Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

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.