The world of plants

Botanists in Cambridge, England are waiting for a rare cactus to bloom and have a live webcam running so anyone can see the bloom on the Selenicereus wittii (moonflower) open. It’s believed to be the first time the Amazonian cactus, with flowers that last for one night only, has bloomed in the UK. Read more, and find the livecam link, here.

The Australian Landscape Conference, always a belter in terms of its lineup, is preparing for any eventuality, given recent Covid outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand and the ongoing difficulty of international travel. An email yesterday said of the March event: ‘A range of options has been developed including live for those who can attend, virtual for those who can’t and satellite meetings in Sydney, New Zealand, and Tasmania for those who would like to gather with others and watch in a conference-like setting but may not be able to travel to Melbourne. More information will be provided about these options shortly.’

The Chelsea Flower Show in London has been postponed for the first time in its 108-year history – moving from May to September. Read more here.

For some people living with dementia, gardening can be a therapeutic and calming outlet. Read about a care home in Christchurch (NZ) that incorporates gardening into its care for patients with dementia – and employs an 83-year-old gardener!

A life in plants: Pierre-Joseph Redoute

Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) is one of the most talented botanical artists that has ever lived – his reputation enhanced in no small way by the patronage of two vibrant women of history, Marie Antoinette and Joséphine Bonaparte.

Born in what is now Belgium, Redouté came from a long line of painters. His father taught him to paint and at 13 Pierre-Joseph left home to earn his living as an artist, spending 10 years working as an itinerant painter across Flanders and the Low Countries.

Musa paradisea by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, published in 1816. Image: Wikipedia

In 1782 he joined his older brother in Paris to work as a stage-set designer and it was here that his interest in botany began. He often went to the Jardin des Plantes to draw and there met Charles L’Heritier de Brutelle, a noted French aristocrat, biologist and plant collector.

Redouté collaborated with the greatest botanists of his day and participated in nearly 50 publications depicting both the familiar flowers of the French court and plants from places as distant as Japan, America, South Africa, and Australia, always working from live specimens and not dried plants. He published more than 2,100 plates depicting more than 1,800 different species, many never painted before.

In 1786, Redouté began work at the National Museum of Natural History cataloguing the collections of flora and fauna and participating in botanical expeditions, and the next year went to Kew Gardens in England where he spent a year.

He painted right through the turbulent years of the French revolution (1789-1799), losing his post (but keeping his life) as official court artist to Marie Antoinette when the monarchy was abolished in 1792.

Lilium superbum by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Image: Wikipedia

Joséphine became his patron in 1798 and some years later he became her official artist. He was commissioned to make pictorial records of her newly established garden of rare plants at her Chateau Malmaison. After her death in 1814, Redouté had some difficult years until appointed a master of draughtsmanship for the National Museum of Natural History in 1822. In 1824, he gave drawing classes at the museum with many of his pupils aristocrats or royalty.

Redouté became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1825 and from then on produced paintings purely for aesthetic value. He taught and painted up to the day he died of a stroke in June 1840.

Rose, clematis and anemone by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Image: Wikipedia

The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne has a copy of Les Liliacées (The Lily Family), Redouté’s masterpiece work, published in only 200 copies under Joséphine’s patronage; while the National Library of New Zealand holds a botanical print of a Sophora (kowhai) branch and flower.

Read more about this extraordinary talent here.