I’m Lydia Thornley, a designer, creative director, reportage illustrator and prolific filler of sketchbooks. Dispatches from a Small World started as a lockdown project, reporting from my London garden in sketches. This blog takes that journey of discovery into a second growing season.

Seed and structure

I’m a messy gardener, partly because I like to see what plants do. At this time of year, my reward is spectacular structures whose job is to offer seed, broadcast in the breeze or neatly packaged for creatures to take. The poppies stand mediaeval, all rust and twirl, windows long … Read More

Back garden banquet

Holly and Ivy in September… that seems wrong in a “Surely we’re not talking about Christmas yet?” sort of way – but this week’s dispatch is all about the wildlife. Just as the garden has that look that an old college friend describes as “having had one party too many”, it … Read More

Stitch and twirl

I spend a lot of time apologising to spiders at this time of year, their carefully-spun webs across the garden wrecked by one galumphing human. This week, I got to appreciate some of their handiwork without breaking it – two lavender seed heads stitched together, here, with a passing hoverfly. The … Read More

Summer’s curtain call

Technically, this is the start of Autumn. But Summer is doing its curtain call. The sound of bees led me to the verbena, an ordinary fly there too, zinging with iridescence in the sunshine. The cucamelon that I planted more on a whim than in expectation of actual fruit is … Read More

Garden at work

In holiday season, I find myself hard at work on things with Autumn deadlines. I’m in good company, the late August garden heavy with productivity… Snails’ work is not something I enjoy, in the normal run of things. But pausing to draw one that I’d spotted in the courgette patch, I … Read More

Something old, something new

Pink. There’s a lot of it in the garden at the moment and it’s always more complicated than it looks. Perfect, then, for trying out some portable materials before a live sketching assignment at a wedding. I’d actually gone out into the garden to draw forage, starting with the new … Read More

In your own time

Some plants make an entrance at the traditional hour. Some arrive fashionably late. And all are worth a second glance… I always plant more seeds than I need, sharing the seedlings with friends. My spare chillis have been bursting into splendour in a nearby kitchen, while mine have been a … Read More

Treasure in the shade

A showery day, sharp light clamped under rain clouds, brings up the contrast between the shade and the things that grow there. All the better, then, for spotting treasure. A solitary white sweet pea has its own complex scent, holding its own against the lavender I’ve climbed over to investigate. … Read More

When the garden has other plans

When you’re drawing sweet peas and a load of bumble bees rock up for the hydrangeas… I had planned to report on the astonishing palette of colour in the sweet peas – one cultivated plant a palette of pinks and purples, the wild sweet peas the fashiony show-offs of the garden … Read More

Glorious food

Edibles… I grow crops for the kitchen in pots, amongst the flowers and in improvised planters. Drawing them shows me that they’re every bit as beautiful as the plants I grow for decoration or for their scent. Pea green turns out to be pea greens, a palette of hues from … Read More

Nature, engineer

When I spend time with plants through drawing, I notice things about their structure that I haven’t thought about before. The hollyhocks are in bud, in flower and going over all at the same time, throwing their iced cake decoration buds skywards, shaking out petals and serving up generous portions … Read More

Smelling the flowers

“One day, that garden will consume you”, said a friend in response to a photo of my drawing location for the day. The lavender is already blocking my way to the end of the garden… but my reward for climbing over it is a glorious cloud of perfume. As I … Read More

Summer plumage

A few short weeks ago, these were texture: tight little heads of green buds; sculptural grey-green leaves like a Grinling Gibbons carving; flat stems rambling over low shrubs. Now, the garden is in full Summer plumage. The hydrangea is popping out ice-cream coloured flowers. Little red double-headed poppies are out … Read More

The accidental kitchen garden

Looking at my garden with a drawing eye, I’ve learned to appreciate the plants that pop in unplanned. This season, fennel I thought was no more is springing up all over the place, adding its feathery texture to the sweet peas and verbena. It’s home to wildlife too: it was … Read More

Do you speak bee?

I’ve taken to calling them coffee bees. First thing in the morning, when I wander out into the garden with my coffee, the poppies, just open, are abuzz with them. If I spoke bee, I’d probably find that the conversation was something work-related. As I take a moment before the … Read More

Nature, designer

Drawing a plant is full of discovery. Drawing the garden over time has shown me that it’s in perpetual motion. I’ve drawn the allium a couple of times and was wondering if I might need more than one sketch here to show the umbrella-frame buds, flowers open and now, seed … Read More