Words: Maggie Scardifield
Images: Bridget Badore
Follow: Adriana Picker
It’s hard to decide what type of flower Adriana Picker would be. The botanical artist, illustrator and author has plenty of elegant, garden rose about her; fistfuls of the ever-evolving tulip, too; and more than a field of dancing, vibrant poppies thrown in for good measure. Whether it’s romantic or mysterious, somewhat familiar to out-of-this world, this is where the mind hops while wandering around Picker’s garden of botanical illustrations. In April, her fourth book PETAL hit the shelves – offering a much needed injection of vibrancy and life in an otherwise bleak time. Written in collaboration with Nina Rousseau, PETAL comprises more than 200 of Picker’s painterly illustrations. It’s a thoughtful, visual feast that celebrates the folklore, familial histories and uplifting power of one of her favourite things in the world: flowers.
Have you always been interested in plants, Adriana?
My life, from a very early age, has been punctuated by a love of plants. Plants for me are so strongly linked to family, in particular my grandmother and mother. Plants have become the vessels of my fondest memories; they’re connections to the places where I find the most joy, and always a reminder of the people I cherish.
What is it about the natural world that inspires you to do what you do?
Nature is an endless source of inspiration and variation. I will never tire of drawing a rose, for example, because no two are ever the same. There is also something I find really compelling about the perfect imperfections of plants. The charm of small holes and stunned leaves is something I like to focus on in my work, which I feel lends realism and interest.
The science behind plants is that they have health, wellbeing and creative benefits. Has that been your experience?
There is so much we can’t control in our lives right now, but the seasons move on, and the flowers bloom, unwatched in many parts of the world because of lockdown.
I’ve found (especially in recent times) that there is such comfort in the consistency of nature.
The flowers will bloom next year and the year after that. And artists will still create and find inspiration. For me, observing nature offers respite and moments of mindfulness. It’s a reminder to be fully present and to search for joy in the small moments of life.
You’ve just returned from three years in New York. Is it as much of a “concrete jungle” as they say, or did you find it easy to find Greener Spaces Better Places while living there?
New York is actually a very green city. If you’re in need of respite, it’s not actually very hard to find lush green space or a lovingly tended botanical gem in a planter on the sidewalk. My very favourite garden in New York is the Conservatory Garden right at the top of Central Park. It’s separated into three sections – a garden after the formal French style, an Italian portion and a wild, textual English garden with a colour palette plucked straight from the heart of an Impressionist painting. That is a garden that feeds my imagination and still lingers in my dreams!
You’ve recently published your fourth book, PETAL. How did the idea for this book come about?
The idea was born from an entirely selfish desire of mine: the desire to draw ALL of my favourite plants!
PETAL has more than 200 flowers in it from 27 plant families. Did you discover any new favourites while you were working on the book?
Since PETAL I have become a bit obsessed with drawing tulips. I like to draw them most when the blooms are getting older; not prim buttoned-up youngsters any longer, but lush and loose and sculptural and blousy. I love the colour gradients, patterning and heart-achingly perfect imperfections that are brought out with age. How they get long and leggy as they stretch to seek more light. And how a store-bought ubiquitous white can morph to a blush pink over the course of a few days on the kitchen table, demanding more attention as the veins of pigment on the petals become more pronounced day-by-day.
You returned home to Sydney from New York in the midst of a global pandemic. What excited you most about returning to Australia?
The Australian bush and the Pacific Ocean. I am my happiest self in both of those places.
Now back in Sydney, where would you go for a bit of Greener Spaces Better Places?
I have a favourite corner of the Sydney Botanic Gardens that I love to draw in. They have a few small beds of begonias, tucked away, that you can wander around and hide yourself in. Any type of variegated leaf sets my heart aflutter and the bejewelled leaf of a begonia, with its spots and whirls, particularly so!
Do you practice any special rituals with your plants at home?
I love to treat them all to a lovely soak in a bath once a week!
How would you rate your own Greener Spaces Better Places?
Pretty good. And if I’m not able to be in nature, I am always able to find it through my work. How utterly lucky am I, to have that?
What’s your version of getting your hands dirty?
Spending the day with my mother and the chooks in her veggie patch. It’s total bliss.
If you could spend the day gardening with anyone in the world, who would it be?
My grandmother, Emma.
PETAL by Adriana Picker
Hardie Grant Books Australia, hardcover, $60
Available now here.