Hang It Up

Royal Horticultural Society Botanical Art Show,  London, March 2011 

By Jean Emmons 

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 17, Issue 3


Competing at an RHS botanical art show is one the most consuming and challenging projects for artists. I wanted to do species that are local and colorful. I decided on fungi. For 3 autumns I went out in the woods every other day with a forager friend. We had many adventures - getting lost in freezing rain, locking ourselves out of the car, being frightened by hunters and encountering illegal salal gatherers. Getting a gold medal made it all ok though!

It seems all submitting artists find adventure in pursuing their subject! Annie Hughes (Sydney, Australia) received a gold medal for her luscious watercolors of camellias. Initially intent on the genus Lapageria, Annie traveled to Chile, but missed their flowering time. She went to Tasmania but found only three colors, She returned to Chile at the right flowering time, but couldn’t reach the right area because of a massive earthquake. She tells us, “I was failing to hear the words from above, ‘This is not meant to be.’ Then I had that pivotal moment in my own garden. My white camellia had been waiting to be painted for 3 years. That was what led me in this direction. 

The rest was relatively easy. I found a generous grower who showered me with specimens and, most importantly, knowledge of growing habits, and who was very critical when a mistake was made. Originally intending to paint 12 species, I realized there were only 7 months left. Flowering time was ending. So, it was strict planning, with all flowers painted first, then foliage, and later seeds. I can paint very fast, but decided to finish only 9 - what I could do comfortably.” (See the March 2011 issue of TBA “No, really, that’s how I do it” for an article by Annie about her watercolor technique.)This Camellia was named in honor of the 75 th anniversary of the founding of The Huntington Gardens and Library.

In addition to medals, the RHS gave two other awards. One to me for Best Botanical Painting, and one to Carolyn Jenkins, London, UK, for Best Exhibit. After working as illustrator and gardener, Carolyn combined her interests in paints and plants. 

At the English Gardening School, she found the work of Arthur Harry Church. Taken by his precise cross s e c t i o n s  o f internal structure of flowers, she was inspired to create a set of paintings ‘after’ Arthur Harry Church. “I tried to make all twelve pictures work well together, so they followed a similar square layout, showed the internal structure of the flower and were framed exactly the same. And, I tried to emulate the boldness and modernity of Church. I was quite shocked at how long the paintings took, having worked mostly ten hour days, six to seven days a week over a seven month period.” Carolyn’s paintings can be viewed on her website: www.carolynjenkins.co.uk.

ASBA member Tomoko Ogawa of Tokyo, Japan, won her gold medal for her hellebores. This was especially poignant for her, as she had just been through the earthquake and tsunami. Tomoko inherited a love of hellebores from her mother who has grown unusual species for long time. Tomoko was particularly interested in their foliage. 

In 2006, she began painting two or three hellebores every winter. Preferring to work from live subjects rather than photographs, Tomoko kept many of her hellebores in pots on her Tokyo balcony. One rare species Helleborus orientalis subsp. abchasicus she had to paint in a nursery greenhouse. Eventually, she had 14 paintings and chose 9 of them for the RHS show.

Denise Walser-Kolar, an ASBA member from Rochester, MN won a silver-gilt medal for her beautiful exhibit of hazelnuts. Her display was born when she met a hazelnut hybridizer. “I did sketches and research over a five-year period. It took five years because sometimes I would go to paint and would miss something (like blossoms). I’d have to wait another year to see that stage again. 

Actual painting time was over a year and a half. I had winter hazelnut branches in my freezer for a year!” Debra D’Souza made Denise a custom box to carry her paintings on the airplane. “It exactly fit the paintings and they did not move at all. With straps and carrying handle, and it fit perfectly into the overhead compartment.”

If you decide to exhibit, these award winners recommend choosing a genus or theme you love and trying to keep your artwork small enough to carry onto an airplane. Also, don’t be shy about asking for advice from ASBA members who have competed before. I always had a lot of help from Martha Kemp, who has five gold medals!

Complete instructions for the application process and judging guidelines are on the RHS website: www.rhs.org.uk.



  • Hydnellum peckii (Strawberries and Cream), Cortinarius traganus (Lilac Conifer Cort), Hypholoma fasciculare (Sulphur Tuft), Rhytisma punctatum (Tar Spot Fungus on Bigleaf Maple), Fomitopsis pinicola (Red-belted Polypore on Douglas-fir stump), Dacrymyces palmatus (Orange Jelly on Douglas-fir stump), Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric), Cantharellus formosus (Pacific Golden Chanterelle), Aleuria aurantia (Orange Fairy Cup), Tricholoma focale (Zeller’s Tricholoma), 17x24”, watercolor on vellum, ©Jean Emmons 2011
  • The exhibition hall in London during the Royal Horticultural Society’s 2011 display.
  • Papaver somniferum, 10x10”, watercolor on paper, ©Carolyn Jenkins 2011
  • Tomoko Ogawa’s easel and paints on location to paint the rare Helleborus orientalis subsp. abchasicua.
  • the finished painting, watercolor on paper, ©Tomoko Ogawa 2009
  • Corylus sp., Hazelnuts in August, 14x17”, watercolor on paper, ©Denise Walser-Kolar 2011