Winkworth Arboretum was the brainchild of Dr. Wilfrid Fox, a dermatologist and self-taught environmentalist. In 1937 he purchased the west side of a valley on a Surrey estate and set about creating an arboretum. Seventy-seven years on, his dream has become a reality.
“Plants to paint a picture” – Dr Wilfrid Fox
by Michael Walsh SGFA
“The magnificent slopes and woodland of Winkworth Arboretum are heavy with bluebells, the Azalea Steps are vibrant with colour, magnolias are laden with soft white blooms, and Rowe’s Flashe Lake is virtually deluged by a wave of autumnal colour amongst the trees that line the slopes of The Bowl. It all began with Dr Fox’s personal collection of exotic trees and shrubs. Thanks to sixty years of skilled management by the National Trust, every season at Winkworth, year after year, is a visual delight.
In 2013 as a result of exhibiting at Ramster Gardens in Surrey, I was invited to go along to Winkworth, just outside Godalming, to sketch and paint. This was the first time I had ‘walked’ the arboretum through all four seasons. With 46 hectares of trees and beautiful landscaping, there was a lot to acquaint myself with, and in the limited time I had to sketch, my visits were supported by photographs.
In 2013 spring arrived late and rushed fast and furious into summer. Sketching in the chill of late May meant wearing warm woollies and gloves, and not standing still for too long.
Walking among trees is intoxicating. There is so much to capture — there are more than 1,000 tree and shrub specimens at Winkworth, many of them rare — and I get lost in the shapes and the grandeur of the structures.
Where to begin? Boughs heavily laden with foliage sweep around the trunks of the trees, some looking as if they are dressed in ball gowns with their branches bending to the floor, others with curving and twisted aged trunks appearing to bow in profound humility, while a blue fir in the distance reminds me of a barrister’s wig.
I do not generally use a sketch book. I have a lot of paper left over from my bookbinding work, so I sketch on loose sheets clipped to a backboard. This sits comfortably in my backpack, which conveniently turns into a stool, so I can either stand or sit myself down.
I nearly always sketch with 2B leads or line and wash. I still have the Staedtler Mars metal clutch pencil I bought in my first year at art college 40 years ago. It’s an extension of myself.
I like to capture as much as I can quickly, sketching the basic shapes and character of each tree. Once I have this I am happy, so then I sit back just to look, slow down, look again and add notes, picking out a detail and then drawing again.
From sketching comes interpretation, and the pleasure of colour in finished works of art. I work across the major disciplines — portraiture and botanical, architectural and garden subjects — each helping me with the other and enhancing the enjoyment of mixing and using colour in different ways.
Apart from my five years in a Benedictine monastery, where I was introduced to bookbinding, I have always worked in the arts. Since leaving the Abbey I have worked freelance in painting, calligraphy and bookbinding, and I teach part time in adult education.”
Editor’s note: In late August 2014 Winkworth Arboretum hosted Art in the Arboretum, a highly atmospheric and well attended ‘meet the artist’ day with Michael and his art in the Boathouse on Rowes Flash Lake. (Happily, Michael says, the weather was fine — there is no electricity in the Boathouse!)
For more about Michael please visit his web site www.micalart.co.uk
Winkworth Arboretum is hosting an activity-filled community day, ‘Live Local’, on Sunday 7th September 2014. Visitors can explore the arboretum free of charge. For more information please visit the web site www.nationaltrust.org.uk/winkworth-arboretum . For a glimpse of some of the seasonal changes at Winkworth in spring and summer, follow this link www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzMcYUc279c