Painting an Irish Rose for Yeats

 A Blog by Holly Somerville

This year celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats. The Secret Gardens of Sligo, The Yeats Society and Yeats 2015 are launching a brand new Irish rose to be named ‘WB Yeats’ in his honour. It takes up to eight years to develop a new rose, in this case bred by Dickson’s Nursery, so the process is expensive.

In March I was contacted by Lorely Forester of the Secret Gardens of Sligo, who is fundraising to cover the costs of breeding the rose. We came to an agreement that for a small fee I would paint the rose and permit her to print a limited edition. Donors giving €500 or more will receive a signed, numbered, giclée print of the painting of the WB Yeats rose. These prints are gifts to donors and will not be available again, or elsewhere.

Yeats Rose

Lorely had a busy summer which included creating the WB Yeats Garden at Bloom in the Park in May (winning a well-deserved gold medal!) and then recreating it later in Sligo. We finally met at the end of August and I took home a wonderful multi-flowered specimen of the rose, a scarlet floribunda with bright golden stamens.

Yeats Rose 2

I took many photos, as I knew the flowers would not last long, although all the photos do come out much more orange and garish than the beautiful deep velvety-red original. It is generally very hard to reproduce a true red in prints or photographs.

On a large board of stretched Sennelier hot-pressed watercolour paper I roughly sketched the whole painting (A3), using a combination of photos and the real plant. I then concentrated on painting one finished flower entirely from the living plant so that I had all the colour notes for painting the rest of the flowers from photos when they died. (I prefer not to work in this way and would ideally paint the whole work up together using the living plant.) Apologies for the greyness of the close-up photos.Yeats Rose - Work in progress 1

Yeats painting - work in progress close up

I used a size 4 Winsor & Newton Series 7 miniature sable brush for the first layers of paint, and moved down to size 1 and then size 000 for the later fine detail. The colour was SO tricky! I started with Winsor Red, warming it up in areas with Winsor Orange, and using Schminke Horadam Brilliant Red Violet on top of the Winsor Red to get a deeper, more purple colour in places. I also used Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson and a tiny bit of Burnt Umber to get the darker areas, but sparingly to avoid the red becoming dirty. The buds were very purple-blue and I added a touch of Cobalt Blue on these in the paler areas.

Yeats painting - work in progress

Yeats rose - work in progress

The leaves had fresh lemony-green young growth (Viridian, Schminke Aureolin, Ultramarine Blue) and the older leaves lower down were more blue-grey (Aureolin, Ultramarine and a bit of Burnt Umber for the darkest areas). I added Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Umber over the green on the stems, and for the thorns. The outer circle of warmer anthers were a mix of Aureolin and Winsor Orange, and the cooler centres of the flowers were Lemon Yellow and Aureolin. Finally, I went back over all the roses and to deepen and enrich the reds and darks. On the undersides of the petals which are curling up I used Brilliant Red Violet and Opera Rose (sparingly, it’s a super bright colour but not lightfast).

Yeats painting - work in prgressYeats painting - work in progress

By the time I finished the painting I had a sort of ‘snow-blindness’ from looking at the red for so long, but I learned so much. In watercolour it is not easy to create intense crimson on fairly large areas, and I would highly recommend everyone paint a red rose at least once for practice and experience.

My A3 scanner also behaved strangely with the intensity of the red, and it took a lot of tweaking to get it the scan as near to the original as possible. This scan is still a little bit dark and a tiny bit orange, so I will take the painting to a professional scanner who will also make the prints.

Finished painting


Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!

Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways:

Cuchulain battling with the bitter tide;

The Druid, grey, wood-nurtured, quiet-eyed,

Who cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold;

And thine own sadness, where of stars, grown old

In dancing silver-sandalled on the sea,

Sing in their high and lonely melody.

Come near, that no more blinded by man’s fate,

I find under the boughs of love and hate,

In all poor foolish things that live a day,

Eternal beauty wandering on her way.


Come near, come near, come near — Ah, leave me still

A little space for the rose-breath to fill!

Lest I no more bear common things that crave;

The weak worm hiding down in its small cave,

The field-mouse running by me in the grass,

And heavy mortal hopes that toil and pass;

But seek alone to hear the strange things said

By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,

And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know.

Come near; I would, before my time to go,

Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:

Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days.


WB Yeats, 1893

More information on donating to the Irish Rose for Yeats can be found here:

 Secret Garden of Sligo website

An Irish Rose for Yeats Facebook page



Holly Somerville

October 2015

A Botanical Journey around Ireland

by Michael Campbell

(ISBA overseas member)


Early Purple Orchid

Early Purple Orchid

As beautiful and charming as Ireland is, the weather can be unforgiving.

