Women Gardeners Study Day c1500-2000

I was delighted to be invited to a study day, part of the National Trust’s Women and Power programme for 2018 at St Peter’s College Oxford. ‘Women and Power’ celebrates and marks the 100 years of the Women’s suffrage movement. Together with the many challenges women faced entering the horticultural world at the start of the 20th century, Horticultural colleges were just emerging and opening up a career path for women.

The study day stemmed from two recent exhibitions at National Trust properties, maybe you were lucky enough to see them. Dr Catherine Horwood’s Gardening Women at Sissinghurst and Dr Alice Strickland’s The Triumph of Hope at Nymans.

Dr Horwood opened the proceedings with an outline of her exhibition and set the tone for the day. Her research involved delving into many horticultural and historical archives and reference libraries. Women wanted the vote and many marched across the country, some of them drawn from the new women only horticultural colleges. These colleges included Swanley, Studley and Bath. Gertrude Jekyll designed a banner for the women of Godalming to march with. Vita Sackville-West refers to her WW1 landgirls in her writings and quite possibly they were involved in the campaigns.

We then heard from many fascinating papers covering many lady gardeners and artists from mid-19thC to present day. It is hard for me to outline all in detail but here are some highlights from some of the speakers.

Dr Alice Strickland, Nymans Garden Historian; Three women gardeners who created and inspired the gardens at Nymans, owned by the Messel family.

Prof Clare Willsdon, University of Glasgow; spoke about Beatrice Whistler, visionary artist, garden designer, rose grower and inspiration of Jekyll.

Pippa Shirley, Head of Collections, Waddesdon Manor; Paper – Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922), a passionate and leading horticulturalist who extended and enhanced Waddesdon and Eythrope.

Dr Leonie Mhari & Elinor Scarth, recent graduates from Edinburgh University and College of Art: Paper – Three Women plant collectors and their methods from 1700-1975. The work of Mary Delany, Olive Pink and Anna Atkins contributed to botanical illustration relying on very distinct methods of documenting botany, from photography to embroidery. Over 3 centuries, their work contributed extensively to botanical illustration and capturing plant life for the future.

Claire de Carle MA, garden historian; Paper on Maud Grieve, plantswoman, herbalist and writer. Maud developed Whins Herb Farm and Training School in Chalfont St Peter. Training women and soldiers in herb growing and drying. During WW1 she grew herbs for the war effort. Founder member of the National Herb Growing Association.

Dr Deborah Reid, University of Edinburgh; Paper on two aspiring female gardeners, Annie Morison and Lina Barker who became the first two women at the Royal Botanic Garden in

Edinburgh but following prejudice and unfair treatment, went on to found the Edinburgh School of Gardening for Women in 1902., one of a kind in Scotland.

Florence Pinard-Nelson, History PhD, landscape historian; A paper on North London Collegiate School for Girls, a case study of educating urban school girls in garden related activities and encouraging women’s interest in horticulture and botany.

If you are interested in reading the full programme, please ask the office for my contact details.

Vanessa Easlea


A visit to Megginch Castle’s Scottish Heritage Apple & Pear collection.

The last Scottish event of the year was a visit to the national collection of Cider apples, & Scottish Heritage apples & pears at Megginch Castle, Fife, which are being lovingly accumulated by the current owner, Catherine Drummond-Herdman. Having researched her long family tradition of fruit growing and breeding, Catherine is keen to keep this alive.

A large group of us were warmly welcomed by Catherine, & after refreshments and a quick tour of the house, Catherine took everyone through the formal garden in front of the house (a replanting project for next year), across the lovely old courtyard and into the large double walled kitchen garden which houses the Cider apples collection, grown as cordons. Most of these are three years old and have been allowed to fruit for the first time this year. There is more top fruit along the walls and in one half of this area Catherine has begun experimenting with growing tea. She has started with two varieties, from Sri Lanka and Nepal, which have been grown from seed. Many of the young plants didn’t survive the arctic conditions of last winter, despite being mulched with sheeps’ fleeces, but a good number did and are now healthy young bushes. Catherine is still working out the best way to grow them in Scotland.

The group then moved into the extensive orchard to see the apples and pears, some of which are unique to Megginch and others, like the Bloody Ploughman, were bred there. Catherine was happy for us all to sample any of the fruit and take some home. Many took the “Grenadier” which she recommended as a wonderful baking apple. Catherine will be grafting more trees to add to the collections next February and has agreed to offer a Practical Skills Day for a small group of Scottish members.