The Grootbos Florilegium weaves together art, natural science, and storytelling to safeguard the Cape’s botanical legacy for generations to come.
Home to a unique collection of botanical illustrations by local and international artists that showcase the rare, endangered and charismatic plants found within the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and surroundings. I visited the Florilegium on a stormy afternoon, lingering before each work of art, magnifying glasses in hand, finding in each botanical masterpiece distinctive characters and glimpses of the insects, pollinators and creatures associated with the respective plants.
The story of the botanical art traces its roots back to 1991 when the Lutzeyer family first found themselves on the fynbos-clad slopes overlooking Walker Bay. Situated within the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of the world’s most biodiverse biomes, the humble farm they’d acquired was to become a luxury eco-reserve tucked between mountains, forest and sea – a place where award-winning eco-practices blend seamlessly with spectacular accommodation in a pristine natural environment.
Since then the family has embraced their role as custodians of the reserve and through unwavering dedication, visionary leadership, and strong collaborations, transformed it into a global leader in progressive and sustainable tourism. In doing so, they have not only improved the lives of local communities but also safeguarded the 3500 hectares of botanical and wildlife treasures.
The Grootbos Legacy: From Dream to Reality
Michael Lutzeyer, the owner of Grootbos, recognised the floral diversity the reserve holds and wanted to preserve it as well as bring it to the rest of the world. What began as a distant vision evolved into a mission. A conversation with renowned botanical artist Vicki Thomas inspired him to engage and commission artists to contribute to the project, with her help. These artists were invited to select a fynbos species and illustrate it with precision, accompanied by vignettes featuring the insects, birds, and animals associated with each plant.
This allowed Michael to use botanical art as a catalyst for igniting fascination about fynbos—a dream that took shape through the project. In 2019 the first print found a home in the Grootbos Conference Centre, but as the collection grew to over 20 pieces, it became clear that a dedicated space was required to portray the artist’s work. The Florilegium project perfectly aligns with Grootbos’ overarching mission to transform global perspectives through education and conservation-driven initiatives.
Celebrating Nature’s Harmony: The Florilegium Unveiled
Reminiscent of the age-old tradition of recording plant species through art, each artwork captures the interconnectedness of plants, their environment, and the insects that rely on them for survival. Entomologists employed to research Grootbos had uncovered hundreds of bee, ant, and insect species, some exclusive to this reserve, many noted for the first time. This research affirmed the deep connections between insects and plants, echoing the theme of the project which pays homage to the value of every minuscule life form. Painted from living specimens in watercolour, gouache, graphite, and coloured pencil, each intricate detail and tiny nuance is brought to life.
As the permanent home of the Grootbos Florilegium, the Hannarie Wenhold Botanical Art Gallery honours Wenhold‘s generous contribution to the creation of the gallery as well as her ongoing support for the conservation of plants. The building itself is set amidst fynbos and a Milkwood forest next to Grootbos’ Garden Lodge, the very landscapes celebrated in the artworks housed within. An architectural masterpiece inspired by nature, the space showcases over 120 unique artworks with ample natural light filling the contemporary exhibition rooms.
The Grootbos Foundation: Conservation with a Purpose
The Grootbos Foundation is a non-profit established in 2003 by Grootbos owners, the Lutzeyer family, with a vision of conserving the Cape Floral Kingdom and uplifting local communities. Through ecotourism, enterprise development, sports development, and education, the Foundation works tirelessly to protect this unique environment and empower its people. All profits from the sale of books, prints, and Florilegium tours will go towards the Grootbos Foundation, to be split equally between conservation and cultural programmes as well as investing in the arts.
The Essential Details
** This article first appeared in the November 2023 AirNamibia magazine. Thank you for having me visit Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, Grootbos Foundation and Diversity Trail and for allowing me to share some of your stories. Read the FlyNamibia Inflight Magazine.