Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 5. History of the project

Since moving back to Norway there have been two bumper years for Cloudberry fruit and this is why we have so much in the freezer now.

But back to my sketches that were incomplete right up until last summer (2022). This plant in particular is not easy to find if you don’t know exactly where to look, and even then you might miss the right period of time.

We took a couple of long day trips into the mountains to look, and we eventually found what was missing. As well as a lot of driving, I extended the workday when I got back home. The flowers don’t last long and whilst I had them, I needed to dissect and sketch with measurements before going to bed. 

Robin birdwatching

The typical demands to a botanical artist. But luckily during the summer months we have a lot of daylight hours in southern Norway – in fact around mid-summer the sky doesn’t really go dark. Birdwatching at midnight is different to say the least! The picture to the left is Robin birdwatching at 5 mins past midnight on the 12 June – still over a week to mid-summer!

The lesson learned? Make sure when sketching that you have the where-with-all to measure various aspects of your plant and to make accurate colour swatches.

Equipment for sketching outside

As you will see from the pictures at the top, sketching on location can have various problems, from ants still defending their old anthill, a very hard bottom rest and a helpful cat.

The anthills in the Norwegian forests can be huge, but so too can the ants. They have a large territory to look after and a lot of old wood to turn into something future generations of trees and ants can live off. But they do have a painful bite! One often finds several of the plant species I was considering, growing on them. One often finds lingonberry, bilberry and mountain crowberry, well established on them. It also suggests what some of the ants transport to their home.

When I am out sketching in nature I minimise the amount of equipment I have with me. I try to keep everything in the same sketchbook and for watercolour use a Stillman & Birn, Zeta series. It has stood up well to the battering it has had and takes the watercolour washes well. 

Normally I use a bum-bag when walking not too far and it will contain this kit:

Of course I go nowhere in the mountains without my mobile phone, but these days they are much more than a phone or safety net. The Victsing 3-in-1 mobile phone camera lens was introduced to me many years ago by Sarah Morrish and I use this to get the details not normally seen very well. In particular it enabled me to get a picture and draw the growing tip with flowers of the Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum (mountain crowberry) . I keep a small piece of mm paper with it to measure within the photos.

My palette is an old one with the original student colours removed and replaced with artist quality colours. I use transparent single pigment colours and normally have a couple of yellows and Quin Gold, Permanent Rose, Perylene Violet, Purple, A cold and warm blue and this time a single pigment green.

The pencils preferred are a 3B and HB as they are easy to lift if necessary, plus a single black fine liner pen. I only need to sharpen one of the pencils so have a sharpener to fit that. Otherwise travel brushes, ruler and erasers, magnifying glass, small water holder and kitchen towel. 

Sketching in the New Forest in the UK. I got a tick bite this time, but it wasn’t infected.
A dire warning; this is what happens when an infected tick bites. This is Robin’s leg last year.

If I take specimens with me, then I have a small plastic bag ready and can add some of my painting water. Sketching back in the cottage or at home means that I have all my equipment available.

I nearly forgot an important addition to the list above; Insect repellant because of the ticks, and sun screen, particularly here in Norway where the air is so clear.

The picture to the left is Robin’s leg last summer after a tick bite! We have a lot of dear and ticks, but doctors are very aware of the dangers and are quick to prescribe treatment.

A serious start on the series in 2017

My friend’s cottage at 800m over sea level.

By 2017 I still hadn’t decided which plants I was going to paint and this first year we borrowed a cottage from one of my oldest friends in Norway. The cottage was at about 850m over sea level. 

Around the cottage we found Rubus chamaemorus (cloudberry), bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), bog bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum)and mountain crowberry (Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum). This was a pretty good start. 

Notice that three of them were Vacciniums – from the heather family. In fact the Blueberries you buy in the shops are yet another species (Vaccinium corymbosum) but they are farmed and not included in my choice.

Importantly I hadn’t found a bearberry (Arcostaphylos uva-ursi) which was partly the reason for choosing to do this series.

But there were loads of other lovely flowers such as Heath spotted orchids, geraniums and various insectivorous plants such as the Common butterwort. There was also plenty of Andromeda polifolia (bog rosemary) in the moss and amongst the new Cloudberry leaves. When seeing it growing at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, I realised it was an opportunity to paint the species and the resulting picture resides in the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium collection.

Andromeda polifolia – Bog Rosemary

This continues on 6 April 2023

My latest piece of botanical art – in Watercolour

Bog Rosemary at 900 metres in the Norwegian mountains. Peeping up from Sphagnum moss and surrounded by Cloudberry leaves.

Its been a while since I last did a blog about my process, but as I am getting into a new piece I thought I would share it with you as I go along. First of all let me tell you the story behind the plant.

