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: