There are some wonderful botanical watercolours in our exhibition, including one done by the Scottish artist Sydney Parkinson who accompanied Joseph Banks on his trip to the south seas.

Sydney Parkinson 'Knightia Excelsa' 1769
Sydney Parkinson Knightia Excelsa 1769

Here modern day plant hunter Tom Hart Dyke tells celebrates Parkinson’s story:

“I first heard about Sydney Parkinson (1745-1771) many years ago from my granny, who was an inspirational gardener and a watercolourist, as well as a passionate supporter of Parkinson’s work. I had known about Joseph Banks’s trip to the Pacific in 1768 with Daniel Solander (who collected plants and animals), but much to my granny’s annoyance, most people have ignored the fact that Parkinson went with them. He was, by all accounts, a very determined man, and would be inundated by the crew with requests for pictures of ants, bugs, centipedes, birds, flowers and landscapes. Sadly, he didn’t survive the expedition and died after contracting dysentery aged only 26. On that trip he drew the Knightia Excelsa or New Zealand Honeysuckle tree (Rewa Rewa is its Maori name). It is an interesting, weird plant from the Proteaceae family. Is it rare in the wild? No, not really. Would it be a top ten plant hunter’s dream to see it in the wild? No, you would probably walk past it. But that’s why I love it. It grows up to 30 metres tall and has coarsely serrated leaves about 10 -15cm long, with velvety yellow and reddish orange flowers. It is monotypic (one of its kind within the genus). Apparently the wood is ideal for cabinet making and the tree is a good source for honey production. It is a total coincidence that we have Knightia Excelsa in Lullingstone garden. I actually got the plant from a nursery in Cornwall. I’ve never been to New Zealand, so I’ve not seen it in its natural habitat, but I will someday.”

Tom Hart Dyke is a modern day plant hunter and creator of the World Garden at his family home of Lullingstone Castle, Kent. 


David Aldworth

I really enjoyed the exhibition. However, I felt the final rooms were not as gripping as the earlier ones. We should have been able to see how water-colourists of today are continuing with the concerns of the earlier generations. Contemporary art has a place for the figurative as well as the abstract and this should have been reflected in the final room.

I found the audio guide very useful, combining as it did, commentary, curatorial views and artistic experience. I also feel that Roger Allam should have received a credit for his superb reading