The plant is Andromeda polifolia or bog rosemary and I first saw it in wet boggy areas high up in the Norwegian mountains.

I am painting a series of plants with edible fruit from this area  but found this beautiful little flower and decided to investigate it. The fruit is not edible and may in fact, cause some uncomfortable side effects, therefore not suitable for my series.

Andromeda polifolia in Chelsea Physic Garden, London.

The plant was named by Linnaeus, comparing the plant to Andromeda. The plant is indeed beautiful in its native boggy setting.

I am a member of the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society (CPGFS) and one of the plants in the garden is an Andromeda polifolia, although at lower altitudes it seems to be a much sturdier plant, taller and with more leaves. Being part of a Florilegium means that on a yearly basis one has to paint one of the gardens plants as part of its documentation process. With the beautiful little mountain plant I had in mind from Norway, I thought this a fantastic opportunity to study and paint it properly for the CPGFS. By the way, although I am painting it for the CPGFS, it doesn’t mean that it will be accepted. A rigorous process is gone through before artwork is accepted into their collection – this I won’t know until February 2021.

As I normally do, I studied the plant carefully, researched it and drew detailed sketches in my sketchbook. I also dissected the flower as I thought this told a story in its own right. The anthers have appendages which is typical of plants in the Ericaceae (Heather) family. Also, the petals (5) are fused into a tube. I am not a botanist, but the more I study the plants I paint or draw, I feel I always want to know more about them!

Once I felt I had enough information I planned my composition. This is not always easy and although we have lots of ‘rules’ etc to guide us, in the end it is what you feel looks best that is the decider. Here are two plans that I made to choose from.

Which one do you prefer?

In the end I chose the composition to the right as I felt this was more likely to guide the eye around the composition.

I did both of these compositions digitally, using the sketches from my sketchbook.

The following pictures are are photos taken at different stages, but as the painting is not finished I will need to come back with additional blogs to show you the rest of the process. By the way, the graphite line drawing in the centre is a habitat drawing showing the plant at its natural size.

A very short blog!

This blog is my husband’s fault; He thought that today warranted one.

It has been a bit of a tough day with many different things to sort out including preparation for my botanical art workshop: Composition and Perspective, starting tomorrow.

But in the middle of the day the post arrived with a letter that gave me a huge lift. It said that my third picture in three years, has been accepted into the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium collection. This means that I am now a Fellow!

Of course I am really pleased too as it shows the effort has paid off – in addition to the added enjoyment I get from botanical art. But, the CPGFS are a lovely group of people who are never afraid to share their knowledge about botanical art. I have learnt a lot since becoming a member and of course it is situated in an especially beautiful garden which is well worth a visit at any time of the year.

My third piece – Armeria maritima – Pink Sea Thrift.

Coloured pencil or Watercolour for a botanical art subject?

In actual fact, I’m cheating a little, as I was going to write this blog this evening having spent a couple of days off from writing my botanical art online course, to sketch some Fritillaries in preparation for a commission in watercolour. But, I also got a query from a lady this evening, about the use of coloured pencils and how I choose whether to use watercolour or coloured pencil for a subject.

My answer to her and anyone else who asks ( as I do get the question fairly regularly), is that I have no idea. I just have a feeling that I want to do one or the other.

But, when I did my last RHS exhibit in 2014, I deliberately chose to do it in coloured pencil to show that solid subjects (crabapples), dainty subjects (blossom) and delicate detail (dissections), could be done in coloured pencil. The judges said they didn’t realise I had used CP and thought it was in watercolour!

Back to the commission; I had bought some Fritillaria meleagris at the local garden centre and Fritillaria Michailovskyi at Chelsea Physic Garden when I was there at the beginning of the month. I think we are innate plant hoarders! So this week I have been doing a series of small sketches in my sketchbooks.

Without thinking too much, I started out in a Stillman & Bern Epsilon sketchbook, realised what I had done (as the Zeta is better for watercolour), but continued in it, deciding to do my colour samples in coloured pencil. Although you can’t compare CP and watercolour by the names, or know how one colour mixes with another, I know the two mediums well enough to be able to convert fairly happily.

I’m afraid the following photo is not brilliant as I took it on my easel this evening, but I think you get a reasonably good idea of the results on the page.

Fritillaria meleagris in coloured pencil.
Fritillaria meleagris in coloured pencil.

By the time I had finished these, the one dark flower I had was looking a bit faded as it was being subjected to being in the warmth of the shed during the day and outside during the cold night. I needed to concentrate on the foliage as it was a bluish green, except near the base, but felt I really should do this in watercolour.

