Éireannach – Judging in January

Our judges are meeting on 29 January to assess all the submitted paintings, which are being safely stored in the Library of the National Botanic Gardens. The judges will decide which paintings will hang in the exhibition that takes place from 5 to 27 May in the National Botanic Gardens. As well as paintings for the exhibition, the judges will choose paintings for a digital slideshow which will be seen at other botanical art exhibitions all around the world.  Many countries are taking part in Botanical Art Worldwide and we will be seeing some of their paintings at our own exhibition via the digital slideshow. Artists will be notified as soon as possible after the judges make their decisions.

We will produce a high-quality catalogue to accompany the exhibition and this is already in process.  We hope to find sponsorship for the book. The exhibition will open with a wine reception on 5 May; we are awaiting confirmation of our guest speaker to open the show: watch this space! On 18 May, which is the Worldwide Day of Botanical Art, we will hold an open day and we encourage everyone to bring along family and friends and to spread the word.  Zoe Devlin has kindly agreed to guide a wildflower tour of the paintings. The exhibition closes on 26 May and we’ll be taking down the paintings on 27 May. For more details, see our Éireannach project page.

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.

Despatches from Derry

Over the weekend, members of the Aibítir team arrived in Derry~Londonderry~Doire to hang Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art exhibition at The Playhouse. The preparations and the opening of the exhibition coincide with the annual Apprentice Boys’ parades in the ancient walled city. In order that we can all get a flavour of the atmosphere, Colette Roberts and Oonagh Phillips are providing us with ‘despatches from Derry’:


Colette Roberts, Mary McInerney, Megan and Liz Prendergast enjoying some sightseeing on the city walls of Derry~Londonderry~Doire


Liz Prendergast and her daughter, Megan, pose for a photo with some of the friendly Apprentice Boys

The Apprentice Boys march commenced just outside The Playhouse, as we worked inside.   The grey smoke of the dying embers of the previous night’s bonfire drifted over the ancient city walls in the direction of Artillery Street, the Lambeg drums pounding out their relentless annual message, and the boys marched past with ‘No surrender’ on their black tee shirts. The girls had never seen anything quite like it before, and we have a great photograph to prove it, all good fun. There was no trouble and although celebrations went on into the night it didn’t affect us in any way.

The exhibition looks great, I took photographs of the work in progress, and the completed display.  In the main entrance area we hung the alphabet starting with Liz Prendergast’s Aiteann gallda (gorse), and in the main room, which looks great, the other two alphabets were hung, starting with two ‘As’ one top and bottom with about two inches between each painting, name ID to the side and about 4 inches from the base. Each painting was cleaned and checked to make sure they were all at same height and spacing, and that we had the correct artist’s name on each.

The ‘five extras’ were hung, three top and two bottom on a separate wall, and also look good. All the signage was hung on the wall to the back of the sales table, with pride of place going to the huge information poster with the photo of Wendy Walsh and Raymond Piper. We are ready for the preview on Monday.  Many, many thanks to Liz Prendergast and her daughter, Megan, for the professional way in which they hung the paintings.   

Photographs will be taken again once we set up this afternoon (Monday), and Oonagh has arranged a photographer for the evening. Publicity is good  (thank you Betty Christie), and Oonagh did an interview on Radio Foyle about the ‘Aibitir’ exhibition last Friday. Much appreciation also goes to Keith at The Playhouse, who was tremendous help, and provided us with storage for all our bits and pieces. 

Everyone worked hard and it took us every minute from 10am to 4pm to set up, though we did have an hour for lunch.  The weather was glorious, the B&B good, and we had a hilarious meal later that evening. 


The Apprentice Boys’ parade near The Playhouse

Watch this space for more news about the exhibition, and if you happen to be in the Derry~Londonderry~Doire area between the 11 and 24 August, do drop by The Playhouse and view this wonderful visual celebration of Ireland’s native language and some of our indigenous plant species.

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.

Rare Books on the Web – Virtual Inspiration

This week’s blog is written by Alexandra Caccamo, Librarian at the National Botanic Gardens.

Many of you have been able to visit the library in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, where Colette Edwards and I work, and there you’ll have seen first-hand some of the rare books and botanical art in the collection. For those of you who haven’t been able to avail of a tour, I thought I’d put together a short list of virtual resources that you can peruse at your leisure. Some of the resources are items that we have in our collection but I’ve also included general resources that might be of interest.

One rare book which is always included as part of a tour is the Flora Graeca by John Sibthorp, illustrated by Ferdinand Bauer. The Radcliffe Science Library in Oxford has digitised the Flora Graeca, and made it freely available online.  Along with the published version of the book, they have also digitised the original drawings, Fauna Graeca and Mediterranean scenes.

The frontispiece of Flora Graeca, from the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

Sibthorpe’s Flora Graeca, in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus :and the temple of Flora, or garden of nature  (or The Temple of Flora as it is more often known) by Robert John Thornton can be found in the Missouri Botanic Gardens digital library, Botanicus.  This is another item that is in our collection but one we don’t often take out for tours, so here is a chance to get a glimpse of this beautiful book.  They have helpfully indicated where the illustrations are, making them very easy to locate.

