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Who were David Austin's favourite women?

The recent death of one of the world's greatest rosarians, David Austin, has made many people think about which is their favourite David Austin rose. Because if you have roses in your garden, the likelihood is that at least one of them is an Austin rose. He changed rose breeding forever always looking for the very best qualities of 'old' and 'new' roses. And it's no surprise that two favourites were named for two female gardeners who were great rose lovers themselves - Gertrude Jekyll and Constance Spry.

Rosa 'Constance Spry' was the first rose that Austin launched commercially in 1961. It was a fitting name to choose. In the interwar years, Spry had rescued many 'old' roses from extinction as the modern Hybrid Teas and Floribundas became so popular. Austin was always searching for the Holy Grail of rose breeding: an 'old' rose look with the long flowering season and disease resistance of modern roses - and, of course, a heavenly scent! With this rose, he was nearly there except it flowers just once - but oh, when it does, it's magnificent!

5 Constance Spry (Ausfirst) A - Copy

5 Constance Spry (Ausfirst) C

It wasn't long before Austin launched other roses that met his criteria, many of them named after Shakespearean women and quite a few gardeners as well. One of his most popular is Rosa 'Gertrude Jekyll' (below)  It has deservedly been loaded with awards. He called this new family of roses 'English' roses to distinguish them from other Modern Shrub roses but they are still widely known as David Austin roses. 

3_Rosa 'Gertrude Jekyll'_15A3985

5_Rosa 'Gertrude Jekyll'_15A4575_editPhotographs courtesy of David Austin Roses 

No wonder! It ticks all the boxes.

If you're confused about the differences between 'old', 'modern' and English roses, then you'll find it all explained in my latest book, ROSE (Reaktion, 2018).  (Click here for more details.) It's full of many more stories about the history and origins of many of the world's most famous roses including how Cleopatra welcomed Mark Antony in a barge filled with rose petals and why Empress Josephine vowed to collect every known rose and then got her English rose supplier through the French blockades thanks to her sometimes understanding husband, Napoleon. 

Rose_FC_vis (2) copy 2

URGENT THREAT - Demolition of Hextable Heritage Centre where Crowe, Colvin, Perry studied...

This is an urgent request for anyone interested in women's horticultural history. It is easy to register your protest but it must be done by MONDAY 10 SEPTEMBER by 5pm.

The easiest and quickest way to do this is as follows:

  • Please use this link : https://maps.sevenoaks.gov.uk/crowdsource.../index.html... 
  • Close the notice that appears on the screen by pressing the X
  • Then on the right- hand side of the screen scroll down to Site: HO73 - The Parish Complex – this is the Heritage Centre
  • Scroll down the screen and click the small green box with a speech bubble to make your comments.


In brief, Sevenoaks Council is considering a planning application that would include the demolition of the Hextable Heritage Centre in Kent. This is the last remaining building associated with the famous Swanley Horticultural College when some of our greatest women gardeners and landscape architects such as Sylvia Crowe, Brenda Colvin and Frances Perry studied. 


The Heritage Centre is the former Botany Laboratory of Swanley Horticultural College which was founded in Hextable in 1887. This college was the first women’s horticultural education institution in the country and possibly the world. The Heritage Centre building was the educational centrepiece of the Women’s Horticultural College and therefore has vital historical significance. It shows the importance of horticulture in this area and is also a legacy to the famous women who were educated at the college. In 1918 Brenda Colvin CBE, an influential figure in 20th century landscape design, author of many works in the field and an influential force in horticulture, enrolled on the Swanley course. She went on to be the first female president of the Institute of Landscape Architects in 1951. In 1920, Dame Sylvia Crowe DBE, the next outstanding female landscape architect of the 1900s, also began at Swanley and in 1957 she too became president of the same institute. Crowe went on to be a famous voice in the field, publishing an extensive body of written work between 1956 and 1988. Frances Mary Perry MBE VMH, gardening writer and broadcaster, was also a student of the college.

Today the Heritage Centre exhibits original horticultural tools and equipment which have been preserved and there are photos which show students engaged in activities inside the building and surrounding grounds. These photos are informative for those who want to know about the village’s past and the building is an apt public venue for storing them. Beyond this, the building itself offers an even more important legacy, being a real and tangible connection to the history of the village. The Heritage Centre building, which remains relatively unchanged since 1937, enables visitors to be transported to the village’s past, offering an opportunity to gain real insight into the lives of the women students. This is something that photos alone cannot achieve.

Few villages of Hextable’s size are fortunate enough to have a physical link to women’s history. There is a very relevant, important and interesting British Pathé video about the college. This video is titled “Land Students in Training 1939" and is available here: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/land-students-in-training The scene of the women in the Botany Laboratory at the windows shows that this building retains many original features today and demonstrates some of the daily activities of the students. Swanley Horticultural college is referred to in literature across the World. One example https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/669882?seq=1...Manage JSTOR.ORG “A Triumph of Brains over Brute”: Women and Science…

For all these reasons I am strongly opposed to the demolition of such an iconic building and, in particular, the erasure of a significant part of women’s history. In this Centenary year women's history should be recognised and celebrated. This Heritage building represents the only enduring monument to Hextable’s history as a centre of horticultural education and industry, and the people who worked and studied there.

Star Speakers at The Beth Chatto Symposium


The star line-up has been announced for the Beth Chatto Symposium to be held at the University of Essex, 30-31 August 2018, with speakers from across the world, including Marina Christopher, Andi Pettis, Midori Shintani and Åsa Gregers-Warg.

