early summer really steal the show. What we so often admire as the dogwood “flower” is in fact not the flower but the flower bracts. The true flowers are tiny and dark green in the center. When the Kousa dogwood is in flower it has a flamboyant air about it, probably because its “flowers” often point upwards in horizontal rows. It’s as if the tree is holding out its arms to embrace passersby and proclaim how good it is to be alive.

Birr Castle, Ireland.

The watercolor illustration I’ve posted above is from a set of botanical illustrations I painted for an exhibit at Birr Castle’s Visitor Center, County Offaly, Ireland. The story of Birr Castle is a fascinating chapter in the history of plant collecting and I will tell you more about it next week.

Botanical Illustration and the Joys of Weeding!

Bermuda grass, Cynodon dactylon

Gardening with native plants and the joys of weeding!

I have drawn my fair share of weeds over the past decade for the Washington Post’s “Digging In” gardening column. Some of the weeds I’ve drawn are true to their name without much to recommend them while others can be quite beautiful while still very “weedy”.  I have created botanical illustrations of Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) twice for the “Digging In” gardening column and although I hate to speak ill of any plant, even a weed, I have to admit I’m not a great fan of this grass. It is a real nuisance plant for gardeners across the United States of America, including here in Oregon where I live. Fortunately for me I garden with native plants, mostly in the shade, so I don’t have much trouble with Bermuda grass as it prefers a sunnier spot.

A damned good weeder!

I met a gardener once who was a great native plant enthusiast. I was an intern at Mt Cuba Center in Delaware at the time, very new to the United States and just learning my way. We were both on a native plant trip to the Smokey Mountains. I innocently asked her what she did for a living and, with a twinkle in her eye she quietly replied, “I’m a damned good weeder”. Later I understood what she meant as I learned that she was independently wealthy and not in need of a “living” at all. Gardening with native plants was her passion, her avocation, and as any gardener knows, if you love gardening you do a lot of weeding.

I love weeding.

I like to think of myself as a “damned good weeder” though not independently wealthy. I love weeding. Not the back-breaking Himalayan blackberry pulling variety, though that can have it’s moments, but rather the careful, knowledge-building kind where you learn to distinguish the seedling of a troublesome weed from a welcome native plant. If you garden with native plants you really need to be able to tell the seedlings apart: to separate the team players from the troublemakers so to speak.

Weeding monotonous? Never!

Some people find weeding very boring. I know some weeding can be horribly monotonous, especially the kind where all you do is pull up everything green except your rows of ornamental annuals or showy perennials. This is not the kind of weeding I mean. I’m referring to the kind where you are constantly observing and frequently delighted by some new native seedling found half hidden under the foliage of the mother plant.

I love this kind of weeding also because it allows me the time to enjoy the dank, rotting leaf smell of the soil and the more subtle perfume of less showy native wildflowers, not to mention the “green” scent of lightly crushed leaves, one of my favorite smells.

If you really want to know a plant.

In my last blog I wrote that if you want to remember a plant draw it. Well, if you really want to  know a plant grow it. I have found no better way to get to know the American native plants of my new homeland than by getting down on my knees, up close and personal, weeding.

Aislinn Adams.

If You Want to Remember a Plant.

Star magnolia, Magnolia stellata

If you really want to remember a plant, draw it!

I always say that if you really want to remember a plant, draw it. There’s nothing more effective to really make you look deeply at a plant than spending hours drawing it. I don’t know of anything better to imprint it on your brain.

Drawing makes you take the time to look.

When Georgia O’Keeffe was asked why she painted flowers she replied, “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.” I don’t know how much time people spend looking at flowers these days but I do know that if you draw a flower you really have to take the time to look at it.

Drawing has improved my memory.

I spent 10 years drawing botanical illustrations for the weekly “Digging In” gardening column of the Washington Post. As a result of that work I now have a collection of 500+ botanical illustrations. When someone asks me if I have illustrated some plant, like the star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) above for example, I can always remember if I have or not. I may not remember in which month or year I did it, though I usually have a fairly good idea, but I can definitely remember.  This is due to the hours and hours I spend looking at a plant while illustrating it. Each pen and ink drawing I produced for the “Digging In” gardening column took anywhere from 10 to 20 hours to create, depending on its complexity.  That is a long time to spend looking at a plant.

You don’t have to be an artist to draw.

I don’t believe that you have to be a great artist or illustrator to enjoy drawing plants or to benefit from the hours you spend with them in this way. If you are a plant enthusiast who loves to garden or an amateur botanist who loves to study native plants and you want to remember what you see here’s my advice; the next time you are out in your yard or walking in the woods, bring along a sketchpad and pencil, find a plant that interests you, and start drawing. Don’t judge your results harshly but rather check later how well you can remember the plant you drew.

