History: Botanical Illustration

In 1962 the Natural History Museum commissioned Sheila to produce a set of intricate botanical studies for an exhibition, later this would lead to a six-year assignment for the BSBI (Botanical Society of the British Isles) These commissions clearly influenced her designs and she produced many floral and nature inspired patterns during this period.


We do know from a letter dated 16th April 1968 that Clive Jermy had arranged for Sheila to undertake a large commission of illustrations in 1962 for the Botanical Society of the British Isles. The friendly informal nature of this letter suggests they had a good friendship and we can assume that Clive also initiated Sheila’s commission for the Natural History Museum. It is possible that they became whilst studying at UCL (albeit on different degree courses).

“Dear Sheila,
Well how about this! At long last you will be receiving a cheque for Royalties on the 2000 sold before publication today. As you royalty was scaled to give you £6 per plate on selling 1500 you are on the right side and I am pleased as you took a gamble. How is Linton, work and life generally – still designing fabulous wallpapers? Do drop into the museum if you ever have time and if you want a bed for the night any time don’t hesitate to ask, Alma & I will be only too pleased to see you.”

Clive Jermy (1932 – 2014) was one of the great catalysts in the field of botany. By profession he was primarily a pteridologist (study of ferns). He studied Botany at University College London in the 1950’s and went on to become Head of the Fern Section at the British Museum of Natural History. He remained there for the rest of his career, retiring from his later post as Head of Collections in the Botany Department in 1992.

Clive joined the BSBI committee in 1950. During the early 1960’s he proposed to publish a series of plant field guides. The first in the series was called ‘British Sedges’ and Clive arranged for Sheila to illustrate 1500 specimens over a period of six years. The book was published in 1968 and is currently in its third edition. It has sold at least 20,000 copies and remains the best seller of all the BSBI Handbooks

  • 1962 botanical study - with kind permission from the Natural History Museum
    1962 botanical study - with kind permission from the Natural History Museum
  • Plant study in watercolour
    Plant study in watercolour
  • SB 495 - 1960s pattern design
    SB 495 - 1960s pattern design
  • Plant study in watercolour
    Plant study in watercolour
  • SB 487 - 1960s pattern design
    SB 487 - 1960s pattern design