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More RHS Honours for British gardening women

Hip, Hip, Hooray

 The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has announced the recipients of its prestigious awards for outstanding contribution to horticulture. This year there are four recipients for the Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH). This is the highest accolade the Society awards. Only 63 horticulturists hold the VMH at one time, marking the length of Queen Victoria's reign. This year, the awards were given to three men and Viscountess of Merton, Alice Boyd from Cornwall who receives the award for the following citation: 

'As an Honorary Fellow of the RHS Lady Boyd has given exemplary service to the charity for many years. She has served on a number of committees and was on the RHS Council for 10 years. She was also President of the Cornwall Gardens Society between 2007 and 2009.'

"I am delighted to announce the recipients of the Victoria Medal of Honour which was established in 1897 in remembrance of Queen Victoria," says Elizabeth Banks, RHS President. "These are very special people and their contribution to horticulture has been outstanding. Their work has been wide-ranging and impacts on most aspects of gardening and is an inspiration to everyone."

The charity has also announced the Veitch Memorial Awardees This Award is given to those who it is felt have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of the art, science and practice of horticulture. There are five recipients this year. They include Susyn Andrews from Richmond, Surrey. 

Andrews, recently of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is a world-leading horticultural taxonomist and was the co-founder and Chairman of the Horticultural Taxonomy Group. She has published over 150 scientific papers and articles, was the senior editor of Taxonomy of Cultivated Plants (1999), has sat on the ISHS Commission for Nomenclature and Registration, is an Honorary Research Associate at Kew, and currently serves on several scientific and horticultural committees. An enthusiastic gardener, her main interests are temperate and subtropical woody plants and her passion for lavenders stretches back 15 years.

Many congratulations to them both. 



Women and Their Gardens - US Edition

Phew! Gardening Women has crossed the Big Pond safely and become Women and Their Gardens. Not only that, it's being welcomed widely. In fact it's earned a four-gherkin rating ('Good, innit?') on the Anglo Addict blog - thank you so much! Here is a selection of its US reviews:

Women and Their Gardens (Ball Publishing, 9781613743379) was featured on May 2, 2012 in a gardening column in Jackson [MS] Free Press. They call it, “A terrific Mother’s Day gift idea … it’s filled with interesting lore for the 18th-century salons of Mayfair to the women gardeners of World War II.” To read the article: https://www.jacksonfreepress.com/index.php/site/comments/its_not_too_late_to_plant_050212/


Women and Their Gardens  was positively reviewed on TexasGardener.com (vpm n/a). They call it, “a commendable, entertaining work of historical recovery.”


Women and Their Gardens was positively reviewed in the Philadelphia Inquirer (circ. 331,134) on March 30, 2012. To read the review: https://articles.philly.com/2012-03-30/news/31261601_1_gertrude-jekyll-first-gardeners-beth-chatto


Women and Their Gardens was featured with cover image on April 14, 2012 on “The Garden Bench” (blog). The blogger writes, “Focusing on the fact of history that women have often been excluded from the serious study of plants, Horwood brings these women into their rightful place in the horticultural spotlight. At more than 400 pages, there is much to be discovered about these pioneering women.” To read the article:https://thegardenbench.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/mulching-trees-and-a-stack-of-new-books/


Women and Their Gardens  was positively reviewed with cover image on April 11, 2012 on the blog Anglo Addict. They call it, “[a] lovely book … it is fascinating (and sometimes maddening) to read of how many women became involved in gardening, whether it was through being banished to the country by harsh spouses, needing to earn an income, or, occasionally, because they had the time and means to indulge their passions.” To read the review: https://www.angloaddict.com/2012/04/women-plowing-through-history.html


Women and Their Gardens  was positively reviewed with cover image on April 6, 2012 on the blog All the Dirt on Gardening. They say, “Pick it up for a friend or yourself – many hours of interesting tidbits and stories to read in it.” To read the review: https://allthedirtongardening.blogspot.com/2012/04/women-and-their-gardens-by-catherine.html



Lutyens' Suffolk niece - Lady Margaret Loch

Recently I was asked by someone who lives near me in Suffolk if I had heard of a 'gardening woman' called Margaret Loch- I hadn't but I am intrigued and would love to know more especially about her involvement with camellias and Kew.

