Posts Tagged ‘“Digging In” gardening column’

New life for my botanical illustration- Squash flower, Cucurbito pepo.

pumpkin-spice

A new design for my old botanical illustration- squash flower, Cucurbito pepo

 

Blogging is a great way to share my work with people and tell the stories behind the botanical illustrations I create. It can be a mixed blessing however because in order to reach people I have to write regularly so that search engines can find me. It takes time to write blogs and lately I’ve been too busy to write anything. For this reason I was very surprised when the famous Californian company Williams-Sonoma found my pen and ink illustration of the squash flower, Cucurbito pepo, in one of my old blogs. Williams-Sonoma has a well-earned reputation for high quality products for the home. When they contacted me I was very excited to think that one of my botanical illustrations would end up in their catalogue and on their store shelves.

How it happened!

Last February while searching for a suitable illustration to use on the packaging for a new product- the Pumpkin Spice Seasonal Collection candle-  a member of the Williams-Sonoma design team found my squash flower illustration on-line. (See blog http://www.aislinnadams.com/blog/page/3/.)  After the initial contact the whole process was very straight forward, a licensing agreement was signed and a jpeg of the black and white illustration sent to the designers. It took approximately seven months for the Pumpkin Spice candle to go from the design stage to the store. A quick turn-around really.

Curcurbito pepo

Where the illustration started!

This illustration was originally created for the Washington Post’s gardening column “Digging In”. Once a week, on a Thursday, one of my pen and ink drawings would illustrate the gardening column. Each week I created a new illustration which meant that my squash illustration only appeared once. However, thanks to Williams-Sonoma, it is getting a new showing, and for a longer period of time. I am particularly pleased with how it looks on the high quality, three dimensional packaging and, in an attractive burnt sienna tone suggesting pumpkin and spice.

Aislinn Adams

 

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

Squash, Cucurbita pepo, a Central American fruit that inspires generousity.

© Aislinn Adams 2008   Squash, Cucurbita pepo.

Celebrating the arrival of squash.

Squash season is here so this week I’m posting a botanical illustration to celebrate its arrival. When I illustrated this black and white illustration for the “Digging In” gardening column of the Washington Post I didn’t have time to research its story. Writing blogs about my botanical illustrations allows me time to research my subject in more depth- a very enjoyable endeavor.

Sorting out the different kinds of squash can take a while. They are loosely divided into two groups – summer or winter squash. Squash, also called marrow or pumpkin, usually refers to four species of the genus CucurbitaC. maxima, C. mixta, C. moschata and C. pepo. The summer squash varieties have thinner skins and can be eaten raw whereas the winter squash usually have tougher skins and need to be cooked. The botanical illustration above, Cucurbita pepo, is a summer squash and includes such varieties as standard field pumpkins, small pie pumpkins, acorn squash, vegetable spaghetti, pattypan, summer crookneck and zucchini (also known as courgette).

There’s no waste on a squash!

One can eat nearly all parts of the plant. Apart from the fruit, squash seeds can be eaten directly, ground into a paste, or pressed for vegetable oil. The shoots, leaves and tendrils can be eaten as greens. The blossoms too are an important part of Native American cooking and are also used in other parts of the world.

A fascinating journey!

Little did I realize when I began to research squash that it would lead me on such a journey. So much so that I am now hard put to keep this blog entry short. There is enough material in what I’ve learned for a month of blog posts but I don’t have a month of squash illustrations. I will have to save some of the squash’s story for later blog posts and new botanical illustrations.

Central American caves, the Wampanoeg people and a Patuxet named Squanto.

The more I read about squash, the deeper the story goes. I travel from caves in central America, where archaeologists found 8000-10,000 year-old squash seed (Cucurbita pepo), to the Wampanoag tribe of New England and a Patuxet named Squanto (or Tisquantum) who, despite being captured and sold as a slave to the Spanish and later regaining his freedom and finding his way back to his homeland, helped Plymouth colonists survive those first harsh winters in New England by teaching them how to cultivate corn, squash and beans.

The “Three Sisters”- a clever combination.

The “Three Sisters”- corn, squash and beans- were the main indigenous plants used for agriculture in the Americas.  The corn provides a climbing structure for the beans and shade for the squash, the beans fix nitrogen into the soil, and the squash spreads across the ground providing cover from weeds while keeping the soil moist.

Origin of the name squash.

The word squash comes from the Native American word askutasquash: a Narrangansett word meaning ‘a green thing eaten raw’. Narragansett, an Algonquin language, is related to the Massachusett and Wampanoeg languages.

