"I used to start every morning on my mule for some choice spot, where I worked with my brush for some hours...returning in time for a good wash before dinner"
I pick up the magnificent Marianne North: a Very Intrepid Painter and soon find myself on a chlorophyll fuelled plant world tour gazing at over 800 of Marianne North's beautiful paintings.
Reading about North and her brave travels as a 41 year old Victorian women, I wonder why such women are not celebrated more today. Sure, she was came from an upperclass position of means but she didn't follow the usual Grand Tour cultural itinerary of her peers. A trip to Italy, with a spinster aunt as chaperone, was part of the upper-class women's education, such as in E.M. Forster's novel A Room with a View.
Marianne choses her relationship with nature over marriage. Something that would be still shunned today. At age forty-one, she finds herself alone and uninterested in the domestic trappings of Victorian life. These days, many 41 year old women still find themselves similarly trapped whether married with children, working or independent.
When her beloved father died North makes the fearless decision of venturing far afield from her home with the goal of recording as many tropical and exotic plants as possible. She visits 17 countries on 6 continents in 14 years. Not simply a case of grabbing the easel and painting au plein air, she trekked through jungles and rode on mules to find her locations.
Taking a different approach to the botanical artists of the time North painted entire landscapes using bold, hearty oil paint. She produced a staggering 833 paintings, nearly all of which are now housed in an eponymous gallery at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Today, my local nursery has put up a "Queue Here for Thai Constellation". 10 Plants are available from 8am for the price of $349.95 Australian dollars. By now the exalted spotted beauties have sold and, as I write, they most likely already featured on Instagram plant shelfie.
I love that a new generation of plant enthusiasts exists, but I hope that this morphs into a more holistic and biophilic view of nature and the world which we need to design around. Not the other way around. "There's no such thing as an indoor plant", goes the saying, doesn't it?
Last year, I predicted that plant centres and gardens would become the new theme park. It seems nurseries have become the new Apple Store with queues and sessions bookings required to enter them as well as the now ubiquitous pop up nurseries, such as The Jungle Collective.
While some BBC documentaries exist, I'd love to see a quality drama series of Marianne North's life. I wonder who could play her?