So it was when I landed in Shannon on May 4, 2015—my fifth trip to my ancestral home. Chilly showers and fierce winds greeted me as I headed up to Doolin, which would serve as my base for a week of researching, and hopefully drawing, the spring wildflowers of the Burren. As part of an independent study project for my diploma in Botanical Art and Illustration at the Denver Botanic Gardens (USA), I was determined to find and record as many examples of these blooming wildflowers as possible in the short week ahead. But, I could tell that “mother nature” wasn’t going to make it easy.

Irish Seed Savers

Before even starting my search, I ventured to Skariff, to visit the Irish Seed Savers Association. This remarkable operation was a revelation. Irish Seed Savers Association exists as a living testimony to the richness and wealth of Irish agricultural history. The Association was founded by Anita Hayes in 1991. The work was initially done on a small farm in County Carlow before moving to Capparoe, Scarriff in 1996.


Apple Orchard

Most notable to me was the Native Apple Collection containing a unique orchard of over 33 self-rooting varieties of apple trees that require no grafting for propagation. This is probably the largest collection of this type of apple tree in the world. Walking through the blooming orchards is truly amazing! The staff have also established a Seed Bank containing more than 600 rare and endangered vegetable varieties, as well as conducting school children’sprograms. All in all, a really impressive effort.

The Wild Atlantic Way

After getting settled, I headed north on the Atlantic Coast Highway with no other agenda than to look for blooming wildflowers. The clouds had cleared, but the wind was howling. I stopped at the first place I saw where I could safely pull over. With the Atlantic on my left, and the limestone landscape of the Burren on my right, and armed with my copy of “Wildflowers of the Burren” I started wandering. As luck would have it, one of the first tiny flowers that caught my eye were small, brilliant blue blooms holding their own against the side of a rock. The Spring Gentian! I had read that it was rather rare so I checked and double checked my field guide. Yep, it was the Gentian! Soon after I came across a mountain aven, an early purple orchid, and several others that I had no idea what they were. It was amazing to me that these tiny plants could withstand the harsh weather conditions that were currently pummeling me.

At the edge

At the edge

Burren Perfumery

After heading up the coast and turning east, I was now in search of the Burren Perfumery. I’d heard good things about it. Although remote and rather difficult for a tourist like me to find, the Burren Perfumery did not disappoint. For those who aren’t familiar, the staff at the perfumery make natural and organic cosmetics by hand from a small facility in the middle of the beautiful Burren. I was especially interested in their selection of locally harvested teas and honey. A very nice herb garden and tea room to boot! Worth the drive, and a good chance to review my wildflower reference book over a steaming cup of tea.

Hiking the Burren

Wednesday was devoted entirely to walking and experiencing the Burren up close. After stopping at the Corofin visitor centre for directions and a map I headed, to the best of my ability, the way they pointed me. Before too long I was at the trailhead and hiked along the “orange” trail, through what looked like a vast pasture. Little did I know how much that would change!



Immediately, I noticed groupings of yellow cowslips, primroses, and the hybrid false oxslips. Scattered on a hillside were dozens of early purple orchids. Further down the trail it turned into lush green, shaded woodland where ferns, sorrel, and a couple of lesser twayback orchids stood side by side. Apparently, this part of the Burren was visited by J.R.R. Tolkein before he wrote the “Hobbit”. I can certainly see why! On the way back to the trailhead I spotted more tiny spring gentians.



Later in the day, along a small gravel road loop leading to the working farm located in the Burren, I spotted a solitary bloody cranesbill, its one brilliant red flower looking up at me. It was gorgeous against all the brown shubbery and rock.

Bloody Cranesbill

Bloody Cranesbill

National Botanic Gardens

After what I considered a very successful few days in and around the Burren, on Saturday I headed to Dublin, and the National Botanic Gardens. After the peace and quiet of Western Ireland the chaos and complexity of Dublin was an assault on my senses. So many languages, so much traffic, so much humanity! Fortunately, the nearby Botanic Gardens was an oasis of tranquility. My visit started with a brief tour of the library and a peek at a few of the rare books on botanical painting—one from the 1500s!

National Botanic Gardens Library

National Botanic Gardens Library

Next an introduction to Brendan Sayers, master horticulturist and orchid expert, who showed me a folio edition of Ireland’s Wild Orchids. Such a thrill! Soon after, I had the distinct privilege of meeting and chatting with Susan Sex, Ireland’s foremost botanical artist. What a lovely person and what a huge talent. Seeing her current work in progress left me speechless! After a personal tour by Brendan and Susan, I left the gardens inspired and exhausted.

