World-renowned botanical art collector, Dr Shirley Sherwood opened the Aibítir exhibition at the National Botanic Gardens on 1 May 2014.

Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art, blossomed from conversations and connections between a community of botanical artists, gardeners and scientists. Supported and encouraged by the gardeners, scientists and library staff of the National Botanic Gardens, each artist painted one of a wide selection of native plants to illustrate the variety of plant forms and habitats on the whole island.

Beginning this journey, we set our sights high and hoped that we would in some way come near to achieving our goals. Our aims were to celebrate our native plants. How better than within the context of our unique Irish Alphabet reflecting the story of who we are. We set out to encourage and promote awareness of our native plant species, bringing their story to a wider audience. We also sought to provide a vehicle for the furthering of connections between the National Botanic Gardens and the fledgling Irish Society of Botanical Artists.

Central to this project is the unique font created for us by renowned calligrapher, Tim O’Neill. When designing Aibítir, it seemed only right that we would turn to Tim, as one of the foremost exponents of the Celtic uncial script. Based on the first letter of the plants’ Irish name, plant marries with letter, together making each of these eighteen letter Irish Alphabets that form Aibítir.

Throughout the project we called on the help of many plants people, local naturalists clubs, amateur botanists and gardeners, all of them passionate about protecting and conserving our native species. To those people we say thank you. Our continuing connections and friendships were central to the success of this project and our ongoing aspirations to paint and celebrate the beauty of our natural heritage.

Artists were encouraged to begin a ‘getting to know you’ period with their plant. We combed fields, hedgerows, woodlands, fens and coastal walks to study and sketch, explore and examine the plants we had committed to paint. Libraries and bookshelves were trawled through and brains of botanists and gardeners were picked. Together this wealth of experience and knowledge would inform the preparatory work of each artist.

Throughout the growing season of 2013, artists regularly travelled from all over Ireland and from overseas to avail of the support of our mentors: botanical artist Susan Sex  and National Botanic Gardens Glasshouse Foreman, Brendan Sayers.

A total of 59 paintings successfully passed adjudication, and were unveiled to the public at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin in May 2014. They went on to be exhibited at the Playhouse, Derry, from August 11th to 25th and in the Belfast Waterfront from September 2nd to 25th.

Leaithín, Mountain Avens, Dryas octapetala
(c) Deborah Lambkin

Trom, Elder, Sambucus niger
(c) Siobhán Larkin