Women Celebrated by Registered Parks & Gardens

Historic England

Ten historic English landscapes and the remarkable women designers, writers, botanists and artists who created them

Ten historic English landscapes and the women who created them
Until the 20th century a woman's role was generally as a wife and mother. She had few rights of property or opportunities for professional recognition or advancement, was discouraged from learning or displaying intellectual prowess and was denied the vote. Some exceptional and advantaged individuals used the garden to assert their interests and build their own reputations but it was not until after the 1920s, when women's rights, suffrage, and access to education were established, that many more women were able to develop careers in garden design, horticulture or landscape architecture. Here we showcase ten garden landscapes and the women who created them.
Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture Garden
Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) was one of the most important figures in the development of Abstract Art in Britain. Her sculpture was influenced by nature and she drew inspiration from the dramatic coastline and landscape of Cornwall. Barbara had moved her studio to St Ives in 1949 and its garden provided an opportunity for her to work in the open air, re-enforcing her creative link with the wider landscape. The garden was designed and planted by Barbara and shows her careful selection of plants with interesting textural and sculptural qualities. She found inspiration in the garden which served as a setting for her expanding collection of sculptures. It now contains large stone carvings and a group of bronze sculptures. In 1976 the Studio and garden was opened to the public and now is the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, part of the Tate Gallery.
Brenda Colvin: Burwarton House
Brenda Colvin (1897-1981) was one of Britain's most distinguished garden designers and landscape architects. She was a pioneer, dedicated to promoting the profession: she helped found the Institute of Landscape Architects in 1929, now the Landscape Institute, becoming president in 1951. One of her early commissions was Burwarton, which has extensive formal gardens and a landscape park all carefully sited to take advantage of the rugged upland scenery of the locality. The garden comprises a series of terraces with steps and gravel walks which fall away south of Burwarton House. In the 1920s they were extended by Brenda to include a rose garden within a yew hedge. The Burwarton Estate, still one of the county's largest, is private and not open to the public.
Eleanor Coade: Chiswick House
Eleanor Coade (1733-1821) was a craftswoman and businesswoman making architectural decorations and garden ornaments from an artificial stone, which became known as 'Coade Stone'. These statues, urns, fountains, animals and figures were of high quality and enduring, so much that Eleanor's name is still in common use. Several Coade Stone pieces can be found at Chiswick House, London, an early 18th century villa and garden, largely the design of the third Earl of Burlington. In 1814, an Italian Garden was created by the landscape gardener Lewis Kennedy. It has a formal layout with rows of 'false' acacia tree, box-edged parterres filled with summer bedding schemes and a path flanked by replica Coade Stone vases. The originals can be seen in the adjacent conservatory.

This Coade Stone figure of Father Thames is situated in the forecourt of Ham House in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames. It was created by the London sculptor John Bacon RA in 1775. As a youth Bacon had been apprenticed to a porcelain manufacturer and soon found recognition for his talent. From 1771 until his death in 1799 he was the chief designer and manager of the Coade Artificial Stone Company.

Gertrude Jekyll: Hestercombe
Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) was an artist, craftswoman, writer, nurserywoman and garden designer. Through her design consultancy and nursery, she helped transform garden design into a profession for women. She was one of the most influential gardening figures of her age writing many books and articles in gardening journals and newspapers, and was the first woman to be awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour of the Royal Horticultural Society. Hestercombe garden was one of Gertrude's commissions in partnership with the architect Edwin Lutyens. The principal feature is the Great Plat, a large, sunken garden with stone steps at each corner leading down into the garden of geometric-shaped panels of lawn enclosed by stone flags that meet at a central sundial.

Gertrude Jekyll was an artist, garden designer and writer. Her early garden designs 'broke the mould of the Victorian flower garden', and she became one of the most influential gardening figures of her age.

Norah Lindsay: Mottisfont Abbey
Norah Lindsay (1873-1948) started as an amateur garden stylist for her friends and became a sought-after garden designer. She had a spontaneous and informal planting style consisting of clumps of seemingly self-sown plants, lent structure by architectural plants. Her artful informality with a haphazard abundance of flowers set against a backdrop of trimmed hedges provided contrasts of light and dark. One of her commissions was Mottisfont Abbey. In 1934 Gilbert Russell, a great-grandson of the sixth Duke of Bedford, bought the property and made major alterations to the garden, commissioning the garden designer Geoffrey Jellicoe as well as Norah. On the level ground within the U-shape formed by the wings of the house, Norah designed a box-edged parterre, planted with spring bulbs and summer bedding schemes. 

