Celebrating partnerships in plants at Benmore and beyond

Shared experiences in art, science and horticulture spanning more than two centuries are brought bang up to date and celebrated in contemporary style with Flora of Nepal, this year’s summer exhibition at Benmore Botanic Garden until August 28.

Commissioned to mark the 2016 bicentenary of relationships between Britain and Nepal, the exhibition gives a nod to the fact that Benmore’s parent organisation, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), has connections predating that official relationship. The Flora of Nepal starts its story in works created for Dr Francis Buchanan-Hamilton in 1802 and concludes the chapter with contemporary works by RBGE’s internationally respected botanical artists

Scottish surgeon-naturalist Buchanan-Hamilton, who learned his botany under Professor John Hope, at the Botanics Cottage, made the first natural history collections in Nepal, documenting over 1100 plant species during the course of a year there. Over 100 of these were captured in coloured drawings by his Bengali artist. Known as the ‘Father’ of Nepalese botany, his research established a collaboration continuing to this day with the Flora of Nepal programme, headed up by Dr Mark Watson at RBGE. It was he who provoked the idea of an exhibition: first in Nepal and now in Scotland.

To create a truly contemporary element, Jacqui Pestell, RBGE’s Director of Botanical Illustration, lead a team to Nepal. Following in the footsteps of Buchanan-Hamilton, the artists worked in the field, met local artists and ran workshops.

Mark Watson explained: “Fifteen years before Britain and Nepal entered diplomatic relations, when the Treaty of Sugauli ended conflict between the British East India Company and the Himalayan kingdom, we had a Scot collecting and documenting the country’s incredibly diverse flora. Buchanan-Hamilton understood the importance of the collections he was making and knew that 800 of these species were new to science. The lasting legacy of his notes, drawings and dried herbarium specimens continue to be of great relevance today as they help resolve the identities of the many hundreds of species that were described from his collections.

“RBGE is proud of its deep connections with Nepal and today we combine these historical collections with modern research on the Flora of Nepal, collaborating with Nepalese botanists to provide accurate information on the 7000 known Nepalese plants so they can be understood, conserved and used sustainably. Plants are fundamental to everyday life and this research is vital in helping Nepalese people adapt to the very real challenges they face from invasive plants and a changing climate.”

While the Flora of Nepal demonstrates extreme talent in botanical art, Benmore Curator Peter Baxter said that was by no means the only reason for hosting it in the Courtyard Gallery: “Bringing this exhibition to Benmore is important because it embodies so much about the work conducted by the four Gardens of RBGE around the world. Everything the organisation sets out to do is done in partnership to advance plant research and conservation and, in turn, to save habitats for all creatures dependant on them. Art is an integral part of that work and RBGE is fortunate to have the services of an incredibly talented group of botanical artists, led by Jacqui Pestell.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)