Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Wildflowers are in abundance this time of year. Elusive lady slippers and abundant trilliums make their appearance in forests and along paths for several weeks during late April and through much of May. These native plants were the topic of Linda Fraser’s May 10 presentation for “The Bascom Shop Garden Talk Series” in Highlands.
An artist, nature lover, and self-taught horticulturist, Fraser was one of the first members of the Georgia Native Plant Society and she also designed the group’s logo. Fraser said she was “thrilled” to move from the West Coast to the East Coast in 1977 and to discover so many native flowers and plants growing around her home. Born out of her passion to learn all she could about native plants is an extensive body of work.
To record and identify her plants, she first started a herbarium. But, after running out of room to house samplings of a vast array of plants, she began keeping a phenology – a record of each plant’s blooming. She decided to start painting plants so that she could more accurately record them.
Fraser gleans extensive knowledge about native plants from books in her multi-volume identification library. Top recommended native plant books are, “Vascular Flora of the Carolinas,” “Wildflowers of the Eastern United States,” and “Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers.”
When Fraser feels that she is well educated about a particular plant, she is ready to draw it and will only draw it “from real life.” Often, she will find a plant she wants to depict and will bring it indoors, into her kitchen where much natural light streams through three windows.
She uses mostly non-water soluble pencils, which “provide a more solid mark,” she said. Fraser’s art might represent a plant in different seasons; for example, her beechnut focus appears in spring, fall, and winter. Each print includes not only her signature, but the common and Latin name of the plant, and the date on which she drew it.
She does not sell any of her original colored pencil drawings, but offers them as prints or note cards at Bascom: The Center for Visual Arts gift shop/gallery as well as online. On the back of each of her prints is a “narrative,” which might include detailed educational information about the plant, how she feels about it, how she came to draw it, tips on cultivating and/or caring for it, and anecdotes. Her fall beechnut print, for instance, reveals how she found a small tree frog on one of the leaves and enjoyed watching and drawing the frog in various locations on the leaves. A turtle she saved from poisoning became her muse for a drawing of the turtlehead plant. When the drawing was completed and the turtle recovered from fertilizer toxins, she released it.
To achieve such accuracy with her work, Fraser must often use a magnifying glass to observe every detail, and she tries to include in the drawings the bugs, butterflies, and bees attracted to those plants for food, shade, nectar, etc. “This type of art should show as much about the plant in its natural state as possible,” she said. “All the information I have learned about these plants have definitely made me a better artist.”
Fraser has painted about 200 Southeastern native plants. Painting the plants and growing the plants has gone hand in hand. She speaks, shows, and educates at schools, universities, and botanical gardens. She is a charter member of the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference at Western Carolina University.
At her own gardens in Buckhead, a suburb of Atlanta, Ga., she enjoys “mostly natural plants that take care of themselves.”
Fraser said she hopes that individuals who view her work will be encouraged to protect native plants, to learn all they can about them, and to cultivate them – or leave them alone, if they are already growing on the property. “And I want people to look closely at these plants in their different stages. Study the details. Find out if there is other life on the plant. And make cuttings of those plants for bouquets.”