The important role of Wampanoeg women as farmers.

Squash was also a staple of the Wampanoeg diet. Wampanoeg women were responsible for farming and fruit and nut gathering. This meant they provided up to 75% of all the food needed in Wampanoeg societies (Wikipedia [4] ). The importance of their role as food providers is reflected in the status they enjoyed in their communities: land was passed down through women i.e. matrilineally, and they often held leadership positions. As it was the women who grew the food they, along with Squanto, must have been responsible for teaching the Plymouth colonists how to grow the “Three Sisters” during those first few critical years.

The next time you pick up a squash, pause a moment to consider it’s long and bountiful history: the generosity of the Wampanoeg people who shared this food willingly, and nature’s generosity in providing us with such a nourishing food for over 10,000 years.

Aislinn Adams

A Botanical Illustration That Helps me get my Turnips Straight!

© Aislinn Adams  Turnip, Brassica rapa.

A Botanical illustration of a vegetable with a very old pedigree, turnip, Brassica rapa.

I chose the theme of fruit and vegetables for my June blogs but I have so many botanical illustrations to choose from my ten years illustrating the “Digging In” gardening column for the Washington Post that I’ve decided to continue this theme into July. So far too I’ve written only about fruits though several have been regarded as vegetables- see my blogs on plum tomatoes and sweet peppers. This week’s botanical illustration is of a true vegetable with a very old pedigree, turnip, Brassica rapa.

Turnips, Swedish turnips, or rutabaga?

There are several different vegetables originating from this species including Oil-seed turnip rape and many varieties of Chinese cabbage. Brassica rapa originates from the wild turnip, Brassica campestris. This turnip should not be confused with the Swedish turnip, Brassica napus, also known as swedes or rutabaga. The Swedish turnip is a winter vegetable and the one I think of when I hear the word turnip. It’s the one I associate with my childhood. I remember my mother buying it in the local ‘green grocers’: as vegetable shops were called then in Ireland. That Swedish turnip variety was about six inches in height: a solid, purple-skinned taproot, usually round in shape. I also remember it being difficult to chop. We ate it boiled and mashed with some butter and maybe a bit of parsley for garnish. The turnip, Brassica rapa, though similar in shape, is a ‘softer’ tuberous vegetable and easier to prepare in my opinion.

The Irish origin of the Halloween ‘Jack-o-lantern’

I also remember struggling to ‘carve’ out the inside of the swede turnip one Halloween for a lamp and ultimately giving up due to its tough, solid interior, not at all as easy to carve as a pumpkin: the vegetable of choice for Halloween ‘Jack-o-lanterns’ in the U.S.A. In Ireland turnips were hollowed out and small embers placed inside to ward off evil spirits. It is believed that this is the origin of the ubiquitous Halloween ‘Jack-o-lantern’ today. I’m guessing that when the Halloween tradition came to the U.S.A. someone must have hit on pumpkins as a much easier option- maybe after a similar experience to myself!

A European vegetable from pre-Christian times.

Turnip cultivation goes back to pre-Christian times. Its native range is uncertain but it has been suggested that central Europe is its likely place of origin. Theophrastus, the Greek Philosopher, knew of it in the 4th century BCE and many early varieties were given Greek place names. Later the Roman philosopher Pliny the elder listed 12 distinct varieties- categorizing them into the two groups- rapa and napus.

Origin of the name.

The turnip is related to cabbage: the scientific name Brassica is the Latin for cabbage and rapa means turnip. According to the illustrated encyclopedia “Vegetables, Herbs and Fruits” the common name ‘turnip’ comes from a combination of the Anglo-Saxon word ‘naep’ (from napus, in Brassica napus, the botanical name for rutabaga or swedes) and turn meaning round.

These days I enjoy eating a variety of turnips, including this white one illustrated above. I like to chop them up and bake them with a variety of other vegetables. I haven’t seen the purple turnip from my childhood here in the U.S.A.- where I now live- but one of these days I’ll find it I’m sure and then I’ll try it again, boiled and mashed with a little butter. However, I’m sticking with pumpkins for our Halloween lamps.

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

Bell Pepper, Capsicum annuum- The Only ‘Sweet’ Pepper!

Bell pepper, Capsicum annuum © Aislinn Adams

Bell Pepper, Capsicum annuum- a Central and South American native.

Continuing my theme of fruit and vegetables I post an illustration of Bell pepper, Capsicum annuum, originally created for the “Digging In” gardening column of the Washington Post. Both hot and mild peppers come from the species Capsicum annuum. Inadvertently I have chosen another species native to Central and South America, like the tomato posted in my last blog, and although we are inclined to think of bell pepper as a vegetable, like the tomato it too is a fruit.

