Botanical art has a classic appeal. There is something essential about the clean accuracy of a detailed depiction of a plant that has been chosen to represent its species, coupled with the aesthetic qualities that emerge from the union of technique, artistry and natural beauty.
Currently, as Covid-19 infection rates are surging in many parts of the world, including in the region where I live, many of us turn to items of nostalgia to comfort ourselves at moments of wistful longing for pre-pandemic times.
Because of my fondness of old botanical prints I wondered if I could adapt some of my photographs of plants and flowers so as to form images with some kind of resemblance to botanical art.
Most botanical art has clean, often white, backgrounds. Most of my photographs do not, as they are of plants where I find them and not separated from their contexts. However some time back, I did place my potted Wild Orange Begonia (Begonia sutherlandii) in front of a screen, showcasing the structure of the plant and the shape and texture of its leaves.
Much botanical art utilizes watercolours and so I experimented with processing my images using a photo editor (PhotoScape) to suggest the use of watercolours while still retaining most of the detail in the original image, such as in this image of a flower of the clinging aneilema (Aneilema aequinoctiale).
But I found that I was unable to make my photos resemble botanical art prints in any significant way, so instead I settled for what I fancied was a slightly “vintage” look, whatever that may mean, as in this photo of a flower of the Natal bauhinia (Bauhinia natalensis).
And so instead of approaching the relative purity of botanical art, I found that my wistful nostalgia was collapsing into sentimentality, with images reminding me instead of vintage cards, such as those that I inherited from previous generations in my family.
Two cards featuring pansies in my small inherited collection of Christmas and birthday cards, where some cards are rather cheesy and display less artistry than others.
Most of the cards feature plants, with many cards depicting flowers with a high degree of accuracy but they convey a kind of tacky cheerfulness or sentimentality. Yet greeting cards were (and still are) often kept by recipients as mementos of special relationships, friendships and events.
So maybe one day I will plan ahead and deliberately select, stage and photograph plants with view to representing them in the style of botanical art, but what we have here instead is more in the tradition of greeting cards and postcards with a slightly retro flavour, as in this image of a red Freesia laxa, a self-seeded plant growing in our garden
Lilies have an old-fashioned aura, and this Natal lily (Crinum moorei) is no exception.
I gave this flower of the powder-puff tree (Barringtonia racemosa), which is floating on the surface of our garden pond, a more obvious “painterly” quality.
A ray of sunshine illuminates a spray of flowers of the shade-loving stoep jacaranda (Plectranthus saccatus). Because it thrives in shade it can be successfully grown as a pot plant on a shady stoep (veranda). This image at least has a plain solid background in the tradition of botanical art, although it is black rather than white.
The nectar-rich flowers of the Cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) also have an old-fashioned quality. For a time the botanical name changed from Tecomaria to Tecoma because their similarities didn’t justify any distinction. But since that change, molecular studies have revealed differences significant enough to justify the separation into two genera, and so the genus Tecomaria has been reinstated based on the DNA evidence (http://pza.sanbi.org/tecomaria-capensis).
Although its resemblance to a dog rose is only superficial, the African dog rose (Xylotheca kraussiana) shares the same decorative qualities as the wild rose from where it gets its common name.
Looking like they would be at home in a Victorian lady’s posy, the spring flowers of the puzzle bush (Ehretia rigida) are a dainty lilac colour.
A flamboyant splash of orange and yellow, flowers of the ever popular Clivia miniata light up in a shaft of sunlight where the plant grows in dappled shade in the garden.
Looking sedate and gracious – a spray of early summer flowers and leaves of the cross-berry (Grewia occidentalis).
The tubular flowers of a Gasteria form a repetitive and almost abstract pattern.
The showy flowers of the river crinum (Crinum macowanii) have a more luminous quality on an overcast day.
Only a few flowers on the head of an Agapanthus praecox have opened showing their stripes, with the rest of the flowers still in bud. The Agapanthus is endemic to southern Africa but a variety of cultivars and hybrids are now grown across the world – as garden plants in warmer regions and as potted plants where it is colder. In some regions, such as in Australia and New Zealand, it has naturalised and become invasive. Even though it is not a lily (it is the only genus in the family Agapanthaceae) it is known in Europe and America as the African lily, and sometimes as the Nile lily even though it is a southern African plant growing far south of the Nile river (http://pza.sanbi.org/agapanthus-praecox).
Looking somehow stylised although naturally so, the bright orange flowers of the Crocosmia aurea, known as falling stars or montbretia, appear luminous against the dark background.
Perhaps the images in this post can best be seen as greeting cards sending out best wishes to all readers wherever you are.
Posted by Carol