Go raibh maith agat as na mbronntanas

The entire week I had experienced so much more than I had anticipated and I was filled with admiration and gratitude for all the help I received during my stay. I would be heading back home to Colorado loaded with information, ideas, and a promise to myself that I would be back here soon.

ISBA overseas member Michael Campbell has spent 30 plus years as a graphic designer, art director, and creative director, including a 25 year career at the University of Colorado. He has taught publication design at CU and currently is an adjunct instructor in the Visual Art Department at Regis University in Denver. In 2010 he was awarded a certificate in Botanical Illustration from the Denver Botanic Gardens School of Art & Illustration. He is currently a student in the School of Botanical Art & Illustration Diploma program, and is also participating in the ISBA project Plandaí Oidhreachta.

Aibítir in Waterford 10 July – 21 August 2015

IMG_0099-(2)_web IMG_0097-(2)_webAfter the highly successful Aibítir exhibitions held in 2014 at the National Botanic Gardens, The Derry Playhouse and the Belfast Waterfront Hall, the paintings from the ISBA’s inaugural project continue to tour in major venues around Ireland. A single 18 letter alphabet was displayed in Bunclody Public Library in the spring of 2015, followed by the Exhibition being shown in its entirety at the Hunt Museum Limerick earlier this summer. IMG_0105-(2)_web IMG_0102-(2)_web

On Friday 10 July, two of the alphabets – along with a few extra from the third alphabet that were painted by artists from the local area – went on display at the Christ Church Cathedral in Waterford. Located in the cultural heart of the city the cathedral is a magnificent example of the work of Georgian architect John Roberts. The bright, airy interior, with its beautiful stucco ceiling and handsome Elliot organ, provides a sympathetic space for the paintings, which are displayed on either side of the main aisle in the entrance atrium.

IMG_0082-(2)_webWe are grateful to ISBA artists living in Waterford and environs – Sally de Bromhead, Marie de Lacy Clancy, Ann Kane, and Breda Malone, for their support and help in bringing Aibítir to the historic city of Waterford. We also greatly appreciate the wonderful hospitality that has been extended to the ISBA by Dean Maria Jansson and her staff during the exhibition, not to mention the guidance and publicity for this exhibition by Fiona McHardy and Emer Powell of the Waterford Viking Triangle. Last but not least, we thank Maria Ines Dawnay for not only opening the Exhibition, but for her enthusiasm and support in bringing Aibítir to Waterford.

IMG_0083-(2)_web IMG_0080-(2)_web On Tues 18 August, beginning at 11 am, botanical artist Breda Malone will conduct a day-long workshop at the Cathedral for anyone who would like to try their hand at botanical art. Anyone wishing to attend should bring along a sketch pad and pencil, and Breda will supply plants and flowers and do a demonstration of some of the techniques used in botanical illustration.

The Exhibition continues at Christ Church Cathedral until Friday 21 August.

Many thanks to Robin and Ann Kane for these beautiful photographs of the Waterford Exhibition of the Aibítir paintings.

IMG_0095-(2)_web IMG_0085-(2)_web IMG_0083-(2)_web IMG_0079-(2)_web IMG_0081-(2)_web

Travels in the Himalaya – A Sikkim Adventure.

By Seamus O’Brien.

The sun was setting as we travelled across the tropical plains of West Bengal and made our initial ascent of the Himalayan foothills towards the former British hill station of Darjeeling. The aim of our expedition was to retrace the footsteps of the famous British botanist and explorer, Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817–1911) who explored Darjeeling District and the Sikkim Himalaya in 1848–9.

I had long hoped to visit Sikkim. Living on the Kilmacurragh Estate, surrounded many veteran rhododendrons collected by Joseph Hooker over 160 years ago, my great hope was some day to see the same species in their spectacular native mountain habitats.
We reached Darjeeling by night, and therefore had to wait till dawn to see the stunning scenery that has made this old colonial town world famous. Darjeeling is perched on a ridge at an elevation of 2,135m (7,005ft), and the scene is dominated by Mount Khangchendzonga just 45 miles (72km) in the distance. Sacred to the indigenous Lepcha people of Sikkim, this is India’s mightiest peak and the world’s third-highest mountain, at a staggering 8,598m (28,209ft).

