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The Botanical Room part 28 'There are no pantomimes in June'

Updated: Jul 14, 2023



Hi to July


Farewell to May,

farewell to June,

I loved you so

but you passed too soon.


May I have three English Mays more than I'm allotted

May I have three more pretty, please,

Three extra Mays will be food for my soul,

as May is the best month for me.

While I am here, may I have three more Junes?

as June is so very green

and all of the flowers that fill that sweet month

are the most beautiful floral dream.


My youngest son was born in May. I immediately felt sorry for my eldest, whose birthday falls in December, just a few days before Christmas. Christmas excitement always existed; with a birthday on top, it would be a heady cocktail of just too much fun for one little soul to take on. On the other hand, May was usually sunny, so there could be outside frolics and parties with water squirters, and you still get all the fun of Christmas to look forward to.

So my family planning was to be desired. Still, weirdly, sometimes my youngest would hanker for a winter party with all the twinkly lights and glitter, and today my eldest now celebrates his birthday in the summer.

This all reminds me of a line from the old film 'Brief Encounter' where Celia Johnson kisses her children good night. Her daughter (played by Margaret Jesson) chatters on about wanting to go to the pantomime. She declares in the most English accent ever, 'But my birthday's in June, and there aren't any pantomimes in June'. The way she delivers the line always makes me giggle; it is so very posh. Her accent reminds me of a vinyl my mum used to play to us as children, the recording was from the 1950's or perhaps earlier, of a very posh lady leading a group of children to sing nursery rhymes. We thought is was funny even then, and would pull 'hoity toity' faces as we sang along. My lovely Nan had a posh way of delivering her estuary accent, she would sound posh then occasionally drop in the odd 'we was' instead of we were. We found an old recording of her voice as she was reading a story book to my little sister. We were all enchanted. I dreamt of her that night and could feel her hand in mine, it felt so real, I was reluctant to wake.


This week I have been chiefly watering the garden with a watering can and using the water collected from water butts distributed around the studio garden. We have also been collecting the shower water, sharing our shower with a large bucket, the future I think.

We have had a hot June in the UK. I recall that childhood summers seemed long and drenched in sunshine, but I am sure there were many wet summers because sunny days are the best days; when you're out and having fun, they are the times that stick to your memory bank, like luscious lavender honey.

In my twenties and thirties, I remember some summers being a disappointment due to cold, wet weather. Hence, many of us in the UK would head for warmer places during the holidays. As a mature lady and a keen gardener, leaving the garden at a time when it is most prolific, is now something that will give me 'the vapors'.

I was teaching away at the start of the Iris season and returned well into the middle of the Peony season; these seasons overlap, but luckily my peonies held on for me. I dreaded returning to bald seed heads but managed to enjoy most of the blooms.

Peonies are so transitory that it seems, the minute they're out, that's almost the time they're finishing. But of course, sometimes the short-lived flowers are the most beautiful. Take the daylilies, they come and go in a day, but each bloom is a beautiful picture of perfection.


This year has been excellent for the roses, and my mother's roses have bloomed beautifully through June. I've been deadheading regularly, and another flush appears each time I do. Blooms have been particularly scented this year due to a long, cold winter, wet spring and hot early summer. I find myself unwilling to pick the blooms when they are perfect. It seems a tragedy to cut a flower when it's just when it's most at its most gorgeous stage. However, cutting a beautiful English Rose and bringing it to adorn the table is a real and rare privilege.


Try as I might, I cannot stop painting pink roses; it's become an obsession that I will try not to inflict upon you. My equal obsession at the moment of eggs and feathers. I am a complete and utter bird fanatic; I love everything about them. It's the main reason I don't have a cat because when I did have one, I spent all my time trying to prevent it from catching the birds. Now I spend time trying to prevent the squirrels from being caught by my whippet!

Pets can be complicated at times.


This month I want to share my cutting tips with you. These are tips from my mum and my mum's friend Jean who used to live next door to Mum back in the 1970s.

Jean was a fantastic flower arranger and won many awards.


Tips for cut flowers, curated from my mother's notebook

  • Prepare a space where you can gently lay the flowers to prepare them for the vase.

  • Prepare a deep bucket of cold water.

  • Always wear gloves when cutting flowers, as some can cause skin irritation.

  • Cut your flowers as early in the morning as possible, as they will be plump and cool from resting at night (the correct term is turgid, but I prefer plump:).

  • Remove most of the lower leaves, (UNLESS you are planning to draw and paint them, in which case, make a few sketches and measurements and take a few photographs before removing the leaves).

  • Use sharp secateurs or a pocket knife to cut the stems cleanly and at an angle.

  • Dont, cut flowers in tight buds.

  • Some flowers, like poppies, can continue flowering and bursting bud after cutting; dip the bottom 2.5cm into boiling water for 1 minute before putting it in a vase.

  • Ideally, leave the cut flowers in the bucket of cold water up to their necks overnight.

  • The following day, choose your vase and have it clean and ready. Maybe have 2 or 3 in readiness.

