— Ecogeographer

Plant and Place

Yesterday I photographed Autumn. Today I am reflecting on Summer. It’s been bitter sweet. Aug 1st was held without my dad. He died hours before Valentine’s Day this year. He had a summery beard, yellow and ginger streaks – excellent grey as he grew old. His death has continued to make me think about decomposing, forests, the unseen. Things I was in part thinking about already. Perhaps my sick sense knew what was coming.

This Summer sunshine adorned our peninsula and dried the bones of everything including the frames of old cottages. Early in the summer heat, I danced with Sam Bleakly to African beats, did dance hall by a giant glitter ball and surfed in style with Andy Hughes (an injury’s held me back). I felt better. In late summer, I was lifted completely into my living body as I watched Sascha Goetzel for the first time. Full embodiment. The orchestra brought to life two Queen of Sheba treats. Oh wow, how we were processed into the avenue of a proms highlight.

Dominica williamson - Hawthorn at Perranporth
Dominica Williamson - Sorrel at Perranproth

Dominica Williamson - Willow, Perranporth
Dominica Williamson - Marram Grass at Perranporth

Dominica Willamson - Bramble, Perranporth
Dominica Williamson - Willow and Hawthorn, Perranporth

Now as I reach and pick the last blackberries (more crumble) and my boyfriend harvests seaweed for pizza, I think about the reaching, the gathering, the walking down the wild avenues with stained hands. I feel back in my body but connected to the beneath and wondering like never before. The leaves are dropping and starting to be tread into the mudden ground. Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Sloe and more line the track but I can bounce back on to Marram grass and catch the Autumn sun. The rays are fainter though and this week I realise it is time to concentrate on the Archaelogical in depth. I am re-entering a phenomenological framework, how apt given the year. I am walking in part within an archaeologist’s framework. Last time I walked with a programer. This time I have Goetzel, summer surf and Jamaican beats as well as the landscape at my side.

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Thinking back

Trees by the surf, Portugal
Sandy explorations, South of Lisbon, Portugal by Dominica Williamson
Entering the life of Lisbon, Portugal by Dominica Williamson
A find, snake skin by the beach & raw colour in Sintra, Portugal by Dominica Williamson
Lisbon, travel & tiles, Portugal
Yellow, gold & cake in Cintra, Portugal by Dominica Williamson
Burgandy, yellow, blue in Portugal
South of Lisbon, the best cake of all, Portugal, by Dominica Williamson

The trip of 2012. It was a flight. There was some surf. I photographed instead of sketching.

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This time last year I was working
on the below illustration
for a cancer theme and in memory
of my granny Whisker.

Colchicum Autumnale by Dominica Williamson
Colchicum autumnale finished
section by Dominica Williamson

This year I am in the midst of creating my first very own studio and so painting is on hold.
However, I’ve just finished a glass commission and about to take on another. I can work without a studio at present because I am working with people who cut glass connected to computers – so from your file. I’ve worked with stain glass and lead in the past and a bit of acid but this is etching with machines. Benjamin eat your heart out – it’s my botanical work becoming mechanised.

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A peltate glandular trichome

A forest of glandular and non-glandular hairs (trichomes) cover the catmint leaves that I am painting. I am painting the glandular hairs in detail for the Eden Project Florilegium archive so that in the future the work can be used to educate children about why cats love this plant and why it is of ethnobotanical importance to humans.

The hair that is important to cats and humans is the peltate glandular trichome – the small mushroom shaped object. It looks like a satellite station under the microscope – it is quite yellow compared to the long horn like hairs. This is because the trichome is turgid – there is content, it has its cellular contents intact (slime, water, and protein)… When cats rub against the plant, terpene, a chemical mixture gets released and sends them into heaven. (More details about this later.)

These glandular trichomes are microscopic and so I needed the botanist Dr Alistair Griffiths to help me find them. The above image he took summarizes our findings. The non-glandular hairs are rather easier to find and I’ve been looking at these at various different magnification levels whilst drawing, painting and taking snapshots of them.

