Rosemary Verey

First Ladies of Gardening

I envy Heidi Howcroft. And then again, I don't. When I wrote Gardening Women. Their Stories from 1600 to the Present, I mentioned over 200 women who over the centuries contributed to our marvellously rich horticultural heritage - and I still got accused of leaving people out! So the task facing Howcroft in choosing her 'fourteen most significant women gardeners of the last 60 years' must have been daunting. So it's my turn now to say for starters - no Penelope Hobhouse? No Nancy Lancaster? 

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Her brief was clear however. There had to be a garden to photograph - Penelope Hobhouse has been on the move in recent years, Lancaster's work no longer on view. So Sissinghurst, East Lambrook Manor and Waterperry make the cut even though Vita Sackville-West, Margery Fish and Beatrix Havergal are long gone. Beth Chatto, now 91 years old, has pride of place as do the three generations of Kiftsgate women carried on by Anne Chambers. Rosemary Wallinger's work at Upton Grey Manor is the perfect choice to focus on Gertrude Jekyll.

There is no question that Mary Keen and Helen Dillon deserve their places among this selection of 'pioneers, designers and dreamers'. I love both their gardens, one in deepest Gloucestershire, one in suburban Dublin. Like Beth Chatto, these are women who are 'green' to their fingertips, don't care for flower fashions but love to experiment and above all grow what they want. Note the brilliant dustbin plant pots in Dublin (below). © Marianne Majerus

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But for me, the envy comes because Howcroft has been able to give space to some gardeners who don't have famous names but are so deserving of their place as 'first ladies'. I've never visited Rachel James's garden at Eastington Farm on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset but I want to now. Sadly it is not listed at the back as opening to the public.

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Finally, such a worthy entry for Sue Whittington's beautiful garden in the heights of Highgate, north London (above) © Marianne Majerus. Over thirty years ago, it was Sue's garden that inspired me to hope that one day I have a garden worthy of opening for the National Gardens Scheme. I used to queue at opening time for a chance to buy from her memorable plant stall, all hand-raised, unusual and rare. Sue is still a stalwart of the London NGS and Marianne Majerus's mouthwatering photographs made me itch to be back there again on her open days

Howcroft and Majerus's book (for it is a good balance of words and pictures) is a welcome addition to the lexicon of works on women gardeners. 

First Ladies of Gardening by Heidi Howcroft. Photographs by Marianne Majerus (published by Frances Lincoln, March 5, HB £20)


Lily-sniffing parties in Suffolk

Not far from where I garden in Suffolk is the exquisite village of Boxford full of the honey-coloured wood-framed houses that the county is so famed for. One has just come on the market but for those in the know, it isn't the house that's the big draw but the garden. For this was the home of Jenny Robinson, veteran plantswoman, who died aged 94 years old last August.

I never met Jenny but her reputation as a great 'Gardening Woman' lives on. So I'm delighted to reproduce (with their permission) short memories of Jenny from the latest edition of the Plant Heritage Suffolk Group Journal (Spring 2011).

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[Jenny Robinson] persuaded many of us to join Plant Heritage (then the NCCPG) having been a founder and President of the Suffolk Group and was unstinting in her gifts of plants to be sold for the cause. For many years, Jenny kept the National Collection of Muscari in her garden and had one named Muscari 'Jenny Robinson' which she discovered in Cyprus. Two other plants from her garden she gave to us for distributing amonst members, Narcissus 'Osborne's Grey' and Narcissus 'Jenny's Little Sister'.

Her garden was a triumph and was still being opened to the public right up to the spring before her death in August [2010], four days before her 94th birthday.

MAGGIE THORPE

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Jenny's garden at Chequers, Boxford, [was] featured in Alvide Lees-Milne and Rosemary Verey's book, An Englishwoman's Garden, published in 1980.

Lilies were among her plant passions, and she was a member of the RHS Lily Committee, then the Lily Group Committee from 1976-89. Many friends will remember being summoned to her 'Lily-sniffing Parties', held at short notice on the summer evening when she judged the lilies in her garden to be at their best.

WIDGET FINN

 

If you'd like to find out more about Plant Heritage or the local Plant Heritage group in Suffolk, please click on the links. They will be running the bi-annual Plant Fair at Helmingham Hall in Suffolk on Sunday 29 May which attracts dozens of specialist nurseries to the grounds of the famous gardens created by Xa Tollemache at Helmingham.