While based in Darjeeling Hooker stayed with the British naturalist Brian Hodgson (1800–94), for whom he named the tree-like Rhododendron hodgsonii. Brian Hodgson’s bungalow is now the Rectory of St Paul’s, the most affluent private boys’ schools in India. When the Scottish plant hunter Robert Fortune introduced tea to India in the mid-nineteenth century he also brought seedling trees of the Japanese cedar, Cryptomeria japonica,  and one of these, now a mammoth tree, still grows beside Hodgson’s house.


Joseph Hooker, the great Victorian botanist who explored Sikkim between 1848-1850. Image © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Within fifty years of Hooker’s visit to Darjeeling, the forests had been felled to make way for tea plantations and one has to travel a considerable distance from the town to see undisturbed forest. Therefore, one of our first ports of call was Mount Tonglu, which lies south-east of Darjeeling on a ridge straddling the Nepalese border.  This area was first explored botanically by Joseph Hooker in May 1848, and he always regarded it as one of the great highlights to his visit to India, as did we.

Tonglu is a good two-hour drive from Darjeeling, through deep river valleys and narrow mountain ridges.  Quercus lamellosa was one of the most common trees along our route, and its thick, gnarled moss-laden branches were festooned with several epiphytes such as the gorgeous autumn-flowered orchid Pleione praecox. Other common epiphytes included Agapetes serpens, an ericaceous shrub with a swollen turnip-like base to its lower stem (presumably to store water in the dry season), and the glorious Rhododendron dalhousiae, collected by Hooker on Tonglu in 1848 and introduced by him from Sikkim in 1850.


A view of Everest and Khangchendzonga from the summit of Tonglu. Marianne North, the English botanical artist painted the same scene in the late Victorian period.

On the summit, a dozen Rhododendron species, particularly Rhododendron arboreum var. cinnamomeum clothed entire mountain slopes, and we were told that in spring the blossoms come in shades of white, pink and crimson-red, creating a dazzling effect that may be seen from miles away.

Other good garden plants included Sarcococca hookeriana, Gaultheria hookeri (laden with wonderful cobalt-blue, pea-like fruits) Stachyurus himalaicus, Rubus lineatus, Hydrangea heteromalla and Hypericum hookerianum.

Closer to the summit at 3,072m (10,078ft), the panorama of the great Himalayan range opened before us as we marched through Rhododendron and Magnolia forest. To the north-west, Mount Everest, on the Tibet–Nepal border, rose its great snow-clad peak, and the scene of enormous snowy mountains piercing the sky continued as far as the Sikkim–Bhutan border, a sweep of several hundred kilometres across the greatest mountain range in the world.

Passing a boggy flat ridge full of Iris clarkei and Primula capitata, we descended into a forest full of the glorious Magnolia campbellii Alba Group; that aristocratic member of this noble genus of flowering trees. Beneath its canopy  grew Daphne bholua in thousands. I can only imagine the glorious sight that this forest must make when covered in enormous white blossoms in early spring, or the glorious scent that must pervade the woods during the same season, when the many thousands of Daphne bholua are in bloom.
Hooker described Sikkim as ‘the perfect microcosm of the Himalaya’, an apt description for this tiny Indian State that’s sandwiched between Nepal and Bhutan, with the Tibetan Plateau to the north. Sikkim contains every possible vegetation type from tropical valleys along the Tista river to alpine screes on the Tibetan frontier..

North Sikkim is Buddhist country with many spectacular monasteries, particularly in the west, along the famous ‘via sacra‘, a long narrow ridge on which are perched the 18th century golden-roofed gompas of Sanga Choeling, Tassiding and the most famous of all, Pemayangtse. Rare trees abound in the gardens of these wonderful establishments, most notably the great Kashmir cypress, Cupressus cashmeriana,  rising through the white-washed stupas at Tassiding.

Over three and a half centuries old, they were sketched by Joseph Hooker in 1849. Today their trunks are fatter, tonnes of epiphytic orchids and ferns have created high-rise aerial gardens in their boughs and their pendulous, grey-blue, frond-like sprays of foliage contrast brilliantly against the gentian-blue skies behind.
North-east Sikkim is unmissable for visiting energetic plant lovers, particularly the Lachen and Lachung valleys. The latter is the most easterly, and without doubt, the most spectacular alpine valley in Sikkim. Home to the Lachungpa people who graze their yaks on the valley floor, Lachung extends into the Yumthang valley, its most northerly point being a mere 2km (7 miles) away from Tibet.


The Lachung river above Yumthang, at this point we were just a few miles from the Tibetan border.

