A Grand Day Out: ISBA visit to Burtown House

The inaugural outing of the ISBA was a visit to Burtown House in May 2013, where we were privileged and delighted to meet Wendy Walsh, and were welcomed to Burtown by Wendy’s daughter Lesley Fennell. A group of ISBA artists returned to Burtown House on 13 May 2017 where Lesley made them very welcome and a tour of the garden and studios was enhanced by lunch in the newly opened Green Barn. Here, ISBA member and the Society’s Hon. Secretary Elaine Moore Mackey gives a brief overview of the lovely visit.

A small group of members were lucky enough to visit Burtown on Saturday 13 May and, while the weather wasn’t great, we made the most of the beautiful setting in which we could admire and learn about the work of Wendy Walsh, who lived at Burtown for the last years of her life.

exterior picture of studio

The exterior of the studios where Lesley Fennell works, and where her mother, Wendy Walsh, painted right up to the end of her long life.

Lesley Fennell, Wendy’s daughter and an artist herself, took time to show us the gardens–which she manages with enormous talent and committment–as well as Wendy’s paintings which are exhibited in the Gallery at the Green Barn.

interior of the gallery

Some of Lesley Fennell’s portraits of her mother Wendy Walsh are on display in the gallery

interior of studio, Burtown

A glimpse of the studio where Lesley works

stream and woodland in Burtown

Part of the woodland garden in Burtown

Lesley’s generosity and intimate knowledge of Burtown, her home for many years, allowed our group to experience this lovely place on an intimate level.  Lesley knows every plant, every corner of the garden, and her enthusiasm for plants and of course, for painting, is infectious.

We were so grateful to her for making us welcome, and to see Wendy’s work up close was a real privilege.  The unexpected gift of the visit was to understand and appreciate the long association of Burtown with painting.  Lesley’s own studio, formerly that of her mother, is a living workplace and she extended a genuine invitation to our members to paint in the gardens.


I was personally touched by Lesley’s sensitive portraits of Wendy and her own work which celebrates Burtown, her passion for plants, and her home.

irises outside the Green Barn, Burtown

Irises outside the Green Barn

The carrot cake was also decidedly memorable!

To read about our first visit to Burtown in 2013, see this post: Wendy Walsh.

ISBA Artists awarded Silver Medal at RHS Malvern Spring Festival

Featuring six artists showing six paintings of Heritage Irish Plants, the ISBA’s first collective entry to the RHS–at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival–was awarded a Silver Medal.

RHS silver medal award

A Silver Medal for the society’s first RHS exhibit. Congratulations to all six artists

Each exhibit is judged by a panel of experts according to specific criteria including: scientific accuracy, botanical information, artistic skill – draughtsmanship and painterly skills, as well as the overall presentation of the display and unity of the pictures. All six paintings must be executed to the same standard.

six paintings of irish heritage plants

The common theme of the six paintings was, of course, Heritage Irish Plants!

The six artists, and their plants, are:

  • Niamh Harding Miller; Erica cinerea ‘Ted Oliver’
  • Siobhán Larkin; Iris ‘War and Peace’
  • Rona Orchard;  Narcissus ‘Paradigm’ and ‘Greek Surprise’
  • Susan Sex; Dahlia ‘Aggie White’
  • Holly Somerville; Iris lazica ‘Turkish Blue’
  • Margaret Walsh Best; Narcissus ‘Soft Focus’

Well done and congratulations to all!

printed cards of the paintings

This was the ISBA’s first collective exhibit at an RHS show and a great way to bring the Society and our six artists to a wider and informed audience

All the paintings are of course featured in the Heritage Irish Plants, Plandaí Oidhreachta book; visit our projects page to find out more.

DONEGAL PAINTING WEEKEND 23 and 24 April, 2016.

Our painting weekend was at The Glebe in Churchill this time and what a real treat that was in the Highlands of Donegal.  We now have a growing Donegal membership, all established artists who love nature and plants and become botanical art enthusiasts, thanks to Sarah Lewtas.

The Glebe Gallery

The Glebe Gallery

Painting weekend participants

Painting weekend participants

The light was perfect at the tea room, our studio, and there was ample space for each one to spread out.  We walked the grounds to choose our plants, azaleas, skunk cabbage, skimmia, marsh marigold and more.  There is a coffee machine and we brought along our lunch.  Curator Adrian Kelly popped in and out to see if we had all we needed, we did!

Niamh Harding-Miller and Grainne Carr

Niamh Harding-Miller and Grainne Carr

Martha and Sarah Lewtas

Martha and Sarah Lewtas

We had been generously invited to dinner by Kerry Pocock who owns a gorgeous little cottage across the road from The Glebe, all attended.  Her cousin, Derek Hill, lived here for a number of years before he died.  Kerry comes here with her family.  We had drinks in front of a roaring turf fire in the sitting room when we arrived and lots of good chat and laugh over a delicious dinner.  Kerry had invited a local artist friend who brought Valencia orange almond cake which she had topped with sugared primula to mark the occasion.

Thekla Dunne

Thekla Dunne

Everyone was back painting at their table in the morning and we broke up around 4.30pm. It’s satisfying when an event is so appreciated, one member said that the weekend had rekindled her love of watercolour, another said it restored her faith in nature and womankind!  We’ve already booked a date for early October, members say they’re already looking forward to it.  Curator Adrian Kelly has offered us a tour of the house next time.

