Learning Ahead: Summer Wildflowers & Gardens

 Season of Summer Wildflowers & Gardens

Summer is the season of flower-studded meadows and blossoms on the wayside or at home in our gardens. Nothing says summer like a freshly picked bouquet of Oxeye Daises or New England Asters. Summer is also the time of year when public gardens are open to visitors wanting to learn about botany or just enjoy the beauty of cultivated flowers. These public gathering places connect community to the growing season, these senses in the form of color and scent, and to the incredible beauty and diversity nature has to offer. In Western Massachusetts, there are a few public gardens to explore and enjoy that may offer inspiration to the artist, writer, or botanist inside:

When visiting, take your camera, sketchpad, colored pencils, and identification book. See if you can capture the structural differences in different species by considering their leaf shape and petal variations. Later in the season, once the bloom has passed, how does it go to seed? What are the shapes of the seeds? Can you capture this with your camera? How about through illustration? All gardens and flowers to be your study as you attempt to create a botanical illustration.

Botanical illustrations were once a common practice, dating back to the 16th century in Europe. Before cameras, botanical illustrations were particularly useful for the recording of medicinal herbs. Botanical illustrators of gardens were also employed by royal courts to paint the royal gardens.

In the 19th century, many women illustrators produced books showcasing their watercolors and paintings of different flowers and plant specimens. Women were active botanical artists, often painting in their spare time as a hobby, or some that were serious illustrators and writing literature on the topic. In fact, many important horticultural journals often included the illustrations created by women artists. Learn more about these well-known female illustrators of the Victorian era at www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spec/exhibits/hort/women.htm.

Interested in becoming a botanical illustrator? The New England Society of Botanical Illustrators often host juried shows open to the public. Attending one of their shows is an opportunity to see the kind of contemporary botanical illustrations being done in New England and to give a curious artist a chance to see what kind of media are used and techniques utilized to create botanical works.

Additionally, taking a class with an artist that specializes in botanical illustration provides the scientific and artistic instruction needed to learn how to create botanical drawings. Botanical illustrations are not just limited to painting flowers, but also include sketching trees and other plant specimens. Not only is botanical illustration a creative outlet, but also a scientific one that lets you explore a plant species at an observational and focused level!

The American Society of Botanical Illustrators provides different resources and tools to help students locate classes in their area or informational books on doing an individual study of botanical illustration.

Gardens and wayside growing flowers offer an opportunity to engage with the landscape through art, literature, and community. Whether it’s botanical watercolors, illustrations, photography, or a relaxed visit to your local public garden, flowers blooming in a community support interests and connect residents to their public parks and the patterns of the seasons.

[Photo credits: (cc) tanakawho; (cc) Richard West]


Think about this:

  • How does botanical illustration bridge art and science?
  • How are public gardens places of connection, not only to the nature cultivated there, but also to local community and people?
  • Why do you think botanical illustration flourished in the Victorian era?

Download our July/August edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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