Margaret Loch

Here's what I have been told about this very grand lady:

"She was a niece of [Edwin] Lutyens and he laid out the walled garden at Stoke College [Stoke-by-Clare, Suffolk] for her. She was also on the board at Kew for a time  and one of her gardeners from Stoke, William Bly, became head gardener at Kew for a while. I worked in the garden for a while ( 3 months) back in 1995 for the school but since I was the only gardener in a garden that used to have 5 or 6 gardeners and anyway spent most of the time cutting grass , I left. The walled garden with several varieties of espalliered fruit trees and vegetable beds was in a poor state and the remains of a knot garden that she designed was on its last legs. The topiary in it was in the shape of mice - her nickname was "Mouse" apparently. Other parts
of the garden had given way to grass and wilderness.

'The College has in its possession a couple of her note books which they let me look at while I was there. She was something of a pioneer I gather and started a collection of trees in the front of the house running down to the river. There was a greenhouse with a large vine growing in it and another smaller one with a huge Camellia in it while I was there. I don't know if they survive. It was sad to have to leave
such a beautiful place..."

We wonder if this Camellia Lady Loch was named after her? https://www.hortic.com/ics/product/18067/1 Do let me know if you have any more information on her.

Pearl Sulman - an appreciation

Pearl Sulman photo
I was so sorry to hear of the death of Pearl Sulman two weeks ago. 

Pearl was best known for her miniature Pelargoniums which she showed across the country winning an astounding fifty-two RHS Gold Medals including seven awarded at the Chelsea Flower Show and the society’s Anthony Huxley Trophy for their pelargoniums at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in 2009. During the summer months Pearl and Brian spent all their time travelling across the country exhibiting at Flower Shows including Malvern, Harrogate, Gardeners World Live and of course Chelsea.
Pearl was born into the Woollard family of Mildenhall, Suffolk, and her father Arthur was a well known and respected Nurseryman. Pearl and her husband Brian were later to take on his business.

Speaking to the Cambridge News, Brian Sulman said, 'We were both involved in horticulture all our working lives and even previous to that because Pearl was born and brought up on her father’s nursery, so we both have had a constant love of gardening and horticulture.'

'I think it was the love of beautiful flowers and the fact that when you sow seeds or take cuttings, you never know whether they are going to grow or not, and the joy you get when they do get to flower.'

At their peak, the couple, from Mildenhall, did about 30 shows a year. They did their last in 2010 before selling the last of their stock last July.

Mr Sulman said his wife was special and had been well-known in Mildenhall. The support from across the community had been fantastic, he said.

Cards and telephone calls have also been pouring in from fellow flower show exhibitors.

He added: “I think she had many, many friends.”

New Gardening History MA launched

Hooray! All is not lost in the UK for anyone wanting to study Garden History academically despite the closure of excellent courses such as that at Birkbeck, University of London. Now the University of Buckingham is launching an MA in Garden History:

Link to the University of Buckingham MA in Garden History

It's to be based in London and the course director is Professor Timothy Mowl. He is best known for his work on William Kent and male professional landscape gardeners (see his book, Gentleman & Players: Gardeners of the English Landscape). The course will feature guest lecturers who next year will include Sir Roy Strong and Anna Pavord.

Are you a Scottish Gardening Woman?

I'm delighted to introduce my first guest blogger, Deborah Reid, who I've invited to tell us about her research journey looking for ... 

‘The Lady Gardeners of Edinburgh’

Raising seedlings in the glasshouses

Do you remember the Edinburgh School of Gardening for Women at Corstorphine?  Was your grandmother, friend or relation one of the first women in Scotland to train to be a professional gardener? If so I would very much like to hear from you.

