Sorbus aucuparia for Flora Scotia

Rowan growing beside Loch Tay

I have always been fascinated by Rowan trees. It is maybe something about their place in Scottish folklore that I like. They are reputed to be trees which offer protection against witchcraft and enchantment – not generally a big concern these days. Nevertheless, I had to remove one from my garden a few years ago and I was told that it was bad luck and I should plant another!

They have long been a part of the Scottish landscape and the gaelic for rowan which is caorunn appears in several Highland place names. Another reminder of the relationship between plants and our everyday lives.

I painted this Rowan for Flora Scotia, Scotland’s exhibition for the Worldwide Day of Botanical Art. It was growing in a garden on the south shore of Loch Tay last year. I think it must have been a good year for rowans as the trees were full of berries. The colours were amazing and I was struck by the variety of differing shades in the leaves and berries on different trees – from blue greens to bright spring greens and from orange to pillar box reds.

Having chosen my specimen, I set about drawing out a branch. I chose one that seemed to embody the rowan's exuberant growth with leaves sprouting in all directions and a large number of berries. I decided to paint the branch at 2 times life size as I felt that this would accentuate the impact of the bright colours and vigorous growth.

Work in progress

I chose a composition where the berries were coming forward because it created a pleasing shape and allowed a view of the lower berries which I hoped would give a sense of their weight.

I always use a fairly limited palette. In this painting I used two yellows, new gamboge and windsor lemon, a few reds but mainly pyrrol scarlet and permanent rose and for the blues, windsor blue, aquamarine and indigo. Colour matching is always tricky when the painting takes longer than the specimen survives.  Luckily, I had taken the advice given to me and had planted a rowan tree in my garden which gave me a living reference. Maybe not quite protection from enchantment and witchcraft but hopefully protection from bad colour choices!

 NM 039 less saturation medium

Final painting hanging in the John Hope Gateway, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh until 3rd June 2018

Green Gold

I have been working with the multi talented Gabriel Hemery and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on a project to celebrate the life of the Victorian, Scottish plant hunter, John Jeffrey.

Gabriel is writing a book titled Green Gold - the lost journals of John Jeffrey. It is a historical novel, based on real events, in the form of a biography.  To find out more about the book, visit

In 1850, young Scottish tree-hunter John Jeffrey is despatched by an elite group of Victorian subscribers to seek highly-prized exotic tree species in North America. An early letter home tells of a 1,200 mile transcontinental journey on foot. Later, tantalising botanical samples arrive from British Columbia, Oregon and California, yet early promise soon withers. Three years after setting out John Jeffrey disappears without a trace. Was he lost to love, violence or the Gold Rush? The secrets of the extraordinary adventure lie in his precious journals which remained lost, until their discovery and reproduction, 160 years later in 2018.

I am working on a series of paintings for an exhibition which will feature the plants discovered and collected by John Jeffrey. The exhibition will take place at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and will coincide with the launch of the book.

Work in progress on Jeffrey Pine.



Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Herbarium Specimen - Jeffrey Pine cone collected in 1952.

© Nicola Macartney 2019