For full details of all the speakers and the programme, visit www.bethchattosymposium.com/


Line-up for Women in Horticulture panel discussion for London Open Squares 7 June

Absolutely delighted to be on this panel of some of the very best 'gardening women' in this country! Come and join us at Coutts in the Strand in aid of Open Garden Squares weekend on Thursday 7 June #womeninhorticulture @OpenSquares including Sarah Eberle, Charlotte Harris, Charlotte Rowe, Juliet Sergeant, Miranda Kimberley and Clare Foggett

Link to Women in Horticulture panel discussion

Last opportunity to see the Gardening Women exhibition at Sissinghurst


Just a reminder that the exhibition is only open until Sunday 21 October so still time to visit. You may have missed the old roses in the gardens but there's still masses to see. I'm off there again this weekend to see the splendid late summer colour.

I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to curate this exhibition at Sissinghurst. It is free to visitors of this world-famous garden and runs from 5 May until 21 October. Highlights include a beautiful suffrage banner embroidered by Gertrude Jekyll and one of Vita Sackville-West's own garden notes which, we believe, has never been publically displayed before. And some marvellous film footage of early women garden students 

Tickets now on Sale for my Garden Museum Lives and Legacies Talk on Beth Chatto with Matthew Wilson and Tim Richardson, Tues 14 November


BC with wild flowers

Beth Chatto has devoted her life to being a pioneer of species plants and ecological planting. Across the world, the idea of 'right plant, right place' can be traced back to her Gold-medal winning stands at Chelsea during the 1970s and '80s, her books, her nursery and, most particularly, her famous damp and dry gardens at Elmstead Market in Essex, created out of farmland from the 1960s. 'Her breathtaking garden ... should be a place of pilgrimage for all of us', believes Fergus Garrett. Fellow Garden Museum Archive donor John Brookes feels 'Beth's plants, her plantings and her writing have captivated not only me but the whole horticultural world.'


Catherine Horwood, Beth Chatto’s authorised biographer, will discuss different aspects of Chatto’s career, including her early influences from Sir Cedric Morris to flower arranging, her Chelsea years, her travels and long-lasting friendships including most famously with Christopher Lloyd, and the worldwide legacy of her gravel garden with its ecological heritage. She, along with Matthew Wilson, writer, horticulturist and designer, who was greatly influenced by Beth Chatto during his time as curator at RHS Hyde Hall in Essex, and Tim Richardson, garden historian and landscape critic, will pull out photographs and other ephemera from her collection which has been donated to the Archive to discuss the enduring legacy of Chatto's work.


For full details, timings and ticket prices, follow this link:


My new favourite website - 'Women Who Farm'


Here is a website and blog that's really fun, beautiful to look at and full of imaginative advice - take a look at www.womenwhofarm.com

This is what they say about themselves:

Strong women of sustainable agriculture.

Imagine an organic farming revolution. One that builds soil rather than depletes it and saves seed rather than destroys it. Right now, millions of women are behind this work. They believe in tomorrow. And their work is changing the world.

Women Who Farm supports and celebrates those who do this necessary work. We bring resources, community, and shared story.


But they do more than that and I look forward to hearing how they plan to fund raise for farming in Syria and other war-torn countries. And it's about gardening as well: here's a link to a recent blog:


All well worth a read. 

Heroines of Horticultural talk on Kensington Rooftop Gardens Sunday 16 July 2017


This looks like a terrific event and a great opportunity to visit the beautiful Roof Gardens in Kensington as well: 

An all-female line-up of names from the forefront of the gardening world will discuss some of the challenges and opportunities for women in the industry. Just how tough is it to be a female Head Gardener of some of the country's most iconic gardens?

The talk will be followed by an open discussion and a chance for audience members to ask questions. Tickets cost £10 for members and £15 for non-members with all ticket proceeds going to The Roof Gardens’ nominated charity, Starlight Children’s Foundation*.

Follow this link to buy tickets for this event on Sunday 16 July 2017 from 9 am to 12 noon.

The panel will be chaired by Clare Foggett, Editor of The English Garden magazine, who will be joined by leading female figures including Andrea Brunsendorf, Beatrice Krehl and Pilar Medrano-Dell.

Andrea (below) was the first female Head Gardener appointed at London's Inner Temple Garden, and knows first-hand what it means to break the mould in a male-dominated industry. She trained in horticulture with a traditional German apprenticeship before working at botanic and ornamental gardens across the world including Kirstenbosch (South Africa), Longwood (USA) and Kew Gardens (UK).

Andrea Brusendorf

Beatrice Krehl (below) was former Head Gardener at Waltham Place and is a self-employed gardening consultant. After working closely with iconic ‘Dutch Wave’ gardener Henk Gerritsen, she also has a long trajectory working in iconic gardens in Germany, Holland and the UK. 

Beatrice Krehl

Pilar Medrano-Dell (below) is The Roof Gardens' very own Head Gardener. Pilar joined the team after holding positions at Wrest Park, Moggerhanger Park, and The Barcelona Botanic Garden. Her passion for sustainability and promoting the gardening industry amongst young people has contributed to various award successes for The Roof Gardens since she joined the team in 2015.

Pilar Medrano-Dell

 *Starlight grants once-in-a-lifetime wishes for seriously and terminally ill children.