Conceptualised in 2018 by Grootbos founder Michael Lutzeyer, botanical artist-in-residence Chris Lochner, conservation director Sean Privett and eminent local botanical artist Vicki Thomas, the Grootbos Florilegium is an outcome of the Lutzeyer family’s years of deep love and care for the species of Cape floral kingdom fynbos that grow on this small part of the Walker Bay coastline.
Chris Lochner played a crucial role in facilitating this pioneering new body of botanical art. When we chatted during a visit to the reserve in July, it was clear that his knowledge of plants and the history of florilegia was impressive. ‘Florilegiums are collections of illustrations of plants, usually from a specific area or garden. In the time of exploration, they became displays of wealth. We’ve departed from that tradition and we’re doing something a bit new. We’re basing ours on conservation and plants found locally.’ Chris’s paintings speak for themselves. His renderings of Erica Riparia, an intricately detailed heath plant whose habitat is fast disappearing due to urban encroachment and Indigofera wenholdae, an entirely new species that was discovered just last year, are evocative statements as to why the florilegium is important.
Over 400 species of fynbos have been discovered here, and seven species of plant uncovered during research by the Grootbos Foundation are completely new to science. The florilegium is really a celebration of the hard graft involved in returning Grootbos to what it was before human intervention. ‘We always try to immerse our guests in this botanical culture. We have an incredible diversity of plants. You can come at any time of the year and there will always be something in bloom,’ Chris told me proudly. ‘Michael is always thinking of new ways to bring the Cape floristic kingdom to the world.’
The paintings – by botanical artists that are leaders in the field, such as Gail de Smidt, Martine Robinson and Jenny Hyde-Johnson – are masterworks in detail and colour. Many of them are also accompanied by smaller vignettes that illustrate elements of the ecosystem in which each plant is found. An important inclusion to the collection is the work of artists Sibonelo Chiliza and Liberty Shuro. In an art form historically dominated by white men and women, their participation is a strong statement of modernisation by the Grootbos florilegium. Mainstream and academic conversations are increasingly revolving around challenging the racial discrepancies in art history, so it’s refreshing to see the florilegium team taking this into account.
The Grootbos Florilegium is the last collection of botanical paintings that Vicki Thomas will be part of as she plans her retirement from the discipline, so that’s an added reason to pay a visit. The collection is currently housed in the Forest Lodge at Grootbos, but plans are afoot to build a custom art gallery (the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere) where visitors will be able to appreciate and purchase the prints on display while surrounded by the beauty of the Grootbos wilderness.