Foxgloves in Alice Holt

A fine stand of foxgloves. Verticals of the trees to the left and right, and the upright foxgloves. Acrylics on gesso board – 41 x 31 cm


A fine stand of foxgloves lit by the sun. The name Alice Holt does not refer to a person called Alice. It is generally accepted that ‘Alice’ is a corruption of Ælfsige, the Bishop of Winchester who had rights over this particular Holt, or Forest. It is often seen rendered as ‘Alice Holt Forest’ – which would mean ‘Ælfsige’s Forest Forest’! Aldershot, by comparison, means Forest of Alders.

The wood is managed by the Forestry Commission, a body first created to manage supplies of wood following the Great War, then to encourage the repopulation of upland areas. Alice Holt is largely planted with pine (though parts still have oak trees). This monoculture has had a predictable effect on wildlife. Nonetheless, pockets exist, and this is one of them – an army of foxgloves in a bright sunlit glade between stands of trees that block out the light.

Apparently, there has been much debate on the etymology of ‘foxglove’. This OUP article debunks the rather lovely idea of ‘Folks (Fairies) gloves’, but it is a suspiciously flattening piece.

As usual, this painting is about light. There is a contrast between the dark wood and the bright clearing – but it’s about form too. Look at the verticals of the broad-leaved trees to the left, the sombre dominance of the pines to the right, and the upright foxgloves. I sometimes wonder if John Wyndham was thinking of foxgloves when he wrote Day of the Triffids.

I don’t often take photos of my progress in a painting, but here is a montage that might be interesting. If I have learned anything from painting, it is that a blank canvas (or gesso board in this case) is an intimidating thing. Best to paint over it quickly!

Foxgloves in Alice Holt - progress photos. Acrylics on gesso board - 41 x 31 cm

You might like this country lane or these autumn woods.