Our base for exploring the valley was the pretty village of Lachung, surrounded by peaks heavily clothed with dark forests of Abies densa, mahogany-barked Betula utilis, Picea spinulosa and the wonderful Himalayan hemlock, Tsuga dumosa. We arrived to witness Larix griffithii donning a spectacular autumnal gown of russet orange needle-like leaves.

The gorgeous Rosa macrophylla is common in this part of the eastern Himalaya and carried a fine crop of large, pendulous, flask-like fruits. Abies spectabilis, one of the most beautiful of all the firs, was common here, reminding me of the giant old specimen in the Deer Park at Kilmacurragh. Rhododendrons abound in the upper Lachung valley, in a wide range of species, Rhododendron thompsonii is perhaps the most spectacular, creating impenetrable thickets with its beautiful peeling, mahogany-coloured stems. In places in spring, its waxy blood-red bell-shaped blossoms paint the valley floor blood-red.

The superb Daphne bholua, at this altitude a deciduous shrub, appeared by the roadside bearing whitish-pink blooms, heavily laden with the most beautiful, spicy lingering scent. But there is much more at various seasons: cobra lilies, giant Himalayan lilies, wonderful corydalis in a bewildering range of colours, primulas like Primula denticulata and Primula sikkimensis fill the alpine meadows in tens of thousands among blue and white anemones.


Lachung, a valley in north-east Sikkim, compared by Joseph Hooker to Switzerland. He made many notable discoveries here.

Yumthang is aptly known as ‘the valley of flowers’ and is without doubt, the most spectacular upland area of Sikkim. Glaciers and frozen waterfalls descend from the cliff-like jagged peaks that box the valley in. A common shrub here included Berberis virescens, a plant that wowed our party with its stunning red stems that seemed to glow in the low November sunlight. This species was described from flowering and fruiting material, sent to Joseph Hooker at Kew, by Thomas Acton (1826-1908) who grew plants at Kilmacurragh, Co. Wicklow. These presumably were raised by Sir Frederick Moore (1857-1949) at Glasnevin from seeds collected by Sir Henry Elwes (1846-1922) during his first visit to Sikkim in 1870. It is a common roadside shrub in north-east Sikkim, being particularly abundant in the Lachen and Lachung valleys.

As we descended the valley late that evening we witnessed one of the great Himalayan scenes for which this part of north-east Sikkim is famous. All about us were soaring jagged snow-capped peaks, frozen waterfalls, glaciers, and enormous landslides. Suddenly, as dusk descended, the valleys and dark fir-covered ridges beneath us were enveloped in a sea of mist, and finally, after a brief wait, the upper snow-clad peaks of the mighty mountains were swallowed in a dense cumulus. That night, we fell into a well-earned sleep in the little village of Lachung to the roar of the Lachung river, a great glacial green torrent lined by enormous water-worn boulders.
From Lachung our travels took us to the neighbouring Lachen valley. The scenery here is a little more tame, though for plants it is equally interesting. The lower valley is warm temperate and in November (the time of our visit), the mountainsides are painted pink by the dazzling display created by the autumn-flowered Prunus cerasoides.

Gradually temperate plants suited to the Irish climate appeared. Trees like Acer sikkimensis and Tetracentron sinense painted the slopes yellow and amber and the giant fronds of the Himalayan chain fern, Woodwardia unigemmata,  draped the steep roadside slopes. Schefflera rhododendrifolia gives an exotic air, forming multi-stemmed trees over 15 m. high with enormous sprays of digitate foliage.

The village of Lachen is beautifully located in a steep sided heavily forested valley; a scene reminiscent of the Swiss Alps, though the mountains here are far higher than their European counterparts. Good garden plants abounded  even on the village edge, the ghostly-white stems of Rubus biflorus became a familiar sight and its bedfellows included Hippophae salicifolia (10 m. tall trees laden with orange-yellow berries), Clematis montana, Daphniphyllum himalayense, the pretty little ginger-relative Roscoea auriculata, Morina longifolia and Primula capitata, for example.

A two hour drive above Lachen lies the tiny yak station of Thangu and the spectacular Chopta Valley, the last point of human habitation and the furthest a foreign expedition may travel towards the Tibetan border. Our route through this snowy landscape brought us past enormous waterfalls that cascaded like silver threads into the turquoise waters of the Lachen river below us.
We soon drove above the tree line & reached the village of Thangu at 4267 m. (14000 ft.). Just beneath village lay ‘Hooker’s Rock, surrounded a few small ploughed fields; the only sign of cultivation in the region. On the edge of these fields we spied the dead flowering stems of one of Hooker’s most famous introductions – Primula sikkimensis. Above Thangu lies the spectacular Chopta Valley, another valley of great soaring peaks, streaked with glaciers and ice fields.


