Florilegium: a Gathering of Flowers – a flourishing showcase of colourful, multi-cultural artwork at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

A Florilegium is a book of flowers. It is commonly a group of botanical paintings depicting a particular collection. Florilegium: A Gathering of Flowers is a vitally important exhibition of botanical illustrations depicting rare and endangered plants found in the glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.  

Founded 350 years ago, with a collection of 13,500 international species, its mission is “To explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future.

RGBE – 350 years of collecting exotic plants

“Florilegium: A Gathering of Flowers” aso neatly links to the heritage of the historic garden. One of the earliest books recording scientific drawings of plants was Robert Sibbald’s Scotia Illustrata in 1684. Sibbald was the first professor of medicine at the University of Edinburgh and a founder of RBGE.

Last year, an invitation was sent out to Botanical illustrators around the world to submit drawings of plants from the RBGE Living Collection for this art showcase at Inverleith House.  Forty artists were selected from Australia, Austria, Barbados, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Nepal, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UK and USA.

Floral illustrations blending botancial accuracy and fine art

The walls of the downstairs gallery have been painted a soft sage green which gives a calm, cool backdrop to the paintings. Each are labelled by the classic Latin name with the name of the artist. 

Brownea grandceps, Maria Alice de Rezende

Paresh Churi uses an ecological approach for his drawing, of “Dichrostachys cinerea” featuring the branch, buds and insects in its natural setting.  In contrast, Claire Banks, presents a scientific dissection of “Cavendishia Engleriana var. ecuadorensis” – such fine detail of tiny feathery stamens and silky petals. In display cases there are Claire’s sketch books and paint pots – the precise colour palette is simply stunning.

Paulownia tomentosa, Mieko Ishikawa

Narongsak Sukkaewmanee’s floral study of “Musa coccinea” is a flourish of coral blossom, leaves, seeds and nuts. The Coffee plant is delicately sketched by Sarah Howard, while Jacqui Pestell has created a detailed image of a Blackberry.  Beautifully captured in soft shades of pink, yellow and green, is “Globba winitii” by Sunanda Widel. 

These are just a few highlights of these colourfully crafted masterpieces, which combine exquiste botanical accuracy with artistic perfection. 

To complement this showcase, four contemporary artists were commissioned to create their own personal, cultural and geographical response to the natural world through paintings, drawings, photography and video film. 

The ‘Night Garden’ blue room by Wendy McMurdo

Upstairs at Inverleith House, the first room is taken over by Wendy McMurdo has curated  Night Garden, inspired by blossoming Spring flowers, a series of photographs accompanied by her diary entries.

The early months of the Covid-19 lockdown coincided with the warmest May ever recorded in Britain.  The sunsets were spectacular. Night after night, the May skies were filled with lilac and purple. My wisteria flowered for the first time. “

Wisteria, Wendy McMurdo

During this time, her mother had become ill and soon passed away. Meanwhile, in Wendy’s garden, an unidentified plant began to grow, unfurling glossy leaves, then buds bursting into life with beautiful flowers – “large waxy trumpets filled the night air with their scent that summer.”  

Cardiocrinum Giganteum – Wendy McMurdo

The plant was named as the very rare, “Cardiocrinum Giganteum, giving an unexpected, welcome sign of renewal at the time of sadness and loss. Out of the dark, a lily grows.

Annalee Davis from Barbados has created an illustrated family history entitled As If The Entanglements Of Our Lives Did Not Matter. This refers to the fact that her grandparents were of mixed race at the heart of Colonial life on a sugar cane plantation, as depicted in this charming portrait.

“As if the Entanglements of our lives did not matter,” Annalee Davis

Annalee’s Caribbean heritage is illustrated most powerfully using pages of a 1979 Ledger from the Estate. Superimposed on a handwritten list of sales figures and the wages paid to workers are paintings of sugar beet and ivy leaves as well as actual pressed flowers.

Sugar Cane and Ivy on 1979 Ledger sheet, Annalee Davis

Taiwanese-American artist Lee Mingwei is a tribute to his beloved, late Grandmother in a series of photographs, 100 Days with Lily (1995).  Lee cultivated and nurtured a single lily, documenting every moment of its natural life from seed and bulb to blooming flower, until it finally shrivelled and died.

100 days with Lily – Lee Mingwei

Lyndsay Mann has created a video documentary, A Desire For Organic Order on the work of the Herbarium and Centre for Middle Eastern Plants at the Royal Botanic Garden. Featuring plants from Afghanistan dating to the 1820s, the meditative film shows an archive of journal entries, diaries, letters and contemporary links between Scotland and the Middle East. 

Abutilon megapotamicum, Jessica Daigle

 “From common weeds to exotic cultivars, flowers are deeply embedded within our lives and have long been an inspiration to artists (who) explore our wider relationship to nature. We hope the show will encourage visitors to treasure their encounters with the art and the amazing diversity of flora in our Garden and Glasshouses. Emma Nicolson, Head of Creative Programmes, RBGE

Florilegium: a Gathering of Flowers

Friday 16 October – Sunday 13 December 2020 

Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

Book a time slot to enter RBGE in order to visit the exhibition.


Inverleith House with Terrace Cafe

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About vivdevlin

I am an international travel writer, specialising in luxury travel, hotels, restaurants, city guides, cruises, islands, train and literary-inspired journeys. I review dance and theatre, Arts Festivals and love the visual arts. I have just experienced an epic voyage, circumnavigating the globe, following in the wake of Captain Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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