On International Women’s Day this 8 March we are taking the opportunity to celebrate some of influential women who pioneered change and paved the way for future generations of women working in horticulture. We will take a closer look into the work and legacy of these inspirational women and how their work can still be enjoyed today.
The fifth of seven children, Gertrude Jekyll was born in Mayfair in 1843. With a noticeable flair for painting, she studied as an artist in her early years before being drawn into garden design. She was heavily influenced by and involved in, the Arts & Crafts movement and worked closely with acclaimed architect Edwin Lutyens. Gertrude created many stunning landscapes and gardens to accompany Lutyens’ designs and the two became great friends. Gertrude’s flair for painting and skill as an artist can be seen in her garden designs where the arrangement of plants in swaths of colours are a characteristic she is renowned for. As one of the first to consider colour, texture and experience of gardens when designing, Gertrude pioneered a new style of garden design with subtle designs and herbaceous borders designed with colours flowing through in brush-like strokes. Gertrude’s style of garden design remains popular and influential to this day and can be enjoyed in some of her gardens that have been preserved including the Castle Garden on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Gertrude worked prolifically in her lifetime, designing over 400 gardens in Great Britain, Europe and North America and writing over fifteen books before passing away in 1932.
Kitty Lloyd Jones
Kitty was born in South Wales in 1898 where she lived until attending the Channing School in Middlesex in 1910. After leaving school Kitty was determined to feed her love of plants by studying horticulture, initially gaining a diploma in Practical Gardening from the Royal Botanic Society before becoming one of the first women in the country to take a degree in horticulture and graduating from Reading University in 1925. Despite being vastly knowledgeable and well qualified, Kitty was unable to gain an academic post and began work as a private garden tutor. This lead Kitty into garden design where it is not her style for which she is noted but the manner in which she operated. She developed a very personal approach to her work, often being a guest in the homes of clients and working alongside the gardening staff. By working closely with clients Kitty was able to re-design gardens to suit their taste while ensuring suitability of planting schemes for particular areas. This approach to garden design was seen as less radical than some of Kitty’s counterparts who often recommend vast schemes of works to clients. During the 1930’s Kitty worked with Lady Bearsted on the gardens of her home at Upton House in Warwickshire where her influence can still be seen today.
Beth Chatto OBE
Born in 1923 to enthusiastic gardening parents, Beth worked as a teacher in her early life before marrying Andrew Chatto in 1943. The couple shared a passion for plants and gardening and following Andrew’s retirement in 1960 they decided to build a new home and garden on former wasteland. The site was far from ideal for a traditional garden, leading the couple to research different possibilities. From this Beth began to transform the space. Inspired by each area of the garden’s natural characteristics and using plants that had naturally adapted to suit them, an inspirational, informal garden was developed. This ‘right plant, right place’ approach to gardening saw Beth succeed in creating a thriving garden filled with unusual plants that were selected primarily for their suitability. With an ever growing collection of ‘unusual plants’, Beth began showing at RHS shows going on to win 10 consecutive Gold Medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show between 1977 - 1987. Beth was a celebrated plantswoman, author and lecturer with many professional bodies and institutes acknowledging her significant contribution to horticulture including the RHS who named her ‘Iconic Horticultural Hero 2019’. Beth passed away in May 2018 but her wonderful garden remains as a legacy to her passion and is open to the public.
Thanks to these pioneering women, and many others, women are at the forefront of development in the horticultural sector in the UK and the future certainly looks bright for future generations.