The Edinburgh School of Gardening was initially set up at Inveresk but moved to larger grounds on the west side of Kaimes Road adjoining Corstorphine Hill Farm and north of Old Kirk Road in 1903.  The school was the brainchild of Annie Morison and Lina Barker, both of whom made history by being among the first women to be employed as ‘practitioner’ gardeners at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1897.  Lady Aberdeen, who had the pleasure of officially opening the school, expressed her gratitude to Miss Morison and Miss Barker for drawing the attention of the people of Scotland to this opening for women workers, despite the objections they had received from many who believed that women should not undertake gardening, and could not dig any more than they could hit nails on the head! 

  Lady gardeners ploughing

The objectives of the gardening school were to prepare women for the various branches of practical professional gardening, to fit them for managing a market garden, or for taking charge of private gardens, and to give instruction to those who wished to devote themselves to gardening as a private interest.  Part of the garden was given over to growing for market, and students were taught how to work a market garden through all its stages, from the preparation of the ground and sowing the seeds to packing the produce for market.  There was also a vinery, peach-house, mushroom-house, rose garden, herbaceous border and kitchen garden.  The practical instruction included all details of actual work, such as hoeing, digging, care of glass-houses, propagation of plants, planting out, thinning, potting and pruning.  Demonstrations were also given in practical bee-keeping and floral decoration.

The lady gardeners also attended evening classes in botany, horticulture and agricultural chemistry at Heriot-Watt College and later at the Edinburgh and East of Scotland Agricultural College.  The full curriculum extended over two years.

  At work on the fruit garden

Among its graduates in 1912 was Madge Elder, later known for her writings on the Border country, who took up gardening positions at the Priory in Melrose and on the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate at Bowhill.

 In order to highlight this important part of Scotland’s horticultural heritage as part of a PhD thesis, I am looking for any material that you may have in photograph albums, family correspondence or personal reminiscences of life at the Edinburgh School of Gardening for Women.  Please contact Deborah Reid on 0131 667 3362 or by email at deborah.reid@blueyonder.co.uk.


Brenda Colvin: vanishing landscapes rediscovered

The invisibility of women in professional horticulture during the mid-twentieth century is something I bang on about in Gardening Women. It was so hard to make a living let alone a mark at all levels so when I found women who had, at the highest level, I've been delighted to trumpet their achievements.

One such woman is Brenda Colvin who, having trained with her friend Sylvia Crowe, became one of Britain's top landscape designers. Crowe and Colvin are often lumped together - they trained together and then shared an office together but were never actual partners. So I'm thrilled that a sumptuous new book has been published written by Trish Gibson which amounts to a detailed examination of Colvin's work and her contribution to twentieth century landscape design.

Brenda Colvin: A Career in Landscape (Frances Lincoln, 2011)

Brenda Colvin and Sylvia Crowe met each other at Swanley just after the First World War. While Crowe worked as a garden designer for a nursery in Barnet until the Second World War, the more wide-reaching scope of landscape architecture immediately attracted Colvin, and she started her own practice in 1922. They both not only achieved enormous success in their careers but became hugely influential among the profession, ignoring any barriers and letting their work speak for itself.

Brenda Colvin went to Swanley in 1919 after a peripatetic education in India, England, and in France where she had taken art classes. Her first horticultural interest was in growing fruit, but once at Swanley she became intrigued by Madeline Agar’s classes in garden design. Here, she realised, was the opportunity to bring together her taste for design and the outdoor life and in her second year, she switched courses and became absorbed and stimulated by Agar’s ideas.

Agar, who was a pioneer of landscape design and had had to go to America to study it, was by now busy with her own practice, and an inexperienced student not much older than her classmates replaced Agar at Swanley, much to the horror of Colvin and her fellow pupils. ‘The last straw for our small group of garden design students came when our youthful tutor produced, instead of dumpy level and instruction on triangulation, a bowl of water and some Plasticine and set us to kindergarten exercises in model making.’ The students, led by Colvin, rebelled and took private tuition from Miss Agar.

