It has been an intense two weeks at Kew on the botanical illustration course and although it was daunting to work along side trained artists there were also some beginners similar to myself. The aim was to learn some of the skills needed so that I can try and draw some of the wild flowers at Navasola ; to keep a record and to learn to identify plants more. My memories of Kew do go back a long way as we lived nearby and as a family would visit often when it was about a penny or an old threepenny coin? I also did a weekend job waitressing in the restaurant near the Temperate House and saved my pennies and tips for my trip to India! Its now quite expensive to visit Kew Gardens so it is worth being a member and the work that Kew does is so much more than just having a really amazing collection of plants and trees and the cost of just the upkeep of that. Conservation and saving endangered plants, horticulture, Plant studies, DNA, diseases and more….
Our teacher, Lucy Smith is a professional botanical illustrator and specialises in palms. I visited the palm house at lunch time as it was warm and a break was needed ! The first photo of the Palm House and daffodils was taken at the end of a hardworking day drawing leaves in Museum No 1 near the famous Palm Glasshouse. The shapes of the palms looked grand and ghostly against the stormy evening sunset. I also found a lot of information about Paeonies in the horticulture gardens and a lot of examples of plants we find in Southern Spain.
A lot of work behind the scenes goes on at the Herbarium and we were given a fascinating tour by a long serving Mexican botanist whose specialism was in the vast leguminosae or pea family. The Herbarium is a library of plant specimens and it is vast. Kew also promotes a lot of art work and installations.
Last year I joined again because of the David Nash wood sculptures and this year there are some fascinating willow sculptures. Kew always has such variety and this year I found all the different varieties of flowering cherry trees. Kew works hard to conserve wild plants and the seed bank has been set up and attempts are made to propagate endangered species like the Madagascan palm that Lucy Smith had illustrated.
have just about survived the course and will add some more details of that later and the beauty of suburban London in the Spring. Maybe a Spring poem is needed along the following lines and in memory of Robert Browning’s famous Oh to be in England, now that April’s here……..
I am trying to post every week but a little delay with finishing this one as I flew to London for my course at Kew Gardens. Much more on that at the end of two weeks here with Spring really in full blossom.
The sun has been out more in the Sierra and there are more flowers beginning to emerge. These daisies were on the old threshing part of Navasola central with a few small white butterflies enjoying the nectar. Other butterflies seen have been clouded yellows, large tortoiseshells, and red admirals. There are a few more flowers but mainly in the warmer and sunnier parts at present. The temperature did shoot up on Thursday but there is at times quite cold breezes. In Portugal we saw the caterpillar in the picture below. Quite striking and can be dangerous as its long hairs cause itching, irritation and there can be strong allergic reactions. I read a sad story in the Portugal News about a small dog that had been sniffing around in some pine woods and collapsed with toxic shock. Even with medical support the dog died. N.B. Really important to get the dog to a vet if there has been contact with the processionary pine moth caterpillar. As yet this creature has not reached British shores but we saw its cotton like bags high in the trees along the road from Aracena to Fuenteheridos. It is quite common in Southern Europe but the beautiful bird, the Hoopoe eats it below the pines. We do usually see Hoopoes on the ground below the pines in the area by the fort at Cabanas.
Although there is still yet no fruit tree blossom on our side, the north side of the Sierra, the climate on the south side has certainly helped the trees and many more plants to flower. This is a view from a beautiful finca along the south road to Aracena from Alajar.
And in London I am overwhelmed by the daffodils and the blossoms on the street trees, magnolia and camelias in suburban gardens. And the warm sunshine after all the floods. At the finca I had decided to move some celandine from where there might be some building disruption. I carefully put some around the pond area and up by the house. On returning to London there was plenty of celandine to greet me. A weed or wild, certainly self seeded along the path and around the trees in the back garden! Loads of it! More on Kew Gardens and my course to follow when I’ve recovered from a five hour working day learning to draw plants! Today was spent on the exact and precise drawing of a leaf. Tomorrow we branch out with some branches…….
Spring is finally in the air but emerging much more slowly at this altitude and even in different places on the finca and in the Sierra. On the road to Aracena there are some almond trees in bloom and as you head down to Seville lots of Mimosa. The mimosa has caused a bit of a botanical debate and the mimosa on the finca by our house is different to the mimosa seen on the beach in Cabanas, Portugal. Neither are really called mimosa and are acacias, and originally from Australia. However they are supposed to be good at preventing soil erosion with their roots but also around our house are plentiful seedlings and some emerging as young trees. We have a big decision to make about the mimosa tree as it is right where the solar panels should go. However, we do have a lot of younger versions willing to take over.