Dinner at Kerrys'

Dinner at Kerrys

‘A DAY AT THE NATIONAL BOTANIC GARDENS’ – Tuesday 10 May: 12.30 – 4.00pm


*** Please note this is an ISBA Member only event. If you would like to become a member please visit our membership page ***

May is a delightful time at the National Botanic Gardens, with many favourites in bloom – peonies, wisteria, the handkerchief tree and many others. It seems like the perfect time to have an informal, relaxed day simply enjoying all that the Gardens have to offer and an opportunity for those who wish to have lunch together. There is the added bonus of an excellent exhibition, Irish Ceramics at the Gardens, in the upstairs gallery area of the Visitor Centre. Artists may sketch in the Gardens if they wish, but not in the glasshouses.


While this event carries a ‘weather permitting’ advisory, there is plenty to do indoors in the event of rain, so don’t be put off by a few showers.

We would especially like to welcome our new members – this is an excellent time to meet other members and to get to know one another. Committee members in attendance will wear name badges, so please come and introduce yourselves.


Although you are welcome to arrive as early as you wish, we suggest meeting in, or just outside, the Teak House (the glasshouse beside the car park, near the Visitor Centre) at 12.30. Depending on the number of general visitors, it may be necessary – or at least polite – if we don’t all invade the café at once, but this can be determined on the day. If it is crowded in the café, some of you may like to view the ceramics exhibition first. Weather permitting, a walk around the gardens will begin around 1.30pm (starting at the Teak House), after which there will be time to take in some of the glasshouses if you wish. The afternoon will end around 4.00pm – the Gardens close at 5.00pm.

Please note: if you would be interested in a tour of the Gardens with a member of the Visitor Centre staff, please contact us as soon as possible – this can be arranged with prior notice. Cost is €5 per person. These tours are most informative and provide an excellent overview of the Gardens.
Other than a fee of €5 for those who wish to avail of the tour of the Gardens, this event is free-of-charge.



All photographs courtesy of ©Grainne Stark and  Jane Stark 


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

Email: alexandra.caccamo@opw.ie

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: http://www.lynnstringer.net

Lydia Shackleton

19th century Irish Botanical Artist

We are very grateful to Oonagh Phillips for this essay, which was originally written by her as part of the Distance Learning Course of the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA), and also to The Library, National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin for supplying a selection of images of Lydia Shackleton’s work held in the Library. Both the images and the text are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without written permission.

A page from one of Lydia Shackleton's notebooks: butcher's broom Ruscus aculeatus var. Kilmacurragh, painted by Lydia Shackleton

A page from one of Lydia Shackleton’s notebooks: butcher’s broom Ruscus aculeatus var. Kilmacurragh (courtesy National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin)

It is true that sometimes we don’t see what’s right there in front of us. I have long admired botanical artists from all over the world, and have been inspired by them, but I hadn’t looked closer to home, to botanical painters of yesteryear in my own native Ireland. Our island is not a country renowned for this art form in the 19th century but we have one of the most beautiful botanic gardens in Europe, founded in 1795, in Glasnevin.

I made an appointment with Library Assistant, Colette Edwards, at the National Botanic Gardens, and in the archives, she showed me the beautiful works of some accomplished artists of this period, one being Lydia Shackleton (1828–1914).

I had come across the most prolific Irish botanical artist of her time. Her paintings are rarely exhibited but I was hugely impressed by the body of work produced by her. There are what seemed like endless paintings of hellebores and orchids, peonies, carnivorous plants and Lachenalias, native plants of Ireland and some recorded by her in the United States.

Potentilla anserina Silverweed – one of the native Irish species painted by Lydia Shackleton

Potentilla anserina Silverweed – one of the native Irish species painted by Lydia Shackleton (courtesy National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin)

Lydia painted at the National Botanic Gardens from 1879 until 1922. She was a keen and industrious worker. On a visit to Glasnevin, William Robinson, a pioneer of landscape gardening in the ‘natural manner’ during Lydia’s activity there commented to Moore, “Poor thing, she is very industrious”! No wonder she painted over a thousand orchids and that was only a start!

Born at Grisemount, Ballitore, Co. Kildare in 1828, Lydia was the third in a family of thirteen children. The Shackletons were a renowned Quaker family who ran a reputable boarding school at Ballitore. The Quaker educational system encouraged the teaching of languages together with the study of plants. They took a great interest in nature.  Botanists William Henry Harvey, Isaac Carroll and Thomas Chanlee were educated at the school and it’s likely that she was influenced by their passion for plant life.

Lydia was also a poet and in her poetry she illustrates, too, that she took an interest in and had a wide knowledge of many aspects of nature from an early age. In later life she recalled in a poem that as a child of four years (1832) in Co. Wicklow

“I found upon the strand,
Mallows and horned poppies that grew among the sand’. (1)

Her early years were devoted to caring for and teaching many of her nieces and nephews, and during that period she had little time to pursue her interest in painting, horticulture and reading. She strove for perfection which indicates that her character was perfectly suited to painting plants in the botanical style. A keen eye for detail was of interest to her as a botanical artist. Her nephew and family historian, Jonathan Shackleton, sent me a copy of a drawing well rendered by her of her home at Grisemont when she was only twenty years of age. Perhaps this was not so unusual, but her drawing skills were well honed by then and impeccable drawing is required for the accuracy of botanical works.

