WOMEN AND GARDENING

WOMEN AND GARDENING

Why are women so rarely celebrated in the history of gardening? What is the history of gardening women.

For centuries gardens have been important to women and women have been important to gardens.

  • We look at a vivid vignette of Mistress Thomasin Tunstall, a Lancashire gardener in the late 1620s whose passion for horticultural rarities earned her a fierce retrospective rebuke from the irascible 20th-century plant collector, Reginald Farrer, who blamed her for the disappearance of the Lady’s Slipper Orchid from Britain.
  • Many formidable women gardeners of the past seem to have turned to horticulture as a solace for grief or scandal. Take Lady Anne Monson, an 18th-century charmer who captivated a string of men, bore an illegitimate son, for which her husband divorced her, and so entranced the great Swedish botanist Linnaeus that he named Monsonia Speciosa after her, dedicating it to her with a flirty note in Latin: ‘Unhappy is the husband whose wife pleases no one but himself. I have never seen your face, but in my sleep I often dream of you…’
  • Then there was Lady Dorothy Nevill, married in a hurry to an elderly cousin after she incautiously spent half an hour alone in a summerhouse with a notorious rake. Bored to tears, she turned to gardening and began a silkworm farm, even contriving to produce enough silk to make herself a dress. Unluckily, the garment caught fire while she was wearing it, though with great presence of mind, she flung herself to the floor and rolled out the flames. (Taken from author Catherine Horwood  “History of gardening women”).

Women across the centuries found an outlet in gardening for the intelligence and creativity that would otherwise have been squandered in amateur tinkerings with watercolour painting or embroidery.

Closer to home South African women from disadvantaged areas are using their backyards to grow crops and farm livestock in order to feed their families and the community.

  • Getrude Ramashitsa wakes up early every morning to water her carrots, spinach, tomatoes and potatoes growing in her medium-sized backyard. She picks the ones she thinks are ready and puts them in a straw basket. “I’m proud of my garden, it’s so bright with life now that some of the crops are ripe,” she said. “I’m proud of the work I’ve done because I’m using the resources I have to empower myself while feeding the community and my family.” Ramashitsa lives in Orange Farm, a low-income neighbourhood south of Johannesburg. She is part of a group of women there who sell produce to people in the community and supply the nearby supermarkets and restaurants. She said the women also go to schools and encourage the principals to get their pupils to start vegetable gardens. “Teaching children to farm is ultimately teaching them responsibility and how to fend for themselves in the future. It’s also very encouraging and will build their confidence as they see results. They can literally enjoy the fruits of their labour. ”

According to the International Fund for Agriculture Development, women in Africa produce more than 70% of the continent’s food.

Other local inspirational gardening women include

  • Nandi Dlepu of BLOOM a conversational platform for women creatives and entrepreneurs, Jane Griffiths, television producer, writer, artist and traveler who grows organic vegetables and herbs,
  • Suzanne Ackerman who is a passionate gardener and committed to ensuring food sustainability through their Food to Waste programme that converts excess organic waste into high-grade compost through the naturally occurring digestive process in earthworms,
  • Margaret Roberts who was a herbalist and author of over 40 books on herbs and related topics
  • And the ever popular Tanya Visser South Africa’s very own garden guru and television presenter of the Home Channel’s popular show, The Gardener. Tanya Visser still considers herself a regular gardener by profession who’s taken on lots of additional ‘day jobs’ in order to do what she loves best.

Find your gardening mojo – whether it is to address your stress, have fun, get physical with your gardening tools, or take an electronic sabbatical and find time for nature, just be fabulous.

Hang out with the best (yes your garden plants are the real deal) and do something adventurous, this month is your month to enjoy!

Happy Women’s month!

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