This watercolour painting emerged during an eighteen month stay in Kandy, the ancient Royal capital of one of the most relentlessly beautiful islands I have ever been lucky enough to visit – Sri Lanka. I found this Lagerstroemia, or crepe myrtle, growing in a favourite local haunt, the Botanical Garden at Peradeniya.
This parcel of land is bordered on one side by the Mahaweli Gangai river and was already Royal in 1371 though it then housed a court, not a garden. It was later a temple until taken over by the British and recreated as a botanical garden, a consistently worthwhile use of land in my view, though possibly not when replacing a temple. Though relatively small in botanical garden terms, it is bursting with a range of spectacular plants. Lagerstroemia is named after Magnus von Lagerstroem, who, though he never visited the East himself, was able to use his position as Director of the Swedish East India Company to have exotica sent back to his friend, the Swedish taxonomic genius, Linnaeus.
A watercolour portrait was the only valid response I could have had to the disconcerting reaction triggered by my first sight of this wondrous tree – I wanted to leave my comfortable, rented house with all mod cons and just move right into its fragrant branches. As this was impossible, I started the painting which became one of a set of three paintings of flowering trees. I visited my favourite Sri Lankan neighbour to borrow another of his old biscuit tins – filled with exquisite butterflies collected in his distant youth before he decided to never collect again. © Frances Livingstone 2018