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A landscape filled with diverse and beautiful flowering plants, skillfully arranged to reveal constantly changing vistas that make the most of the natural surroundings—these are the hallmarks of the English garden. Interestingly, many of the plants that feature in such gardens are not European natives, but species collected from around the world by European explorers since the Age of Discovery. The Europeans were entranced by the beauty and rarity of these early spoils of overseas adventures, and soon plant collectors and expeditions were dispatched to Asia, Central and South America, and other distant lands, to hunt for not only ornamental flowers, but plant resources of all kinds. The botanical trade that ensued significantly impacted European societies and economies.
England in particular was driven by a passion for botanical research and garden planting that led to the development of a thriving gardening culture. Plants from around the world were frequently sketched for research and archiving purposes, and these drawings became artistic expressions of scientific results.
In this way, botanical art came to be established as an entirely new artistic genre. The public was enraptured by the diverse shapes and colors of the plants, which also caught the eye of designers. Depictions of the plants began to permeate daily life in the form of china and porcelain, interior fixtures, textiles, clothing, and accessories.
Kew Gardens*, which was established in the mid 18th century as a private royal garden, is one of the world’s preeminent botanical gardens. It continues to serve as a center for advanced botanical research, and houses 220,000 pieces of botanical art. Today, the sprawling gardens are open to the public, providing recreation and relaxation for all who come to visit. In 2003, the Kew Gardens was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in recognition of its long-running contribution to botany and horticulture.
English gardens are beloved around the world. This exhibition focuses on the people involved in their history, including Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin, and other scientists, major botanical artists from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and designers such as William Morris. The 150-piece exhibition showcases the centuries-long English passion for plants and flowers, and includes famous pieces selected from the Kew Gardens collection that span the entire history of botanical art—from its beginnings to the present day—as well as designs and creations inspired by plants.
*A botanical garden located in Kew Park in the southwest of London and managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.