Meet five inspirational women gardeners

Women gardeners harvesting chard in the kitchen garden at Knightshayes

For centuries, women’s ambitions to forge green-fingered careers were an uphill struggle for recognition and acceptance in a male dominated world.

Just a few generations ago, female head gardeners were a rarity, but now women are involved in all areas of horticulture and heritage gardening.

Here we take a look behind the scenes at some of the fascinating and diverse roles women gardeners hold today in the gardens we look after.

Pam Smith, gardens consultant, advising at Berrington Hall with senior gardener David Thresher

Pam Smith, gardens consultant

Childhood visits to Welsh gardens with her grandfather inspired Pam to study horticulture, despite a remark from her careers teacher that she was too tall and clever to go into gardening. In the 1980s, she was the first woman to work in Sheffield’s Parks Department and spent eleven years working in public parks in the North East.

After joining the National Trust in 2011, Pam initially worked in Wales, returning to the gardens she’d loved as a child. She now advises on all aspects of garden management at the places we care for, from restoration plans to planting design, and major projects at 23 gardens across the Midlands.

" There are few jobs where you’re thinking with your eyes the whole time. It’s about attention to detail, noticing when an orchard is in early decline or finding practical and innovative ways to care for our gardens."
- Pam Smith
Kate Nicoll demonstrating pear pruning in the walled garden at Attingham

Kate Nicoll, training specialist

Kate spent 15 years as a BBC producer before her childhood love of gardening led to a career change. After completing a gardening apprenticeship she became senior gardener at Attingham Park, where she worked with an all-female team. She developed her passion for kitchen gardens during the seven-year restoration of Attingham’s walled kitchen garden.

Kate is now responsible for training opportunities for all our gardeners; delivering a diverse range of courses, from garden history to plant health and practical gardening skills. She also oversees our apprenticeship scheme, helping a new generation of gardeners starting out in their careers.

" Gardening is vital for my soul. It’s intellectually challenging and varied. It’s also a profession of equal opportunities; we have almost as many women gardeners as men."
- Kate Nicoll
Poppy Petersen in the garden at Belton House where she has just started her two year apprenticeship

Poppy Petersen, gardening apprentice

With a background in textiles and art, renovating her first house and garden inspired Poppy to consider gardening as a career. While many of the gardening jobs she found required prior experience, she discovered and successfully applied for a two-year apprenticeship at Belton House in Lincolnshire.

Learning new skills in the garden, such as taking cuttings for 80 new plants, is combined with college work, where fellow apprentices meet up and study everything from plant science to garden health and safety. Poppy hopes to stay with the National Trust after finishing her apprenticeship.

Head gardener, Jess Evans, in the garden at Knightshayes in Devon

Jess Evans, head gardener

Jess has always loved the outdoors. After training at Kew and gardening for Monty Don, she moved to Tintinhull and from there to Knightshayes in Devon where she has a team of six gardeners and 50 volunteers. She has a clear vision for this large garden with one of the most important plant collections in the National Trust.

Jess is also an ambassador for future gardeners. A previous winner of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture’s, ‘Young Horticulturalist of the Year’ award, she now helps to promote gardening as a career within schools and colleges.

Joanne Ryan, horticultural botanist, working at her desk with a pressed specimen of is Prunus 'Shirotae' from Lyme Park

Joanne Ryan, horticultural botanist

Joanne’s lifelong love of plants was fueled by time spent exploring the nursery site at Hadlow College where her parents both worked. She has always been interested in historic gardens and their plant collections, and her role involves traveling the country helping to identify the most important plants in the gardens in our care.

Pain-staking detective work is needed to identify subtle but significant differences between cultivated plant varieties. Taking and cataloguing herbarium specimens - carefully pressed plants - is another important part of the job. The ultimate goal is to have a record of all the significant plants in our gardens.

" Horticulture is a hugely misunderstood profession. Every facet of science, travel, art, history and society has a connection to plants."
- Joanne Ryan