Story behind the art of Rose Donnelly

Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial

Indian Horse-Chestnut 

Aesculus indica
Geelong Botanic Gardens, Geelong, Australia

Aesculus indica, Indian Horse Chestnut, is commonly found growing along the Himalayan Lowlands between Kashmir and Western Nepal at elevations between 900 and 3000 metres. While related to the common Horse Chestnut( A.hippocastanum), it differs in being a slightly smaller tree which flowers later and also has grey-green rather than red-brown bark. The seeds are also smaller, making it less popular for the conker player.

My fascination for this particular tree began when I first discovered about 200 young seedlings, at various stages of development, growing beneath the canopy of the magnificent mature specimen tree in the Geelong Botanic Gardens. These beautiful gardens are considered amongst the best regional Gardens in Australia. What amazed me most was the way the root, having forced its way through a split in the skin of the chestnut, burrowed its way into the soil and dragged the nut underground with it. Only then did the primary shoot appear followed soon after by the first delicate leaves, reminiscent of butterfly wings as they unfurled.

This work was started a few years ago when I selected a seedling to begin with and added the other elements of the composition over subsequent seasons, culminating in the striking inflorescence which was completed earlier this year. The painting has recently returned from an exhibition at Fairy Lake Botanical Garden in Shenzen, China, held to coincide with the 19th International Botanical Congress in July 2017.

 Some years ago I painted these horse chestnuts in their outer casing along with a dried autumn leaf from the same tree. What intrigued me then was how the deeply-colored skin of the chestnut has an exquisite pattern formed where the veins of the outer casing press on the seed during its development. On closer examination, the pattern looks to my mind like the henna tattoos used to adorn a bride’s hands for her wedding ceremony in India.

Something else which struck me as remarkable about this tree, was the way my seedling subject remained alive in a jar of water for well over a year, by feeding from nutrients supplied solely from the nut. This in turn inspired another artwork to draw attention to climate change, using the analogy of the earth nourishing us and all life on the planet. I painted a view of the planet from space, in place of the chestnut, with a seedling tree and roots encompassing it. I borrowed the following quote to accompany the painting which is titled 'Life Support'.

   “….and those who care for the earth with sincerity may wait

         long ‘ere the pendulum swings back to her again”.

                  Howard’s End by E. M. Forster 1910

Read more about this artist’s work: 19th Annual International


  • © 2017 Rose Donnelly
    Indian Horse-Chestnut
    Aesculus indica
    Watercolor on paper
    13" x 15"