Posted on Wed 06 Mar 2019
Bedgebury is home to the Forestry Commission’s National Conifer Collection and the tree collection is internationally known for its beauty and the great diversity of species being utilised for research and conservation. The Bedgebury Pinetum Florilegium Society comprises a group of skilled artists volunteering their time in support of Bedgebury. The Art of Trees is a unique outdoor exhibition created as a partnership between the Forestry Commission, the Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum and the Florilegium Society.
The Florilegium Society artists record the beauty of the trees at Bedgebury with botanically accurate artwork drawn from living samples. This is volunteering like no other; members of the Society visit the pinetum throughout the year to collect samples and spend many hours recreating what they see. Eleven members of the Florilegium Society have produced over 100 drawings and paintings based on the annual life cycle of both coniferous and broadleaved specimen trees in the pinetum for the exhibition. The works depict popular native trees such as the oak (Quercus robur) as well as significant trees in conservation terms. One example growing successfully at Bedgebury is the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha), which is classed as “extinct in the wild” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and hasn’t been seen in its native USA since 1803.
The exhibition showcases the National Pinetum’s tree collection in all its diversity. The Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum, in collaboration with all those involved in the project, will release a special edition of their magazine to bring the exhibition narratives to life. Key themes from Bedgebury’s conservation work to save trees from extinction are interlaced with aesthetics in the range of artwork on display at Bedgebury. One of the images shows 12 different species of cones presented in the same style as a photographic plate. This is an expression of the Florilegium’s ambition to capture accurate details to maintain precise records of the object being studied just as a plate offered scientists before photographic film was developed. However the botanical artist offers illustrations of flora at a level that photographs arguably do not.
"The art of botanical painting continues even in the face of enhanced photographic technology and the digital revolution, for there is simply no substitute for the discerning talents of the artist capturing the essence of plant form." Professor Peter R Crane FRS, Director and CEO of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (1999-2006) and President of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation.
Another image in the exhibition highlights the importance of tree outlines and how this aids tree identification. Dan Luscombe, Collections Manager at Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest said: “Consider the shape or silhouette of some of Bedgebury’s key tree species: oak, monkey puzzle, hemlock, Scots pine or Lawson cypress. The shape of each is so distinctive that you need no further clues for its identification. Planted with thought, Bedgebury’s spectacular trees are the structural elements that give the pinetum landscape its well-recognised views and vistas. You know exactly where you are from these shapes alone. However, with colour and texture layered on from their bark, leaves, fruits and cones, and with the seasons to deliver ever-changing variety, every pinetum scene is as beautiful as it is distinctive because of the shape of the trees.”
The composite images created from the artworks will be displayed on weather-proof boards situated amongst the trees at Bedgebury. Their frames will be made specifically for the exhibition out of wood milled from Bedgebury’s trees. The wooden frames will include cuts from a noble cypress raised at the Alice Holt Research Station and planted at Bedgebury in 1981 plus Lawson cypress (x Cupressocyparis notabilis), larch (Larix decidua), cedar (Cryptomeria) and Sicilian fir (Abies nebrodensis).
The exhibition is free to view in the National Pinetum from 1 April – 30 September 2019.
In September 2019, to coincide with the anniversary of the passing of the Forestry Act, the Forestry Commission will release a book – British Forests. Published by Profile Editions, British Forests examines the Forestry Commission’s unique history, its research, and promotion of tree planting in cities and the countryside over the past century. The book features a gazetteer of Britain’s forests and beautiful illustrations by the Bedgebury Pinetum Florilegium Society of trees from the National Pinetum at Bedgebury in Kent.
The Forestry Commission’s centenary year will include celebrations across the country including the largest ever survey of forest wildlife in the Big Forest Find, projects to boost health and wellbeing, new artistic works and a focus on education.
The Art of Trees Outdoor Exhibition, Monday 1 April – Monday 30 September 2019
Free exhibition. Standard vehicle admission fees apply, free to Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum members.
Discover more on the website, www.forestryengland.uk/bedgebury/events/the-art-of-trees
The painting below is Cercis Siliquastrum, Avondale by Florigelium artist, Susan Conroy.