Carol Klein

Breaking news - Gardeners' World

The BBC have announced today that Monty Don is to return to presenting the BBC's flagship gardening programme on BBC2, Gardeners' World, after an absence of three years. This means goodbye to Toby Buckland and also, sadly for Gardening Women, goodbye to Alys Fowler.

Rachel de Thame returns to present alongside Monty, Carol Klein and Joe Swift.

The BBC's press release:

Gardening Women Day at Cheltenham

I'm just back from speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival where yesterday was definitely 'Gardening Women' day.

First off was Jekka McVicar, queen of the herb garden. It was Jekka who broke Beth Chatto's record of ten consequtive gold medals at Chelsea before retiring from exhibiting in the main marquee. Instead as well as running her highly successful nursery, she's been writing and the audience pounced on her new cookbook using herbs.

Women growing herbs was one of the questions that came up during my session. This is, of course, one of the oldest forms of gardening that women have been involved. Yet during the eighteenth century, women became increasingly marginalised from herbal medicine as the medical profession became 'institutionlised', excluding female practitioners. Amazingly the growing of herbs fell out of favour until the 1920s and 1930s when one woman revived their popularity. Mrs Hilda Leyel was the public face of herbalism in the interwar years. She was the force behind the Society of Herbalists which started a year after she opened the first Culpeper shop in London.

In my session, there was lots of chat about sex and scandal - not botanical interbreeding but the fascinating lives of two of my 'horticultural women', Lady Anne Monson and Lady Dorothy Nevill. Plenty of lively debate and excellent questions ranging from seventeenth-century nursery-women to Beatrix Havergal who ran the Waterperry School of Horticulture to the trials of being a female head gardener today.

After me, the delicious James Alexander Sinclair interviewed Gardener's World presenter, Carol Klein, in front of a rapt audience. From the time she shared a bath with John Lennon to filming a year at Glebe Cottage, Carol entertained everyone giving encouragement to all to 'get out and propagate'!

Off to Guildford next week for my last 'litfest' of the year. I'll miss them - they are such a great way to met like souls and swap stories about favourite gardening women. Hopefully lots will follow this blog and keep the comments coming.

A favourite gardening book republished


Delighted to report that Four Hedges - A Gardener's Chronicle by Clare Leighton, has been republished by Little Toller Books  (£10) with a new introduction by Carol Klein.

Clare Leighton (1898-1989) studied engraving at the Slade School of Art under Noel Rooke. Four Hedges became a best-seller for Leighton, a highly accomplished wood engraver, when it was first published in 1935.  It charts a year as she transforms a meadow into a garden in the Chilterns and is illustrated by eight-four enchanting woodcuts of fruit, flowers, tools and even a tortoise tucking into a dandelion! There is a leisurely style to her writing that is the perfect antidote to today's frenetic world. Read and relax.

NB: Fans of Vera Brittain's autobiography, Testament of Youth, may remember her devotion to Clare's older brother, Ronald, who was killed in action in 1915.

Review from The English Garden magazine

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.