Women Gardeners c.1500-2000

‘I think that the garden may be described as the triumph of hope. It was always full of experiments, it gave endless pleasure and if you walk through it, you will see the careful thought bestowed on each plant’. 

- Muriel Messel in the Preface to A Garden Flora (1917) describing the garden at Nymans, Sussex.


In 2018 the National Trust held two exhibitions that explored the work of women gardeners and their legacies: Gardening Women at Sissinghurst (5th May – 21st October) and The Triumph of Hope at Nymans (16th June – 28th October). Departing from the research for these two exhibitions, Dr Catherine Horwood (Garden historian and author of Gardening Women: Their Stories from 1600 to the present), Dr Alice Strickland (Curator, London and the South East, National Trust), and Dr Oliver Cox (Heritage Engagement Fellow, TORCH) held a study day at the History Faculty of the University of Oxford on 16th October 2018. We remember this day for the wide range of material and methodological perspectives brought forward by the speakers. We discussed among others the education of women gardeners, their clientele, the development of plant collections by women, writing on gardens and gardening by women, the travels of female gardeners and the depiction of women gardeners in art.

Selected papers were published by the Women’s History Network in a special issue of their journal Women's History, in summer 2019. The issue is accessible online here


Many of the participants from the 2018 study day were due to speak at The Gardens Trust and Department for Continuing Education's Women and Gardens Conference in Oxford over the weekend of 29th-31st May 2020, which has sadly been cancelled due to Coronavirus.

TORCH Heritage Programme Homepage

The cover image depicts a woman tending the flowers in her garden.

The cover of the Summer 2019 special gardening issue of Women’s History. ©WHN