Artists In The Garden IX: Val Littlewood of Pencil and Leaf, observations and inspirations from nature.

Welcome to the Artists in the Garden interview series. Today's interview will be with botanical painter, Val Littlewood at Pencil and Leaf.

1. What is your art, hobby or craft? How did you come to creating it?

I’m an artist, relocated with my partner just over a year ago, from Europe to Florida. Without a work permit, and unwilling to spend all my time in the Magic Kingdom I decided to take a distance learning course in Botanical Painting to keep me out of trouble. Looking round for some suitable models I found Harry P Leu Gardens, a gorgeous 55 acres of Botanical Gardens here in Orlando and just a bike ride away from where we live. So for over a year now I have kept a blog at which has recorded the fascinating plants I have found there. I sketch, draw and paint, mostly watercolour, and then write about the histories, botany and uses of the many varied species.

Pima Cotton, bol, flower and leaf.

Pima cotton posts link

2. What is your inspiration?

My inspiration comes from natural forms their ingenious design and endless variety. Not so much just flowers but the seedpods, the roots and shoots and particularly the leaves, the backroom boys who do all the work.

Bauhinia pod

Farfugium leaf

3. How does your garden or nature influence your art?

Leu Gardens has become my second home, I visit 2 or three times most weeks. There is a wonderful mixture of plants and trees, most of them new to me, so this past year has been a real voyage of discovery. My encounter with the plants there is entirely random and every time I go I find something new. I draw and research what I find and can get lost in wonderful stories of medicine, good and bad, discovery and adventure. The histories of plants have so much to tell us. For instance, the wonderful native Yaupon Holly and the Black Tea drink.

Yaupon Holly posts link,

4. Will you share a picture or pictures of your garden with us?

There are so many views to choose from, from formal Rose Garden, to Rainforest Jungle, from Vegetable Plot to Butterfly Garden. But a quiet walk in woods with the towering oaks is wonderful. I sometimes make quick sketches, this is the pavilion in the South Woods.

5. Will you share a picture or pictures of your favorite plant?

I have just revisited a few earlier discoveries and went back to look at the fascinating Bixa Orellana, the lipstick tree, which gives us the coloured dye annatto. These are the drawings.

Bixa pods

Bixa leaf and flower.

Bixa posts link.

6. Do you have a favorite public garden to recommend?

I only have experience of Harry Leu Gardens here in the USA, but of course Kew in the UK is wonderful too. I do hope to get to the Fairchild Garden in Miami very soon.
7. Do you have any photos of your art in the garden to share?
One of my favourite trees is the Soapberry tree. I have written about it and drawn it many times now. Back in October I set up my drawing board and sketched it in situ, recording how the light changed over a few hours.

Link to Soapberry posts .

8. What is the best lesson you have learned from the garden or nature?

A walk in the Gardens with time to really observe the beauty and ingenuity of nature, clears my mind, lessens my worries and makes me see our human lives in perspective. We are small and insignificant in comparison to the great and ancient continuity of “life” and a walk amongst the great Live Oaks and Pines is a humbling experience. And, to dispel any danger of becoming too introspective, the antics of the squirrels, lizards and woodpeckers are endlessly amusing. We do all have time to look, sometimes it’s just making the effort, but taking that time brings rewards, many fold.

9. Do you have a gardening tip to share with fellow gardeners?

My garden guru here at Leu Gardens is Pedro one of the gardeners. He is from the Philippines and has a real affinity with nature. He loves natural ways of growing and caring for things and sometimes his philosophy is to let nature take its course. He sows seeds by just throwing them in the air and allowing nature to dictate their positioning. He is very successful.

10. Are you creating anything new that you'd like to share with us?

I am currently preparing for an exhibition about the blog at the Leu Gardens, which will be a small selection of the now over 400 drawings and paintings I have made in the last Year. Alongside the images will be the relevant blog posts, which will make it a little different from the usual exhibitions. The exhibition will run from April to June. I hope people will enjoy seeing and reading about some of the fascinating plants in the Gardens and discover some of the details and stories that would otherwise have passed them by!

Magnolia Burrs

Val, I thank you for sharing your observations, inspirations and botanical paintings with us today! I hope to see your exhibit on my next trip to Orlando, Fl. May you have much success at the Leu Gardens exhibition!

Thanks for visiting! Please leave a comment if you'd like and stay tuned for the next "Artists in the Garden" interview.

Spring Birdhouses

I've been making a lot of new ceramic pieces for both the garden and home lately and thought I'd share these new birdhouses today. I have them listed in My Mother's Garden Etsy shop. They are approximately 5" round and look like little hanging ornaments when placed in the garden. I have three of them hanging at different levels from my yellow tecoma stans tree. I think they add lots of decorative whimsy to my garden. Someday I hope to find them filled with nesting birds. Happy spring everyone!

Happiness In The Garden

Happiness to me is seeing a garden teeming with many blossoms and much color. This is the time of year for my garden to come ablaze in an eclectic show of color.

These purple blooms are Queen's Wreath (petrea volubilis). This is as close as we get to Wisteria blooms down here in zone 10 Florida. I must say that every time she blooms, I feel a little bit of joy inside myself.

This is a picture of one side of the garden (the happy side) , here you can see what I mean when I say "eclectic". I used to compare my garden to those I saw in magazines or the formal gardens that I have visited and inevitably I'd end up feeling like a terrible gardener. I have finally come to accept that my gardening style is eclectic, wild and a little crazy. And I love it! I have given myself the freedom to enjoy it however it may look. I find myself continually in awe at the magic of nature. Having said that, I have promised myself that my next garden will be well thought out and planned. Until then...I'm at peace with my present crazy quilt of a garden.

A lizard lounging on the garden spheres.

The mystery plant, double petaled clarkia, in full bloom.

Looking up at the sky through the angel trumpet blossoms.

A happy day in the garden indeed!


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