More RHS Honours for British gardening women

Hip, Hip, Hooray

 The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has announced the recipients of its prestigious awards for outstanding contribution to horticulture. This year there are four recipients for the Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH). This is the highest accolade the Society awards. Only 63 horticulturists hold the VMH at one time, marking the length of Queen Victoria's reign. This year, the awards were given to three men and Viscountess of Merton, Alice Boyd from Cornwall who receives the award for the following citation: 

'As an Honorary Fellow of the RHS Lady Boyd has given exemplary service to the charity for many years. She has served on a number of committees and was on the RHS Council for 10 years. She was also President of the Cornwall Gardens Society between 2007 and 2009.'

"I am delighted to announce the recipients of the Victoria Medal of Honour which was established in 1897 in remembrance of Queen Victoria," says Elizabeth Banks, RHS President. "These are very special people and their contribution to horticulture has been outstanding. Their work has been wide-ranging and impacts on most aspects of gardening and is an inspiration to everyone."

The charity has also announced the Veitch Memorial Awardees This Award is given to those who it is felt have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of the art, science and practice of horticulture. There are five recipients this year. They include Susyn Andrews from Richmond, Surrey. 

Andrews, recently of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is a world-leading horticultural taxonomist and was the co-founder and Chairman of the Horticultural Taxonomy Group. She has published over 150 scientific papers and articles, was the senior editor of Taxonomy of Cultivated Plants (1999), has sat on the ISHS Commission for Nomenclature and Registration, is an Honorary Research Associate at Kew, and currently serves on several scientific and horticultural committees. An enthusiastic gardener, her main interests are temperate and subtropical woody plants and her passion for lavenders stretches back 15 years.

Many congratulations to them both. 



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.

Five Stars for sheer readability

Thanks so much to top author Lesley Pearse for this lovely review of Gardening Women on the prize-winning website ThinkinGardens edited by Anne Wareham who has created an astounding garden at Veddw House near Monmouth.

Gardening Women by Catherine Horwood

March 7, 2011

in Book Reviews,Reviews

Gardening Women by Catherine Horwood

A book review by the best selling novelist Lesley Pearse. ThinkinGardens gets around!

Anne Wareham, editor.

Reviewed by Lesley Pearse.

For anyone who has a passion for history along with gardening, this is the  book. It charts women gardeners from 1600 to the present. Gertrude Jekyll, and Beth Chatto were the only ones I could name, and so it was enthralling to read about less famous, but equally well-deserving other women, especially those back in the old days when the RHS wouldn’t allow women membership.

Catherine Horwood has clearly researched her book thoroughly, and she sets out the stories of these gardening pioneers in such a way that you feel you have a real ‘look over the garden wall’ at them. I was astounded by how many plants I which I had considered to be native to this country were discovered overseas, brought here, and nurtured by these women, beginning the plant nurseries so beloved of us gardeners now.

It struck me too, that as so many of these lady gardeners lived to a ripe old age, gardening really does keep you young and fit. I was particularly amused that the first women to be employed as gardeners at Kew Gardens were considered a great curiosity, especially as they wore knickerbockers to work in. But that is part of the attraction of this book, because it isn’t just dry facts. Instead it is a glimpse back into a more restricted, genteel world, yet one where the passion for growing flowers and plants helped to break down class and gender barriers.

Five Stars for sheer readability.

Lesley Pearse.

More women get RHS top jobs

Yesterday I wrote about the appointment of Elizabeth Banks as the new President of the RHS and it was lovely to see her on the BBC's coverage of the Hampton Court Flower Show last night with Joe Swift. But it shouldn't go unrecorded that two other top jobs at the RHS have also recently gone to women.

Sue Biggs will become the RHS's Director General from September.  Sue brings thirty years' experience in the leisure industry to the RHS as well as a passion for gardening.

And up at Harlow Carr, the RHS's garden in the North, Elizabeth Balmforth becomes not only the first female in the society's history to hold such a post, but at 34, also the youngest. Elizabeth trained at Hadlow College, in Kent and has been at Harlow Carr since 2003. Among other things, Elizabeth aims to promote the longevity of planting schemes, and to create new reflective bodies of water to ensure the garden can cope with flash flooding.

Horray for the RHS as first woman president is announced

RHS has their new first women President - Elizabeth Banks

I'm not often full of praise for the RHS with its rather wonky reputation for encouraging women so it's a delight to see that Elizabeth Banks has been appointed the new President of the RHS effective from 1 July.

Elizabeth Banks has run a highly successful landscape architecture practice for many years and was involved, among many other projects, with the development of the RHS's garden, Rosemoor, in Devon. I'm down in Devon this weekend speaking at the Ways with Words Literary Festival  at Dartington Hall. No time to visit Rosemoor I'm afraid but I'll definitely raise a cheer for Elizabeth Banks, the first RHS President in its almost two hundred year history.