Celebrating Women in Horticulture
When you think of the individuals who shaped the history of plant cultivation and horticulture, the big names are often men: Capability Brown, Christopher Columbus, and, more recently, Geoff Hamilton, to name just a few.
However, there are many famous female horticulturalists who have left their mark on horticultural history too, without whom the soil of our industry would be far, far less rich. As a female-run business here at Plants4Presents, we have such a deep appreciation for the trail blazers before us, and we wanted to introduce you to just a few of our horticultural heroes.
9 women to celebrate in horticulture
We couldn’t talk about women in horticulture without shining the spotlight first on Gertrude Jekyll, one of the most significant female influences in the world of garden design.
Born in 1843, Gertrude chose to partner with English architect Edwin Lutyens to design and create a great number of landscaped gardens. She became particularly well known for her hardy flower borders, and an approach to planting that is described by many as artistic; almost impressionist.
In addition to her undeniable talent, Gertrude dedicated her later life to collecting a variety of plants that helped preserve their species at numerous British institutions. The fourteen books that she wrote have also allowed gardeners around the world to learn from her techniques. The impact she continues to have is not to be underestimated!
Her home at Munstead Wood in Surrey has remained a big part of her legacy and was acquired by the National Trust in 2023 to keep the memory of this extraordinary woman alive and well.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting Sissinghurst Castle, the home of Vita Sackville-West for over 30 years and now a popular National Trust destination, can recognise the passion that she had for gardening. She has become, quite frankly, an icon in the horticultural world.
With no real garden to speak of when Vita and her husband moved in in 1930, Sissinghurst was transformed thanks to Vita’s experimental approach to garden design, which saw her create ‘rooms’ from different sections of the house’s grounds. ‘The White Garden’ is a particular highlight for many visitors and horticulturalists alike, featuring a variety of white, silver, and cream blooms.
Despite having no formal training, this determination to make Sissinghurst beautiful earned her a column in the Observer entitled ‘In Your Garden’, in which she shared what she’d learnt on the job with readers all over the country, no doubt influencing their own gardens too.
‘Right plant, right place’; that was award-winning gardener Beth Chatto’s motto, and it’s one that saw her transform even the most bramble-ridden spaces into thriving gardens throughout her life. Born in 1926, Beth was first introduced to the world of horticulture through floristry, and in 1960 she opened ‘Beth Chatto Gardens’ next to her husband’s family home near Colchester, Essex.
Before Beth, this land was a disused fruit farm, boggy and overrun with weeds, but through sustainable planting suited to varying conditions, she created a captivating garden. This labour of love gave Beth the experience she needed to write books on how to tackle problem areas of your garden, including those with dry or gravelly soil.
It was also on this site that Beth opened a nursery, which, alongside the gardens, is still going strong today, allowing gardeners to find plants well suited to different conditions - even the tricky ones!
For those interested in the magic of growing their own herbs, there is no better teacher than Jekka McVicar, who arrived in Horticulture via an unconventional route; she was first a singer and flautist! Together with her husband, Ian McVicar, she established a herb farm in Alveston, near Bristol, which is still a destination for herb gardeners today.
Jekka is also a prolific writer, sharing her knowledge in a variety of books that cover not only the growth of herbs, but how best to cook with them too.
Originally a doctor, Sarah Raven’s transition to celebrated gardener and cook has seen her publish a range of award-winning books and articles. This is in addition to running gardening and flower arranging courses at her farm in East Sussex, with a growing style that’s been described as ‘enthusiastic and dynamic’.
She’s credited also with keeping the memory of Vita Sackville-West’s horticultural significance alive and kicking, with the enchantment of Sissinghurst immortalised in print in Sarah’s book, ‘Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst – The Creation of a Garden’. Sarah now runs a nursery that sells a range of seeds, seedlings, plants, and gardening equipment.
In the modern era, we can credit television horticulturalists with inspiring the most recent generations of gardeners, and one such female icon is Carol Klein, of Gardeners’ World fame. Her approachable manner and successful BBC career aren’t all there is to her though; Carol has won a whopping 6 gold medals at RHS Chelsea Flower shows, and was, in 2023, named by the RHS as the RHS Iconic Horticultural Hero 2023.
You may recognise Flo from TV gardening shows, but it’s out in the community that she also thrives, after taking up landscape gardening as a second career that soon became her life.
Flo has become a huge advocate for community gardens, encouraging others to experience the joy that experimental gardening can provide, as well as the positive mental health benefits of getting outside and watching something grow.
For Frances, there has never been another path to follow; her bachelor's degree in horticulture with plantsmanship was completed at the Scottish Agricultural College and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. She has since gone on to become a British horticulturist, writer, and television presenter. Frances describes herself as an environmentalist, encouraging healthy debate about the role of conservation within modern gardening.
Women in horticulture into the future
Clare Matterson’s presence as Director General of the Royal Horticultural Society is an indication that the horticultural arena has more and more strong female leaders. Plants4Presents itself is a female-run mother and daughter partnership, and Director Emily is a proud founding member of Women in Horticulture.
We’re delighted to see more interest and more career opportunities for women in and around this brilliant industry and we will continue to help promote and celebrate this through Women in Horticulture.
If you are a woman in horticulture yourself or you’d like to join this positive networking group, then head to the Women in Horticulture website.
There are lots of exciting events and nursery visits planned in 2024 so watch this space for more news as it arrives!