RUTH Kirkby, a self-taught artist from Presteigne has won a gold medal at the Royal Horticultural Society's Shades of Autumn show.

Ruth, who has, she says, lived her life slightly back to front, was initially a potter before turning to teaching modern languages for 13 years at John Beddoes High School. On retiring, she wondered what to do next and realised that a return to something creative was the answer.

"I had also been seriously ill," she explains, "and the illustrating took me out of myself. Getting involved in the construction of plants and flowers, getting the detail down, was a form of meditation for me, and helped me get through my recovery.".

Fellow Presteigne artist and great friend Rhoda Partridge encouraged Ruth to join her at botanical illustration classes with Moya Davern, the only training Ruth has had. Moya and Rhoda both urged her to enter the RHS competitions and three years ago she took her first medal, a silver at Malvern, followed by another silver in London last year, and the gold this year for her series of illustrations of Siberian iris (iris sibirica). "I have to have something to inspire me, and that's what I loved about the Siberian iris that I discovered at Bryan's Ground in Presteigne and Aulden Farm near Leominster (where one of the national collections of Siberian iris is held) - I could have painted them forever."

The judging panel, says Ruth, is rigorous, made up of botanical artists and botanists, who scrutinise the work for accuracy. “I was absolutely delighted and amazed to win a gold medal, because when you are painting in your studio you know it’s accurate, but you have no idea whether the composition as a whole will be appreciated."

Ruth doesn't restrict herself to flowers either. "I paint all sorts of living forms, anything that grows. I find them just fascinating, the shapes and forms, the way flowers are made. I'm hooked on the detail."

Ruth’s paintings will be in the Small Picture Show at Discoed church from tomorrow until Monday, and can also be seen at the Wine Bar in Presteigne until the end of December.