International Women’s Day: Celebrating Inspirational Women Gardeners

This International Women’s Day we are celebrating the achievements of women who paved the way and showing gratitude to the women in our own lives.

Over the years we’ve spoken to many talented women from the world of gardening, and we always ask the same question - “Who inspires you?” From Chelsea Flower Show winners to Mother Nature herself, we’ve received so many great answers. In honour of International Women’s Day, let’s take a look back through time at the inspirational women who shaped horticulture.

Why do Women Grow?

“Women have always gardened, but our stories have been buried with our work. For centuries we have learned the soul’s secrets. We have ushered herbs from the ground and dried them for healing; we have braided seeds into our hair to preserve legacies even when the future looks bloody and uncertain; we have silently made the world more beautiful, too often without acknowledgement.”
Alice Vincent, Why Women Grow (2023)

So entwined with International Women’s Day is the act of growing and cultivating plants, that there is actually a symbolic flower of IWD, the Mimosa flower.

These striking yellow flowers were first gifted among Italian women in 1946 as part of the la Festa della Donna to represent sensitivity, strength and sensibility, a tradition that has continued to this day and slowly spread across the world.

Learn more about some of the women working in gardening today and who inspired their journey with our Inspirational Blogs:

Beth Chatto

Hailed upon her death in 2018 as one of the most influential horticulturalists of the past 50 years, Beth Chatto’s name has become synonymous with gardening.

Celebrated for her ‘right plant, right place’ common sense approach to gardening, Chatto went on to win 10 consecutive Gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with a series of naturalistic, wildlife-friendly schemes. With an ecological eye somewhat ahead of its time, her gardens prioritised sustainability and encouraged others grow to their conditions rather than engineering them to their will.

Beth Chatto is perhaps best remembered now for a series of wisdom-filled books such as ‘The Dry Garden’ and ‘Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden’ - essentials of any contemporary gardener’s bookshelf.

In 1960, the Chatto family built their new home on the site of an old fruit farm. Take inspiration from their work by exploring the best soft fruits to grow in your own home fruit cage as we enter the spring months.

Olive Harrisson

A story of perseverance in the face of rejection and restriction - Olive Harrisson’s story is one that defines the continued need for International Women’s Day.

Harrisson’s story came to light in 2018, when Royal Horticultural Society archives from 1898 were discovered by staff outlining the exceptional performance of a mysterious ‘Miss Harrisson’, who had stunned the society securing top marks in the RHS’ Principles of Gardening scholarship exam.

Despite her performance, Olive (as a BBC investigation and insight from her family uncovered) was unable to claim her prize of a scholarship on the RHS’ flagship garden solely on the grounds of being a woman. Though garden design was an accepted vocation for a woman, the practical labour of gardening was reserved for men.

Olive Harrisson was not deterred by her rejection, going on to work on the Cadbury family estate as a gardener, following the hobby throughout her life as she raised a family of her own.

International Women’s Day: Celebrating Inspirational Women Gardeners

Gertrude Jekyll

Few gardeners hold the prestige and influence of Gertrude Jekyll.

Though she originally worked as a painter and interior designer, Gertrude eventually took her keen eye for colour, form and patterns to the world of gardening.

A Gertrude garden is characterised by a painterly approach to horticulture - informal swaths of colours, an insistence on harmony and richly textured planting schemes that solidified colour the guiding principle of garden design for decades to come. In 1897, she was the first woman to be awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Victoria Medal of Honour (first awarded to 60 gardeners, of which just one was a woman).

A key figure in creative fields from arts and crafts to horticulture, Gertrude’s writing on planting and collection of over 400 gardens across Europe and the United States (there’s a good chance you’ve been in one and not realised it!) are her enduring legacy.

In 1986, British rose breeder David Austin bred the Rose ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ named in honour of the woman herself. A vigorous grower known to repeatedly bloom throughout the season, we can’t think of a better flower to pair with our Rose Obelisk.

International Women’s Day: Celebrating Inspirational Women Gardeners

Norah Lindsay

A talented amateur garden stylist who rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful of British society in the late 19th and early 20th century. Norah Lindsay was one of the most sought-after and celebrated horticulturalists of her time, and proof it's never too late to pursue your dreams.

In need of an income following her divorce, a 51 year old Norah Lindsay turned back to her true passion - gardening. Though she lacked formal horticultural training, Norah utilised her past life in socialite circles to secure prestigious gardening projects across Britain and Europe, adorning her talents on the grand estates and manor houses of French, Italian and German aristocrats and royalty.

Today, Norah’s exuberant, loose approach to gardening survives in gardens including Cliveden, Chirk Castle and Mottisfont Abbey.

International Women’s Day: Celebrating Inspirational Women Gardeners

Juliet Sargeant 

International Women’s Day: Celebrating Inspirational Women Gardeners

An ex-doctor who made history in 2016 when she became the first Black woman to design a show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, receiving a gold medal and the RHS People’s Choice Award for her anti-slavery-themed ‘The Modern Slavery Garden’.

Born in Tanzania, Juliet Sargeant moved to England at the age of two, developing an interest in gardening while balancing a career in medicine. First working on her family’s gardens, a talent for incorporating personality into her gardens has seen Juliet become lauded for her work and efforts to promote inclusivity in the field.

Juliet has gone on to have an active media and writing career, hosting programmes such as Gardeners’ World for the BBC.

Speaking of Chelsea, we can’t wait to see you at the next RHS Chelsea Flower Show and share how Agriframes arches can be the key to a Chelsea-esque showstopping garden centrepiece.
RHS Chelsea Flower Show
Tell us about the women gardeners in your life. How have they inspired you? What kind of gardens have they created? Not just on International Women’s Day, but every day going forward, we strive to celebrate the achievements of great women in gardening.


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