Book Reviews, Landscape History

Book Review: Women Garden Designers: 1900 to the Present

October 17, 2016


This summer I picked up a copy of the book Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox, gardening columnist for the London Financial Times, in a remainder bin in a Camden, Maine bookstore. Published in 2010 it includes a series of 80 essays on a wide array of topics related to all things gardens, including one titled “Gendered Landscapes.” Fox’s conclusion, that the landscape is highly gendered but no one talks about it, begs the question; If women have been designing landscapes for centuries why are they so seldom acknowledged?


Niki de Saint Phalle’s grotto at Herrenhauser garden

Coincidentally, I acquired Women Garden Designers: 1900 to the Present by garden historian Kristina Taylor. Published in 2015, the book profiles thirty-one important and influential women garden designers from around the world presenting the gardens they designed for themselves, their professional work and their influence on landscape design.

Taylor’s book, which posits that women’s attitudes towards the land may indeed be different from that of men, is described as an examination of a particular women’s perspective of nature that has not been “quantified or qualified” and is offered as an examination of the work itself. Each of the thirty-one designers profiled is introduced as an individual, whose work is to be judged within its own context.WOMEN GARDEN DESIGNERS FRONT_Layout 1Informed by extensive travel, research and, when possible, interviews, Women Garden Designers: 1900 to the Present provides a refreshing introduction to designers whose work shaped the modern landscape. While the book includes pieces on well-known American and English designers, including Gertrude Jekyll, Beatrix Farrand, Marian Coffin and Vita Sackville-West, its strength lies in the profiles of those women whose contributions to garden design are not as widely recognized.


Pond and landscape in the municipality of Araras by Isabel Duprat

Running throughout is the extraordinary connection between the designers and the natural world, with an emphasis on sustainability, ecology, native plantings and the idea of gardening as an “implicit, organic and instinctive art.” In 1947 Brenda Colvin, a founding member of the British Institute of Landscape Architects, wrote the ground-breaking book, Land and Landscape: Evolution, Design and Control. Joane Pim, described by Taylor as the doyenne of South African landscape design, wrote Beauty is Necessary: Creation or Preservation of the Landscape.


Women Garden Designers: 1900 to the Present is generously illustrated with color photographs and includes an extensive bibliography as well as links to relevant websites. It successfully integrates garden scholarship with readability and is compelling for both its erudite text and design.


Dame Sylvia Crowe designed the rose garden at Magdalen College in 1953 to commemorate the development of penicillin as an antibiotic in Oxford during the 1940’s.

As a celebration of the manner in which women garden designers create gardens and work in the landscape,  Women Garden Designers: 1900 to the Present is a compendium of individual stories that, while singular, are connected through a slender thread, providing insight into what Taylor describes as the “unique and special approach to garden and landscape design” of the women profiled.


Niki de Saint Phalle’s  “Nanas” along Hanover, Germany’s ring road are named for famous historical citizens


This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, October, 2016

Copyright © 2016 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

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