Non-glandular hairs of catmint
Snapshot of non-glandular catmint trichomes

As I enter into the winter, I will get into the intricacies of painting this whole plant. I will be working with dusty green and purple mixes of paint (my specimen has purple flowers). I will post some water colour details in the future.

Alistair Griffiths is Horticultural Science Curator at the Eden Project

We used the below as our main reference:
Catnip, Nepeta cataria, a Morphological Comparison of Mutant and Wild Type Specimens to Gain an Ethnobotanical Perspective
Scott Herron
Department of Biological Sciences, Ferris State University, 820 Campus Dr. ASC 2012, Big Rapids, MI 49307-2225; herrons@ferris.edu

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Valentine Gilbert and GeorgePete Postlethwaite is sending an arrow through my heart. Romeo and Juliet, The Age of Stupid and Brassed off, in that order, keep running round my head. Not the New Year I had expected. To me it feels a slow year to get started. It’s been a cold white winter with some snow and an ever present frost that’s been drilling down to my herbs. My New Year plan was to set in some kind of ‘freeze’, my own personal green audit framework. I’ve been languishing instead. Not only because of the loss of Pete Postlethwaite on our theatre and TV platforms, but I’ve also been mourning the loss of our new gander on the garden stage. Only three, he was found dead one morning by my mum. A heart attack, maybe a weak heart because he was a runt. He was our first all white gander and had a high pitch gorgeous chime of a call (he was called Sarah!) I recorded the loss of the grey gander here.

I’ve been observing a white and pink plant this winter. The white of plants is a chalky white says Derek Jarmen*, and chalky white is great as it’s a warm white and so plants even if white, warm you… My granny Whisker (yes, that’s her real name) died of leukaemia, and Colchicum autumnale, Autumn Crocus is linked to some treatment associated with this disease, and so I choose to observe and paint it. It’s dedicated to her; she fired my imagination with poetry, gardens she themed for each one of my family, and unseen fairies that left presents on each of the Irish east coast sea shelled mornings.

On January 18, 2008, the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (representing botanic gardens in 120 countries) stated that “400 medicinal plants are at risk of extinction, from over-collection and deforestation, threatening the discovery of future cures for disease”. These included yew trees (the bark is used for cancer drugs, paclitaxel); Hoodia (from Namibia, source of weight loss drugs); half of Magnolia species (used as Chinese medicine for 5,000 years to fight cancer, dementia and heart disease); and Autumn Crocus (for gout).
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, March 2001

Leukaemia has been successfully treated with Autumn Crocus, and the plant has also been used with some success to treat Bechet’s syndrome, a chronic disease marked by recurring ulcers and leukaemia.
From Plants For a Future

Observational work
Colchicum autumnale observational work (and further above, Gilbert & George Gorse Hearts by Dominica Williamson)

As I came into February, I started studying the leaves of this plant. Appropriately, they have a sheen and stand strong. Valentine’s day approached at this time, and so Romeo and Juliet came back, swimming through my head, Baz Luhrmann’s fast flying cuts swirling round, Pete’s wisdom was in front of me again. Arr, the Age of Stupid, yes, he would want me to stop languishing and get an audit framework started and to keep observing more and more. And my boyfriend must have felt that too, cos here’s a washed up badger brush from the tideline, which saved him £40 and answered my prayers about not buying badger but wanting quality and a girl’s version. And so the audit starts with a cold white winter behind me, but a warm white soul and a new green way to shave.

Badger shaving brush
My boyfriend found, painted and photographed the brush

*Nearly all white flowers are yellowish white and the comparatively few that are bluish white such examples as Omphalodes linifolia are of a texture so different from snow that one cannot compare them at all – I should say that most white flowers are near the colour of chalk; for although the words chalky white have been used in a rather contemptuous way, the colour is really a beautiful warm white, but by no means an intense white.