The Upper Lachen Valley, following a heavy snow fall during our visit.

The upper part of main valley was crisscrossed by ancient moraines on which Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum had formed enormous colonies, and scattered in the shelter of the rhododendrons, were alpines like Fritillaria cirrhosa, Rhodiola fastigiata, Gentiana stylophora (a giant gentian with enormous bell-like yellow blossoms) and Meconopsis paniculata (syn. M. nepaulensis) in its yellow form. Rhododendron setosum turned the mountainsides an ochre hue, with its autumnal aromatic foliage. Its bedfellows included the equally aromatic Rhododendron anthopogon, Cassiope fastigiata, Juniperus pseudosabina (all burned as incense in local monasteries) and Berberis angulosa.

The latter was introduced to cultivation by Colonel Charles Ball-Acton (1830-1897), an Irish soldier  who sent seeds from his base in Kashmir, to his brother, Thomas Acton at Kilmacurragh, who first flowered it in 1888.This widespread barberry was common in the Chopta Valley, where it had assumed a fiery-orange autumnal hue and I departed the area pleased to see a ‘Kilmacurragh plant’ thriving in its native Himalayan home.
Our journey through India ultimately took is to the wonderful Taj Mahal at Agra, built in the 17th century using white marble carried on the backs of elephants from Rajasthan over 450 miles away. Persian flowers like the crown imperial, iris, poppy, lilies, narcissus and tulips are beautifully carved into the marble, while inside the mausoleum familiar garden flowers like chrysanthemums  are created using inlaid semiprecious stones gathered from across Asia. The Taj Mahal is undoubtedly the most sublimely beautiful building in the world, we strolled through its Mughal gardens at dawn, through exotic tropical trees, as the rising sun lit the white marble an amber-pink hue. India – incredible India!


The sun setting over a stupa on the summit of Tonglu with Nepal in the background.

This article first appeared in Garden Heaven, 2014.

Painting in Glenveagh National Park

On the weekend of the 18 and 19 of April, nine fortunate ISBA members took up the opportunity to travel to Glenveagh National Park to paint. Organised by Oonagh Phillips, the members enjoyed a successful weekend painting in the beautiful surroundings of Glenveagh National Park.

Castle at Glenveagh

Castle at Glenveagh

The group, who travelled from Dublin and beyond, stayed at Gartan Outdoor Adventure and Training Centre, which was 15 minutes drive from Glenveagh. We met at the visitor centre at 10am and took the shuttle bus up to the castle.  The Head Gardener, Sean O’Gaoithin could not have been more helpful, even providing tickets for the shuttle bus.  He was there to meet us and show us to the cottage, which is situated in the castle walled garden.

Artists at Glenveagh

Artists at Glenveagh

Painting materials were left at the cottage, while we went on a walk into the gardens to choose the plants we would like to draw and paint.  One of the grounds keepers accompanied us with a long secateurs and cut down anything that was out of our reach. The following plants are just a sample of what was collected:  Magnolia x loebneri, Rhododendron ciliata, Oleria Willie Brady and Narcissus x incomparibilis, which is a cross between pheasant eye and suede narcissus and is unique to Glenveagh and around since famine times.

Plant Collecting in Glenveagh

Plant Collecting in Glenveagh

The group worked until around 5.30pm and showed up again the following morning again at around 10am, working until 4pm.

There was painting space for everyone, with the cottage accommodating up to nine people.  It was also possible for one of the artists to take her easel outside to paint in the glorious weather.

A wonderful weekend was had by all and hopefully the Irish Society of Botanical Artists will return again soon to Donegal.

Glenveagh National Park

Glenveagh National Park


Irish artists painting orchids for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine

by Brendan Sayers

Illustrations in this article paintings are reproduced from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine vol. 32, part 1 (2015). We are most grateful for being allowed to include them. Copies of the magazine are available, from Kew publishing, RBG Kew, Richmond,  Surrey TW9 3AE (price £15).

The European Orchid Conference is held every three years in various European cities and in London in April 2015. To coincide with the event, the current part of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (Vol. 32 (1)), the longest running botanical magazine, highlights British and Irish native orchids.

Dactylorhiza viridis (frog orchid) © Susan Sex

Dactylorhiza viridis (frog orchid) © Susan Sex

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.

Now well over two hundred years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine has been published continuously since 1787 although there have been several series within the overall sequence. From 1984 to 1994 the Magazine appeared under the title of The Kew Magazine. In 1995 the publication returned to its roots and the historical and popular name Curtis’s Botanical Magazine again took precedence.

Ophrys insectifera (fly orchid) © Susan Sex

Ophrys insectifera (fly orchid) © Susan Sex

The seven orchids depicted in part 1 of the 2015 Volume are Cypripedium calceolus (lady’s slipper), Dactylorhiza viridis (frog orchid), Ophrys fuciflora (late spider orchid), Ophrys insectifera (fly orchid), Orchid anthropophora (man orchid), Orchis purpurea (lady orchid) and Cephalanthera rubra (red helleborine). The late spider and lady orchids have been painted by Gillian Barlow, the lady’s slipper by Christabel King, both regular contributors to the periodical. The red helleborine is an historical watercolour painted by David Mason in the 1950’s, reproduced due to the 2014 subjects being destroyed by a thunderstorm!

For regular ISBA blog readers the names of the other two artists will be familiar. Susan Sex has been painting Irish orchids for more than two decades and her illustrations delight in both the large format, out of print Ireland’s Wild Orchids and Ireland’s Wild Orchids – a field guide. The former was the first publication to deal exclusively with native Irish orchids and the latter, the first exclusive field guide to the Irish orchid family. While Susan paints portraits of plants from many families, orchids seem to have a slight hold on her heart. Her contribution to the Magazine are the fly and frog orchids painted from native Irish specimens.


Orchis anthropophora Man orchid © Deborah Lambkin

The same concentration on orchids must be said for Deborah Lambkin who hails from close to where Susan lives in Co. Dublin. Now a Londoner, Deborah is the official artist of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Orchid Committee. Each and every awarded plant must be depicted for their reference library of orchid portraits. She painted the man orchid for the current issue of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine of which she is a regular contributor.

The Irish Society of Botanical Artists are delighted to congratulate Susan and Deborah on their depictions in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine and also give them thanks for their continued efforts in supporting and promoting Irish botanical art both at home and abroad.

Please note that the images in this article may not be reproduced, electronically, in print, or by any other means without the written permission of the copyright holders.

The Library of the National Botanic Gardens

By Alex Caccamo, Librarian, National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin

Please note that the images used in this blog post have been kindly supplied by the Library at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. Under no circumstances should they be downloaded, copied or used either in printed, electronic or any other form.

The Library, National Botanic Gardens

The Library, National Botanic Gardens

Many of the members of the ISBA are familiar with the library in Glasnevin.  Both myself and Colette Edwards (Library Assistant) have been delighted to introduce many of the ISBA’s enthusiastic members to our collections. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit us as yet, this is a short outline about the library and its collections.


There has been a library in the Botanic Gardens since 1799, four years after the gardens was founded.  The gardens was founded by the Royal Dublin Society with the aim of educating the public in the areas of botany and horticulture.  Establishing a library for those studying at the gardens was integral to that aim.

The library has existed in several different locations in the gardens over the years, but in 1997 the Library/Herbarium building was opened. Designed by the OPW architect, Ciaran O’Connor, it allowed the library collection to be consolidated, thereby providing access for staff, students and members of the public.


Our collection is quite varied and includes books, journals, rare books, archives, photographs and botanical art.

Some of the highlights of our rare books collection, include the Flora Graeca, Hooker’s Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalaya and Redouté’s Les Roses.

Flora Graeca

From Flora Graeca

Hooker's Rhododenron barbatum from

R. barbatum from Hooker’s Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalaya


The art collection is equally as interesting and is often consulted with great enthusiasm by those studying botanical art. With the formation of the ISBA, the art collection has enjoyed a renewed level of interest and we are always happy to help botanical artists with their research.

There are over 3,500 original botanical illustrations in the collection.  The collection dates from the early 19th century to the present day and consists largely of watercolour paintings on paper.

When referring to the art collection in Glasnevin, recognition must be given to Lydia Shackleton (1828-1914) as it is her work that makes up a sizeable portion of the collection.  She was born in 1828 and came to work in Glasnevin when she was 56 years old.  She continued to work here for 23 years, painting plants that were growing in the gardens under the direction of Sir Frederick Moore, who was the Curator at the time.  He had specific interests in certain plants, including orchids, hellebores, peonies and it was those that she chiefly spent her time painting, amassing over 1,000 paintings.

