Earth Journal
Spring Sketchbook
by Gary Pendleton

When I draw from nature, I see details, even hidden beauty, that might otherwise go unobserved. Some of the revelations are backyard things we take for granted: the buds on a tulip tree, native mountain laurel, commonplace greenbrier. Others are spectacular things that bless our wild places, like the lovely Virginia bluebell or retiring showy orchis.

Nature takes many forms, but you'll have to slow your pace to see or seek them. Take Earth Day as a spring moment to see these wonders.

Showy Orchis

Orchids, at right, are the world's largest family of plants. The Mid-Atlantic region is home to many species of orchid. One of the prettiest and most colorful is the showy orchis, with its bi-colored inflorescence of purple and white. Because of habitat loss and over-collecting by zealous plant lovers, the showy orchis is rarely seen in our area, at least in my experience.

Collecting or poaching wild plants threatens their existence. It's also pointless because the soil and habitat requirements are so particular that orchid transplants will, almost without exception, die. Buy native plants for your garden from reputable nurseries, and enjoy your occasional encounters with native orchids in the wild.

I found this one growing off a path through a mature stand of woods with Jack-in-the pulpit, spicebush and partridge berry.


Greenbrier, or catbrier, (at left) is not likely to be on anyone's list of favorite plants. However, a hooded warbler would give an enthusiastic response. Greenbrier is closely associated with those diminutive, boldly patterned yellow-and-black birds. The young tender growth is also preferred by deer for food. So don't be too hasty in dismissing the humble greenbrier. Like most native plants, it has its place in the complex web of life.

Tulip Tree Buds

One of the most charming examples of nature in miniature is the tulip tree bud, at right.. Now is the time to closely examine their elegant curves. Look for one on a tree near you.

Virginia Bluebells

This early spring wildflower grows abundantly in the rich floodplain soil of the Potomac River. It has a spray of sky-blue flowers and large, grass-green leaves. This specimen was planted by my wife Karyn in our wildflower garden. The day I drew it in my sketchbook, I had just finished an eight-week program of figure drawing with live nude models. This drawing always reminds me of a model posing.

Mountain Laurel

This native shrub, at left, is also popular in the home landscape. It grows throughout our region, from the mountains to the coastal plain in well-drained acidic soil. Like blueberries, azaleas and rhododendrons, it is a member of the heath family.

| Issue 16 |

Volume VII Number 16
April 22-26, 1999
New Bay Times

| Homepage |
| Back to Archives |