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The Botanical Room part 25 Planting for the love of Nature & 'The Call of the Crow'

Updated: May 2, 2023

(This should have gone live in March, it's okay, I am already sitting on the naughty step ;))

When my husband and I were bringing up our boys, we would take them on long walks.

We loved the countryside as we both had 'outdoorsy' childhoods. We thought we knew quite a lot about the flora and fauna of the British Isles. We combined our reference book collections, recalled the lessons of our youth, and tried to educate the boys with all we knew. We tried to plant our love of nature into their hearts. We seemed knowledgeable to them for years, until the internet arrived, surpassed us, and showed our kids what little we actually knew.

As a young family, we would set off on a country walk with one child in a backpack and the other intermittently sitting on our shoulders.

We were the off-season gang, going places when they were more affordable, whatever the weather. We were young, and both being artists, our purse strings were tight, but we tried to do exciting things with as little money as possible. Often, trips included little packed sandwiches, juice cartons, and a packet of custard creams. I always prepared: a wet flannel in a box (my mum's old trick from the pre-wet wipe era), antiseptic cream, sticky plasters and spare trousers for both boys. Essentials!

We would trundle to country parks and forests to get them to look at trees and streams and tell them stories about what creatures might be hiding in the undergrowth. I will confess to making up some pretty, silly stories to keep them engaged.

  • We had the upside-down tree, which forced you to hang upside down from its branches.

  • Country rats are easy to spot as they wear tweed jackets.

  • Angel slides, where the sunbeams were slides for the angels to come down and help us mortals find better ways to be. If you stare hard enough and long enough, you will eventually see an angel sliding down or back up, as they are clever like that. (it kept them quite distracted and watching for quite some time)

  • We told them about fish that could talk and walk and many other silly things.

  • little boys have the best scent for inconspicuously hiding in woods, their scent is best sniffed from behind their ears.

We would get them to build little dams with sticks, and they would come back from the walk very tired and very dirty but would sleep so well.

As they grew a little older, they would often be reluctant to head out for a walk, but we'd go anyway to get them outside and running about. We climbed lakeland hills and steep mountain tracks, always alert to the dangers but revelling in their ability to walk and climb for hours and still find energy to play in a kids park on the way home. They always protested at the start but with a good wind behind them, they excelled.

Eventually, when old enough, they would take themselves off to the woods to enjoy the adventure without mum and dad, no doubt getting up to some little boy mischief along the way.

Once technology arrived it was challenging to get them out, especially with all the temptations of electronic games. It was often difficult and trying, especially when they became teenagers; they would spend more time indoors than out, this made them grumpy towards each other and us.

We worried.

Then hallelujah, something magical occurred.

They switched from gaming to more creative online pursuits, making music and music videos. The music brought them closer and took them outside to make videos and meet up with like-minded friends. Our house became joyous, full of music, albeit loud, and their friendship groups began to overlap. Their musical loves and influences wove their lives closer together into a harmonious, colourful pattern.

We had stopped nagging them about getting outside and exercising because, almost simultaneously with the discovery of music, they both became keen on cycling and walking. Typically, they became better at climbing mountains and cycling than we ever were, and now the nagging has reversed. Every time they come home, they tell us we should exercise and get out more. HA!

The circle of life!

I like to think of our times outside as formative

because now my boys are interested in the garden; they call me for planting and plant care advice. Every time they ask, it's a moment for me to reflect that all the nurturing is deeply embedded and the boys will carry forward our love of nature.

Parenting is hard, and you often don't recognise progress until they have grown; there are joyous and terrifying moments along the way, and you can't take your eye off the watch, not for a moment.

As I write, my youngest son is touring with his band in America; he is following his musical adventure, and every moment I think about him, I worry for his safety. My eldest also a musician is also a keen cyclist and I worry constantly about him on the London roads.

The parental fret is both a blessing and a drain, t'was always thus.

The UK winter has taken its toll on our planting from last year. The bitter winds have torn at the evergreen, leaving them brown and scorched.

We have some work and nurturing to do, to get the garden back in shape, it's a bit like parenting.

My older sister lives in Australia and has recently moved to the countryside, we both have garden challenges, but at least I don't have wallabies eating my roses! I fear she will have to plant native to combat the disappointment.

Notes from the painting table

Back in my studio, I am practising new ideas for tutorials in my school. We have decided to refresh some subjects as technology has progressed and we must keep up.

I have gone back to my pencils for some art recovery; now and then, I like to brush up on some classic art school techniques, try a different medium and hunt for that happy place where you can't wait to return to the easel, I also like doing some art just for myself.

I have been enjoying graphite and oil and even bought some clay to keep my inner artist buzzing.

As this year steadily gallops on, I plan to introduce more techniques for the school and set up some classes in the basic understanding of light and depth of tone and other such things.

I have always steered away from going too structured as I wanted each student to have a more organic way of learning; finding one's way is essential for developing a unique style. But I have realised that for some students, intuition is not always easily followed and that a more structured and lead way of teaching could be preferable. With that in mind, I will start to plump up the beginner's section and add more detailed instruction on technique, giving you more time to tackle the more detailed tutorials you might not have tried yet.