Cultivated in ancient times.

Capsicum annuum has been in cultivation for millennia in Central and South America. According to Roger Phillips and Martin Rix in their book “Vegetables” from The Garden Plant Series, pepper seeds were found in archaeological deposits in Tehuacan, Mexico as early as 7000 BCE and the earliest records of peppers in cultivation are from about 2000 years later.

Christopher Columbus, naming ‘pepper’ and expensive condiments!

Unlike the tomato, when peppers were introduced into Europe by Chrisopher Columbus in 1493 they were accepted quickly as a food plant. Columbus is also credited with giving them the name ‘pepper’. It is most likely that it was the hot type that he brought back first not the sweet, bell pepper. At the time any species with a hot, pungent taste was called pepper after the true pepper, Piper nigrum. True pepper, a native of southern India, was a prized condiment in Europe then and very expensive.  Europeans quickly learned to grind the ‘hot’ pepper species to a powder and use it as a cheaper substitute to true pepper.

Bell pepper and recessive genes!

Bell pepper, on the other hand, is the only member of the Capsicum family of peppers that does not produce capsaicin, the chemical that causes that strong, burning sensation when eaten. This is due to a recessive gene that eliminates capsaicin from the bell pepper, thus making it ‘sweet’. Thanks to this recessive gene we can all enjoy the tangy, sweet taste of bell peppers without having to run for the tissues.

Aislinn Adams

Celebrating Fresh Fruit and Vegetables in Botanical Illustration

© Aislinn Adams  Plum Tomatoes

Botanical illustrations to celebrate fresh fruit and vegetables.

June has arrived -though you wouldn’t know it here in the Pacific North West with the record rainfall we are having- and with it our first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) vegetable box. This weekly vegetable box comes from an organic farm 30 miles south of Salem, Oregon. I look forward to its arrival every June. It’s hard to beat fresh, locally grown produce for flavor.

Our first vegetable box of the summer.

There are only a handful of vegetable and fruit illustrations amongst the hundreds of botanical illustrations I created for the “Digging In” gardening column of the Washington Post but the arrival of the first summer vegetable box in our home inspires me to blog about them.

Plum tomatoes.

I start with an illustration of plum tomatoes, though there are no tomatoes in our vegetable box yet. I particularly like plum tomatoes because of their rich flavor and, even though they are grown primarily for sauces and paste, I love to eat them raw.

The first tomatoes in Europe.

It’s hard to believe that when tomatoes first arrived in Europe around 1523, from Central and South America,  they were viewed with suspicion. Their strong odor and brightly colored fruit appeared poisonous to Europeans, especially as the only other solanum species then known in Europe had poisonous fruit.

Tomatoes and the Italians.

The earliest record of the fruit is by the Italian botanist Matthiolus who described the yellow-fruited variety, in 1544. That is why tomatoes are called pomodoro in Italian today. The Italians were also the first Europeans brave enough to eat them. Maybe that is why tomatoes feature so prominently in their cuisine.

Remembering Scilla, a small coastal town in southern Italy.

As I write about tomatoes I think of my first trip to Italy over 30 years ago. Winding my way by train down Italy’s boot was my first real travel adventure. I was with some friends, fellow art students traveling on a shoestring. I felt the season drawing to a close and time running out. I needed to turn north soon, back to Ireland and college. One late summer’s evening we arrived in the small coastal town of Scilla: 22 kilometers north of Reggio. We only had a couple of nights to spend there but I remember them well.

Scilla’s student hostel was a 13th century castle perched high on the rocky promontory that overlooks the old town and small, shingled beach below. To this day it remains the most dramatic and picturesque hostel-or hotel for that matter- I’ve ever stayed in.

Barrels of tomato sauce.

That first evening we wandered through the narrow, paved alleyways of the old town. Outside every house stood large oil barrels perched on short, homemade legs, fires lit underneath. The barrels were full to the brim with simmering tomatoes, bubbling and spitting. The winter supply of tomato sauce was being made. On windowsills glass bottles of every shape and size stood waiting to be filled with the thick, red sauce.

Recycling glass bottles!

Whenever I make tomato sauce I remember Scilla and those glass bottles. Somehow the plastic bags I use to freeze my own sauce don’t have quite the same aesthetic appeal. I look forward to my own crop of tomatoes this August. Maybe this year I’ll reuse some of my own glass bottles.

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.

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.