In fact, it’s a natural opportunity for us to focus on the special women horticulturists who have studied, advocated for and created beautiful outdoor spaces.
Let’s start with Jane Colden, the first female botanist in America. Between 1753 and 1758, Jane collected and cataloged more than 300 plants found in the lower Hudson River Valley. Why were her accomplishments extraordinary? At the time, women were believed to be incapable of studying subjects as complex as science. Let that sink in for just a minute…
Jane also wrote an untitled manuscript, which became one of the earliest detailed records of native plants local to New York. In fact, during the Revolutionary War, Jane’s manuscript fell into the hands of a Hessian soldier, who ultimately brought the manuscript back to Germany, where it was later purchased by Sir Joseph Banks, the renowned British plantsman. More than two centuries later, Jane’s voluminous manuscript sits in the British Museum of Natural History in London. But the biggest achievement in Jane’s career, and possibly her most important contribution to science, was her discovery of what is now known as Triadenum virginicum or marsh St. Johns-wort.
Lady Bird Johnson
Also ahead of her time, Lady Bird Johnson understood how the appreciation of beauty could instill a sense of peace. She said, “A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions.” Lady Bird, the 36th First Lady, believed that beauty could improve the mental health of a society, and her determination to make the United States a more beautiful place became her legacy. She saw her beautification projects as ways to help soothe the nation at a time when the Vietnam war, civil rights and other highly charged political issues stoked division.
Lady Bird also established the National Wildflower Research Center in 1982, and it was from there that the Native Plant Information Network was launched.
The gardens were colorful. Natural. Beautiful. Gertrude Jekyll was trained as an artist, but swapped her canvases for gardens to fully express her artistic passion. Her work was characterized by a painterly use of color and a more naturalistic style of planting that replaced the rigid, more formal garden beds favored in the 19th century.
Her long association with architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, a pioneer in the Arts and Crafts movement, began with their collaboration at Gertrude’s home, where Sir Edwin designed the residence, and Gertrude created the gardens. Their professional partnership flourished and their style included hardy shrubbery and herbaceous plantings within a structural of hardscaping. This more natural style came to define the English garden until modern times.
What made her so successful? Explained Gertrude, “It is just in the way it is done that lies the whole difference between commonplace gardening and gardening that may rightly claim to rank as a fine art… It is to be always watching, noting and doing, and putting oneself meanwhile into closest acquaintance and sympathy with the growing things.” Wise words, indeed.
Reston Farm Garden Market salutes all women.
We celebrate all of you who continue to volunteer for community gardens, advocate for pollinator-friendly practices, study and practice horticulture and, simply, dig in the dirt. You carry on the legacy of the women pioneers who were a force of nature, working to honor our natural world.