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  • harrystigner

Botanical art workshops

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

I’ve really enjoyed developing this paint-by-numbers group participation activity for the RBG Kew and Wakehurst Science festivals.

The painting of a lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus) has been commissioned for the Library Art and Archives tent, an area dedicated to helping people discover the beauty and value of botanical art.

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As illustrated in the beautiful Burchall colour chart and Anita Barley’s quote, colour charts are still widely used by botanical artists to help them capture the perfect hues from the field once they’re back in the studio. Hopefully it’ll inspire people of all ages and abilities to pick up the paintbrush.

C. calceolus is a wonderful flower for sharing anecdotal stories with visitors. Declared extinct in the UK in 1917, a single plant was discovered in Yorkshire in the 1980s. Kew scientists have used DNA from that lone survivor to carry out extensive conservation work, reintroducing populations into the wild.

The Lady’s Slipper orchid partners with mycorrhizal fungi (fungi associated with the roots of the plant) that help its seeds to germinate. Its popularity with orchid hunters has been problematic for C. calceolus, as species taken from the wild rarely thrive without this specialist fungi in their new soil. Some of the work Kew has done to ensure this species’ survival is to develop composts that allow people to grow the orchid in conservation without depleting wild popluations.

As ever, there’s a great pollination story attached to this flower too. The slipper-shaped petals trap nectar-seeking solitary bees to ensure its pollination. The only two exits for the bee are through tight tunnels that cover the bee in pollen, ready to fertilise the next fragrant flower it visits.

The results…

It was fantastic to see visitor of all ages participating in this activity and producing some outstanding botanical paintings.


8-year-old Sophie worked on her painting for over 2 hours and was the star of the studio!

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I spoke to children from Combe St Nicholas Primary School about the important work Kew does as part of their school project on gardening. Here they are painting individual slipper orchids for the garden sketch books.

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