Aislinn Adams

This Week’s Botanical Illustration and The Irish Connection

Hubei lily

Hubei lily, Lilium henryi
© Aislinn Adams

A botanical illustration with an Irish connection

The botanical illustrations I’ve created for the Washington Post’s “Digging In” column usually have absolutely no connection to Ireland. Gardening in the Washington D.C. area can be a very different experience to gardening in Ireland. The D.C. weather is full of extremes with the temperature sometimes rising or falling as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit in one day. Ireland’s weather is much milder, knowing no such extremes. Lots of exotic, bright, colorful shrubs and vines that thrive in the hot, moist conditions of a D.C. summer wouldn’t survive a good Irish summer, never mind a bad one that can be “summer” in name only.

Lilium henryi – Henry’s lily

Then one week Adrian Higgins, the gardening editor at the Washington Post, asked me to create a botanical illustration of Lilium henryi. I sat up straight and smiled – at last a plant with an Irish connection. Lilium henryi or Henry’s lily, a tall, orange, turkscap lily, is not native to Ireland but it most definitely has a strong connection to there. Augustine Henry, one of Ireland’s most famous plant collectors from the golden age of plant collecting in the late 1800’s, first described this beautiful plant.

Augustine Henry

Augustine Henry (1857-1930) grew up in Co. Tyrone, Ireland. He trained as a medical doctor but is best known for his plant collecting. After qualifying as a doctor he went to China to work for the Imperial Chinese Custom Service and in 1882 they sent him to the remote posting of Yichang in Hubei province to investigate plants used in Chinese medicine. (One of Lilium henryi’s common names is Hubei lily.) During his time in China he sent back thousands of plant specimens to Kew Gardens, England, and to Ireland. By 1896 25 new genera and 500 new species had been described from his specimens.

I felt proud that week creating a botanical illustration for a plant first described by one of Ireland’s great plant collectors and bearing his name in its species epithet.

To see my greeting card of Lilium henryi click here.

Aislinn Adams

Ten Years of Botanical Illustration

Pruning Hydrangea – my first botanical illustration
for the “Digging In” gardening  column in the Washington Post.

Looking back on ten years of illustration –botanical, entomological and more!

As I complete ten years of botanical illustration for the “Digging In” gardening column of the Washington Post I am more prone to remembering. Looking back on that collection of 500 plus illustrations, mostly botanical but sometimes entomological and more (after all you never quite know what you might find in your garden!) I am reminded of all the changes I myself have gone through in that time. After only a few weeks of illustrating the column from my studio in Washington D.C, my husband and I upped everything and moved to the Pacific North West. Then, within a year I became a parent for the first time giving birth to a beautiful, energetic and feisty baby girl. It has been quite a journey and all that time I never once missed a week in the gardening column.

Weekly practice of producing a botanical illustration.

Creating the botanical illustration became a welcome weekly practice for me, a ritual almost. I enjoyed the discipline of it all, most especially the quiet time I needed in order to create such detailed illustrations. For some folks it may seem like madness to use the technique of millions of tiny black dots to painstakingly record in minute botanical detail every flower stamen, leaf vein and tiny bud, but for me it was a kind of meditation.

Botanical illustration as meditation?

During that time every week I stopped, became very quiet, and immersed myself totally in the process. Sitting there bent over the drawing board I lost all sense of time. Often I would have to jump up with a start when I realized that I had to pick up my daughter from school with only five minutes to spare. Luckily we live a short walking distance from her school. I am surprised how much I miss my weekly ‘meditation’ already.

Finding an illustration style that suited black and white drawing for botanical illustration.

My illustration style changed over the years also. I started out using a simple cross hatching, seen above in my first illustration for the “Digging In” gardening columnPruning Hydrangeas. That style began to change before the first year had ended, evolving into the more detailed and time consuming illustration style of stippling.  This change was necessitated by the traditional newspaper medium itself. I discovered that the stippling worked well for botanical illustration and reproduced well in black and white print. With the stippling I was able to show more detail. This was done to help readers recognize the plant more easily.

A greeting card business and a new decade.

Usually I don’t allow myself time to stop and reflect in this way.  As soon as one botanical illustration is finished I am on to the next one, hardly stopping to draw breath.  By choosing to write this illustration blog I am forced, and happily so, to stop regularly and go inside, to remember and reflect. I realize that this is not only the start of a great new adventure for me- launching a greeting card business and illustration blog- it is also the start of a new decade for us all. Who knows where the next ten years will bring us?

Aislinn Adams