Biography of Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey 1930 – 2005

Founder of IAPI, Botanical Illustrator and Teacher 

Michael retired in 1982 after a career in teaching. He soon found a new niche lecturing at first on wild flowers and later on Botanical Illustration, eventually introducing a Certificated Course at Cheltenham. He founded the Gloucestershire Society of Botanical Illustrators and the Institute for Analytical Plant IllustrationTM. Sadly Michael died very soon after founding the Institute, health problems prevented him attending the early meetings but he was still able to give valuable advice and suggestions for study right up until his death. In his last years he had been working on an M. Phil. thesis on ‘Habitat Creation in Botanical Gardens’. Reading University granted him the award posthumously in 2006.

Michael maintained that he had been a failure at school, though to those who knew him in later life this seems difficult to believe. Interrupted by the war and bad health, he spent much of his school days either in the cellars during bombing raids or in the sanatorium. The Biology master, however became his role model introducing the boys to their natural surroundings and, in particular, to British butterflies. Michael was particularly envious of his collection of Observers books.

After leaving school at the age of sixteen Michael worked at Plumpton Agricultural College, while studying Agricultural College, while studying “A” level Biology and Art at Brighton Night school. From Plumpton he went to Cambridge University Garden where he relished the life: the gardens, the lectures, the plant naming tests at which he excelled and cycling through Cambridge while chanting plant names. It was here that he began collecting books which he found on market stalls. Still dogged by hay fever and bad health, he was refused a post Pyrethrum growing in Kenya.

A friend suggested he tried teaching. Taking large classes at Freddie Bird’s Secondary Modern in Coventry Michael discovered he had an aptitude for teaching and sympathy with children with problems. He realised children became so much more inspired when introduced to practical activities such as taking cuttings and growing cacti. He decided to train and gained a place at St Paul’s Teacher Training College in Cheltenham. His final thesis from Cheltenham concerned the distribution of orchids on Leckhampton Hill for which he included drawings.

He returned to Coventry as a qualified teacher but soon gained the post of Head of Rural Science in a brand new school in Durrington in Wiltshire. He was able to lay out the school gardens from scratch, including an herbaceous border, a rock garden, green houses and a kitchen garden. He started the annual Durrington Flower Show in the school hall, encouraging not only the pupils, but also the parents to take part and contributed to the Nuffield Science Project. Ten years later he obtained a similar post at the new purpose-built Brockworth Comprehensive School near Gloucester. It was while laying out the new school gardens here that he began developing his interest in plant taxonomy and began drawing in earnest with the view to publishing.

In collaboration with co-writer and researcher, Clive King, Cambridge University Press published his first book ‘A 100 Plant Families’. Two more books followed over the years, “Common Families of Flowering Plants” and “The Cambridge Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms”. Michael also contributed drawings for other publications as well as articles for magazines and a number of educational pamphlets including the invaluable “Drawing Plants in Pen and Ink”. At least two of the texts to which Michael contributed his accurate botanical illustrations are valued in University botanical departments.

Michael’s enthusiastic approach and inspirational teaching will be long remembered and his influence much appreciated.