I changed to the Stillman & Bern Zeta sketchbook. Shame they aren’t all in the same one – but never mind! I had hacked (dissected) the one flower to pieces and done one or two small sketches, so decided to draw a portrait of the bulbs. In the end, all of the sketches on the 2nd page are watercolour over graphite. The bulb is from the Fritillaria meleagris, but you also see the Fritillaria Michailovskyi. I have taken a photo of that one halfway through so you can see the amount of graphite shading I actually did. Before adding colour, I did a wash of clear water to ‘set’ the graphite so it wouldn’t discolour the colours I was going to use.

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At last the Fuchsia microphylla picture

Yesterday we spent a super day in London, visiting Kew gardens. We had a lovely time and lunch with a good friend (also a botanical artist) at Kew, before going to have a look at the latest exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood gallery. The pieces that struck me most, were a series of Poppies by Denise Ramsay. If you get the chance to go and see them, please do.

We had been invited to an exhibition at the Herbarium in the early evening. The artist was Gustavo Marigo from Brazil, who had been on the Margaret Mee Fellowship programme. Watch this space, the last piece he worked on right up to the exhibition had so much depth and was quite beautiful.

The weather yesterday was so miserable and wet; we never thought, when we got up that the day would be so interesting.

Today I have been in the shed finishing off the Fuchsia microphylla. I mentioned last time that I had one or two problems because of the intense colours. Like anything else, when one sees a plant up close the colours become very clear and stronger than they might seem from a distance.

I had intended to draw a snippet of the plant actual size, in graphite. However the graphite appeared so subdued against the strong colours.

Fuchsia microphylla in watercolour with graphite section actual size.
Fuchsia microphylla in watercolour with graphite section actual size.

Robin suggested that i change the graphite section to ink to balance the picture. I was very dubious, but traced the section in ink on a sheet of acetate.



Fuchsia microphylla in watercolour with trial ink section actual size.
Fuchsia microphylla in watercolour with trial ink section actual size.




Doesn’t look too bad does it? So I took the plunge.

Fuchsia microphylla in watercolour with ink section actual size.
Fuchsia microphylla in watercolour with ink section actual size.

Here is the final painting. Try and imagine it without the watermark as it unbalances the actual composition:

Fuchsia microphylla from Chelsea Physic Garden, in watercolour with ink.
Fuchsia microphylla from Chelsea Physic Garden, in watercolour with ink.

CPGFS and IAPI meetings – all botanical art of course!

What does CPGFS and IAPI mean? Read on.

We got back from Norway on Wednesday last week after a two-day drive. I was tired and so was Robin. But of course as usual the diary was full when we got back. Against my better judgement I had said yes to an invitation to an 20th anniversary lunch held by the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society (CPGFS). This was of course in London, but was held at the Royal College of Physicians; what a wonderful building and a delicious meal. we were lucky enough to sit at a table with some really nice members and it gave me the opportunity to put my mind at rest in relation to the expectations of me as a member. I haven’t yet started the work on the picture I will be doing, although I have decided what I am going to do.

After the meal we were invited into the garden by Dr Henry Oakley for an introduction to the gardens. Although we only had a short time being led around the garden (we had a train to catch) it was absolutely fascinating. We got a potted history of the garden and then a thoroughly interesting reasoning behind its layout and the plants that were there. I think that many were surprised that so many really important medicines that are in use today, can be evolved from one and the same plant. There were several instances of this happening. I just wish we could have stayed longer. I’m glad that we made the effort to go.

Dr Henry Oakley explaining about the uses of the Opium Poppy.
Dr Henry Oakley explaining about the uses of the Opium Poppy.

Thursday was spent catching up with cleaning and washing clothes (followed all the time by the cats), before we went away for the weekend! Once a year the Institute for Analytical Plant Illustrators (IAPI) has a weekend away. There is normally a meeting every two months which we try to attend when we can as there is so much to learn from the rest of the group: botanists and botanical artists.This time it was decided that the meeting should start in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. Maureen Lazarus and Heather Pardoe were to show us some of the botanical art in the collection. They were very knowledgeable about the collection which included artworks from Ehret up to modern day artists.

Although we missed the beginning of the session (junction closed on the M4), we still saw most of the pictures they had selected for us and heard some of the history behind them. Pictures ranged from ones by Ehret to modern day botanical artists.

Part of a work by G. Griffiths
Part of a work by G. Griffiths

11.IAPI 0715
Work by Ehret.

Part of a picture by Bryan Poole. The composition on this one was very exciting.
Part of a picture by Bryan Poole. The composition on this one was very exciting.












The following day we planned to go to the National Botanic Gardens of Wales as a group. In between times we found each to our hotels for the night and we happened to end up at the same place as another group of people we were due to see the next day. Funnily enough, our visit coincided with Gardeners Question Time; they had chosen the same hotel as us – or the other way round!

