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A portrait of the trees of Hong Kong and Southern China: Sally Grace Bunker

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Long-time Mui Wo resident Sally Grace Bunker has spent the past seven years working alongside two botanists from The University of Hong Kong, Professor Richard Saunders and Dr Pang Chun-chiu, on A Portrait of the Trees of Hong Kong and Southern China. This impressive tome, which features over 100 of Sally’s gorgeous botanical illustrations, is finally hitting the shelves in May.

“I would describe it as a sort of ‘crossover’ book, in that it is both an art book and a scientific textbook. It’s also packed with folklore, fun facts and medicinal usages,” Sally opens. “Our aim has been to celebrate Hong Kong’s most historic trees, and an interesting local touch is that all but one of the trees also are found on Lantau – we are blessed with the most amazing biodiversity here on our island.”

“The work highlights 109 of Hong Kong’s 390 native tree species, with watercolour illustrations,” Sally adds. “We have focused on those trees that we believe are worth celebrating in their own right, partly because they tell us something about the natural and human history of Hong Kong.”

An accomplished artist (a fellow of the UK’s Society of Botanical Artists) – and a patient one – Sally describes the creative process as both laborious and hugely satisfying. After locating a tree she wanted to draw, she had to return to it at least three times to record its growth cycle. “I did the drawings then and there,” she says. “And I also had a special permit to take samples to work from at home.

“People say that I could just have taken a photograph.” says Sally. “But a photograph, however close-up, cannot convey all the details nor
the essence of a plant. A botanical painting shows the details of its growth, its flowers, its fruit, its structure, everything about it. A photograph just gives a shot of that plant frozen at one given time. Moreover, botanical illustration is an art form which can show many structures with a depth which cannot be captured in a mere photo. On the one hand it’s a work of art, but it also highlights the scientific information.”

Sally has put a lot into Lantau life, since she and her husband Bob bought a weekend cottage in Shui Hau in the mid-80s. Right from the start, she became involved in ‘green’ issues, helping protect and monitor feral cows in the wetlands.

The couple moved full time to Mui Wo in 1996, and Sally set up and ran (as Principal) South Lantau’s first international kindergarten – Leafy (now part of Lick Hang Kindergarten). She decided to retire and take up botanical painting full time when she hit 60, 10 years ago. Nowadays, in addition to her painting projects, Sally is the founder of SLUGS – the South Lantau United Gardeners, and she is helping WWF-HK restore the gardens at Island House Conservation Studies Centre in Tai Po.

A Portrait of the Trees of Hong Kong and Southern China, published by Earnshaw Books, is available at major bookstores, including Bookazine, and on Amazon from May. You can also pick up your copy at VIBE in Mui Wo, where Sally plans to host a series of talks and book signings. For more on Sally, visit www.leafy.hk


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