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


Garden History Symposium

The weekend of March 18 & 19th  I had the very good fortune to attend a University of Pennsylvania School of Design  Department of Landscape Architecture  Symposium on Garden History. The symposium was titled Foreign Trends on American Soil and it was wonderful! There 16 main speakers,  a number of moderators and a welcome  by Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor.  A sampling of papers include the following:  From Capability to Peculiarity: Adapting British Principles to American Practice;

Kubota Gardens and Bloedel Reserves: Two Japanese Gardens, Two Inscriptions; Traveling Landscapes: Richard Neutra as a Landscape Architect; “Tree Foreigners” in Nineteenth-Century America.  Speakers were from all over the U.S and  London, Paris, Italy and   Scotland and each was as interesting as the other. The audience was asked to participate and I tell you it is a thrill to be able to ask some of the best minds in Landscape Architect a question. I loved the informality of the event where there were no nametags, everyone was treated as an individual.

The main reason I went was to hear John Dixon Hunt speak. He is Emeritus Professor at UPenn. He is a prolific writer, I have all his fascinating books. I had the opportunity to speak to him privately during a break and he was very gracious and generous, which I was thrilled about after the fact because I wasn’t so sure what he would be like to speak with. But I told him I used a lot of his ideas in my last paper and he replied that was the whole point, to take ideas and to use them in a new way. A true gentleman and scholar.  I would love to learn more from this man.

The next Garden History Symposium I plan to attend is at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. It is entitled “Landscape and Technology”. I will keep you posted.