Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Women and Their Gardens" by Catherine Horwood

Sometimes I'm surprised where mentions of tea turn up. I just finished reading Women and Their Gardens by Catherine Horwood, a book whose aim was "putting on record that for centuries gardens have been important to women and women have been important to gardens." While I wasn't surprised at women's early gardening efforts, I was very much surprised to learn how long it took for "lady gardeners" to be recognized for their work. When Beatrix Potter, for instance, submitted a paper on spore germination of a rare form of fungi in 1897, she was brushed off and couldn't get her work taken seriously. Lucky us, though, in a sense, since this caused her to focus on her watercolors. (A hundred years later, in 1997, Potter's work as a mycologist, one who studies fungi, was the topic of a Linnean Society lecture. 'Bout time!)

Horwood's book is filled with enlightening stories of women gardeners, mainly in the U.K., who have influenced horticulture and gardening over the years. Here are some of the tea-related highlights I found:

-- A number of women made contributions to the field of horticulture through their artwork, including, the author says, Elizabeth Twining (yes, of the famed Twinings tea family), who lived from 1805-1889. She "was able to combine the two occupations of philanthropic work and botanical talents. In addition to establishing the Twining Hospital for the Poor near her home in Twickenham and being connected to two newly opened establishments for girls' education, Bedford College and Queen's College, she published fourteen books, including Ten Years in a Ragged School. In 1849, then in her mid-forties, she published the second volume of her work Illustrations of the Natural Order of Plants, which comprised extremely accurate drawings of plants at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew." (Go here to see some of her work.)

-- Ella Christie made a trip to Japan in 1907 that forever changed her, and when she came home to Perthshire she got a female Japanese designer to help her create a Japanese style garden, which included a tea house on an island in the middle of a lake.

-- Hilda Leyel in 1927 opened the Culpeper Shop in London, which offered natural products and herbal remedies. The author notes the shop also offered many of the simple tisanes, such as camomile and lime-blossom tea, which Leyel said were "so popular abroad but at that time almost unknown in this country."

-- There's also a fun story about one Viola Williams, who was the first woman to achieve a first-class diploma in horticulture at Reading University in 1937. She eventually got a job at a glasshouse and frame nursery. The author quotes Viola: "There were about one hundred men and one woman and me." She said Viola's only problem with the men was one early encounter: "The other woman used to do the tea and everything for us. She was off so they put me to making tea at breakfast, lunch, etc. I decided this was not my line at all so I boiled the tea for two hours and they didn't ask me to do it any more." (I'll bet!) If you're at all interested in women's history and gardening, Women and Their Gardens is a fine book to add to your library.


  1. That sounds like a lovely book, Angela.

  2. The best thing I love about your blog is the variety...china, food, teas and books,and...
    This was so interesting...now I have to google these women and read more and perhaps find some books. Thanks for opening a new area for me to explore.

  3. This will be a perfect gift for a dear "garde-nerd" friend of mine!

  4. I need to get that book for my mom, thanks! TS

  5. This sounds like a book I would enjoy. I am reading a fiction right now by Susan Wittig Albert, The Tale of Applebeck Orchard, where the ferret and cats are having tea and mention Beatrix Potter, who is a character in the book. Love those tea references that pop up when least expected in books.

  6. Once again you teach.

    Thank you for such awesome learnings - love it.

    I feel smarter already!

    Cheerio my friend! Well done!

  7. Sounds like a wonderful book.

  8. What a wonderful post today - this sounds like a book I would enjoy. Joanie


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