Derek Jarman, Chroma, p16

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Detail of European Gorse DissectionIt’s winter.
I am currently painting in a land that is winter yellow; Cornwall. It is surrounded by harsh explosive yellow gorse, then shades of yellow daffodils, prissy pale primroses, followed by powdery yellow willow.
I’m finishing a willow dissection, which harbours a gorgeous squat yellowy glistening nectary.
But first showing here is European Gorse dissected. The Gorse gave me beautiful objects to paint. I know Derek Jarman would appreciate them, especially the above detail.
The mechanical hinge of the keel is illustrated below.

…its five petals form the keel, wings and standard – the wings and keel interlocking. If we carefully dissect a flower we can see at the base of each half of the keel a great tooth, and a similar one at the base of each wing, by which the interlocking is effected. We further discover that all the stamens are here joined into a tube round a minute pod; they are monodelphous – “in one brotherhood” – say the botanists.*

European Gorse Dissection
Plant family: Fabaceae
Plant genus: Ulex
Plant species: U. europaeus
Plant cultivar: NA
Held: Eden Project Florilegium
Artist: Dominica Williamson

A friend and colleague, Matt Groshek, remarked, ‘Your work is reminding me of Jarman’. The last year I had periodically clutched his Garden book. It must have seeped in. I hadn’t realised.
Jarman would look at this not only for its form, he would wonder at the colour. It would take him to Prospect Cottage. It’s yellow window frames and the very way he framed the house with Gorse.

‘The milk-white sap bleeds, the yellow flowers turn brown in death.’
‘Daffodil yellow. Primrose yellow. The Yellow Rose of Texas. Canary bird.’
‘Spring comes with celandine and daffodil. The yellow rape sends the bees dizzy. Yellow is a difficult colour, fugitive as mimosa that sheds its dusty pollen as the sun sets.’
Yellow Lines the Kerbside. Yellow earth-moving equipment with flashing yellow lights, cutting a wound in the landscape.
excerpts from Jarman’s Chroma 1994

And it’s Matt who indirectly, through Leslie, took me to the Yellow Wallpaper. What a book. I think it’s because it shows the two extremities of the colour in huge depth – the two polar opposites of what the colour can do. Life and joy versus death and despair – summer versus winter. And now I am thinking of Jarman again.

Yellow has long been my favourite colour, and I am sure always will. (I believe it is Leslies too.)

* Quote taken from Knolik

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When I last blogged it was Winter and I was surrounded by the coconut scent of European Gorse. Now it’s Summer (in blog land, that’s oh dear where have I been). I am about to embark on painting Western Gorse’s summer yellow haze, and very soon, more words (and probably images) on Winter, Summer and Gorse will follow and you’ll see why I’ve been gone so long.

European Gorse by Dominica Williamson


Plant family: Fabaceae
Plant genus: Ulex
Plant species: U. europaeus
Plant cultivar: NA

Accession Number: NA
Location: Saint Ewe hedge, Heligan, Cornwall
Lat & Long: 50.29002 -4.81941
Personal Reference: SUB1/1-09

Held: Eden Project Florilegium Archive
Artist: Dominica Williamson

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Carry on imagining the ellipse walked in part one, you got half way round, the chamomile bench was your rest point… you landed on the south side of the curve…

Leading from the Chamomile bench: dry sunny bed
Thymus Magic Carpet Magic Carpet Thyme, French Tarragon Artemisia dracunculus, Lemon Grass Cymbopogon citratus, Hyssop (white flowered) Hyssopus officinalis, Betony (white flowered) Stachys officinalis, Tree Spinach Chenopodium giganteum, Chicory Cichorium intybus, Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum, Red Chicory Cichorium intybus, Lavender Kew Red Lavandula stoechas, Garlic Chives Allium tuberosum, Clary Sage Salvia sclarea, Cat Mint Nepeta cataria (I think), Garlic Chives Allium tuberosum, Borage Borago officinalis, Camphor Plant Balsamita major tomentosum, Bergamot Monarda, Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis L., Feverfew (Golden?) Chrysanthemum parthenium, Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis, Majoram Gold Tipped Origanum vulgare, Common Thyme Thymus vulgaris, St. Johns Wort Hypericum perforatum, Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor

