I was fortunate enough to have lived for a couple of years amongst the natural glories of the South African ecosystem known as Fynbos. This short word describes the world’s greatest, most condensed area of off-the-scale plant diversity in any of the Seven Floral Kingdoms to be found on our planet. It is both smallest in area and greatest in plant richness. It is mainly coastal but also spreads somewhat inland. A short walk through the fynbos at almost any time of the year will, in the space taken up on the dry, gravelly earth by just a couple of square metres, host a vast range of ever-changing, usually small, usually exquisite, plants. This display then seems to change to new versions every few weeks. It is almost baffling in its complexity. To some who live amongst all this splendour, it is known as the Green Desert, so I wanted to show a little of that in the middle ground of the painting but “zoom in” on some of the reality of the “Desert” in the foreground.
In the face of all this variety and richness, I inevitably struggled to choose what to include in this painting. In the end, I decided to portray the only endemic fynbos tree – the milkwood – and representatives from Restionaceae, Ericaceae and Proteaceae, and a lizard etc. The spectacular tail feathers of the female sunbird and the jewel-like adornment of the male of course made them impossible to exclude, and in any case, these sunbirds, amongst others, are part of Proteas‘ survival. I included a fire as this is an essential part of how the Fynbos survives and packed in as much of the rest of as I could. I hesitated to title my painting Fynbos. It seemed so grandiose a description for my necessarily limited snapshot of what was growing on so generous a scale, but an attempt to celebrate it seemed to demand that title.
I was able to paint there thanks to the generosity of the Grootbos Nature Reserve. I turned up as a stranger who was immediately offered – not the small outhouse somewhere that I would have gratefully accepted to have access to painting their stunning views across Walker Bay – but a luxury cottage for as long as I needed it. © Frances Livingstone 2018