Some useful tips for Watercolour painting

Always mix more colour that you think you will need. The paint will always run out when you least want it to, you may never mix enough, but in time you will get better at matching the mixes.

  • Store your paper in an acid free sleeve, either the plastic wrapping it was bought in or and acid free envelope or sleeve, make sure it is a tight fit to allow as little exposure as possible until you have finished the painting. Some atmospheres can make the sizing on the paper degrade and your paper will become patchy and absorb the paint in an unpredictable way. If that happens you can continue with colour pencil on those tricky areas.

  • Use all your paint, even after the last squeeze of a tube, you can split open the tube with heavy duty scissors and use up the paint that coats the inside of the tube.

  • Swap and share a squeeze of colour with fellow painters, it's great to try colours before you buy, so get together with other painters when you can and swap notes and colour obsessions.

  • Don't fret too much about colour, nothing lasts forever and even oil paintings fade.

  • Always take care of your brushes, great brushes work well for years if you respect them. Never leave them standing in water or store them squished into a tin, invest in a bamboo brush roll or tube and store it upright just in case one gets loose.

  • Take you time, watercolour is often seen as a swift art, done quickly and with flourish. It can be started that way but you will often than not, need it to dry in between sweeps. So wait and watch, and don't rush the brush.

  • Don't spend all your precious painting time mixing up and swatching colours, take any plant or object, try to match the colour, light it by daylight and match it, then match it in shadow or artificial light, light if from behind and match it again. Try different colours to mix the same colour. Above all play, make notes to remind you, but play.

A poem to close

While thinking back to my early parenting days, I remember only too well, the weariness of sleepless nights. The babies seemed only to sleep when I had lost all hope of getting them to do so.Happily it changes as they mature, but at the time, you can dream of all kinds of ways of conjuring them to settle.

I wrote this poem about a young mother who wished to learn the crows song that bewitched her children and indeed the dogs to sleep, only to discover that her wish, when granted, also transformed her into a bird. It's a little troubling but it was based on a dream and those can be weird at times, can't they?

The Call of the Crow by Billy Showell

She heard the crows call the wild children to sleep,

it wasn't a beautiful song,

but deep and gargling, crackle and cough.

A tune that sounded all wrong.

She thought as they sang, it's hypnotic and wild.

But the young ones seemed to adore,

the calls and the cracks

from the birds all in black.

And the little ones called out for more.

Even the whippets that darted about,

while the children played by the wood,

would stoop with an eyelid heavy and slow,

at the sleepy chant of the rustling crow.

And collapse in a dream where they stood.

Caraaaaa, carraaac

Caraaaaa, carraaac

Caraaaaa, carraaac Caraaaaa,

She longed for the gift, as was weary with care,

Her family had grown to the point of despair.

She had no help with their meals and their schooling

Their spirits were wild with frolics and fooling.

Until all she could do was chase and catch,

each child was fast and more than a match.

She needed the secret to calming their noise,

to get to sleep all those small girls and boys.

So she opened the window, cupped her hands to call,

and cried to the gathering crow.

What is your power to make little ones sleep?

Tell me your secret; I'll promise to keep,

for I'm desperate, so desperate to know.

The shiny black birds with their wonderful beaks,

know humans make promises they seldom keep.

So they whispered their calls in a softer tone,

which puts to sleep all those fully grown.

She slumped at the sill, and slipped to the floor.

She slept so deeply, like never before,

and dreamt she could fly with wings of her own.

When she woke, she was flying and singing a tune,

that seemed beautiful, wild, and made her heart swoon

The young ones below had started to cry.

She knew all at once it was she who could fly,

and her black wings shone in the light of the moon.

Never seek the power of the feathered and fine,

their powers are secret, and to them so divine.

A promise proclaimed, then feathered you be,

As only a bird can carry the key,

to the songs and the beauty of a sleep so sublime.

Peace love and sunshine

Billy x

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Thank you to share these pretty moments with your children. I hope I was such a mother, but unhapilly, it seems I wasn't. Good idea to make a more detailed section for beginners, sometimes things seem obvious... and not for everyone. but I find your videos already very useful.

Apr 06, 2023
Replying to

I am sure you were a lovely mum

It’s an endless task and certainly I haven’t always got it right. Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you find the tutorials helpful x


Linda Harvey
Linda Harvey
Apr 03, 2023

Lovely poem. Wishing you peaceful times ahead especially as boys have flown the nest. Still enjoying the tutorials. Very calming. With love 💓💓.


Thanks for sharing all of this. Your children look so happy - so job well done. All those hours of upbringing - all those hours of brush strokes have really paid off. Your instinct seems to be spot on.


Apr 03, 2023

Billy, great idea to add to the beginners section with more technique information. I am exactly one of your members who isn’t intuitive about art and prefer to be led abit more, then just keep trying 😀


Carole Anne Watson
Carole Anne Watson
Apr 02, 2023

I also still worry about my grown up and more than capable children! The poem was a joy to read. Intriguing, captivating, and so clever.😊

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