An abridged version of the podcast. Interviewer was Rebecca Slack, PlantNetwork Coordinator.
Amelia Crawford is the botanical artist behind Sylvestris Botanics. We find out more about Amelia’s art, her inspirations and her wider career in conservation.
Tell me about being a botanical artist.
I work on my own and grow all of my own flowers, which makes me a flower farmer as well. I do this as environmentally sustainably as possible, even down to the packaging of my art works. I feel that botanical art is getting bigger with many more people producing art using plants and plant materials. It is a therapeutic medium to work in.
My signature pieces are collages of real flowers. They can be meadow-type landscapes, seasonal displays, species or habitat specific, or even colour themed – there are lots of avenues to explore. Growing my own flowers (and leaves) provides as wide array of flowers as possible to use in the pieces, I have just under an acre of garden and while I have converted a vegetable patch into my main flower growing area, I also grow in pots, the garden borders and in wildflower meadows. It can be a lot of work in summer with watering!
I create my own pieces but also work on commissions. I’ll receive a brief and we can work together to develop the designs – I send design examples before I fix the pressed flowers to the card. I also preserve wedding bouquets as a memory of the day. Clients have different levels of involvement – some trust me totally while others want more involvement in the development of the piece.
How did you develop your signature style and what led to your botanical art?
I’m currently studying a Master of Science in biodiversity and conservation at the University of Leeds. I studied conservation as an undergraduate as well. The natural world has always been fascinating to me and I’ve always wanted to understand the science of conservation. I’ve worked for an agricultural research facility with a focus on research into crops, soil and water, and am particularly interested plant-pollinator relationships. My father was a horticulturist though. He had a bulb company, was a rare tree collector and then did landscape architecture. His influence and encouragement really developed my interest in the natural environment. My earliest memories are of walking around our little woodland with my notepad, learning the scientific names of the trees and plants. I was always aware that flowers are so fleeting with a small window to enjoy them each year. The act of preserving the flowers and lengthening their enjoyment was something that just really appealed to me. I just want to share it with everyone.
What does the future hold for you, Amelia?
I want to continue doing both science and art. Summers can be very hard – a busy time for an ecologist and for a flower farmer. I’d like to find a healthy balance between the two: creating beautiful art for people and contributing to conservation and ecological research. Both can make a difference in the world.
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to develop their interest in botanical art or advice for anyone who wants to combine disciplines?
Just go for it. Everyone has doubts about putting their art out into the world as it’s quite a personal thing. It’s come from your mind, your hands create it and you have this fear that it’s not going to get the reception that you want.
Could you tell us about a garden or landscape that has really inspired you?
My favourite British landscape is deciduous woodland with grassland. It’s one of our most natural habitats but it is in decline. We can help by bringing it into our gardens. I planted about 150 trees in my garden and I know that I’m very lucky to have the space to do that but one or two trees makes a difference. An oak tree, for example, supports so much life, so many mutualisms. I spent five years on and off travelling around the world, predominantly in South America and Southeast Asia. I spent time in rainforests and while I don’t want to make this all about conservation, we are losing these highly diverse ecosystems. They are so different to British forests – if you don’t like insects, don’t go to a rainforest!
Have you ever explored your interest in international landscapes in your artwork?
Not yet. I have this big idea of an exhibition, which would involve having to go and collect plants from different parts of the world, and different landscapes. The artwork would emulate that landscape and include soundscapes to create a fully immersive experience.
Can you tell us about your favourite plant, a tool you can’t garden without and a book that has inspired you about plants and gardens.
My plant would be Anthriscus sylvestris, or cow parsley, because it is the first plant name that I learned and is something I associate with my dad and exploring the woodland when I was young. I have very fond memories of playing in the cow parsley. That’s where the name for my botanical art has come from too as it highlights my love of forests – “sylvestris” meaning “of the forest”.
For my tool, it has to be my flower press. I know it isn’t a horticultural tool but I can’t be without it. With my massive trug for collecting and harvesting, these are my key tools.
My book would be The Wild Flower Key by Francis Rose. It’s an all-round guide for wild flowers so great for anyone working in conservation and learning about British flora.
Do you see a disparity between horticulture and botanical conservation or conservation generally, or do you think that they work really well together?
I think that it depends on who is doing it. A lot of horticulture is very ornamentally-driven and the majority of ornamental plants aren’t native. Non-natives aren’t necessarily bad because species have adapted to deal with them and actually depend on them in places where native species are declining. There can be a huge disparity between the horticulture and conservation but I don’t think there should be and that in many cases, they work fantastically well together. Horticulturists will often have access to land or garden that can be used to benefit native communities. Thistles and nettles are fantastic for invertebrates but not as great from an ornamental perspective so making space for these useful but not totally welcome plants will make a huge difference. I would encourage anyone who is working in horticulture to research what you can do to help your local habitats.