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Jill's Jots

Botanical Art and Siberian Irises

I have always been fascinated by the relationship between art and gardens and stoutly claim that the making of a garden is art, though I will admit to the actual maintenance as being a craft which can make or mar a garden. So whenever I get the opportunity I like to visit art exhibitions and hArt held each year in September is an opportunity not to be missed. On one such visit, this time to Discoed Church I was amazed to see paintings of Siberian Iris. Of course, we had to make contact with the artist Ruth Kirkby. She lives near Presteigne, only about 16 miles from us and was very interested in our National Collection. The iris she had painted was 'Papillon' growing at Bryan's Ground, the home of Hortus the garden journal. She shares a common interest with Simon Dorrell the Art Editor for Hortus and in fact has provided some illustrations for the covers of this quarterley gardening publication. I must admit that I don't find all botanical art fascinating, I sometimes feel that it is somehow cold - perhaps it is just me being an old fashioned romantic. But Ruth's work was different, as she seemed to capture the whole spirit of the iris.

Iris Ruffled Velvet - Ruth Kirkby watercolur

We kept in touch and when Ruth decided to apply to the RHS for a place at one of their Botanical Art Shows she chose Siberian Iris as her theme. As she had a previous RHS Silver Medal, her application was accepted. So come the season she made numerous trips over to select the iris she wanted to paint and took away some specimens with her. Ruth chooses to paint from the actual flower rather than from a photo, although she will use them as an aid memoir. It was great to meet her and to see how she selected the flowers, choosing a range of colour and shape. It was also interesting to note that it was both British and American cultivars that took her eye. Finally she came to see the developing seed heads, in order to portray the whole plant and brought over her work for our comments and to check the naming.

Of course, we just had to go up to Westminster to see the exhibition and to see how she had done. We were so pleased when we saw the coveted Gold Medal, well and truly deserved as she was painstakingly careful to portray the iris as accurately as she could and with passion. Also her display of seven paintings was immaculate and that is taken into account. In all there were twelve Botanical Art exhibitors, with only three Gold Medals being awarded, which just shows the high standard that is required. Exhibitors came from as far afield as Japan, Hong Kong, USA, South Africa and Scotland. Apparently the judging panel consists of both artists as well as horticulturists, so all aspects from botanical accuracy to aesthetic appeal are covered. It was great to see Siberians getting that amount of publicity and to see older cultivars as well as more modern ones displayed. I must admit that we both felt rather proud to see 'our' irises portrayed in this way.

Ruth Kirkby with her Gold Medal winning exhibit RHS autumn show

If you, like me enjoy art then do look at her website - www.ruthkirkbybotanicals.com

Just in case you want to know, the irises Ruth displayed were:-
'Helen Astor' 1938 from Whitney-Kellogg (USA)
'Miss Apple' 2009 from Jan Sacks and Marty Shafer (USA)
'Mrs Rowe' 1916 from Amos Perry
'Papillon' 1923 from Dykes
'Ruffled Velvet' 1973 Currier McEwen (USA),
'Siobhan' 2003 from Jennifer Hewitt
'Taldra' 1989 from Harry Foster