Frances Perry

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 : 
  • 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: 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 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.

Time to vote on RHS Council's 'storm in ladies' teacups'

The excitement of Chelsea has finished for another year but the post mortems will carry on for a while. The gardening twitterati are still talking about the fact that all the garden judges were men. If you're a member of the RHS, it's time to vote for the Council members. If you're like me, you've probably not bothered to vote in the past, flicking quickly passed the AGM notice in The Garden.

But this year, please don't throw it in the bin. It's been a long, hard fight to get women on to the RHS Council as the following story about Frances Perry's election from Gardening Women illustrates.

"By the late 1960s, despite the fact that women were now being awarded many of the prestigious RHS medals, there was still no female representation on the society’s council. At the Annual General Meeting of the RHS in 1967 a question was raised as to why this was so. Because, came the answer, there had never been ladies on the council and there were none ‘at present’ who had ‘as useful experience as the men available’. Within days. Enid Bagnold, the writer famous for National Velvet and The Chalk Garden had a letter published in The Times quoting this and suggesting that Gertrude Jekyll must be rolling in her grave...

"Lord Aberconway, then president of the RHS and scion of Bodnant, retorted that this was a ‘little storm in ladies’ teacups’ and that he had been misquoted. ‘We have nothing against the ladies,’ he blustered. ‘As soon as a lady comes to our minds or is suggested informally . . . who can contribute in our view as much as to our multifarious activities as any man available, we shall support her appointment.’ A year later a suitable candidate was elected unopposed: Mrs Frances Perry. When asked to join the council, Perry famously replied: ‘If you want me because I’m a woman, the answer is no, but if you want me because of anything I have done in horticulture, the answer is yes.’

"... the president was at pains to point out, Perry arrived as no token woman. ‘I must emphasize that she was nominated by Council not because she was a women, but because she was, in the unanimous view
of us all . . . more likely than any others to contribute to the works of Council . . . Indeed, it was only because our invitation was couched in those terms that she accepted the nomination.’ With the ‘little storm in ladies’ teacups’ dealt with, Perry went on to make an enormous contribution to the Society, being awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour in 1971 and eventually becoming a vice-president."

Forty-five years later, there are now three women on the Council and a fourth, The Hon Sarah Joiner, is standing again and needs your vote.

Photo 2010(1)

Sarah is a member of the Bursaries, Libraries, Daffodil & Tulip and Fundraising Committees. With a background in the NHS and Department of Health, she is now also Chairman of Trustees for the Gardening for the Disabled Trust and active Patron of the MS Trust. With seven candidates standing for five places on the RHS Council, every vote counts. Please give one of yours to Sarah.