  • Fill with lukewarm water just over halfway and add flower food. If you don't have flower food, use a splash of vinegar (this helps maintain the PH and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar or a dash of some sugar lemonade (not diet).

  • Drooping roses of floppy hydrangeas can be revived by standing them in hot water for an hour or so (see above, but longer).

  • Change the water every other day and remove any brown ends or browning leaves.

  • Refrain from standing the flowers near fruit or a heat source, as both will make them fade quickly.

(above Rose study in progress)


I picked roses today and thought of you

I picked roses today, lightly sprinkled with dew.

I picked roses today, and their scent bloomed there too,

I picked roses today that were once picked by you.

My roses, our roses, so perfect and new.

I hope they keep blooming to remind me of you.


With my lovely mum in mind, she was a superb baker, I should like to share my lemon drizzle recipe with you this month too.

If you are watching cricket or tennis both should be enjoyed with a little cake; in fact, one should always have at least one lovely summer cake to enjoy while on a picnic or 'blanket event'. This recipe has evolved from my Nanna's little cakes and follows.

Lemon Drizzle

(I use the old measurements)

8oz SR flour

6 oz sunflower oil

1 oz butter

5 .5 oz caster sugar

2 large eggs

1 level teaspoon of baking powder

zest of two lemons

juice of 1 lemon

3 tablespoons of yoghurt

whisk all together

pour into a greased, lined (or loose-bottomed) cake tin

sprinkle 1 dessertspoonful of granulated sugar over the surface

bake on the middle shelf at 170 for 25 mins

once cooked

mix the juice of 1 lemon with a dessert spoonful of honey and drizzle this over the top

calories = lots

serve with cream, and don't make the cake too often!

(Image above is from my latest Zoom class)


Notes from the painting table

This last June has seen me teaching live classes in Cornwall and Wisley and Zoom classes for the New York Botanic Gardens. That is a busy month for me! One thing I realised during these classes is how fast I paint and how I need to slow down the process when explaining it.

The wet-in-wet technique is, it turns out, a bit scary, but I love it so much that I rarely see it that way. It is also very dependent on you having a good paper. This year's work has been about discovering paper that I am happy to work on.

I would love to gush about a paper that answers all my wishes, but there is not one that fulfils all my requirements. The enhanced Fabriano is good, but it now has a texture that it didn't previously have, and the Saunders Waterford can be a little temperamental if you glaze a second coat too soon. None of the above cause me too many problems; I just need to really encourage students to leave more drying time and not to panic.

We are lucky these days to have such a wide choice of beautifully manufactured papers, and that is something to celebrate.

I might try NOT or cold-pressed paper for a few paintings, it's been a while since I have painted on NOT, but I would like to see if that would ignite some new 'paper joy' back into my studio time.

I have finally switched on to a new book and a new project. The new painting project will be under wraps for a while, but the new book will hopefully be with Search Press in 2024.

Having a focus is great for getting your brush moving. Even if you are just starting at the very beginning, you could set yourself a tiny target.

Eg.

  • Paint one or two flowers that you have always loved by the end of August.

  • Paint a flower for a friend as a gift.

  • Paint a portrait of a favourite object

  • Complete 4 pages of your sketchbook

  • Start a study page of a weed

  • press or dry some flowers ready for winter painting time

Set yourself one thing to achieve, and who knows, you may unlock your creativity and find yourself painting more often.

Peace, more peace and a return to clement weather please.

Muchliness Billy xx



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8 Comments


Linda Harvey
Linda Harvey
Jul 13, 2023

Thank you for your blog ... so much of it echoes our lives in one way or another. Recipe will be noted and baked in a week or so. Take care ...xx

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billyshowell
billyshowell
Jul 14, 2023
Replying to

You are welcome

Let me know how the bake turns out 😀

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The cake sounds delicious Billy especially as there is another week of tennis to enjoy. Getting in the way of painting though 🙃 look forward to your words of wisdom and thoughtfulness. Roses are definitely my favourite flower to paint and they have been glorious this year, I’ve taken so many photos. (Black spot not so good) 😫

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billyshowell
billyshowell
Jul 14, 2023
Replying to

Thanks for the comment, it’s always lovely to know someone is reading it. The trick with black sport is to remove the infected leaves as soon as you see them, it’s boring but really works as it seems to make it less the following year.

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Thank you for being obsessed by flowers. Thank you for the cut-flower tips. Thank heavens for mums who baked for us.

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billyshowell
billyshowell
Jul 06, 2023
Replying to

Indeed lovely mums that bake 🤗

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Carole Anne Watson
Carole Anne Watson
Jul 04, 2023

Another lovely read. These blogs are so relaxing and calming to read. They uplift a person like me in the gentlest of ways.

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billyshowell
billyshowell
Jul 05, 2023
Replying to

Thanks Carol that’s so nice to hear. I enjoy writing them. I know I am not terribly well read or clever but I write from the love of what I do. It’s nice to have that appreciated 🥰

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