All these studies are in watercolours. I am not sure they should be called 'botanical'. When I paint subjects like this I feel much the same as I do in front of a live subject for a portrait. I am painting them not so much for their botanical detail but for their beauty as individual living things. Above all I hope the viewer gets some sense of how much I absolutely adore them.
These wild flowers are all from the area around my home, the highways and byways of Wiltshire in the UK where I am luckily enough to live. Much of this area is characterized by quite poor, stoney and chalky soil but this supports its own peculiar variety of wonderful things that have evolved to thrive in just those conditions by our roadsides, under our hedgerows and around our meadows.
My father loved fuchsias and I love them too. They are such accommodating plants to grow with a wide range of applications in the garden and greenhouse. They are easy to propagate and train but most of all unusual amongst plants for their style of beauty. There is nothing else quite like them in their beguiling simpicity as single blooms or in the magnificent blousiness of their double hybrids. The first one I painted, Airedale, I gave to the Bishop of Idaho, who I met in Airedale itself, on holiday after a conference at Lambeth Palace. At the time his advice and encouragement helped me to deal with a personal crisis.
Few plants left alone in our garden thrive without considerable care and a huge amount of luck due to the nature of the soil which is stony, calcareous and tends to dry out quickly even after a deluge. Shrubs are an exception. A little care in selection and planting and some cosseting to begin with are essential but once established they tend to flourish and reward. Here are a few of my favorite tough guys.
Clematis are fascinating subjects to paint but it is hard work indeed to do these super plants justice. Varieties of the Montana species work well for us in the garden. Others can be successful for a while but then suddenly collapse. Dry summers are their worst enemy but they need care and protection until established especially from slugs and caterpillers which strip the fresh stems of their outer membranes.
The Alpina variety painted here, Frances Rivis, has simply gorgeous chalky lilac/blue sepals with white petals and flowers early enough to be an ideal companion amongst spring yellows.
Montana Mayleen has the most delicious, intoxicating scent and in spring is the star of the garden. Ours grows a distance of 19 metres and is horizontally trained across the full width of the garden on a wooden frame just above head height which passes over an archway.
Two cheerful favorites and regular good doers. I get a little impatient with the mess created by decaying foliage and am often tempted to clear it away too early but the reward is worth it.