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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor