Reading Women and Their Gardens: A History from the Elizabethan Era to Today by Catherine Horwood one quickly learns a lot about women gardeners. The title is a little misleading as the book covers only British women and British gardens, however the scholarship is broad, if not deep, although this is often an occupational hazard of academic research on women in any field. Catherine Horwood, an honorary research fellow of The Bedford Centre for the History of Women at Royal Holloway, University of London, has done her research extremely well. She writes about every aspect of the history of women gardeners for which there is information, from little known gardeners during the Elizabethan age up to Beth Chatto. Gardens and women’s history are two favorite categories of mine and I like to think I’ve done some reading and research in the area myself, so it was refreshing and rewarding to read the new discoveries by Horwood in Women and Their Gardens. My favorite chapters were the ones devoted to the horticultural schools for women in the 20th Century, for example Swanley Horticultural College and, especially, Studley Horticultural & Agricultural College for Women and the careers of those pioneering young women graduates. Studley College was founded in 1898 to provide training expressly for women in horticulture, a novel idea at the time. It is probably no coincidence that Adela Pankhurst, a daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the British suffragette movement that helped women win the right to vote, was a student at Studley College. There are a number of parallels between the Women’s Movement and women’s involvement in horticulture. Horwood’s book reminds some of us and teaches others for the first time that women have been in the garden for professional as well as personal reasons for all of history and they were put on the sidelines of garden history only when men decided to professionalize garden design beginning in the 18th Century. Later, in the 20th Century when Landscape Architecture Schools were established and women were denied admission, women were institutionally ostracized from the profession. (I will revisit this topic of the parallels between the women’s movement and garden history again in future posts.)
Happily, as Horwood eloquently informs us, women have been present, active and influential throughout garden history, if perhaps a little quiet about their achievements. No longer, Women and Their Gardens: A History from the Elizabethan Era to Today gives a new voice to these women and their history.
Catherine Horwood, Women And Their Gardens: A History from the Elizabethan Era to Today. Chicago: Ball Publishing, 2012. $20.87