Arching from the Mint seat: wet to dry bed
Goats Rue (white flowered) Galega officinale, Eau de Cologne Mentha x piperata f. citrata, Wild Rocket Eruca vesicaria, Corsican Mint Mentha requienii, Black Horehound Ballota nigra, Tree Onion Allium cepa proliferum group, Jacobs Ladder (white flowered) Polemonium caeruleum, Land Cress Barbarea verna, Wild Rocket Eruca vesicaria, Lemon Mint Mentha sp, Marsh Mallow Althea officinalis, Vietnamese Coriander Persicaria odorata, Celery Leaf Apium graveolens, Black Horehound Ballota nigra (potted), Fennel Foeniculum vulgar, Flat Leaved Parsley Petroselinum crispum, Evening Primrose (need to track the name of this type)

The north curve again, at the black buttress: dry hot bed
Wood Sage Teucrium scorodonia, Golden Marjoram Origanum vulgare,  Tea Tree Melaleuca (I think), Golden Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium aureum, Welsh Onion Allium fistulosum, Thyme Russetings Thymus serpyllum ‘Russettings’ (potted), White Horehound Marrubium vulgare, Sage Salvia officinalis (need to move this), Mace Myristica fragrans, Lemon Verbena Aloysia triphylla, Pot Marigold Calendula officinalis (potted)

You’re back at the beginning, at the bottom of the steps, Tea Plant Camellia Sinensis (potted)

What I lost this year (and what the geese ate)
White Borage Borago officinalis ‘Alba’, Chocolate Mint Mentha x piperita f. citrata, (think I’ve just got a Peppermint of this) Sweet Rocket Hesperis matronalis, Sweet marjoram Za’atar Origanum, Lovage Levisticum officianle, Bush Basil Ocimum basilicum ‘Marseillais’, Dark Opal Basil Ocimum basilicum ‘Purpurascens’, Cinnamon Basil Ocimum basilicum

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 In my herb garden you can lie down on a carpet of Chamomile

Double Chamomile Chamaemelum nobile ‘Flore Pleno’, Lawn Chamomile Chamaemelum nobile ‘Treneague’, Roman Chamomile Chamaemelum nobile, Dyers Chamomile Anthemis tinctoria.

And Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus and more Chamomile trails above you.

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Imagine an ellipse, and walk (and smell) roughly clockwise

On the steps and windowsills: pots
Creeping Penny Royal Mentha pulegium, Thyme Thymus serpyllum v ar albus, Lavender Old English Lavandula angustifolia, Orange Scented Thyme Thymus fragrantissimus, Wormwood Artemisia absinthium

Around and under the Globe Artichoke: dry bed
Sweet Woodruff Galium odoratum, Chives Allium schoenoprasum, Garlic chives Allium nutans, Bergamot Monarda didyma (potted), Yarrow Achillea millefolium (potted), Compact Marjoram Origanum vulgare ‘Compactum’ (potted), Creeping Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis, Purple Sage Salvia officinalis, Winter Savoury Satureia montana, Tangerine Sage Salvia elegans, Curry Plant Helichrysum italicum, Cotton Lavender Santolina chamaecyparissus (potted), Thyme Thymus serpyllum, Broad Leaved Sage Salvia officinalis, Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis (potted), Blackcurrant Sage Salvia microphylla, Marjoram Origanum majorana, Pineapple Sage Salvia elegans, Lavender ‘Purple Emperor’ Lavandula pedunculata ‘Sampaiana’, Thyme ‘Foxley’ Thymus pulegioides ‘Foxley’, Blue Jacobs Ladder Polemonium caeruleum

By the Hollyhock and Passion Fruit arch: leafy bed
Flat leaved Parsely Petroselinum crispum, Ginger Mint Mentha x gracilis ‘Variegata’, Curled Parsely Petroselinum crispum, Spearmint Mentha spicata (potted), Good King Henry Chenopodium bonus-henricus, Coriander Coriandrum sativum, Bergamot Monarda panorama mixed

What’s next to pot up
Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata, Musk Mallow Malva moschata, Heartsease Viola tricolor, Pot Marigold Calendula officinalis

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