Kew Gardens is a wonderful place to visit to see plants and flowers in bloom, but you may not realise it also has two art galleries. One of them, the Marianne North gallery, has a permanent display of pictures by the great Victorian explorer, but the other, the Shirley Sherwood gallery, has changing exhibitions of botanical art. Currently on show are a series of new paintings by Kew artist Masumi Yamanaka of some of the rare and spectacular heritage trees in the gardens.
Masumi Yamanaka was born in Nara, Japan in 1957. She came to London in 1987 to work for Marks & Spencer as a ceramics designer, then went freelance, working for Royal Doulton and Portmeirion among others. Her recent designs for The National Trust, Gardening and Leaves are popular gifts. She’s now an award-winning botanical artist and has been working at Kew Gardens since 2006. She’s a member of The Royal Horticultural Society and The Society of Floral Painters.
The Japanese pagoda tree was planted in 1762 under the direction of William Aiton and Princess Augusta. It was one of five specimens that arrived in England in 1753, and today grows horizontally, supported by metal straps and props.
The biggest tree at Kew, in terms of volume is the chestnut leaved oak, Quercus Castaneifolia. Kew’s specimen is the largest of its kind in Britain and in 2007 it measured 34 meters high with a trunk of 6.9 meters in diameter. It was probably planted by Sir William Hooker in 1846.
One of of fun things about the exhibition is that its possible to see the pictures and then go and visit the trees in the garden. There’s a map to help you do this.
I visited the stone pine. Apparently the type of pine nuts used in pesto comes from the stone pine; millions of kilograms of them are harvested every year in the Mediterranean.
To accompany the exhibition, Kew has published a book, Treasured Trees, written by Masumi Yamanaka, Christina Harrison and Martyn Rix, with colour plates of all forty of the paintings from the exhibition, a history of tree collection and details of each of the trees included.
The Kew’s Heritage Trees exhibition runs until 9 August 2015 at The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art in Kew Gardens. The gallery doesn’t open on Mondays. Entry to the exhibition is free, but there is an entry fee to Kew Gardens, currently £15 for adults.
If you’d like to hear Masumi talk about her work and how Kew’s trees inspired her, there are exhibition tours on 4 June and 23 July 2015 at 2 pm, but you need to book in advance.