In 1850 Lydia trained at the government school of design attached to the Royal Dublin Society, a sister institution of the National Botanic Gardens. Here she expressed her dislike of copying other artists work and refined her skills, after which she opened a school in Lucan where she taught for twenty years.

The more I researched the life and works of this woman, the more I became captivated by her accomplishments and how she lived her life. An unmarried and independent woman, Lydia made a trip to America in 1873 and stayed for three years. She painted when she was in Ohio and Pennsylvania, anywhere she went, a consummate plant enthusiast and painter. I loved the small book containing, on tinted paper, beautifully executed watercolours of North American wild flowers.

This was an exciting time for plant gatherers and explorers and for botanical artists like Lydia and it was in 1873 that Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux had completed their work in Central Park in New York. (I worked in Central Park as a volunteer for four years and it was there that I decided to study botanical art at the New York Botanical Gardens.)

Slipper orchid Cypripedium nigritum by Lydia Shackleton

Slipper orchid Cypripedium nigritum by Lydia Shackleton (courtesy National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin)

In 1883, Frederick Moore commissioned Lydia Shackleton to paint the gardens’ orchids,pitcher plants and peonies. She spent twenty three years of her life painting at Glasnevin and her work, including the thousand orchids mentioned, is an impressive reflection of the horticultural and botanical achievements of the Botanic Gardens in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Frederick Moore had a particular interest in tropical plants and devoted a lot of his time to the improvement of the collection.

“The purpose of this vast watercolour orchidarium is clear: each orchid that blossomed in the Glasnevin Orchid House was a potent symbol of the primary importance of Glasnevin in the orchid world at the time; not even The Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, could equal the Dublin collection.” (2)

The portraits are a significant record of orchid hybrids in the gardens, some of which are no longer in cultivation. Lydia painted each one in watercolour.

Cobra lily Darlingtonia californica by Lydia Shackleton

Cobra lily Darlingtonia californica by Lydia Shackleton (courtesy National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin)

Choosing to highlight one of her works wasn’t easy, there were so many that I liked very much but I have settled on the Darlingtonia californica, which shows a hooded flower head with leaves and the seedhead. The lace effect, its translucency, on the flower head is perfection and I like the effect produced by working on tinted paper.

I feel that the artist was as dedicated to her craft as one can be. She painted plants in a way that indicates to me that she enjoyed her work, and captured the essence of the plant which she was portraying. Her hellebores virtually dance a merry dance on the page. It must have given her huge satisfaction to produce these beautiful works that contributed so much to the world of horticulture, a passionate artist who cared about the greater good.

Helleborus niger Mr. Poe's variety, painted by Lydia Shackleton in 1887

Helleborus niger Mr. Poe’s variety, painted by Lydia Shackleton in 1887 (courtesy National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin)

There are also sketch books containing watercolours of Irish wild flowers and of plantsfrom Irish gardens such as Kilmacurragh and Mount Usher, Co. Wicklow These are also preserved in Glasnevin. Some of her sketches of alpine plants, such as a Cladonia lichen,suggest that she spend time in Le Sentier and Le Brasus, Switzerland in 1879.

Returning to America (1888-91), she painted flowers in Massachusetts and New Jersey. It seemed that she never stopped doing what she loved, I admire and envy her skill and her work ethic, “The Only Rule Is Work” (3) attitude.

It was recorded in October 1897 at a meeting of Dublin Naturalists Field Club, of which she was a member, that a series of beautiful watercolour drawings of flowering plants,prepared in part for the Botanical Collections Science & Art Museum, was shown by Lydia Shackleton’ (Anon 1897).

Her work was briefly described in the Capuchin Annual 1976 by M. Scannell: “the illustrations are well drawn, glowing with colour and are botanically correct. Some with large flowers and veined leaves have a sculptured quality. She showed sensitivity to the character of the flower while appreciating line and pattern . . . Miss Shackleton is probably the foremost flower portraitist in Ireland”.

In her later years, Lydia’s eyesight deteriorated, and eventually she became blind and was forced to stop painting. It is no surprise to me that she bore the cross with the great patience that she had shown throughout her life. She had the support of a large extended family (she was a cousin to Ernest Shackleton, Antarctic explorer). In a life welllived indeed, she made the best of her time and used her skills and intelligence to enhance the lives of others, it doesn’t get much better than that. I hope that one day she will get the recognition she deserves. She died in Dublin on 10th December, 1914.


(1) A poem entitled “Reminiscent of Old Age”, August, 1912.

(2) E. Charles Nelson, “A Garden of Bright Images. Art Treasure at Glasnevin”,The IrishArts

(3) Sister Corita Kent, 1960s pop artist, “The Only Rule is Work”, rule no. 7.


Booklet entitled, Lydia Shackleton (18281914) published privately and printed by W.
Tempest, Dundalk, 1947.

E.C. Nelson “Orchid Painting at Glasnevin, The Orchid Review, Vol, 89, 1981, pp 37377.

B.D. Morley, “Lydia Shackleton’s paintings in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin”, Glasra, Col 2 1979, pp. 2536.

Botanic Art and some Irish Artists”, The Capuchin Annual 1976 pp. 100-102

Mary J.P. Scannell and Helen Lehert, Lydia Shackleton 18281914, botanist and artist”,Journal of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society, 1983/84 Vol. XV1, No. 4.

Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press

Darlington californica May 1886. Watercolour on paper, 26 x 40cm (National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin)

E.C. Nelson and E.M. Mc Cracken, The Brightest Jewel, a history of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Kilkenny 1987.

Introducing our Secretary, Colette Roberts

ISBA Secretary, Colette Roberst

ISBA Secretary, Colette Roberts

A lot of our members won’t know me at all, but my name is Colette Roberts, and since our inaugural meeting in March I have been the Secretary of our newly formed society, The Irish Society of Botanical Artists. I travel down to the committee meetings and events either by car or train – it’s a treat going to Dublin, even though there is no time for shopping.

I live in Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast on the outskirts of a lovely little town called Holywood, now known all over the world as Rory McIlroy’s home town. The Golf Club where he played, as did my husband David, is on the slopes of the Holywood hills overlooking Belfast Lough, with it’s famous shipyard and enormous yellow cranes ‘ Samson’  and ‘Goliath’. Amongst other great ships built there, was  the Titanic,  which sadly sank on her maiden voyage to America. The lough then sweeps in a curve over to the lovely coastline of Antrim on the other side.

I have always had a love of plants since my beloved grandfather Michael (from Ballyboye in County Leitrim) used to take me for daily walks (weather permitting) through the fields and small farm attached to the old Dominican Convent. He would make me daisy chains, and tickle my chin with the buttercup and I just loved those times. He was also popular with other children in the neighbourhood as he always carried a supply of dolly mixtures and dulse in his pockets, but ‘he’s my grandfather’ I used to tell them.

My love of gardening grew from these humble beginnings and much later in life I discovered painting, and it was always flowers. I just love botanical art – it’s a very challenging subject that needs concentration and observation, and I am just a learner. ‘Paint what you see’, as Susan Sex would say,’ and not what you think you see’. So I am learning, but I love my subject so that goes a long way.

The Aibítir poster stands proudly in its prominent position outside The Playhouse in Derry

The Aibítir poster stands proudly in its prominent position outside The Playhouse in Derry

Our very successful ‘Aibitir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art’ exhibition has travelled  to Derry and was on show for two weeks in ‘The Playhouse’.  Just a short time before the exhibition I discovered that the day of hanging also coincided with the Apprentice Boys march, so whilst Liz and Megan measured and hammered, and the grey smoke of the previous night’s bonfire drifted over the ancient city walls, the Apprentice Boys assembled outside The Playhouse windows, banging their drums with the relentless tunes of the marching season. They were quite good fun and appreciated, as did the Police, the fact that there was a Dublin registered vehicle parked in the ‘no parking’ zone of their assembly area.

However, all involve appreciated the irony and we have a photograph to prove it.

Liz Prendergast and her daughter Megan surrounded by some of the good-humoured marchers from the Apprentice Boys' parade

Liz Prendergast and her daughter Megan surrounded by some of the good-humoured marchers from the Apprentice Boys’ parade

It took Liz and Megan  from 9.30am to 4pm to hang the exhibition, with Oonagh, Mary and myself doing the odd jobs in between, before heading into town for sustenance.       Difficult…there was a huge Police presence and all of the restaurants in Derry were closed…except one,  the Mandarin Chinese on the quays. What a night we had, enjoying our meal,  until a Chinese Elvis lookalike – yes it’s true – jumped onto the scene singing Elvis’s famous number ‘It’s Now or Never’, swaggering around in his white outfit with his scarlet lined cape…he ran and jumped from table to specific table, wishing those who were celebrating a birthday or anniversary good wishes.then it was my turn. Why????? Oonagh had indicated to him that I was celebrating ‘something’, but I wasn’t aware this was happening. He sang to me and wished me a happy birthday as did everyone in the restaurant, then he happily moved on…and no it wasn’t my birthday.  All four of us couldn’t stop laughing, it was just such fun, and we needed that at the end of a tiring but successful day. Liz’s poor daughter Megan couldn’t join us as she wasn’t feeling well having eaten a dodgy sandwich earlier in the day.

Oonagh Phillips with Derry mayor Brenda Stevenson, who opened the Aibítir exhibition in Derry.

Oonagh Phillips with Derry mayor Brenda Stevenson, who opened the Aibítir exhibition in Derry.

Our preview in Derry went without a hitch, the exhibition was well received and ‘The Playhouse’ staff were wonderful, it is the biggest Arts Centre in Ireland, and they have a theatre, art room, exhibition and conference rooms, dance rooms, rehearsal areas, it was once an old convent which had been restored and extended, keeping the original building and glassing over the back area, which still contains the statues and original windows of the convent. In fact the Mayor of Derry, Councillor  Brenda Stevenson had been to school there, and it brought  back some happy memories for her.

The exhibition is now at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast and will be on show from 2 – 25th September, when I will take it back home to the National Botanic Gardens. Mr. Daniel  Clarke, well known in the art world in Belfast will open ‘Aibitir’ on Wednesday evening 3rd September at 6pm, and we look forward to a successful evening.

At our next event at the gardens, I will wear a name badge, so please do come over and say hello, it’s a great way for me to get to know the membership, and it makes everything more personal.

