Women in Horticulture

With it being International Women’s Day, the topic of women in horticulture naturally comes to the forefront. Horticulture is a field associated with long hours outdoors, heavy lifting and dirt. So, so much dirt. Dirt that gets *everywhere*.  As such it was historically considered men’s work though times have changed in this field as many others.  This of course doesn’t even begin to consider the harsh realities of earlier times when whole families would work their land together.

What is not so well known however is that horticulture has a long history of female participation, innovation and entrepreneurial spirits. Many women have built lives and careers for themselves from little more than a plot of land, a few dreams and a lot of hard work.  Today we celebrate a few of these remarkable individuals for their achievements.

Taki Handa

A Japanese Horticulturalist by training. Taki Handa’s career demonstrated than even by the early 20th century a career on Horticulture could carry a woman worldwide.   Though a native of Kurume in Kyushu her talents led to her travelling to Scotland to create a seven acre garden at Cowden Castle in Clackmannanshire in the Japanese style.

She would later return to her native Japan to marry, raise a family and teach her knowledge to others.  Over the intervening century the Garden would sadly fall into neglect and ruin.  However in 2013 work began to restore the Japanese Garden and today it is open to the public to visit.

Gertrude Jekyll

A legend in garden design and horticulture, Gertrude Jekyll was a prolific creator of gardens.  She designed over 400 in her career and wrote over a thousand articles of horticultural topics.  She worked on sites both in her native career as well as abroad in Europe and America.

Her influence on garden design is pervasive and persists to this day.  Of particular note, Gertrude pursued her passion way into her twilight years.  In 1930 at the age of 86, she published 43 articles for Gardening Illustrated.

Olive Harrison

In a black mark against the Royal Horticulture Society Olive Harrison was denied a place in the organization in 1898 on the grounds of her gender. This was despite her taking the entrance exam and scoring the highest grade, above all her male competitors. Though her marks should have entitled her to the customary scholarship for her achievement, the rules of the RHS at the time denied her membership.

Olive would later go on to find success enrolling at Swanley Horticultural College and worked as a professional gardener.  Fortunately like many other organizations the RHS has long since changed its stance on welcoming women into the fold and today women make up approximately 53% of it’s members and students.  In 2010 the society elected its first female president, Elizabeth Banks.

Carrie Steele Logan

Born a slave and abandoned as a child, Carrie Steele Logan was an unlikely candidate for a gardening career.  Yet through defiance of the hand life had dealt her and an inspiring drive to do better Carrie became one of the first black land owners in Atlanta, USA.

This land she used to build a successful gardening business.  Not just of herself but for the many abandoned children and orphans she adopted. Learning to read and write even when her status as a slave made it illegal she would later teach these along with her horticulture and garden design skills to her wards, giving them a chance to build their own future.

 These four are but the tip of an iceberg of women from all walks of life who have made valuable contributions to horticulture.  Who else should we have mentioned?  Lets us know in the comments!  





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