First Ladies of Gardening


A new book celebrating the grandes dames of contemporary English garden design is a fitting tribute to fourteen of the most significant women gardeners of the last 60 years.

‘First Ladies of Gardening’ by Heidi Howcroft and photographer Marianne Majerus, is an inspirational record of the contribution made by the women gardeners featured, to the success and preservation of the English garden style.

Originally, Heidi and Marianne planned the book as a celebration of English gardens that they both liked and admired, created during the second half of the 20th century. They were looking for private gardens initially intended for personal use alone and not designed by a third party. They were also keen to focus attention on plants and the skills needed to care for them.

side-First_Ladies_coverAs they completed their shortlist they realized that their favourites were predominantly created or maintained by women. As Heidi and Marianne point out in the introduction: “Although we did not set out to find first ladies of gardening, we nevertheless found them: inspirational women who are passionate about the quintessential English garden.”

As one might expect there are some iconic names included – Beth Chatto, Vita Sackville-West, Margery Fish and Mary Keen – however, I was delighted to see Rosamund Wallinger (restoration of Jekyll garden at Upton Grey Manor) and Lady Xa Tollemache (Helmingham Hall) included and the recognition of newer gardeners such as Gill Richardson, Sue Whittington, Rachel James and Rosanna James. Several of the gardeners have managed to create wonderful gardens in some extremely challenging sites while others have been pioneers of design.

I felt very enthused reading through the individual pen portraits and encouraged by the way these individual women gardeners faced up to a myriad of challenges to create their own piece of English landscape. From Rachel James and her creation of a garden in a once exposed and remote landscape on the Purbeck peninsula to Helen Dillon’s surprising Dublin town garden, we are taken on a journey of discovery and allowed to indulge a little in the individual creations of these passionate women.

Each entry includes the Guiding Principles and Signature Plants of the garden and there is a comprehensive Bibliography.

‘First Ladies of Gardening’ illustrates that there is not just a single type of English garden but a diverse range of glorious and inspiring alternatives, all beautifully photographed by award-winning photographer, Marianne Majerus.

The photography perfectly captures the mood and style of each garden and I particularly liked Marianne’s study of Sissinghurst, which brought back very many happy memories of visits past.

Heidi Howcroft is an English educated landscape architect who has worked and published extensively in Germany. She is the author of over 20 garden books and has a wide knowledge of contemporary and historical landscapes.

Marianne Majerus is a multi award-winning garden photographer. In 3010 she was named International Garden Photographer of the Year and in 2011 won ‘Garden Photographer of the Year’ by the Garden Media Guild and in 2013 named GMG ‘Features Photographer of the Year’. When she is not writing, leading garden tours or searching for new gardens, she enjoys tending her own cottage garden.

‘First Ladies of Gardening’ by Heidi Howcroft and Marianne Majerus is published by Frances Lincoln Publishers – – in hardback. A brilliant read and one book you will enjoy having on your bookshelf.