Colette Roberts


Visiting Derry and Northwest

You may be wondering what this blog has to do with botanical art, but from 11–24 August, The Playhouse in Derry will be the home of Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art. We hope that lots of people from all over Ireland and beyond will take this opportunity to view the exhibition and also to enjoy the hospitality and beauty of northwest Ireland.

Thank you very much to Oonagh Phillips, who has a home in Donegal, for writing up this blog. Oonagh has also been invaluable in helping with the preparations for bringing Aibítir to Derry.

Many thanks to Aoife Thomas of VisitDerry for supplying the stunning images.

The Guildhall and the Peace Bridge, Derry

The Guildhall and the Peace Bridge, Derry


The most direct route by car from Dublin to Derry is to take the M1, take exit 14 for Derry. Follow signs for Monaghan, Omagh and Derry.

Most of the towns are bypassed except for Emyvale, Co Monaghan and Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone, just over the border.

We always stop at the Nuremore Hotel en route for coffee and scones/toast in the lobby, it’s nice and relaxing there and the gardens and golf course are lovely….a little oasis off the main road!  Make sure to take the Nuremore Hotel Conference Exit, not the main Hotel Nuremore Hotel one, it’s a lot quicker, about two minutes for the main road.

The other stop is at Supervalu in Aughnacloy where you can pick up a take away coffee, the loos are the cleanest in the country!

THE ULSTER AMERICAN FOLK PARK, about five miles north of Omagh is really worth a visit if you’ve time.  It’s closed on a Monday which I thought I should mention in case you’re coming for the opening, which is actually on a Monday (11 August).

The journey from Dublin takes about three hours.

Derry City Walls

Derry City Walls

DERRY is unique, a place apart! UNESCO has listed it as one of the World’s 1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die. The 17th century walls are completely in tact and you can walk the 1.6km circumference and get a good feel for the city. There are guided tours  by a local Derry person if you like – I hear it can be quite entertaining as well as informative! The Guildhall, which is just opposite Shipquay Gate is worthwhile looking around, lovely stained glass windows here.

I have a lot of very good memories of being in Derry when I was little and during my teenage years. Being designated the City of Culture 2013 has helped a lot on bringing a vibrancy back to this ancient city.

The new Guildhall exterior, Derry

The new Guildhall exterior, Derry


  • BEECH HILL HOUSE HOTEL  A really nice country house hotel just outside the city, you’d need a car to get around.  Situated in 32acres of woodland and landscaped gardens, the food is gourmet served in a very nice dining room overlooking the garden.   They offer special deals, check it out on line.
  • CITY HOTEL is a four star hotel situated on the quays and beside the Guildhall.  It’s very convenient to the city centre so you can walk everywhere, there’s parking at the hotel.  There is also a swimming pool.
  • TOWER HOTEL is just off The Diamond and within the walls.  The Playhouse is five minutes walk form there and has an arrangement with the hotel so do check it out their special rates.
  • DA VINCIS HOTEL on Culmore Road, about a five minute drive from city centre.
  • HOUSES OF CHARACTER B and B in the centre of town would be suitable for a group of people travelling together.

The above are just a start. There are lots of places to stay but it’s always handy to be right in the middle ie unless you want to stay at the Beech Hill, in which case it’s worth the drive into town!

Craft Village

Craft Village

The spectacular MUSSENDEN TEMPLE at Castlerock is a short drive from Derry, perched on a 120ft cliff edge with views right down the lough and over to Inisowen. 

PORTSTEWART is a nice resort town where you could have a bite to eat before heading on to DUNLUCE CASTLE, CARRIC-A-REDE rope bridge (rather you than I!) and the GIANTS CAUSEWAY.

You can take a coastal tour from the city to The Giants Causeway, it will pass Dunluce and the bridge as well as a stop off at BUSHMILLS DISTILLERY.

The Peace Bridge, Derry

The Peace Bridge, Derry


My home county of DONEGAL is a beautiful place. Ok, so I’m biased….but it is!

I will suggest a few beauty spots and drives that you couldn’t but enjoy starting with INISOWEN which is only a few miles from Derry.

Drive 1.  Take the road to Buncrana and head north to BALLYLIFFIN and MALIN HEAD. There are magnificent beaches in this area, some small coves where you can picnic and swim and other beaches that go on forever where you can walk but not necessarily swim. Ballyliffin Beach is one and the other is the FIVE FINGERS STRAND outside Malin town. There is an old fort at DUNREE worth seeing if you time.

Drive 2. Drive from Burnfoot, a right just outside the town to the award winning church, St Anegus which was inspired by GRAINAN OF AILEACH, an old stone ring fort in Burt, there are beautiful views right down Lough Swilly from up the hill. We were married in this church a very long time ago!

Drive 3. Drive on to Letterkenny and take a right hand turn to Ramelton just before the town, it’s about six miles from the roundabout. Drive on through Ramelton (where we live!) and turn right over the bridge for RATHMULLAN, head for PORTSALON, make sure to take the coast road all the way, after Portsalon you should drive further out to FANHAD LIGHTHOUSE.

There are some private gardens in the area that are open to the public on certain dates but you could phone for a special visit if you’d like to see them. Check the website for DONEGAL GARDEN TRAIL for the phone numbers.

Drive 4. From Fanhad Lighthouse drive to the new bridge over Mulroy Bay and on into CARRAIGART, a lovely little town. TRAMORE (Blue Flag) at ROSAPENNA is beautiful and goes on for miles, nice for a picnic too. You can take the ATLANTIC DRIVE from here, you’ll see signs. MCNUTTS TWEEDS shop is in DOWNINGS, they make beautiful rugs and other woolen items. There’s a little tea shop next door.

Drive 4A. An alternative drive from Burt is to go from Letterkenny to THE GLEBE at Churchill, an OPW property and gallery, left to the state by artist Dereck Hill. From there you can drive through to GLENVEAGH NATIONAL PARK.There’s a bus to take you up a very long driveway to the castle but walk it if you can as the road runs right along the side of the lake and there are resting areas en route! The gardens at GLENVEAGH are spectacular and there’s a very good tea shop where you can have lunch or just tea and a bun.

You will miss some of my favourite places by taking this route but you won’t be able to do everything unless you have lots of time. But, if you take the Portsalon/Fanhad route you could go on to MARBLE HILL (Blue Flag,worth the detour) and into PORT NA BLAGH, turn right off the main road down to the pier and the lovely little beach. DUNFANAGHY is a good place to stop for a sandwich or pick up something at the Green Man and picnic on the KILAHOOEY STRAND (Blue Flag) overlooking Horn Head. Do stop at THE GALLERY if you’d like to see some nice irish art, crafts and antiques. The hotel down the hill, The Mill, is very nice for lunch or dinner or to stay. It was once owned by the family of artist, Frank Egginton. His daughter owns The Gallery.

Leaving Dunfanaghy, drive on through FALCARRAGH (Back Strand here is beautiful), GORTAHORK, and on down to BLOODY FORELAND, BUNBEG, AN GEALTACHT.

DANNY MINNY’S in Annagray is an excellent restaurant and though I haven’t been there yet, I’m definitely planning a visit this Summer.  Also a nice place to stay.

South West Donegal is less familiar to me but I can definitely recommend that you see SLIEVE LEAGUE, the highest sea cliffs in Europe, amazing.  DONEGAL TOWN is very nice, you could look into MAGEES for tweeds and drive out the road to HARVEY’S POINT and or SOLIS LOUGH ESKE for lunch, or a coffee!

Stop at Nancy’s pub if you happen to find yourself driving through ARDARA, they serve a mean fish chowder. There are very nice tweed shops here especially Eddie Doherty who hand weaves his tweeds right there, you might see him in action if you drop by. His prices are very reasonable.

The above is just a taste if Donegal, there’s more!


THE SECRET GARDENS OF SLIGO are very worthwhile visiting, check out their website.

CO FERMANAGH. There are many interesting and beautiful places to see in Co Fermanagh including a garden trail that would bring you to FLORENCE COURT and CASTLE COOLE.  Hire a boat and go to DEVINISH ISLAND where there is a 12th century round tower, I haven’t been here but there are very appealing images on the DISCOVERNORTHERNIRELAND.COM

ISBA Inaugural Exhibition

ISBA Inaugural Exhibition

Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art


National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin – home of the ISBA and location of the Aibítir exhibition

After many months of planning and hard work, the big day was nearly upon us! Alphabet team volunteers gathered at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, in the days before the opening of Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art to add the finishing touches to the inaugural exhibition of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists.

Paintings were placed in their mounts and taken away to be framed; display panels were assembled and painted; paintings were hung in their allotted space, adjusted and re-adjusted until all were in perfect alignment; signs and posters were placed in their appropriate positions; examples of the artists’ careful preparatory work was placed in the glass boxes and the tired volunteers stood back to survey their efforts.

The helpful and supportive staff of the Botanic Gardens transported catalogues  and other materials from their storage locations; helped to mount and trim signs;  design exquisite displays of wild Irish plants on pieces of slate and generally provide any assistance they possibly could to the A-team.

Support session with Susan Sex

Aibítir participants take part in a support session with artistic mentor Susan Sex

The morning of the opening began bright and early as a team from the TV programme ‘Nationwide’ arrived to film an example of the artists’ support sessions with Susan Sex. A fortunate few enjoyed an unexpected master class on painting leaves as Susan replicated the sort of invaluable advice and encouragement that she had provided throughout the project. During the course of the day, the Nationwide team also conducted interviews with Dr Shirley Sherwood, botanical artists Deborah Lambkin and Glasnevin botanist, Colin Kelleher. The programme will go out on RTE on 20 June along with a feature on the World Association of Flower Arrangers (WAFA) World Flower Show at the RDS in Dublin.

Mary Dillon and Dr Shirley Sherwood

ISBA Chairperson Mary Dillon presents Dr Shirley Sherwood with a folio of Aibítir limited edition archival prints.

As the Glasnevin staff and A-team volunteers attended to last minute details, Dr Shirley Sherwood arrived at the Botanic Gardens, accompanied by her husband, James Sherwood.  Dr Matthew Jebb, Director of the National Botanic Gardens, along with ISBA Chairperson Mary Dillon, NBG Librarian Alex Caccamo and Glasshouse Foreman Brendan Sayers were on hand to welcome Dr Sherwood and her husband and to entertain them at a lunch hosted in the Visitor Centre gallery area, surrounded by the Aibítir exhibition that would be opened by Dr Sherwood later that evening. A tour of the gardens followed before our guests departed for a brief rest before the evening’s celebrations.

Dr Matthew Jebb welcomes Dr Shirley Sherwood, artists and guests to teh opening of the exhibition

Dr Matthew Jebb welcomes Dr Shirley Sherwood and her husband, James Sherwood, as well as the artists and guests to the opening of the Aibítir exhibition.

Invited guests began arriving early at the Visitor Centre, eager to get a first glimpse of the paintings. Catalogues were in great demand as visitors made their way around the gallery area, viewing not only the 59 paintings that passed the stringent adjudication process, but also those that just missed meeting the judges’ criteria and those which had been entered as ‘fringe’ paintings. Examples of the artists’ preparatory work was displayed in a number of glass boxes, along with snippets from the stories that many artists wrote about their Aibítir journey.

Dr Shirley Sherwood with Holly Somerville and Brendan Sayers

Dr Shirley Sherwood with Aibítir participant Holly Somerville and project mentor Brendan Sayers, Glasshouse Foreman at the National Botanic Gardens

The exhibition has remained true to its original goal of inclusivity, which allowed each participant to be justly proud of journeys that have led to increased artistic skills, a greater knowledge and appreciation of Irish wild plants and a growing sense of community with other artists of all skill levels.

Members of the A-team with Dr Shirley Sherwood and her husband, James Sherwood.

Some of the Alphabet team with Dr Shirley Sherwood and her husband, James Sherwood. L to R: Mary McInerney, Oonagh Phillips, Susan Sex, Mary Dillon, NBG Assistant Librarian Colette Edwards, James Sherwood, Marie Stamp, Dr Shirley Sherwood, NBG Glasshouse Foreman Brendan Sayers, Yanny Petters, NBG Librarian Alex Caccamo and Siobhan Larkin.

Once the guests were assembled, Dr Matthew Jebb welcomed everyone to the National Botanic Gardens and to Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art. His speech was followed by a few words from ISBA Chairperson Mary Dillon, who thanked the many people who, since the project was first conceived, have assisted the participants in a myriad of different ways. She then introduced Dr Sherwood and welcomed her on behalf of the assembled guests and the Aibítir participants.

Dr Shirley Sherwood

As Dr Shirley Sherwood formally opened the Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art exhibition, she urged everyone to buy a copy of the catalogue.

Dr Shirley Sherwood is the world’s foremost collector of botanical art, and her large collection is housed in the purpose-built Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew Gardens. Her words reflected her prodigious knowledge of botanical art, including the latest trends and developments, such as the move towards painting life-size representations of larger plants, thanks to the availability of larger paper sizes; the depiction of smaller plants at higher magnification, and the use of a wider range of media. She urged everyone present to buy a copy of the exhibition catalogue and declared the exhibition officially open.


Limited edition archival print samples

On Friday 2 May, Aibítir opened to the public, and there has been a steady stream of visitors who have voiced their appreciation and delight at this unique exhibition. Limited edition archival prints of the paintings are available to buy either mounted and unframed (€100) or mounted with a frame (€150). The print run will be strictly limited to 30 for each painting, with 20 of these being available for purchase by the public. We have been delighted with the interest in these prints and the fact that, quite without any prompting from us, visitors to the exhibition are finding creative reasons for buying paintings – a first name initial or even two initials as a birthday, anniversary or wedding present; a plant that comes from a certain part of the country (a fitting reminder of a memorable holiday in the Burren, for instance) or perhaps a plant that evokes happy childhood memories of hedgerow foraging. Others are chosen solely on artistic merit. The paintings of Aibítir speak in different ways to each one who views them, and that is part of the project’s unique charm.

Susan Sex and Tim O'Neill

Two national treasures – botanical artist Susan Sex with well-known calligrapher Tim O’Neill standing beside Susan’s painting of Athair thalún (Yarrow). Tim designed a special and very beautiful uncial alphabet for the Aibítir project.

Canadian guests

The Aibítir project is international in its scope, with artists from Canada, the United States, Scotland, Wales and England taking part. L to R: Canadian visitor Ralph Best, ISBA Vice-chairperson Marie Stamp (also Canadian), former Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Michael Phillips, his wife Oonagh, and Canadian botanical artist and Aibítir participant Margaret Walsh Best.

A Call to Arts: ISBA Foundation Meeting, 1 March 2014

On 1st March 2014 at 11:00am, the Foundation Meeting for the Irish Society of Botanical Artists will be held in the Visitor Centre of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Anyone with an interest in becoming a member of this new Society, either as an artist or a friend, is invited to attend the Foundation Meeting.

The Society aims to facilitate interaction among those interested in botanical art in Ireland, to foster and inspire their creative development, and raise the awareness of botanical art.
Botanical art is the merging of science and art in the depiction of plant life, and is enjoying a resurgence in recent years. There is a growing number of practicing artists and aspirational beginners in Ireland, and the proposed new society has arisen from this trend.

In anticipation of its official foundation, the group has laid the groundwork for its inaugural exhibition, “The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art”. The exhibition will first open for public viewing on 2 May 2014 at the National Botanic Gardens, and then travel to The Playhouse in Derry from 11-24 August, and on to The Waterfront in Belfast from 2-25 September. By joining the new Society, members will have the opportunity to support this and similar projects in future.

Full Membership (Fee: €50)
Entitles you to sit on committee (once resident in Ireland), vote (once in attendance at meetings), exhibit in Society exhibitions*, participate in Society events, pay less to attend events organised in conjunction with other bodies and to receive the Society’s yearly publication.
* Participation in exhibitions organised by the ISBA is a benefit of membership but may incur an additional cost to artists. These costs can include, but are not exclusive to, postage, framing, hanging, invigilation etc.

Friend Membership (Fee: €25)  
Entitles you to participation in Society events other than exhibitions and to receive the Society’s yearly publication.

As some people may not be able to attend the meeting, or if you want to arrive with paperwork completed, a Membership form in PDF format can be downloaded from the bottom of this page. All who have signed a membership form and paid the appropriate fee by close of business on March 1 2014 will be considered Founding Members of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists. This can be done on the day paying by cash or cheque, posted previous to the meeting at the address above or by using Paypal (please see instructions on membership form).

For further information, please email Jane Stark at info@irishbotanicalartists.ie.



ISBA fundraiser Dec 12 2013


The first ISBA fundraising event will take place with a Silent Purchase Sale of A5 paintings by botanical artists. The sale will take place on December 12 2013 on the Mezzanine of the Visitor Centre at The Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. The staff and student Craft Fair is also held that day so there will be plenty to see, to eat and to purchase.

Each painting will be mounted and wrapped in clear cellophane. Purchasers, by presenting €50 will be buying a painting but will not know which one until they identify the number they pull from a box with that which is placed by a painting.

If you are unable to attend on the day of the sale, payments can be made online using Paypal. If you have a Paypal account please send €50 to laragan.hall@gmail.com and identify your payment as ‘ISBA Silent Purchase Sale’. If you don’t have a Paypal account, please email Jane Stark at laragan.hall@gmail.com to request an invoice. On receipt of the Paypal invoice, please follow the directions for making the payment. You do not have to join Paypal to do this.

Below are some of the paintings that will be available in the sale.

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Hip Operation

So, the nights are drawing in … next week the ISBA will meet to see how the ‘Hot Petals’ challenge (set by Holly Somerville earlier in the summer) worked out and also to set a new challenge for the coming months. But as the weather cools and the evenings close in, what’s a botanical artist to do for inspiration?

Arum maculatum berries by Jane Stark

Arum maculatum berries by Jane Stark

The flowers of summer may be gone, but the Anemones and Michaelmas daisies are blooming still in our gardens, providing plenty of challenge for those who want to try their hand at the paler end of the spectrum or especially the  whites and botanical greys (if you choose Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’ for example).

The flowering heads of the ornamental grasses (Miscanthus spp., Molinia caerula and lots more) are shimmering in the autumn light – not easy, but very graceful subjects.

But if working in colour is your thing, or the ‘Hot Petals’ challenge has left you wanting to do more with intense colours, then remember that Autumn is harvest time! And so many of the hips and haws and seeds ripening now will provide plenty of delightful subjects for those with a need to wield paint or pencil as the season changes. So get out there with eyes wide open and your sketchbook at the ready.

You might discover the bright orange berries of Arum maculatum (Cuckoo pint) under the trees of your local woodland as Jane Stark did earlier this month.

Or if you’re in the mood for some foraging, you’ll be checking the hedgerows for brambles: you can always paint the blackberries at all stages of ripeness before you go on to eat them in delicious crumbles or jams. Here’s what Yanny Petters did with hers:


Bramble/Blackberry/Rubus fruticosa by Yanny Petters


‘Conker’ (Aesculus hippocastanum) sketch by Fionnuala Broughan

You could always head out with your children (or borrow someone else’s!) to collect conkers and practise textures: the spiny, sometimes mottled case providing one challenge, the shiny chestnut inside another. This year seems to a be a great one for beech masts and again the spiny cases with their contrasting velvety lining are a good textural challenge! You can always reward yourself after a good drawing with the little triangular nuts inside.

But what artist wouldn’t love to get their hands on the rose hips, the haws and the rowan berries that make our hedgerows glow with vermilion and scarlet and garnet.


The intense red hips of Rosa glauca contrast nicely with the glaucous foliage. (Photo by Bernard van Giessen)



There probably aren’t too many practising artists reading this who haven’t taken up their brushes to capture the intense reds, satiny textures and gorgeous shapes of rose hips. But some of you might like to try rendering them in a medium you haven’t tried for a while. For those of you who work in watercolour who’d like a change in pace, or for those (like me)  just starting out, here’s a tutorial (in English) by Dutch artist Sigrid Frensen on how to draw rose hips in coloured pencil.



And finally–and always–there’s composition, when you move from the freedom of your sketch book to the rigour (and terror, for some) of the Blank White Page. Here’s an exquisite and inspiring gathering of rose hips, holly berries, sloes and haws by Holly Somerville:

Autumn fruits by Holly Somerville

An autumnal gathering – hips, haws, holly berries and sloes – by Holly Somerville

Whatever challenge you set yourself–colour, texture, new medium, composition–enjoy the work, and who knows, it might well tie in with the next ISBA project: you’ll hear more about this at next Thursday’s meeting if you’re there, or afterwards by email. Do tell us in the Comments section below how you’re getting on. Comments have to be approved (trying to keep the spammers at bay) so don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up straight away.

Thanks to Jane Stark, Yanny Petters, Bernard van Giessen and Holly Somerville for their contributions, and to Sigrid Frensen for the link to her tutorial.