Archive for the 'In The Garden' Category

Painted Ladies

Have you ever witnessed a butterfly break free of it’s cocoon? I had always imagined the molting process as being long and gradual; something one surely wouldn’t miss in the blink of an eye.

Last week my neighbour, Kathryn, called me up in an hurry, asking if I wanted to come over and witness a chrysalis hatching. (Kathryn’s son is an insect enthusiast and for the past two years, they’ve ordered Painted Lady Caterpillar kits through the mail.) I went over not knowing what to expect. On their kitchen table sat a netted enclosure (which looked like a collapsible laundry hamper) with cocoons pinned to the inside wall. Eight butterflies had hatched earlier that morning and were now flexing their wings along the mesh wall. Lucky for me, there were still 6 cocoons remaining. The one we focused our attention on had a deeper colour showing through the chrysalid shell…a sign it could open any second.

painted lady butterfly cocoon

Kathryn and I sat in front of the hamper with our eyes glued to the cocoon. Sure enough, a little break started to form along the cocoon’s side, and then within seconds, out popped the butterfly! As it pumped up it’s wings, a red liquid trickled down. What I thought was blood was actually a substance called Meconium: a metabolic waste product from the pupal stage. You can see the red stains from the process in the above photo.

Toy and the butterflies

Butterflies are pretty low maintenance, however, they do require a a fresh supply of fruit to feed from until their release. Because Kathryn and her family were heading out camping that weekend, I was delighted to be given the task of butterfly sitter. Toy, our cat, was equally delighted and kept a close watch on her new flitty friends.

paintedbutterfly_sketch3

I was able to make some sketches while the butterflies were resting. The top and bottom of the Painted Lady wings are so different in colour and pattern.

painted butterfly sketch

The underwing has such a sophisticated pallet of chocolate browns, honey browns, creams and clever hits of turquoise and sky blue.

painted lady butterfly wing eating

Perhaps next year I’ll order a butterfly kit of my own. It would be neat to witness the caterpillar stage all the way through to the big, final release!

Time Lapse of a Flowering Croton

Have you seen the film Dennis the Menace? There’s a scene were Mr. Wilson is hosting a garden party to celebrate the anticipated blooming of his treasured “Night-Blooming Mock Orchid”, a fictional species of plant that only flowers once every 40 years.  Just as the flower’s petals begin to unfold, Dennis bursts into the scene, drawing everyone’s attention away from the spectacle—only for it to have completely withered by the time they look back. (Here’s the clip)

I feel for poor, old Mr. Wilson. Forty years is a long time to wait for a plant to perform a 10-second show and then miss it. Luckily for me, one of my houseplants performed a flowering show that was a little harder to miss.

croton marker drawing, croton illustration, croton plant

Sketch of the same Croton plant, back in 2012.

For the first time in the seven years I had cared for it, my Croton plant decided to grow a strand of tightly clustered buds from it’s crown. It was early July and I had just moved apartments, and so instead of sitting in its usual south-facing window, my Croton found a new place in front of a north-facing window. A little research revealed that it’s quite rare for indoor Crotons to flower, so perhaps the change in light direction really did play a part.

Well whatever the reason, this plant sure put on a nice show. And thanks to the magic of time lapse photography I can share its blooming spectacle with you. (see video below)

flowering croton plant

one week into flowering

flowering croton

3 weeks into flowering

time lapse photography, flowering croton

To make the time lapse video, my boyfriend, Kevin, hooked up an intervalometer to his Canon 6D. After experimenting with different frame rates, we settled on taking one frame every 5 minutes. A soft box gave us a steady source of light throughout the two and a bit weeks we spent shooting it.

Solitary Bee House

Bees are a hot topic right now, and rightly so.

Bee populations are falling at an alarming rate, which isn’t cool when you consider how essential they are to our food system. The use of pesticides and monocultures of commodity crops (like wheat and corn) that sterilize the landscape of biodiversity are just two of the contributing factors to their disappearance.

Agapostemon, Solitary Bee

Last summer I attended a Pollinators workshop put on by the good people at TheStop.org. The presenter that day was artist and bee enthusiast, Stephen Humphrey. He explained the differences between solitary and communal bees and how important it was to encourage their presence in our yards through the help of bee houses and by growing native plants.

I was especially delighted to learn that a certain emerald wasp-like insect I had photographed in my garden (see above) was in fact a species of solitary bee called Agapostemon. In fact, it’s one of Stephen’s favourite species and it’s not hard to see why. They’re absolutely gorgeous!

Stephen is part of an ecologically-minded artist’s group called Resonating Bodies. I recommend checking out their bee house installations!

paper cut bee illustration solitary bee house

Flash forward 6 months later, and there I was, illustrating solitary bees for the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s kid’s publication, WILD. (Thanks to AD, Steve Balaban)

Bee_Bungalow

The step by step guide teaches kids how to make their own bee house out of the simplest of materials: drilling holes into pieces of wood. Here’s another way of making a bee house I spotted at Toronto Blooms, using clustered bamboo sticks.

bamboo_beehouse2

The construction of bee houses combined with the replanting of native wildflowers is one small step we can all take to help improve our bee numbers.

I plan on making one for my backyard and I’ll be sure to post an update on how it turns out!

Sweet Potato Vine Update

I find it coincidental that the same week I watched “Gravity” in theatres, my sweet potato plant decided to give in to gravity and lower its vines.

As mentioned in my previous post, the vines were “growing upwards, straight like a sapling”…well, that’s simply not the case anymore! In the span of 48 hours, it’s stalks bent completely over like fallen timber and continued growing like nothing had happened. Its newly swooped vines give the plant a more balanced shape now, and I’m happy to see that it’s settling comfortably into its new, roomier pot.

sweet potato vine plant potted

Sweet Potato Vine

I came across this diagram in one of my old houseplant books:

vintage houseplant book sweet potato vine diagram

Sweet-potato placed in a pickle jar soon makes an attractive house vine”, it read. Seeming easy enough, I gave it a try with a few modifications.

Placed in a pot with soil, my store-bought sweet potato began to grow leaves a couple of days after it’s first watering. The leaves were waxy and veiny like tiny techni-colour bat’s wings, at first — a really strange sight to see!

sweet potato vine plant

It’s been over a month now, and this experiment of a plant is doing quite well. Unlike the diagram, my sweet potato’s vine is growing upwards, straight like a sapling. Maybe if it stays healthy over the winter I’ll be able to plant it outside come spring. I’ll share its progress in the coming months.

Spoils of Soil

Soil is an amazingly complex thing. Scoop up just a handful of it and (ideally) you’ll be holding a combination of silt, sand, clay, organic matter, as well as countless micro organisms in the form of bacteria and fungi.

Toronto’s dirt is top-notch, containing 1/3 of Canada’s Class 1 soil, thanks to the ancient lake basin we now call home. So if you think about it, there are loads of superstar soil hiding right below the pavement under our feet!

redboots

After taking a workshop on soil, I was eager to build my own backyard compost. (Yes, Toronto’s soil is really good, but I wanted to make it even better.) With a little help from gardening blogs, I realized how easy it was to make one.

My idyllic vision of a compost had always been a wooden slat box, and thanks to a discarded wooden slat futon sitting on the side of the road, I was able to make it a reality. All of the pieces were there; they just had to be reworked a little. The only thing I had to purchase from the hardware store was the wire mesh to line it.

As you can see from the photos below, my compost is without a side door. That’s on the list of things to do, but not urgent, as my compost heap is still quite small.

compost DIY homemade

Composting is all about layering, plain and simple. I started with a base of shredded newspaper and from there it’s been a pattern of  layering mulch, manure, kitchen waste and black earth as I go. There aren’t any rules, really. The layers are just there to encourage bacteria formation and keep air flowing.

So far, the raccoons and other night scavengers haven’t shown any interest in my little compost heap, which is a huge relief! The reason being that the kitchen scraps I’ve been feeding it are strictly plant based.

I guess I’ll have to wait until next summer to put my composting efforts to the test. In the mean time, I’ll continue to gaze at roadside, land-fill-destined futons, with the knowledge that each one of them has the potential to be a stylish, free compost bin.

Crassula Ovata

I’ve been working on some plant studies and thought I’d share one of my favourites: Crassula Ovata, otherwise known as Jade.

Jade is a succulent native to South Africa. It has chubby spoon-like leaves that grow opposite to each other on a stem that will eventually turn woody with age. The leaves are a dark green colour with hits of contrasting red on their undersides. The graceful, predictable structure of this plant is what attracts me most.

jade plant crassula ovata

I find it funny how very opposing people’s tastes are when it comes to houseplants.

Here I am raving about Jade when a former Brooklyn Botanical Garden horticulturist by the name of Montague Free can’t stand the species. He writes in his 1946 book, “All About House Plants”:

“Under any name (Jade) leaves me cold, for it is a dreary plant with fat, uninteresting leaves and a stodgy habit of growth. It’s tiny flowers are so seldom produced under house conditions that they cannot be looked on as a redeeming feature.”

My response to him (because this is clearly a debate between me and a now dead horticulturist) is:

“Dear Montague Free, I’m sorry that Jade plants were uninteresting to you simply because they seldom flower. You are right, I should’ve stuck to growing poinsettias all year round, as your reference photos suggest because that’s not at all tacky!”

crassula ovata jade plant drawings


Hello

My name is Ashley Barron and I'm a Toronto based illustrator. This is my online show & tell of new artwork and anything else I find inspiring. Thanks for taking a look :)

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Big spoon / Little spoon Restricting myself to this colour palette for some much needed personal work. Scroll to see so far. #HenriRousseau 🐯 Yeti hunting Nori's tail. (From a couple weeks ago.) Baby #DinosaurKale "Make your own fairy garden" illustration for @cwf_fcf 's Wild Magazine. 🐚🌼🍄 Making a fairy garden, starting with some #butterflyweed 🦋🌿 This little guy survived the winter! #purplekale 💜