Artists’ Gardens


I’m researching a new project. The  general subject is gardens, of course, but the specifics are amorphous and swirling in my mind trying to identify themselves. Still, until they do, I am researching gardens. This has lead me further a field than the internet,  and back to the library. I am always happy to be reminded of what a wonderful resource a library is. I am particularly lucky to live in the Boston metropolitan area where I have access to not just the connected suburban library system, but the world renowned Boston Public Library and a number of university libraries.

Today I spent part of a rainy Sunday afternoon reading Bill Laws’ Artists’ Gardens (Trafalgar Square Publishing 1999).  The book  features the gardens of 20 artists. Most of the artists in the book may be familiar to readers’ of ofgardens : there is Renoir, and Monet, of course, and Gertrude Jekyll and William Morris, Paul Cezanne and Frida Kahlo. More men than women, sadly predictable, but also slightly incorrectly because the gardens of these artists were mostly designed and kept by the wives of the artists. By the act of painting the gardens, the ownership of the garden reverted to the artist and his wife, the true gardener, became, once again, anonymous.

There are some bright exceptions in the book. Isamu Noguchi’s garden is all his, although there isn’t any plant life in the garden. The plot twist, for me, is that the women artists featured:  Kim Ondaatje, Frida Kahlo, Gertrude Jekyll, Barbara Hepworth and Jennifer Bartlett  are both the artist and the gardener. As in gardens as in life. Women do it all.


Gardens of Marrakesh

Photo: Alessio Mei
Photo: Alessio Mei

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Marrakesh, I have just read Gardens of Marrakesh by Angelica Gray. I’m glad I did. Until  reading Gardens of Marrakesh, I thought the only garden worth visiting in Marrakesh was  Le Jardin Marjorelle. It turns out that there are, according to  Gray, at least 20 gardens of note to visit. I know I will visit Le Jardin Marjorelle, after all it has been on my gardens to visit wish list for many years. But now, thanks to Angelica, I know to visit 19 other gardens. I don’t think I will get to them all, but I will certainly try. If you’re planning a visit to Marrakesh and are interested in Moroccan gardens, do read Gardens of Marrakesh. The photos by Alessio Mei are transportive.  As  author, Gray does a decent job of organizing the gardens one by one and describing their strengths and weaknesses. She clearly loves Marrakesh and her enthusiasm is evident in her garden descriptions. Most importantly, she has gathered  gardens worth visiting in one volume, which makes it very useful to the traveling garden visitor.

Has any one been to Marrakesh and visited gardens? Has anyone read Gray’s book? How do your experiences measure up to the written description of Marrakeshi gardens? I’d like to know.


Women And Their Gardens

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.

Front Cover Women And Their Gardens

Catherine Horwood, Women And Their Gardens: A History from the Elizabethan Era to Today. Chicago: Ball Publishing, 2012. $20.87