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Women and Their Gardens: A History from the Elizabethan Era to Today by Catherine Horwood
Notify me. Description From Flora, Roman goddess of plants, to today's gardeners at Kew, women have always gardened. Women gardeners have grown vegetables for their kitchens and herbs for their medicine cupboards. They have been footnotes in the horticultural annals for specimens collected abroad.
Gardening Women Their Stories from 1600 to the Present
They taught young women about gardening twenty-five years before women's horticultural schools officially existed. And their influence on the style of our gardens, frequently unacknowledged, survives to the present day.
Horwood describes eloquently the frustration of clever women who were excluded from the male-dominated world of serious horticulture by such crusty old diehards as William Thiselton-Dyer, director of the royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It was Thiselton-Dyer's rejection of her research paper on spore germination that led the young Beatrix Potter to write crossly in her diary: 'I fancy he may be something of a misogynist'. At the same time, Horwood gives an eloquent account of the way in which women across the centuries found an outlet in gardening for the intelligence and creativity that would otherwise have been squandered in amateur tinkerings with watercolour painting or embroidery.
Not that either painting or embroidery are neglected in this book. In the section on 'The Floral arts', Horwood allows herself a fascinating digression into such plant-related activities as the exquisitely botanical portraits created in paper mosaic by the redoubtable 18thcentury gardener, Mrs Delaney. Delaney was also an expert embroiderer and gave, in a letter to her sister, so luscious a description of a flower-embroidered dress worn by the Duchess of Queensbury that it gives one a terrible pang of dress envy to read it.
Her research for this book is so assiduous that her narrative is sometimes in danger of degenerating into a catalogue of gardening women, each accompanied by a brisk thumbnail sketch. Some of the stories she recounts in passing demand to be fleshed out in more vivid detail, even if it meant exchanging quantity for quality.
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Sort order. There was rivalry in the nineteenth century between the followers of Carl Linnaeus who came up with his ideas in the second half of the 18th century, and those who followed Augustin Pyramus de Candolle. The Linnaean system set up an hierarchical scheme of genera and species with stamens and pistils - the male and female sexual parts of flowers. In contrast de Candolle thought that flowers were non-sexual and thus those who were more prudish in Victorian society preferred this system.
He set out a morphology of the plants as a whole with monocotyledons and dicotyledons which is still used. So are all we lady gardeners just amusing ourselves? And is it a serious occupation for us as well as men? Why can't it be both? I was disappointed with this book, mostly because it contained little in the way of new information.
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The majority of women gardeners discussed in this book have been dealt with elsewhere. For example, the author's discussion of Ellen Willmott merely catalogued the well-known facts about Miss Willmott and, much to my irritation, raised the usual anecdote about how Eryngium giganteum 'Miss Willmott's Ghost' got its name. I would give anything to be able to spend time in the RHS Lindley Library t I was disappointed with this book, mostly because it contained little in the way of new information.
Yet the author did not use this wealth of original research material, instead relying upon secondary sources. For those interested in reading a general treatise about women in gardening, then this book would be a good choice. If you want more detailed information about women gardeners, there are better sources elsewhere, imho.
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