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  • Writer's pictureCat Meholic

Heroines in Horticulture at Chanticleer

Updated: Oct 26, 2018

Attendees of Heroines in Horticulture. Photo Credit: Lucy Dinsmore

Collaboration has been the key to successful events for Women in Horticulture. Our event "Heroines in Horticulture" hosted by Chanticleer earlier this month highlights this. It all started with Erin McKeon reaching out to create a Women in Horticulture event at Chanticleer. As we were brainstorming event ideas we quickly thought of Martha Keen, an area expert on historic women in horticulture. We wanted to give attendees a glimpse into the past to see the women that have strongly influenced our field, but we also wanted to give a modern perspective of being a woman in the green industry. Carla Hetzel, horticulturist at Chanticleer, volunteered to share her modern perspective and show attendees around the areas of the garden that she manages. With Martha and Carla on board we had our event itinerary set!

Erin Mckeon (pictured top left) opened the event for us. She highlighted the history of Chanticleer, and shared that 2018 is the 25th anniversary of Chanticleer as a public garden! Martha then began her whirlwind introduction to the dynamic characters that have helped to shape horticulture. From Beatrix Havergal, who was unapologetic of her love for school, overseeing the Waterperry students in one of the school uniforms as the head mistress. Under her guidance students at Waterperry received strict horticulture training, and some even become famous horticulturists.

Martha reminded us of the great achievements of Beatrix Farrand and Gertrude Jekyll. She recounted the influence that women authors such as Colette and Frances Burnett had on gardening. Martha coined the term "vegetable wayfarer" for Joy Larkcom who traveled the world with her family in search of vegetables unknown to North America. The sad story of Ellen Ann Willmott was also shared. Mrs. Willmott spent a fortune on her garden, and was known for her incredible design. The great expenses of the garden along with other circumstances lead her to lose many of her assets. As she grew older she became paranoid and withdrew from those around her. She is well known for a white Eryngium cultivar called 'Miss Willmott's Ghost' (pictured bottom left). The seed of which she would stealthily spread in gardens that she visited. It can be said that her legacy is living on in many gardens that she only had "sleight of hand" in creating.

I can't do Martha's research justice in this short blog, and I certainly can't claim credit for the interesting excerpts above. The thoroughness of Martha's research into the stories of each of these women is remarkable. She speaks of them like old friends, and confided in attendees that she believes highlighting the historic figures in our field is one way to gain interest in modern day horticulture.

The next part of our day was a conversation about modern horticulture at Chanticleer with Carla Hetzel (pictured far left). She oversees the new handicap accessible walkway gardens that lead to the Serpentine, the parking lot plantings (which many visitors muse is better designed than many gardens), and other areas as well. Carla shared her challenges in the walkway garden with us; Populus that hates our heat, and a challenging slope to work on. Despite wonderful horticulture designs installed in the parking lot gardens by the previous area horticulturists, the gardens here have been complex to work with; aging trees, a wet summer, and the pressures of gardening around the heat and fumes of vehicles.

Our day concluded with thanks to everyone that coordinated this event, to Chanticleer and staff for hosting, and to all of the attendees! We hope that everyone walked away with a new appreciation for the women that have shaped, and are continuing to shape, the art and science of horticulture.

If you are interested in sharing the stories of historic women in horticulture, we are looking for guest contributors for our blog! Check out the current blog for a sample:, or contact us for more details via email at

Photos provided by Lucy Dinsmore, Charlotte Kidd, and Cat Meholic.

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