Visit to a forest of the future

There remain many botanical parts of trees to be drawn and a few whole trees to be depicted by Sarah Simblet, yet a forest visited this week by the authors will be one of the last whole treescapes to feature in The New Sylva.

The authors visited Brechfa Forest Gardens near Abergorlech in Carmarthenshire. During the 1950s and 60s some 90 different potentially productive forest tree species were planted there by the Forestry Commission to study how they would survive and grow, and whether they would be productive. Whilst some have failed completely, others are thriving in the moist atmosphere of this sheltered Welsh valley.

The study visit was made as part of our research for the final chapter of The New Sylva, which is looking to the future. We were particularly interested in a stand of sugi or Japanese red cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) and were delighted to find it not only thriving and in good health, but growing in a beautiful part of the valley near to the babbling River Gorlech.

Sarah Simblet at work on a drawing for The New Sylva at Brechfa Forest Gardens

Sarah Simblet at work on a drawing for The New Sylva at Brechfa Forest Gardens

Sarah found a comfortable seat on a riverside rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) opposite the stand of futuristic sugi which towered above at 27m tall.

We are very grateful to local arboriculturist David Rice for his support, and to Forestry Commission Wales (now Natural Resources Wales).

Autumn fruits

The wet Summer of 2012 was very unfavourable to tree reproduction, and to any artist looking to find good examples of tree fruit!

Artist Sarah Simblet has travelled far and wide to find good examples of arils, berries, cones, drupes and fruits this Autumn for The New Sylva. Talking about her work Sarah said:

“In all of the botanical plates I am seeking to give the reader the experience of having walked up to a tree to grasp a branch and pull it close to them. The drawing then shows the reader what to see.”

Horse Chestnut leaves & fruits

Horse Chestnut leaves & fruits. A drawing by Sarah Simblet for The New Sylva

This horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum was growing near to Sarah’s studio just North of Oxford. This year there are not many trees of the species with healthy leaves, especially without severe damage from the leaf miner. This one also had fully-formed fruits on its lower branches, which were just in reach. It was essential that the fruits were mature for the drawing, but at this stage are attached delicately to their stalks and fall off easily, so the sample needed careful handling.

Quince fruit. A drawing by Sarah Simblet for The New Sylva.

Quince fruit. A drawing by Sarah Simblet for The New Sylva

As any gardener will know apples and pears have had a poor cropping year, while the less common and heavily scented quince Cydonia oblonga has fared similarly. For this drawing of a quince fruit Sarah used the white of the paper to model the form of the fruit and to suggest light reflecting off its skin.

Oxford Botanic Garden

Visit the website of Oxford Botanic Garden

This quince is just one of a number of flowers and fruits sampled from trees in Oxford Botanic Garden, the others being Plymouth Pear, Sorbus spp., Black and White Mulberry and Medlar. While in another of the Garden’s collections a few miles south of the city, at the University of Oxford Harcourt Arboretum, the collection of conifer trees there has been an essential source of drawing and research materials for the authors.

We are very grateful to Tom Price, curator of the hardy plant collection at University of Oxford Botanic Garden, and to Ben Jones, arboretum curator at University of Oxford Harcourt Arboretum, and to all their staff.

A giant alder catkin (2)

In a recent post we wrote about Sarah Simblet’s work in progress, drawing an enlarged alder catkin (see post). Here is a sneak preview of the finished drawing. Far right of the photograph of the drawing (out of focus) is the female flower of Alnus glutinosa.

Detail of the alder catkin drawing by Sarah Simblet

Detail of the alder catkin drawing by Sarah Simblet