A plate from Thornton's The Temple of Flora, in the collection of National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

A plate from Thornton’s The Temple of Flora, in the collection of National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

The oldest book in our collection, and one that is always included in a library tour, is Otto Brunfels’ Herbarum vivae eicones.  A digital version of this is also available on Botanicus. Unfortunately, the illustrations are not marked on the page list but a browse through should reveal some of this book’s treasures.

from Otto Brunfels’ Herbarum vivae eicones, in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

from Otto Brunfels’ Herbarum vivae eicones, in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

Another digital library can be found at the website of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library in the New York Botanical Garden.  This site has photographs, archives, stamps, nursery catalogues as well as some of their flower books available to view, as part of the Mertz Digital Collections.

And last but by no means least, there is the Biodiversity Heritage Library or BHL for short.  This amazing resource is a collaborative project between a number of natural history libraries (including Missouri Botanical Gardens, LuEsther T. Mertz Library and the Natural History Museum to name a few) to make their collections available online.  It is an essential resource for anyone interested in botany or natural history.  On the main site you will be able to search for and view many rare botanical books, including items such as Redouté’s Les Liliacées along with many more. The BHL flickr stream  might also be of interest as it features some magnificent illustrations from their digital library.

from Redouté's Les Liliacées, National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

from Redouté’s Les Liliacées , in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

This is only a short list but I hope that gives you a flavour of what is available for you to view online.

Wendy Walsh

I wonder how many of the artists in the ISBA had their interest in botanical art whetted by the wonderful work of Wendy Walsh? Now 98 years old and still ready to graciously receive guests, Mrs Walsh has been an inspiration to many artists on this island and elsewhere. To meet her and her family in the beautiful surroundings of her home, the early 18th Century Burtown House, was a memorable occasion for a group of us earlier this month.

On 17 May–an astonishingly sunny Friday–about 20 of us gathered in the courtyard and café of Burtown House to be fortified with delicious home-made scones, cake, tea and coffee before our tour of the house and gardens. Seated in our midst was a slight elderly woman with a shock of white hair, accompanied by her daughter Anna who provided care and oversight for her mother as we all gradually overcame shyness and met the artist, asked her to sign treasured editions of her Irish Florilegium and other works, and just generally looked on in awe (or maybe that was only me).

Wendy Walsh signs a card for Mary Dillon

Wendy Walsh signs a card for Mary Dillon

As well as patiently signing the many and varied books and cards, Mrs Walsh agreed to go outside for a group photograph, spurning the offer of a chair and standing with the group between the spreading limbs of an old cherry tree and the grace of a magnolia.

ISBA members with Wendy Walsh

ISBA members with Wendy Walsh

What a happy crew we were, and this was before we had the opportunity to see so much of her work! All through the house, up the stairs, in the various bedrooms, in the hallways, were paintings and drawings from, it seemed to me, most episodes of Mrs Walsh’s long and productive artistic life.

Early painting of white flowers in a vase by Wendy Walsh

An early painting of Wendy’s

Wendy Walsh was born in Cumbria in 1915. Educated at home by a governess, she painted from an early age, encouraged by her mother. In 1941 she married John Walsh and moved to Ireland with him and their family in 1958. Wendy had spent time in Japan after the war, where she learnt ink-techniques and the Japanese philosophy of painting a subject: “They want to capture the soul of a flower, not just an image; that’s why they watch it, understand it, have it in their head and see how it behaves in the wind”. Looking at Wendy’s work, it’s clear she took this philosophy to heart and hand: the delicate petals on her apple and hawthorn blossoms have clearly opened to the spring sunshine and felt the tug of cold May winds.

A Painting of Hawthorn by Wendy Walsh

Hawthorn by Wendy Walsh

Her work throughout the 70s and 80s included a series of images of Irish flora and fauna that were reproduced on stamps. This was not her only work of course and it was in 1980 that she received her first of many RHS medals. The awards continued throughout the 80s and 90s, but according to her daughter Lesley Fennell (also a wonderful and accomplished artist), it was her Doctorate from the University of Dublin, Trinity College—conferred upon her in 1997—that pleased Wendy the most. Having been excluded from formal education during her childhood, she placed great value on it and was honoured and delighted to receive formal recognition for her achievements.

In 1983, the book for which Wendy is probably best known was published. The Irish Florilegium – Wild and Garden Plants of Ireland contains 48 colour plates of Wendy’s watercolours, many of which show plants first introduced by or in some other way connected to some of our intrepid plant hunters, gardeners and botanists. Dr E. Charles Nelson (at the time a horticultural taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens) and Ruth Isobel Ross (a horticultural journalist) contributed the words to accompany and provide context for Wendy’s exquisite paintings.

A painting of Viola 'Molly Sanderson' by Wendy Walsh

Viola ‘Molly Sanderson’ by Wendy Walsh

Wendy has continued to work through her 90s–an inspiration to us all–and it seemed more than right that the budding ISBA should use its first ‘official’ outing as an opportunity to acknowledge the debt we owe her and to thank her for marvellous work over the years.

A painting of Wendy Walsh, painted by her daughter Lesley Fennell

Wendy Walsh, painted by her daughter Lesley Fennell

Today, Wendy’s family continues the artistic tradition, both through their own work in photography, painting, jewellery and garden design, and through their support of other artists in their own endeavours – currently the meadow at the front of the house provides an idyllic setting for sculpture of various kinds. According to Lesley Fennell, they welcome artists to come and set up in the gardens to paint at their ease. She may well be receiving some more visits from ISBA members in the future for who could resist such an offer?

More here:

Thanks to Shevaun Doherty for information for this article and the photo of Lesley’s portrait of Wendy. Thanks also to Lesley Fennell for her most informative tour of the house, the garden, and her mother’s work. Any errors here are mine!

Fionnuala Broughan


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