The Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society was formed in 1995, with the primary aim of recording in paintings and drawings, the plants growing in the Physic Garden. Work would be donated to the Garden's Archive, subject to selection, for the use and benefit of the Garden. Its nucleus was a small number of students who had just completed the first certificate of Botanical Illustration Course to be offered by the English Gardening School, directed by Anne-Marie Evans, who remains Hon. President of the Society she helped create.
In 1995, Evans wrote: 'whereas the Florilegium of the 17th Century were created to portray the beauty and novelty of those plants brought back from the expanding colonies, the modern Florilegium may be seen as a conservation tool, instrumental in recording for posterity collections of plants within a chosen garden. Although the CPG has played a central role in the development of botanical painting in the UK and abroad, as yet no Florilegium of its content has been produced'.
The society's first Hon. Patron was the remarkable Professor William Stearn and the Society is honoured that Dr Phil Cribb of Kew agreed to become our second Hon. Patron.
The primary aim remains the portrayal of the Garden's entire collection and, as there are more than 5000 plants listed, current members are still merely laying the foundations of a vast project! From the members' annual submission of paintings and pen and ink drawings, work is selected by an independent panel to maintain highest standards. Over 200 watercolours and 120 drawings have currently been accepted. All plant material is grown in the Garden and Herbarium specimens are also prepared. The Head Gardener and his team continue to instruct and help members, willingly providing both cuttings and advice when requested.
The society fulfils its further aim, "to further general awareness of this exacting method of portraying plants" with occasional exhibitions of the paintings. In 2000 the society showed paintings at the Hunt Institute of Botanical Documentation in Pittsburgh, with which we have a warm relationship through its Curator of Art James White, our enthusiastic Hon. Patron, USA. Some 35 members are independently represented in the Hunt Collection.
The Society has also exhibited as a group in Munich and London, many members are successful artists exhibiting world wide. Some have RHS medals to their credit; some also teach Botanical Illustration. The work of 19 members are represented in the celebrated collection of Dr Shirley Sherwood, whose travelling exhibitions have created a large discerning public for this art.
As our work is donated for the benefit of the Garden, it is gratifying that our drawings are used to illustrate the Annual Report and several Garden booklets to aid artists and benefit the Garden.
We aim to help promote Florilegia worldwide and are affiliated with several we helped set up. The society grows from strength to strength: may the next decade be as exciting as the first.
(Written by Gillian Barlow, Vice Chairman of the Society)