Unsung heroines of horticulture : Scottish gardening women, 1800 to 1930
Reid, Deborah Anne
This thesis examines the existence, contribution and recognition of Scottish gardening women for the period 1800 to 1930. The focus was conceived in response to the lack of attention given to female Scottish gardeners in traditional narratives of Britain’s, and more specifically, Scotland’s gardening history. Despite evidence to suggest that women have participated in gardening since the development of the earliest gardens, canonical narratives reveal a preoccupation with white, male, often elite plantsmen, many of whom were Scottish, that pay little or no attention to female involvement. The study begins by considering the degree to which Scotland’s gardening men were successful by unpacking their role and influence, how they were able to make a contribution to gardening and the ways in which they were recognised. This is followed by an assessment of the relative invisibility of women within historical gardening narratives. The recent emergence of feminist studies concentrating on the work of women gardeners has helped to correct this imbalance, but their primary focus on English women has highlighted the disparity between the growing awareness of female gardeners in England and the continuing obscurity of their Scottish counterparts. At the heart of this research is an in-depth biographical analysis of thirteen gardening women, which uncovers their work and contributes to an understanding of the history of women gardeners in Scotland at a time when gardening was dominated by men and undergoing a period of growth and professionalisation. The thesis demonstrates that the women went beyond the confines of their own gardens and achieved within the wider, public sphere of horticulture in Scotland. Some made significant collections of seeds and plants, whilst others used their skills as nurserywomen to cultivate them and, in so doing, they played a part in our knowledge and understanding of plant taxonomy. The transition from amateur gardener to professional status was also achieved and, based on the evidence found within this study, some women were instrumental in pioneering women’s entry into professional gardening. However, few were recognised by the horticultural establishment either during their lifetime or posthumously. This thesis sets the women within their cultural context and addresses the impact of factors such as social class, education, family obligations and gendered prejudice on their ability to achieve and the extent to which their work was recognised in comparison to that of their male contemporaries. As a result, it fills the gaps in our knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s gardening women and provides evidence on which to refute the suggestion that their elision from traditional narratives of Scottish garden history is justified.