A native of Paisley near Glasgow, Macfarlane studied at the Paisley Art School and then made his way to London to seek his fame and fortune. He may initially have been employed in fabric painting, but he soon found his niche, painting fruit for such publications as the Florist and
Pomologist and freelancing paintings for nurserymen like William Ball. Eventually, he began to focus on commisson based projects, finding employmnet from wealthy orchid-growers wishing to record their triumphs of orchid culture. Through this period, he pioneered the style and format which came to be used for record keeping by the Royal Horticultural Society's Orchid Committee.
Macfarlane’s admiration for orchids can be understand by their enduring history. Epiphytic orchids were first were brought to Great Britain in the 1700s from the West Indies and China and by the end of that century 15 species were growing at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Great
Britain. Orchids can impart a wide variety of messages, but historically the meanings of orchids have included wealth, love and beauty. To the ancient Greeks, orchids suggested virility, and after the rise in popularity of orchid collections in Victorian England, the meaning of orchids moved
towards symbols of luxury and refinement. Orchids have also been believed to carry various healing and protective properties, allowing them to ward off disease. The Aztecs were said to drink a mixture of the vanilla orchid and chocolate to give them power and strength, and the
Chinese believe orchids can help cure lung illnesses and coughs. Yet it is their graceful appearance that is no doubt responsible for their fascination among audiences past and present.
Today, the meanings of orchids are generally regarded as symbols of rare and delicate beauty. Indeed, among the many different varietals of flowers, the orchid holds a special place as one of the most alluring and captivating, making them a special symbol of exotic beauty. Their charm and mystique delight those who receive them, for few other flowers have the ability to impress their recipient in the same way that the orchid can. Macfarlane’s intricately drawn watercorlors reflect why flower specialists consider orchids to be the the world's most evolved flowers.