Summer Newsletter 2017

Summer is a time of extravagant delights in the garden, riotous plant life, long light days and an abundance of stimulation for botanical painters.  

We can be overwhelmed with the choices and ideas flooding our senses at this time of year.

The heat has been intense too, with some of us in the UK sweltering in our studios.  A small price to pay for the benefit of sunshine in our gardens, though.  And now of course, we are back to normal with some (very good) rain.

I have launched my social media presence on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter this quarter.  Clickable links are at the end of this webpage.

It has been a busy period for me, both in the studio as I take on a series of work and commissions, and in the garden as I re-do borders and start the new chapter in the life of an old garden.  

A botanical artist's greatest joy is an abundance of choice for subjects, within easy reach, where we can watch for flowering times, fruit, buds and other key moments for capturing a plant's life. 

A fresh, abundant garden will also make it a delight for students to choose plants, flowers and fruits to paint.

With all best wishes for a lovely remainder of summer,


August 2017, Wiltshire

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show - Australian flora

I have worked hard with The Australasian Plant Society and Plantbase over the past few months on a project to highlight Australian flora in an event for the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this year.  

I exhibited two watercolour and graphite botanical paintings of Australian plants (Callistemon laevis and Acacia glaucoptera) alongside some storyboards describing  the work of the early plant collectors and painters who travelled to Australia.

I worked with the Natural History Museum London to select a number of images under licence of Australian natives collected by the botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on their 1768-71 voyage, and illustrated by Sydney Parkinson.  These were used in the design of the presentation boards setting out the history of  early plant collections from Australia.

I also researched materials at the RHS Lindley Library in London for this project.  Both these exchanges were very positive, reinforcing my belief in the value of active, well curated libraries for work of this kind. 

On Press Day, 3 July, Mrs Nicky Downer AM, wife of the Australian High Commissioner in London, presented a specimen of Lambertia formosa (the first Australian plant to flower in the UK in 1789 from seeds collected by Joseph Banks) on behalf of the Australasian Plant Society to Dr Tim Upton, Director of Horticulture of the RHS. 

The set of stands highlighting Australasian flora in the Floral Marquee attracted many visitors throughout the week, and I was very pleased to talk about botanical painting and Australian plants with a number of passionate attendees.

London Garden Museum reopening - Tradescant Exhibition

Along with 49 other artists, I have work hanging in the London Garden Museum's Tradescant Exhibition, until September.  

A botanical art exhibition has been opened to mark the re-opening of the Museum, focusing on the work of the John Tradescants, the great plant collectors, who are buried at the Museum.  

Fifty paintings by modern botanical artists are on display, including one of mine, "Pomegranates on a Branch".  

The paintings are shown particularly well, on a dark aubergine/chocolate background, with dark frames.  

In a room with no natural light, and with the paintings presented in a strong linear fashion, the result is quite dramatic.

The exhibition runs until September.

For more about the pomegranates painting, click here. 

My painting has been included in the set of ten postcards being sold by the Museum to mark the Exhibition.  

The painting itself has since been sold to a private collector.

JD Hooker Symposium, Kew

I attended a fascinating symposium celebrating the bicentenary of Joseph Dalton Hooker's birth at Kew Gardens on 30 June. One of the most influential scientists of his day, and a profound contributor to modern botany, Hooker's life and works are worth celebrating. More here...

And there continues the exhibition "Joseph Hooker: Putting plants in their Place" at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew Gardens. To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of Victorian Britain's most important scientists, Joseph Hooker (1817–1911), Kew is holding this exhibition of a selection of his photographs, journals and paintings until 17 September. 

The highlight for me was the discovery that Hooker's illustrator, Walter Hood Fitch, completed 10,000 illustrations of plants and flowers for publication during his lifetime.  Deeply impressive.  

Lucy T Smith (a renowned botanical illustrator who works for Kew) spoke particularly well on the subject of botanical illustration.

There was a lovely reception afterwards at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery, where we had an opportunity to see some wonderful works, old and new.

Upcoming Exhibitions

SBA Exhibition

I am completing my entry for the upcoming Society of Botanical Artists' Exhibition at Central Hall, Westminster.  The exhibition will be held from 13-21 October.  

This show is an excellent opportunity for botanical artists to secure hanging space in a major juried London exhibition, through an open entry.  

The theme this year is "Changing Seasons".

New York Design Center Exhibition

November 2017

I have had a painting accepted into the American Society of Botanical Artists/Horticultural Society of New York 20th International Exhibition in November.   This Exhibition is held at the New York Design Centre from November to December.

My Quince study, Cydonia oblonga, is a work in graphite and watercolour and the composition is designed to describe the particular form of this fruit clearly.

St Michael's Hospice Hereford charity auction

November 2017

I am painting a postcard-sized work for a charity auction at St Michael's Hospice in Herefordshire.  

This clever auction concept is now in its third year.  Last year's show raised over £12,000 for the Hospice. Artwork will be exhibited at The Great Hall, Bishops Palace, Hereford, from 10-12th November and will feature in an online auction.

Garden visit: Kew

I had an opportunity to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in June.  I have been before, as I'm sure many readers have too, but each time it astounds.  I discovered this time that it is around 300 acres - enormous.  

And given I crossed it several times while studying difference specimens, I appreciated its size...

The new long borders at the boardwalk are now the largest in the UK, and are spectacular.  I was looking at Angelica archangelica, and some Australian natives, but was diverted many times by the grandeur of the specimens in these borders.

Garden visit: Badminton House

Badminton House opens its gardens once a year in favour of the charity Dorothy House.  This year the date fell in early June, and the gardens were in top condition.  The house itself is breathtaking, built from the 17th century onwards, with its own church.  The conservatories form lovely, elegant parts of the house, and the planting is clever and beautiful.  

There is a very large walled garden separate from the house, with the loveliest rose pergola at its centre.  

The fragrances in this garden were divine.

It was an inspirational visit, and made me wonder how large the team of gardeners might be... 

While the scale of Badminton is, of course, unachievable in a private garden, it contained some wonderful ideas which would translate well into a smaller space. And it's always lovely to see plants one admires in new environments.

I am thinking of that rose pergola... maybe scaled down a bit?

Garden visit: Malmesbury Abbey Gardens

These gardens are in the grounds of the Abbey House next to the 12th century Abbey.  They have been developed along formal lines, with spectacular plantings, especially strong in spring and summer as the tulips and roses bloom.

Again, they have reinforced some garden ideas and instigated some new ones, particularly the concept of tall yew hedges to act as a deep backdrop to extravagant and colourful rose, irises and tulips.

The house itself, while not open to the public, is a beautiful example of Cotswold architecture of its time, and is both grand, and an eloquent backdrop to the garden.

Sir Roy Strong and The Laskett Gardens

On a rainy day in early June, I had the opportunity to call on Sir Roy Strong CH and to visit his Laskett Gardens at Much Birch, Herefordshire.  

Sir Roy, the former Director of the National Portrait Gallery and of the Victoria & Albert Museum, now pursues a freelance career as writer, consultant and broadcaster and continues an active role in overseeing the gardens. 

It was a lovely occasion, and a delight to meet Sir Roy and discuss his gardens, art and the beautiful surrounds in which he lives and works.  

Despite the rain, the gardens were fresh, surprising and lovely, with many nooks and secret corners to enjoy, clearly built with love and dedication by Roy and his late wife, Julia Trevelyan Oman.    

I found the gardens witty and stimulating, as well as intensely personal.  The plantings were vibrant and generous, alternately busy and quiet, with each vista carefully planned, whichever way one turns.  

The gardens are open from April to July and again in September to pre-booked groups.  They are well worth a visit...

The easel queue 

I am shortly starting work on my next commission, a white Hydrangea Annabelle, with large, rotund mophead blooms which start out green then move into the enormous great balls for which this cultivar is known.  

Happily, these shrubs were in keeping with a new white theme in one of my garden "rooms" so I bought and planted five, and they are doing well along a north-facing wall, in the shade.  They do need water in the dry spring and early summer we have had, but otherwise are clearly happy.

The piece will be a single bloom with several leaves, soon to go into the preparation stage as the blooms are maturing now.  Watch this space...

Alongside other commissions, I have works scheduled for Florilegia contributions, including for the Chelsea Physic Garden and the Royal College of Physicians. 

Some intense time at the easel is coming!

Limited edition hanging

I was very pleased to see a set of my prints hanging in a London house in July, elegantly framed and hung beautifully, climbing up a staircase.   

A small indulgence

We recently came across a lovely painting of our house, done in the 1980s in watercolour.  It was in the hands of a previous owner.

It was so charming, I've included it here.  

Garden renovation

After moving into our house in Wiltshire last summer, we promised ourselves a few years of just 'getting to know it' before doing any works.  

This remains true for the house, but the garden was another matter.  I was unable to resist the ideas which came pushing into my head during the dark months early in the year, and started planning.  

While we have much to do, a program of overgrown tree and shrub removal, stump grinding, and re-doing the beds has translated into a wonderful fresh start for much of the garden.  

I bought some lovely painted wooden obelisks (Robinson Garden) to give the Folly Garden bed some form, including in winter, as we see it from the house.  (Actually, it all started with these obelisks in darkest January, from which developed the slightly manic passion to improve large areas of the garden.)

There are now plenty of subjects for me and painting course attendees to paint.  I have planted things for upcoming work and commissions, but mostly plants of beauty and interest, to have a never-ending supply throughout the growing season and in the dormant months.

Here are a few shots of the work, and some of the transformation.