by Claire Masset, garden writer
Any feminist worth her salt will tell you that, until recently, women have rarely received the attention they deserve in the history books. This was especially the case with gardening, an area often regarded as an all-male domain. Catherine Horwood's Gardening Women is the latest offering in a short string of recent women-focused garden history books. Wide-ranging and meticulously researched, it delivers far more than its title suggests. Not just a simple history of 'female gardening folk', it sheds light on the many pioneering women who have made their mark on botany and plant research, garden design and landscape architecture, garden writing and education, and the floral arts. Spanning four centuries, it is particularly strong in describing the lives and contributions of 19th- and 20th-century women, exploring the 'how' and also the 'why' of each of their stories. Some of these gardening greats you will certainly know, such as Gertrude Jekyll, Penelope Hobhouse and Carol Klein. Others, though lesser known, are equally deserving of fame and equally formidable.
Did you know, for instance, that it was thanks to the studies of insect-mad Eleanor Ormerod (1828-1901) that the RHS was able to establish a number of the causes of insect damage to plants? Or, that by donating species to Charles Darwin, horticulturist and plant collector Lady Dorothy Nevill (1826-1914) was an essential help to his studies? Many more fascinating tales are retold in this eye-opening survey.