Cypripedium nigritum by Lydia Shackleton

Cypripedium nigritum by Lydia Shackleton

Masdevallia bella by Lydia Shackleton

Masdevallia bella by Lydia Shackleton

Hellebore niger Mr Poes variety by Lydia Shackleton

Hellebore niger Mr Poes variety by Lydia Shackleton

George Victor Du Noyer (1817-1869) is an artist who is known more for his work painting geological features than for painting plants. However, in Glasnevin we have the collection of paintings he completed to illustrate the short-lived Memoir Project.  At the age of nineteen, Du Noyer worked on the project painting apples, roses, brambles, seaweeds and fungi as well as grasses and sedges from the Lough Neagh area.  The paintings were executed with a great deal of precision and skill and where published in Memoir of the City and North Western Liberties of Londonderry. Paris of Templemore (1837).

Rosa tomentosa by George

Rosa tomentosa by George Victor du Noyer

Mushrooms by George Victor du Noyer

Mushrooms by George Victor du Noyer

The work of Anne Elizabeth Ball (1808-1872) is an example of how botanists use drawings to illustrate their research.  She was born in Queenstown Co. Cork, and was an ‘amateur’ botanist who had a keen interest in algae.  She was encouraged in her research by her family and spent hours collecting and describing the seaweeds around the Irish coast.  She provided the well-known phycologist, William Henry Harvey with plant records and specimens and he went on to name the genus Ballia in her honour.  Her work is executed in pen and ink on paper.

Sphaerococcus by Anne Ball

Sphaerococcus by Anne Ball

Polysiphonia by Anne Ball

Polysiphonia by Anne Ball

If you would like to visit the library, please call or email to make an appointment.  We would be delighted to help you in anyway.

National Botanic Gardens
Dublin 9

Phone: (01) 8040330


Painting at Kilmacurragh

by Lynn Stringer

Rhododendron falconeri© Lynn Stringer

Rhododendron falconeri
© Lynn Stringer

When I was asked to write a piece for the ISBA website I had to rack my brains for a bit to think of something that might be of interest. Possibly the only slightly different thing I have done from other ISBA members are the paintings of plants, trees and shrubs from Kilmacurragh. I spoke to Seamus O’Brien the head gardener back in 2009 about the possibility of painting some of their plants and after running the idea past Felicity Gaffney and Peter Wyse Jackson of the National Botanic Gardens, I started with a beautiful red tree rhododendron – Rhododendron arboretum bush form. Since then I think I’ve painted about twenty plants from the Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens in County Wicklow.

I paint about three or four plants a year, usually following a call from Seamus that something of interest is in flower (quite often about to go over!) and if I have some free time coming up, I’ll try and get down. There then follows a high speed walk through the gardens (those of you with experience of gardeners will know how fast they go!) lots of chat about the garden, information on the plant, and many other nuggets of information.

Magnolia delavayi © Lynn Stringer

Magnolia delavayi
© Lynn Stringer

I then have the pleasure of sauntering out past all the ‘do not steal plants’ signs with a beautiful piece of Rhododendron or Magnolia. The gardeners quite regularly escort people caught taking seeds or cuttings off the premises – so do not try it here! On a more serious note, because of the rarity of the collection, they have been targeted at night by serious thieves who dig up quite mature plants. You can imagine how devastated the gardeners are to discover their carefully nurtured plants have disappeared overnight.

After a couple of years, Seamus suggested we try and get an article and painting published in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. He made the first contact with Martyn Rix, the editor, and suggested some plants they might be interested in featuring. We finally settled on Aextoxicon punctatum and after that two Patrinias. All of these plants were more recent additions to the garden, some from Irish plant hunting expeditions.

There are strict guidelines to painting for Curtis’s – all paintings have to be 21 x 12.5 cm. in portrait format and the plant is to be painted life size. Thankfully the plants I have done have all been pretty small to start with. I’m not sure how anyone would fit a banana plant in to a plate this size!

img002When it came to the line drawing of the dissection of the plant, this was the first time I’d done anything like this and it took me a while to get my head around one of the instructions in particular – Plates should be drawn ‘half-up’ ie. x 1½ to be reduced by 1/3 when printed’

When I finally worked it out (it took a while!), I enjoyed doing the different discipline of pen and ink work and happily stippled away with my ink pens.

I am not sure at this stage what I will do with the Kilmacurragh paintings but for now it is a privilege to paint these plants. Back in the middle of the nineteenth century Joseph Dalton Hooker himself collected the seed for some of the plants that I am now painting in the twenty-first century. I am indebted to Seamus and the other gardeners at Kilmacurragh for their generosity, enthusiasm and friendship.

As I write, Seamus is away in the Sikkim Himalaya with a group of fellow plant hunters, following in the footsteps of Joseph Dalton Hooker and who knows what new wonders they may bring back.

More of Lynn’s paintings can be seen on her website: