1 Jun 2016

A book of white flowers… and one red rose

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

What links frozen lobsters and boil-in-the-bag porridge, with an exquisite collection of flower pictures and one of the world’s best known humanitarian organisations?

The answer is one amazing woman: Elizabeth Cameron. Born in 1915 in Somerset to a well-to-do family, she studied at the Slade School of Art; exhibiting at the Royal Academy and Scottish Royal Academy before the second world war. Following the war years, spent driving ambulances for the ATS, she married Major Allan Cameron, son of the Chief of Clan Cameron. The couple farmed in Ross-shire, and later pioneered the freezing and sale of Scottish lobster and prawns, under the brand Black Isle Frozen Foods. Elizabeth also came up with the idea for boil-in-the-bag porridge, which she marketed direct to Harrods – with great success!

A book of white flowers

After the sale of her frozen food business in the 1970s, Elizabeth returned to her first loves, gardens and art.  She and her husband travelled the world in search of interesting plants for their three acres at Allangrange, on the Black Isle, while she exhibited her beautiful botanical paintings around the world and sold prints via her own company Allangrange Print – which still sells her work.

She had an especial love for white flowers, inspired by a garden at Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire, and created her own white garden at Allangrange. She published several books of pictures, but her loveliest work is probably A Book of White Flowers, a limited edition of twenty-four paintings from her own garden – we are very fortunate to have a copy in our Library here at the Botanic Garden of Wales.

Of her garden, she said:

“Once we started, I seemed instinctively to collect more white flowers around me than others … they are all so lovely – from the wild ox-eyed daisy to the stately aristocratic lily. From the first flower of the season, the snowdrop, there is an endless succession of white flowers both large and small.”

Her love of white flowers was not limited to showy garden plants but to trees, shrubs, wild flowers “…and even a weed, bindweed, which is so lovely and always has its place with us whether we like it or not.”  I don’t think many books of botanical art would include a bindweed, Calystegia sepium, as she has.

…and one red rose

But Elizabeth’s best known painting, is not of a white flower but of a red one. When the British Red Cross marked its 125th anniversary in 1995 with a new rose, Elizabeth’s daughter Kirstie ‘volunteered’ her mother to paint it.

The Humanity Rose has since appeared on cards, notelets, mugs, coasters and many other items sold to raise money for the Red Cross, has raised around £10 million to support their work, and is still raising money today.  A familiar image to millions of people, it is probably Elizabeth Cameron’s most enduring memorial.

Elizabeth died in 2008 at the age of 93.

A Book of White Flowers.  Twenty four paintings by Elizabeth Cameron with a foreword by Christopher Lloyd. K.D. Duval, Frenich, Foss. 1980