Soon afterwards Colvin joined Miss Agar as a clerk of works and site assistant on the war memorial garden at Wimbledon, and before long Brenda was being offered small freelance jobs for friends and relatives, and found that a ‘small but satisfying livelihood was available’ despite the very low fees.   After two years learning at Miss Agar’s side, Colvin left to establish her own practice. It eventually thrived, though she was the first to admit that the early 1930s were difficult, and by 1939 she had advised on some three hundred gardens, including some in America.

One of Colvin’s largest projects was an addition to the Archduke Charles Albert Habsburg’s garden at Zywiec in Poland in the late 1930s. In a marvellously sweeping statement in 1979 she explained how the fate of this garden pushed her towards designing open spaces for public and industrial organisations.  ‘[I] have heard…the place was over-run by German troops and later became a Russian barrack, so regard it as typical of what happens to private garden work.’ Hardly the fate of the average suburban garden, but enough to make Colvin feel that public garden work had a ‘greater hope of survival’.  Her move into the public sector after the Second World War is rightly lauded, and she remained adamant that the work of the landscape designer is often lost through changes of ownership or just by pure neglect.

Gibson is to be congratulated on her thorough look at Colvin's work and anyone seriously interested in the development of British municiple landscape design will want to explore this book. Gibson appeared earlier in the year on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour talking about Colvin which can be accessed through this link.


Can't see the garden for the flowers? Read on...

Victoria Summerley is opening her gorgeous exotic garden tomorrow (August 28) in London for the National Gardens Scheme as she has done for several years. Anyone who opens knows what a strain it is to keep the standards up every year. Sometimes the gardener is so close to the plants, it's hard to see what other people see and spot the problem patches.

But this year Victoria has taken a tip she read in Gardening Women for how to find those problems areas that you just can't see but other people can. Read how she did it at https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/house-and-home/gardening/picture-perfect-try-picking-up-a-camera-to-find-the-weak-spots-in-your-garden-2343062.html

Crocus sale has Californian connection

Last Saturday I went to the Crocus Chelsea sell-off sale at their nursery in Windlesham, Surrey - a terrific opportunity to buy up the surplus plants that they'd grown for Best in Show Cleve West's and Gold Medal winner Luciano Giubbilei's show gardens. Crocus, one of the country's leading mail order nurseries, grow superb plants even when they're not doing Chelsea so the car came back full.

In my excitement I picked up three unlabelled plants, two of which were easy to find on Crocus's excellent website because I knew roughly what they were. The third was more of a mystery. But not for long - turns out it is Mathiasella bupleuroides 'Green Dream'. I fell for the beautiful pink stems and grey-green foliage.

Thanks to www.crocus.co.uk for the photograph

According to Crocus, it was discovered in Mexico by Californian botanist Mildred Mathias after whom it was named. I love knowing things like that about a plant I've bought. It's like knowing about the artist of a painting you own - it brings it to life. I hadn't heard of Mathias but now I've done some homework, I'm in awe - what an amazing woman. The botanical garden at UCLA, Los Angeles, is named after her quite rightly as she was Director here for many years of her life.  Above all, she sounds fun and adventurous at a time when women were expected to stay at home.


Born in 1902, Mathias devoted her life to botanical studies, travelled to Amazonian Peru and Ecuador, Tanganyika, and Zanzibar, Costa Rica and, of course, Mexico, as well as bringing up a family of four children. Her biography leaves one breathless.

"During the summer of 1929, Mildred, in her Model T Ford, which she could repair herself, and with two female companions, traveled across the western United States to visit numerous populations and type localities of Umbelliferae... Her expertise on umbellifers earned her early international recognition in taxonomy, and in 1964 she was elected as the first woman president of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists... In 1956, Mildred Mathias was appointed director of the Botanical Garden at UCLA, and served as such until retirement in 1974, providing tireless service to horticultural organizations in California and around the world, as well as generating a huge following of landscapers and amateur gardeners plus admiration from public and private gardens throughout the world."

I haven't space to list all her achievements let alone all the countries she visited plant collecting but you can read the full biography of Mildred Mathias on the Botanical Garden's website. In the meantime, I'm off to plant my beautiful Mathiasella to give my garden some Chelsea style.