Meet our Women in Horticulture

Meet some of the Garden Club London Women who made a career in Horticulture

Women in horticulture week is a US based initiative running from 1st-5th June and aims to support, honour and promote women in the business of horticulture. This year, 10 UK based women in the field of horticulture have been honoured on a list of leading female horticulturists, including RHS Director General, Sue Biggs. At Garden Club London we are very fortunate to have women working across a range of disciplines from garden design to landscaping. Here they tell us about their career in horticulture and what the future holds.

Catriona Maclaren, Horticulturist

Having studied conservation science I am constantly torn between convenience and conscience

Horticulture is very much a family business. I have been surrounded by avid gardeners and growers of all things green throughout my life. I initially got into horticulture professionally as a landscaper, but my interest in plants really took off during my apprenticeship at RBG Kew where I was surrounded by plants from across the world in spectacular settings.

I always knew I would work outdoors as my curiosity for wildlife is never ending. Gardening allows me to surround myself with nature on a daily basis, that is definitely the best part for me. I also love the satisfaction of creating a beautiful space for clients to enjoy, encouraging even the most tentative people to use their outside space to its full advantage.
I would say the worst part is the early starts in winter months. I love working outside and being Scottish the cold doesn’t phase me, but early mornings spent in darkness are a real struggle! Aside from that, I do find the widespread use of chemical pesticides in the industry quite challenging. Having studied conservation science I am constantly torn between convenience and conscience.

I think the media needs to increase their focus on female horticulturalists. There are more women than ever on programmes like Gardeners’ World, however the vast majority of articles about young, upcoming garden designers in popular publications or on social media are male centric. Social media is a powerful platform for the promotion of the horticulture industry. If more young female gardeners were given exposure by popular pages and accounts, more women would consider a career in the industry.

The current unsettled state of the world has brought with it a new appreciation for outside space and gardens. Self sufficiency in the form of home grown veg has become a nationwide trend which I think is here to stay. In the future, I expect to see more practical garden designs with space for growing food and a move towards organic wildlife friendly planting schemes.

Abigail Goodwin, Landscaper

I get to enjoy working out in nature; being creative with planting

My career in horticulture began at the age of 18 when I started as an apprentice with Willerby Landscapes on a new eco development for the University of Cambridge. This then led to the opportunity of me being employed full time by the company to work in London on rooftop and large residential gardens. After working on various exciting projects I decided I wanted to pursue more of the design side to my job by studying Garden Design at the London College of Garden Design (LCGD). I have been working in the horticulture industry for over 5 years now and can’t wait to see what the future holds.

My job certainly comes with its perks and down sides as with any job. I get to enjoy working out in nature; being creative with planting. Although it can be physically tough at times, especially during the winter months, it does keep me both mentally and physically healthy. Through the LCGD I’ve also had the exciting opportunity to help plant at Chelsea Flower Show.

I think the best way to get more women in the horticulture industry is to break down the stereotype that it’s a predominantly male only industry; this would have to start in schools educating girls in the different options available to them. Also by showcasing more women in the spotlight on social media or horticulture programmes it will help to attract a new generation into the industry who might not have necessarily considered it as a career option.

Qian Gao, Senior Landscape Architect

The question is how to encourage more female landscape designers to have a greater ambition

How did you enter a career in horticulture/landscape design?
When I was choosing the university course, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do as a career. One of my family friends suggested landscape architecture as she believed greening is what China needed next, after years of vast new development. And I followed her suggestion with an emerging curiosity for the course and an uncertainty of where this decision would lead me. 

The tipping point was in the second semester of my first year. As part of the floriculture module, we were divided into groups to sow some flower beds in the university’s nursery. I was in the same group as my best friend who is a big plant lover. When I reluctantly touched the soil under my friend’s strict instruction, I was surprised how the texture and smell of the soil comforted me immediately. And the satisfaction of going to the nursery nearly everyday and finally seeing the tiny leaves popping out of the ground, convinced me that I made the right decision. Our flower bed failed eventually however the seed of landscaping had been planted.

What are the best and worst parts of the job?

The best part of the job is design, which gives you the opportunity of filling a space with thoughts and imagination. It makes me pay close attention to details, people and the environment around me – how people use their outdoor space, how design outlines the zones and, how plants transform the atmosphere. 

The worst part of the job is also design. The journey of lack of inspiration, combining innovation with practice, and wondering if a better design would appear by changing the line to curve, to line, and to curve again. This journey takes place during every design, which made the ultimate outcome greatly rewarding and encourages me to keep learning. 

How can horticulture/design/landscaping attract more women?

I feel the number is not the question – I am surrounded by many talented female designers since I have entered into this profession. The question is how to encourage more female landscape designers to have a greater ambition, an ambition that roots in landscaping but goes beyond a beautiful garden. Events like Woman in Horticulture Week are excellent pathways of sharing experiences and exchanging ideas, which would inspire us to consider opportunities provided by landscape design and what we can offer. 

What industry changes or trends do you predict for the future?

More and more people have been attracted to gardening during this unusual period caused by the coronavirus. Elements that allow self-gardening, such as vegetable beds, are getting popular during lockdown. And I think this trend will continue as a lifetime passion for these new garden lovers, which will also make us, the landscape designers, to consider space for self-gardening in future design.    

Natalia Lenart, Landscape Architect

there are tough tasks, especially when you’re on site in the rain with your boots stuck in the mud! But this only makes me proud that I can handle it.

How did you enter into a career in horticulture/landscape design?
– My very first step in landscape design was when I was graduating from my Bachelor’s degree in Poland, nearly 10 years ago! I did a few free garden projects for clients I had found online and they were looking for someone who could put ideas together and visualise them on paper. After a few months I started freelancing for a design and build company while I was completing my Master’s degree, before joining them full-time after I had graduated.

What are the best and the worst parts of the job?
I love that each project is different! They always bring new challenges and the excitement of creating a functional space never gets old. The job is never boring and that keeps me driven to learn and explore different ideas. Ultimately the biggest excitement for me is developing the planting plans, and then getting on site to set them out and seeing the garden come to life. I’d say the worst part is when your ideas and plans cannot be realised due to planning restrictions, budget or other requirements that cant be met. That really is frustrating!

How can horticulture/design/landscaping attract more women?
Our industry has a lot of different opportunities and a variety of roles. You can work outdoors if you like being closer to nature and want to get your hands dirty. You can combine your love of plants with designing, managing or even marketing. There are a lot of very talented and skilled women in the industry right now; we are sensitive, have an eye for detail and great organisation skills, which are all key to success. When joining landscape designers, construction knowledge is crucial, and with the right support, is achievable for everyone. Of course, there are tough tasks, especially when you’re on site in the rain with your boots stuck in the mud! But this only makes me proud that I can handle it.

What industry changes or trends do you predict for the future?
I think that people are starting to consider not only their own spaces but the environment as a whole. As time goes on we have seen more and more climate change protests, so it’s clear people want to live in harmony with nature, without disturbing it. This means more sustainable solutions are needed to protect our micro and global environment. Landscape design has to follow nature and respect it by using sustainable, recycled materials, accurate plants for the accurate soil, exposure to sun and availability of water. Being sustainable is already a trend, but it needs to be implemented on a larger scale.