Virago £17.99 (436pp) £16.19 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Gardening Women by Catherine Horwood

The green-fingered rebels

Gardening women: there seem to have been a lot of them over the last 400 years. The grand ones, the duchesses, may have felt it their due that they would be remembered long after they and their gardens were gone, but most of the others might have been astonished to find themselves regarded as any part of history. It is one of Catherine Horwood's aims in writing this book to accord these women greater respect and recognition than many of them received during their lifetimes.

A love of plants leads people in different directions, so Horwood includes more than just the cultivation or design of gardens. There are chapters on plant hunting, botanical illustration, scientific discovery, flower decoration, embroidery, herb and vegetable gardening and so on. Women whose names often crop up in garden history are there, like Mrs Delany, with her exquisite paper mosaics, her letters describing gardens and her friendship with the Duchess of Portland, patron of Georg Ehret and voracious collector of exotic plants.

But there are also many less familiar, such as Henrietta Moriarty, whose illustrations published in 1803 were described as "too good to be by a woman", or the widow "Mother Tubbys", a 16th-century weeder in the City of London, for whom an annual wage of 8 shillings represented a pay rise. The index of Gardening Women covers nearly 18 pages. Taken together with various appendices, credits, notes and bibliographies, it accounts for about a fifth of the whole book, giving a sense of how much research has gone into it. The text is well illustrated, with many curious and unfamiliar images, including a delightful 1940s jacket photograph showing a smiling woman with muscular arms holding three tall columns of terracotta flowerpots against her hessian-aproned front, proof that women are not afraid of heavy work.

There is a risk, however, to including so many women, and that is reader fatigue. In the early chapters a host of ladies (an appropriate word) file past so quickly that it is hard to keep track. Perhaps because it is now impossible to know about many of them as individuals, Horwood describes an improbable number as "passionate" about plants or gardening - some, after all, may just have had a passing interest that happened to get recorded. All to say, it would be better not to try to read the book straight through.

There are some linking themes, recognisable across the centuries. Marital difficulty or social disgrace could turn a woman to plants, and want of income lay behind some taking up the trowel, or more often, pen or paintbrush. For this reader at least, the book comes more to life in the later chapters, centring on women's education and the struggle for acceptance in the male-dominated workplace.

These people having lived more recently, more tends to be remembered about each, whether her chosen sphere was in the garden, the laboratory or in writing or illustration. Even with hindsight, knowing that she went on to make her own fame, it is painful to read of Beatrix Potter being sent away by Kew and the Linnaean Society when she tried to submit original research on fungi. Of the director of Kew she wrote in her diary, "I fancy he may be something of a misogynist". From the many other instances Horwood cites, he was not alone.

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam