Caught by the River


Lara C Cory | 11th October 2016


Botanicum by Katie Scott & Kathy Willis
(Big Picture Press, hardcover, 112 pages. Out now.)

Review by Lara C. Cory

Botanicum is the latest release by Big Picture Press. Illustrated and curated by Katie Scott it follows in the footsteps of Animalium in the Welcome to the Museum series.

Working closely with Professor Kathy Willis, the Director of Science at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and Prof. of Biodiversity in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, this collaboration radiates the enthusiasm of both Scott and Willis.

If magical realism could be applied to picture books, this is perhaps what it might look like. While Scott’s illustrations are influenced by the work of German biologist Ernst Haeckel she also takes cues from Japanese medical illustration and alchemical drawings. Having worked for The New York Times, designed the cover of Bombay Bicycle Club’s A Different Kind of Fix and even worked with the Norwegian Medical Association, Scott’s work in Botanicum was the perfect vehicle for her appreciation of the big, bold colours and shapes of the natural world, with an inventory that might out-do the most wild imagination.


One of the key factors of this book is the curatorial flair. With over 425,000 species of plants and counting, how do you go about choosing what goes and what stays? Each page is brimming with variety and detail offering a festival of nature’s most splendid and unusual creations.

“It was both very difficult and completely easy”, said Scott, “at times I felt overwhelmed, and almost sad that there was so much I wanted to include, lots of which there wouldn’t be space for. But then I would just make a start on a page and realise that at least it was incredibly easy to fill every page with amazing plants. It’s a good position to be in. Kathy, Katie Haworth (the editor) and myself all had a say in which plants made the cut.” Scott chose the most visually exciting and inspiring, where as Willis and Haworth chose plants of scientific or historical importance.

Another noteworthy feature of Botanicum is Willis’ narrative. Using simple language and structure, the professor shares wisdom gained over a lifetime in bite-size and accessible portions. Scott agrees, “Kathy is a great communicator, and brings out the beauty, curiosity and importance of plants.” You won’t get bogged down with dry academia when you browse any of the pages of Botanicum.

The imagery of Botanicum is breathtaking, and the scale and production is inviting. Large, thick matte paper in a pleasing hard-cover, colours that are bright and rich but never gaudy or distracting.

I asked Scott what her favourite part of Kew Gardens is since working on the book, and she said the Herbarium, “the countless little doors and drawers all packed out with folders of pressed plants, over 7 million of them!” She continued, “in terms of the gardens, I think I am most fond of the water lily house when it’s quiet. If you’re lucky, one of the gardeners might have left out an over-turned giant leaf for you to look at the amazing structure underneath. They also have mimosa in there, which reacts to touch and has amazing pink puff-ball flowers. It’s like something from another planet.”


Buy a copy here.

Lara C.Cory on Caught by the River / on Twitter