The Mal­tese Tulip and a Diplo­mat’s Brush

Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE - Marika Az­zopardi

Dur­ing just another day in my life, I was in­vited to visit the res­i­dence of a for­eign diplo­mat in Malta to dis­cuss or­chids, pop­pies and tulips, stroll in a mag­nif­i­cent gar­den and ad­mire some of Malta’s in­dige­nous plants. And this was all for a very good cause. The diplo­mat in ques­tion was the Aus­tralian High Com­mis­sioner to Malta, Ms Jane El­speth Lam­bert. And the cause was The Pres­i­dent’s Foun­da­tion for the Well­be­ing of So­ci­ety’s bid to in­crease aware­ness on our en­vi­ron­men­tal her­itage, and its im­por­tance for well­be­ing.

The PFWS is in fact or­gan­is­ing a botan­i­cal art ex­hi­bi­tion to high­light the plight of the Tulipa Sylvestris Aus­tralis, com­monly known as ‘Tupi­lan Sel­vaġġ’ or South­ern Tulip, a very rare and en­dan­gered species. Flow­er­ing be­tween March and April, this tulip is recog­nis­able by its vi­brant yel­low colour and pointed petals. The Na­tional Red Data Book has main­tained its threat­ened sta­tus since 1989 and it is pro­tected from be­ing picked or harmed, by law. For the pur­pose of this event, Ms Lam­bert was in­vited to ex­hibit for the first time ever, a small col­lec­tion of her botan­i­cal paint­ings, with the main cen­tre­piece be­ing a de­pic­tion of the rare tulip it­self.

As we tour her paint­ings, all rig­or­ously made with the typ­i­cal medium of botan­i­cal artists - wa­ter­colour, Ms Lam­bert ex­plains, “I have al­ways been fas­ci­nated by botan­i­cal art and the sto­ries be­hind the paint­ings. Most were ini­tially pro­duced by artists who ac­com­pa­nied the great dis­cov­er­ers, such as the Aus­trian Fer­di­nand Bauer (1760 – 1826) who trav­elled on Matthew Flin­ders’ ex­pe­di­tion to Aus­tralia. I come from a long tra­di­tion of fe­male gar­den­ers, so the recog­ni­tion of di­verse species is in­trigu­ing in it­self. In my role as High Com­mis­sioner, ob­serv­ing, re­search­ing and paint­ing plants which thrive on Malta and Gozo, has helped me un­der­stand the en­vi­ron­ment and ge­og­ra­phy, as well as old trad­ing routes, which in­tro­duced new species to the is­lands. I found great sup­port in my process of dis­cov­ery from var­ied sources such as the Ar­gotti Botan­i­cal Gar­dens, the Gaia Foun­da­tion, other artists and pho­tog­ra­phers.”

The col­lec­tion fea­tures sta­ples such as the ca­per flower, the pelargo­nium, the na­tional tree ‘Għargħar’. The Bot­tle­brush, a typ­i­cal Aus­tralian flow­er­ing tree also in Malta, is in­cluded in the col­lec­tion, as is a sur­prise find... a yel­low poppy. The na­tional ‘Wid­net il-Baħar‘ sits close to the Spicy Ja­t­ropha, a na­tive of Cuba present in Mal­tese gar­dens.

Then there are the or­chids. “Very few peo­ple are aware that Malta has its very own or­chids, very minute and found mainly on wild garigue. It is cu­ri­ous that such a species blended and adapted suc­cess­fully to this wild Mediter­ranean ter­rain over the cen­turies.” In­deed Ms Lam­bert has re­searched and painted three rare orchid va­ri­eties in­clud­ing the Pyra­mi­dal Orchid, each flower splen­didly de­picted in del­i­cate wisps of washes, each care­fully stud­ied in what she calls her Mal­tese note­books. These very per­sonal and fas­ci­nat­ing books of in­for­ma­tion are the ba­sis of her work, each and ev­ery painted flower, leaf and sprig with quotes from book ex­cerpts, notes of botan­i­cal in­for­ma­tion, colour blends and above all, end­less sketches of in­tri­cate de­tail. Ms Lam­bert, who started paint­ing when she was sta­tioned in South Africa in 2006, was even­tu­ally in­tro­duced to botan­i­cal paint­ing by Aus­tralian botan­i­cal, wildlife and land­scape artist and teacher, He­len Fitzger­ald.

Lam­bert’s paint­ing of the Mal­tese Tulip takes cen­tre stage in this ex­hi­bi­tion. In­ci­den­tally, Ms Lam­bert noted that the Latin name for this tulip in­cludes the word ‘Aus­tralis’, which does not re­fer to Aus­tralia but to the south­ern hemi­sphere. Dur­ing the open­ing event to­mor­row, a dis­cus­sion will fo­cus on this plant’s en­dan­gered sta­tus, thanks to the in­ter­ven­tion of lo­cal ex­pert Si­mone Cu­ta­jar and Dutch ex­pert Rene Dekker. The lat­ter will be coming to Malta specif­i­cally for this event, thanks also to the sup­port of the Em­bassy of the King­dom of the Nether­lands in Malta.

The evening will be of­fi­cially opened by Pres­i­dent Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. For the oc­ca­sion, the Aus­tralian High Com­mis­sioner in Malta shall present the pres­i­dent with a paint­ing of the en­dan­gered tulip. Ms Lam­bert says, “It has been a priv­i­lege to spend these past four years here and to dis­cover Malta, the shared his­tory and strong re­la­tion­ship with Aus­tralia. I am happy to have con­trib­uted in bring­ing sto­ries of these his­tor­i­cal ties to a new gen­er­a­tion of Aus­tralians - sto­ries such as Malta’s in­volve­ment in the care and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of so many Aus­tralian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) mem­bers who fought at Gal­lipoli dur­ing World War I. This ex­hi­bi­tion and of­fi­cial pre­sen­ta­tion will be one of my last pub­lic events in Malta, as my post here ter­mi­nates in De­cem­ber. It will cer­tainly be another won­der­ful mem­ory to cher­ish in years to come.”

The open­ing of the botan­i­cal art ex­hi­bi­tion by the Pres­i­dent of Malta, fol­lowed by a col­lo­quium be­tween lead­ing ex­perts, will be held on Mon­day 24 Oc­to­ber 2016 at 6.30pm at San An­ton Palace. Reser­va­tions can be placed by call­ing the Foun­da­tion for the Well­be­ing of So­ci­ety on 21 484 662 or via email lorella.gatt@gov.mt. Places are lim­ited. This event is be­ing or­gan­ised with the sup­port of the Aus­tralian High Com­mis­sion in Malta and of the Em­bassy of the King­dom of the Nether­lands in Malta. Tours com­mence at 10:30am ev­ery day from 25 to 30 Oc­to­ber.

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