Norah's own garden at Sutton Courtenay Manor, Oxfordshire was the perfect example of her carefree style.

Penelope Hobhouse: Walmer Castle
Penelope Hobhouse (b 1929) is an award-winning garden designer, garden historian and writer. Her style has been influenced by Gertrude Jekyll. She created the garden at Walmer Castle, Kent in 1997 to commemorate the 95th birthday of the then Lord Warden, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. One of Henry VIII's south coast forts, Walmer Castle includes formal gardens and pleasure grounds. The Queen Mother's garden is enclosed by high, castellated red-brick walls. A central lily pool, flanked with broad panels of lawn, is surrounded by gravelled walks and large colourful mixed borders. At the north end is a summerhouse and there is a double E-shaped parterre for 'Elizabeth'. The terraces contain plantings of a pink patio rose named after the Queen Mother.
Princess Augusta: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Princess Augusta (1719-1772) was 17 when she married Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of George II, but it was only after her husband died that Augusta acquired the independence to pursue her own interests. Frederick had begun a collection of exotic plants at Kew, and under the care of the Dowager Princess the gardens at Kew were developed further and extended. Lord Bute and Rev Stephen Hales, well-known botanists, helped Augusta: Bute introduced the architect William Chambers to Augusta and he was commissioned to design several garden buildings, including the Pagoda and Orangery. Exotic plants and trees were sent to Augusta from abroad and by 1768 the herbaceous collection had over 2,700 species. Kew is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Kew Gardens has an abundance of historically significant buildings. Commissioned by Princess Augusta, the Orangery was designed by architect Sir William Chambers and completed in 1761. Unfortunately, insufficient light and heat made it unsatisfactory for growing citrus fruit.

Sylvia Crowe: Harlow New Town and the Commonwealth Institute
Sylvia Crowe (1901-1997) was a landscape architect well-known for the variety of her work. She is celebrated for her garden designs, industrial and housing landscapes, and aesthetic and ecological principles in forestry. She designed landscapes for hospitals, power stations and reservoirs, and assisted with the gardens at the new towns of Harlow (illustrated here) and Basildon. Sylvia was concerned that new developments were being landscaped by non-specialists and that the standard of landscape relative to housing was poor. At Harlow, the Town Park was created as a green 'wedge' between built up areas and to provide an easily accessible open space to residents of this post-war new town.

This aerial view shows Sylvia Crowe's landscape design to the front of the Commonwealth Institute. The redevelopment of the site, including the construction of new multistorey buildings, resulted in the loss of Crowe's design.

Vita Sackville-West: Sissinghurst Castle
Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) was a poet, novelist, biographer and a gardener. Her garden at Sissinghurst is one of the most admired and influential English gardens of the 20th century. Laid out around surviving 16th century buildings and park, Sissinghurst garden was a collaboration with her husband Sir Harold Nicolson. Harold is credited with designing the formal structure of the garden's separate enclosures, or 'succession of intimacies' as he described them, and Vita with the exuberant planting. The enclosures, often linked by vistas, include a Rose Garden, Cottage Garden, Herb Garden and The White Garden. Sissinghurst was a showcase for small gardens as each separate garden enclosure was on a small scale and so appealing to amateur gardeners. 

The yew Rondel at Sissinghurst Castle sits within the Rose Garden. Vita Sackville-West's husband Harold Nicolson favoured geometric garden forms, in contrast to Vita's vision for a 'tumble of roses and honeysuckle, figs and vines'.

Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places

It's not just about Capability Brown gardens and grand stately homes. From public parks with fountains and follies to subterranean cave dwellings beneath our streets, we think everybody should know about the places in England that have witnessed some of the most important historic events.

Our major campaign, sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical, aims to highlight the places that have changed England and the world.

Tell us about somewhere you think needs to be in the list of 100 Places.

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This image: Vibrant polyanthus carpet the Nuttery at Sissinghurst. While the grove of coppiced hazel survives, the polyanthus were replaced with shade-loving plants in 1975.

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Historic England's 'Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England' was established in 1983 and now contains over 1,600 sites. You can search for Registered Parks and Gardens on the National Heritage List for England. Search the List.

Discover the Historic England Archive.

And more on women and parks and gardens.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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