1 June 2021

In Pictures: A Botanical Rainbow

Immerse yourself in nature's kaleidoscope in this vivid collection of botanical art.

By Yosola Olorunshola

Botanical illustrations uniquely blend art and science to illuminate the wonders of plants and fungi.  

Centuries before the invention of colour photography, botanical art captured the rich patterns and vivid colours of the natural world. Today, the genre continues to reveal the intricacies of the world’s flora in exquisite detail.  

Feast your eyes on some of the striking images on display at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art this summer and enjoy a dazzling spectrum of nature’s colours.  

Tulipa ‘de Molen’ by Coral G Guest 

Coral G Guest is an English botanical artist and essayist, fascinated by our relationship with the flowering world. Her work has been described as pioneering for the way she has redefined the traditional practice of the observational flower painter.  

Describing her own practices, she says: “For much of my life I have gazed into the faces of flowers, observing daylight as it reflects and refracts through petals.”  

Botanical illustration of red tulips
Tulipa de Molen by Carol G Guest © Shirley Sherwood Collection

A Brilliant Life – Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) by Denise Ramsay  

Native to the Caucasus, northeastern Turkey and northern Iran, the oriental poppy is a perennial that blooms bright in shades of red, orange, white or pink, from spring to early summer.  

Ramsey’s painting below, A Brilliant Life, won a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gold medal for botanical art in 2014 and forms part of a series capturing the poppy’s growth from bud to aged beauty.  

Botanical illustration of a bright red poppy
Papaver Orientale by Denise Ramsey © Shirley Sherwood Collection

Golden trumpet (Allamanda cathartica) by Annie Farrer  

These evergreen shrubs burst with yellow trumpet-shaped flowers in summer and autumn. Native to Brazil, the plants normally climb by aerial roots, thriving in sunny, warm environments.  

The artist, Annie Farrer, worked as a freelancer for Kew for many years and was awarded more than six RHS gold medals for her work capturing the overlooked details of the natural world.  

Botanical illustration of yellow golden trumpet flowers
Golden trumpet by Annie Farrer © Shirley Sherwood Collection

Silver tree fern (Cyathea dealbata) by Bryan Poole 

Known as the iconic symbol of New Zealand, the silver tree fern is distinct for its fronds – dark green on the surface with a shiny silver lining underneath. In Māori belief, the elegant shape of the fronds stands for strength, stubborn resistance, and enduring power

Originally from New Zealand, Bryan Poole has worked in Britain as a botanical artist since the 1980s. Dr Christopher Grey-Wilson, former editor of Kew magazine, described Poole as having “the gift to be able to combine traditional methods of illustration and reproduction with a very modern approach to botanical art and design.” 

Botanical illustration of the fronds of a silver tree fern
Silver tree fern by Bryan Poole © Shirley Sherwood Collection

Blue Flame – Mountain puya (Puya alpestris) by Jess Shepherd  

The metallic blue flowers of the Puya alpestris are brought to life in vivid colour in this painting by Jess Shepherd. In her own words, she creates “works that bring us closer to the mystical, the irrational and the sublime.”  

Her painting captures the surreal magic of the species, part of the bromeliad family and a relative of the pineapple. Despite its spiky leaves, its enticing colours attract pollinators such as hummingbirds – a fitting match for its exuberant display.  

Botanical illustration of spiny leaves and dense blue flowers of a puya alpestris
Puya alpestris by Jess Shepherd © Shirley Sherwood Collection

Rip City – Dark dahlia by Jean Emmons

The drama of a dahlia in bloom is captured in this kaleidoscopic painting by Jean Emmons, with strong shades of purple softened by hints of pink and green. Inspired by medieval manuscript illumination on vellum, Emmons uses watercolour to suggest light moving through layers of plant tissues.  

She recently won Best in Show at the American Society of Botanical Artists awards.  

“I enjoy using multiple layers of underpainting in unusual colours,” she says. “The challenge for me is to pull it all back together after I’ve created chaos.” 

Botanical illustration of dahlia with pink, purple and green colouring
Dark dahlia by Jean Emmons © Shirley Sherwood Collection

A Botanical Rainbow

Experience the bold and beautiful colours of the natural world through botanical art