We had a really beautiful day at the Botanic Gardens. The sun shone and it was warm. But we wanted to see everything. In the end we only watched one of the show recordings (they took two, obviously with a different panel), caught some of the talks round the garden, but we also wanted to SEE the plants as well as HEAR about how to look after them. These are one or two pictures.

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Botanical art and 50th Nurses reunion

I knew that May was going to be a jam packed month, but…….  I’m still trying to breath sensibly!

It started with Open Studios for two weekends, sandwiching my weekly botanical art shop and a workshop at Goodnestone Park in Kent. Once that was all cleared up, it was preparation for the nurses reunion. 

I never got as far as to finish an individual picture for all the girls meeting again (with some husbands – 26 of us), but I did manage eight, so gave a copy of each of them to the 17 girls( yes we are). The flowers included, Hellebore, Snowflake, Gorse, Primrose, Canary Bird Rose, Bluebell, Periwinkle and Aqualegia. 
People started arriving on Thursday, we met for supper on Friday, then from Saturday afternoon we hosted everything from home!!!. Afternoon tea, a super dinner provided by local caterers ( I couldn’t do it), and then Sunday brunch as people waved goodbye until the next reunion. I gave the caterers earplugs (which I don’t think they used), although I really felt sorry for the people downstairs in the pub where we had our Friday meal. Our neighbours sensibly went out for the evening on Saturday.




Monday morning, 09:30 sharp, we were at the Oxmarket in Chichester. It was the Society of Floral Painters (SFP) hanging in day. Robin was a runner and I was on the selection panel. I have to say that we have some really lovely work in this year. We spent all Monday and Tuesday selecting and hanging the artwork. You can come and see it until 6 June, except for Mindays, although it will be open this bank holiday Monday.

This isn’t meant to be a diary, but there is a lot going on at the moment.

Yesterday I had my normal class in the morning and then we went into London to bust Chelsea, with a small stop on the way at the Chelsea Physic garden. I have to say that was the best bit. It’s so peaceful there.  We go home late last night, up early again today and the day was spent demonstrating for me at the Oxmarket and Robin was stewarding.

Once we got home this evening I marked a couple of London Art College assignments and tomorrow we are off to Devon. Robin is going on a cookery course and I’m going to sleep!  

A day at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London

It is 11:30 in the morning and I am sitting in the Chelsea Physic Garden, drinking a cup of coffee, looking out over beautifully sunny flower beds. I am recovering from a shock – a very pleasant one, but still a shock.

I had applied for membership with the Chelsea Florilegium and was invited to submit five pictures for review today. My ‘bag carrier’ Robin (his phrase – not mine) and I took the early train from Bosham and arrived here precisely on time at 11:00. I delivered my pictures and was told that we would be collected from downstairs about 20 minutes later.

I think it was about five minutes or so and they came to tell me the good news. I have been accepted. I am still recovering.

No doubt as time goes on you will hear more about my involvement with the Florilegium, but today I am taking advantage of a very pleasant day out, in beautiful relaxing surroundings. However, it will mean a bit of gardening when we get home as I have spotted some ‘must have’ plants!

Me, writing the words of this blog post to you.
Me, writing the words of this blog post to you.

I’m afraid that after we were given the good news, Robin did spoil me for the rest of the day. We spent the rest of the time meandering around the garden, with a break for a lovely lunch. I’m glad that it was so early in the year as not everything was above soil level – but even today there was so much to look at. Although I had forgotten my phone and camera, I was able to take one or two pics with Robin’s iPad.

How to plant what size bulbs at which depth!
How to plant what size bulbs at which depth!

We noticed this super idea in a bed that was about to be filled.With the aid of pot fragments, they had created the shape of a flower pot, laid different size bulbs at different depths from the soil surface to show how deep bulbs of certain sizes should be planted. It looked really good and certainly brought home how to plant bulbs.

Ribes speciosum
Ribes speciosum


I was intrigued by this plant. It is Ribes speciosum,  the common name is apparently ‘fuchsia-flowered gooseberry’. It was growing up a wall. The flowers were small and elongated, very delicate as well as attractive.

Rosa chinensis 'Crimson Bengal'
Rosa chinensis ‘Crimson Bengal’


Roses at this time of year! I thought that the Canary Bird Rose was one of the earliest. We have quite a large on in our garden, but it hasn’t begun to flower yet. But this Rosa Chinensis ‘Crimson Bengal’ was in full flower. Again very attractive and in particular at this time of year before so much has started flowering.

Rosa chinensis 'Crimson Bengal'
Rosa chinensis ‘Crimson Bengal’


It won’t be too long before everything in the garden begins to run rampant. So being able to study fewer plants in more detail, is quite a treat.


If you take a trip to London – do go to the Chelsea Physic Garden too. It is well worth it. It is the second oldest botanical garden in England after the one in Oxford, and is from 1673.