The wild peonies are natural to the area and seem to now be growing much more prolifically around and near to the old chestnuts. With the ground around the chestnuts having been cleared to collect chestnuts over the past few years, this might have helped the wild peonies. They are still emerging and look like mini forests near the chestnuts. Many also seem to want to grow on the paths.I have put sticks around them so that anyone walking might notice them and should I remove the one in the middle of the track at the entrance to the finca and put it in a wild flower garden?
More birds seem to be arriving and we are trying to distinguish the different types of warblers. The Great Tit seems to have finished trying to break into the house as it would regularly bash its beak against one window and then fly to the other side of the house and knock against that window! I had a lovely view of the treecreeper on the mossy rock outside my window while I was resting and feeling sorry for myself with toothache! It brightened my day and I did attempt to draw it as I do not think I can ever capture on photo the birds around here. One moment in your sight and then gone. It’s if they sense the binoculars and a camera, well at present forget it.
The birds seen by the fort in Cabanas are much easier to spot but would need patience and a long lens. This year I will try drawing them in their spotted spots. Hoopoes under the old pines, Goldfinches chirping and flocking together into the pines and onto the white broom. Tiny warblers by the fort in the shrubs; Bigger warblers flitting into the air over the almond trees; A few Swallows winging over land and beach.There were egrets in the almond fields and crested larks quite bold by the rubbish bins. House Martins attempting nests under the edges of balconies. And on the beach signs of cormorants and curlews, smaller waders like the whimbrels and redshanks, turnstones, ringed plovers along the muddy stones, sanderlings rushing along the edge of the tide, and this time one lonely oystercatcher! There has always been a vast variety of birds to be seen along the beaches of the Ria Formosa in February.
The beach and fort area by Cabanas seems to be teeming with bird life and emerging plants and flowers. The old pines have taken a battering from the elements but this seems to be unmanaged land and there seem to be no plans to replace them
In the almond orchards there are beautiful yellow flowers but these are not natural and are resistant to pesticides, possibly a Well done to the plant world but these beauties are poisonous to livestock. Although called buttercups they belong to the oxalis family and can poison grazing animals. Therefore NOT the livestock farmer’s friend.
Here as promised are some of the photos taken recently on short vacations to Cabanas de Tavira on the Eastern Algarve along the estuary and lagoons of the Ria Formosa. The area is a protected national park along the sand dunes and beaches but unfortunately some of the cliff side walks are privately owned.
We enjoy an escape to warmer weather and an earlier spring than in the Sierra Aracena even if it is only about 100 miles away from Navasola it is at sea level. Although it is the Atlantic Ocean it is warmer here because of the Gulf Stream and the climate is more Mediterranean.
Walking around the old fort in January I came across this almond blossom tree full of blossom and teeming with bees. It was very noisy as well as beautiful. 3 weeks later in February the blossom had gone and you can just see in the photo of the same tree the beginnings of the almonds.
How can we complain about the rain when it is filling our well and the pond. Will we be able to be self sufficient in water? It has to be the most essential part of our life here as there is no municipal water supply. That means the only body that can cut off our water supply is Mother Nature.
Here are some photos of the Finca dripping wet in February.
Our next post will be about our escape to the Algarve and a walk around the fort at the edge of the town of Cabanas. It is our favourite place for bird watching and although only about 100 miles from the Sierra Aracena spring is in full bloom and the swallows have arrived.
February on the Finca has seen the rain fall almost continuously for a week. However, on Sunday there was a little sunshine and wild violets were spotted. Thanks to the rain I have finally finished reading Macfarlane’s book about his journeys to wild places around the British Isles. Wild is a special word for him but as he ends up describing many different kinds of experiences of the wild it is interesting to think more about our own relationships with the wild. Here for February are two small wild things; the violet and the chaffinch. The birds in the woodland are so wild and wary I was delighted that even just one came to my table! In Spanish there are two words for wild : wild animals are ‘salvaje’ and wild plants are ‘sylvestre’. How might this division of meaning affect attitudes to the wild?