My First Blog and Last Botanical Illustration

My last botanical illustration for the Washington Post- Southern magnolia Alta

As I write this, my first blog, I also work on my last illustration for the “Digging In” gardening column of the Washington Post newspaper. I have been producing a weekly botanical illustration for this column for ten years. My last illustration is of a southern magnolia Alta, Magnolia grandiflora “Alta”- an upright, columnar, tree. I’m glad to have it as the subject of my last illustration as I love its flowers and leaves. I want to do a good job, create something beautiful.  There are southern magnolias growing on my street here in Salem, Oregon but it is March and not the season for blooms.  I could draw the whole tree in its conical shape but I don’t think that would be as interesting as a close-up drawing of its large, dramatic white flowers and big, shiny, evergreen leaves.

Native plants of the Appalachian Piedmont Region.

In search of some references I “google” southern magnolia Alta and the first image I click on is from Mt Cuba Gardens, Delaware in the eastern United States. I take this as a good omen as I know the garden well.  I had been an intern there in the spring of 1997, my first year in the USA. Mt Cuba is well known for its extensive collection of plants native to the Appalachian Piedmont Region. I sought an internship there so that I could study these native plants. That spring at Mt Cuba I was surrounded by beauty. Every day I watched the garden come alive as a diverse array of spring ephemeral flowers woke up from their winter slumber. I felt very lucky to be able to work in such a bewitching place alongside thoughtful gardeners who were very passionate about what they did and shared their knowledge generously. As I pour over photos of Mt Cuba and wander down memory lane I picture myself in those pictures amongst the plants.  Even after so many years the garden is still familiar to me. I recognize where I worked and remember how I had carefully stepped between the creeping phlox and bluets in search of any weeds that might have escaped attention.

Spring blooms in the eastern United States.

My first spring in the eastern United States is a vivid and forceful memory.  I had no idea how dazzling a display nature could bring forth.  I was totally bowled over by the spectacle. I wonder if many of you, having grown up with this annual display, are now so accustomed to it that you take it for granted.  Being from Ireland and seeing it for the first time that spring was intoxicating.  I was charmed and delighted by every new plant discovery and marveled at what seemed like a never-ending parade of blooms- red buds, choke cherries, tulip poplars, mountain laurels, dogwoods- so many species, so much color. Later that same year I was delighted once again by the southern magnolias.

I’ve heard that our strongest sense for memory is smell but my memory of that first spring is an extremely powerful visual one. I find it difficult to pull myself away from the Mt Cuba pictures. It is an effort to come back to today and my last botanical illustration for the “Digging In column”. I have a deadline and time is slipping away. The southern magnolia Alta beckons.

Aislinn Adams

9 Responses to “My First Blog and Last Botanical Illustration”

  • I’m sorry to hear that your illustrations won’t be appearing in the Washington Post, but I’m glad they’ll be on-line here. I’ll be following your new blog with interest, and wish you the best success with these new outlets and opportunities!

  • Bonnie:

    The blog and website are lovely Aislinn. I look forward to following your work as you start a new phase, (and to watching the new garden change too!)

  • Catherine:

    Congratulations on your new .enterprise! You are very modest in recording your achievements- no mention of all the books you illustrated, for example.
    I love the new designs and hope you do more with the sean focail ones. Kilkenny Design Workshops/ulster Weav did


  • Liam:

    Hi Aislinn,
    The website is great. Where can I buy your greeting cards. I have fowarded your website address to most of my address book. Happy Birthday next week!!. Hello to all

  • Dia Duit, Aislinn!

    Oh, Aislinn, your new website is just lovely, as I knew it would be. Your illustrations translate very well to their new digital home, and I wish you the best of luck and much success with your new greeting card line–I can’t wait to display/sell them in the shop!

    Kind regards,
    Susan Jeanne Spencer

  • I’m sorry to hear the WaPo wil no longer have your delightful, detailed illustrations. Good luck in your new endeavors!

  • Cathy:

    Congratulations Aislinn on a beautiful website and have a happy birthday! I am checking our small magnolia tree everyday (Stephen planted it about five years ago) and waiting for those blossoms to brighten our still bleak landscape!

  • Aislinn Adams:

    Hi Kathy,

    Thanks a million for your good wishes. Yes, it feels funny not to be keeping my eye to the clock, so to speak, every week to make my deadline for the Digging In column. I started the blog so that I could keep showing that work and hopefully I’ll finally get around to a project I’ve had on the back burner for years, i.e. creating a new series of Pacific North West native plant illustrations in the same style.

    Best, Aislinn

  • SLF:

    Wow, your artwork is amazing… this is one of my very favorite flowers! New to your blog and art… truly beautiful!

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