The Garden Guide Series: Heroines of Horticulture with Martha Keen


We’re back this month with another Garden Guide chat, this time with horticulturist and garden manager of Wyck House, Martha Keen. She’ll be sharing the stories of some celebrated and lesser-known heroines of horticulture with us on Tuesday, August 13th at our Glen Mills, PA location. From master gardeners to garden writers, landscape architects to floral designers, many innovative and forward-thinking women have made lasting contributions to the field and we’re thrilled to have Martha leading this timely talk for us. Read on for a taste of what to expect!

terrain: Hi Martha! We’re thrilled to have you chat with us about the women you admire and their amazing contributions to horticulture. You’re one yourself! Can you tell us a bit about your own background?

Martha: I grew up on a hobby farm that my family eventually developed into a veggie and cut flower CSA in rural Nebraska. After college, I worked as a city parks gardener for several years in New York and then I moved to Pennsylvania for training at Longwood Gardens. My first position after graduating from their Professional Gardener Program was at Wyck House where I am still today!

terrain: What can the audience expect to hear during your chat next week?

Martha: You can expect to hear about the lives and contributions of 25 or so pillars of horticulture—it’s by no means an exhaustive list, with some who are household names and others who ought to be. Most of the figures I discuss are historic, though a few are contemporary. We’ll take a look at some of the patterns that emerge when one studies women in the field, including both obstacles and opportunities. I’ll also go over a recommended reading list for those who wish to dig deeper into some of the figures we cover.

terrain: Can you tell us about a couple of your favorite Heroines of Horticulture?

Martha: For many of us, the first encounter we had with the enchantment of gardens was through the book or the film adaptation of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. A glimpse into Burnett’s biography yields poignant insight into the world she crafted in the book, written while she was grieving the loss of her own young son. As an adult, I now see the story with a different lens. For others, reading the Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter as a child imprinted the magic of a vegetable garden in their developing minds. I don’t think the influence that these two authors had on millions of people seeking a world that’s imbued with gentleness, mischief, and creativity can be overstated.

terrain: You’re right! Those are both gorgeous classics. Any others you’d like to share?

Martha: Where horticulture proper is concerned, I’d be remiss not to mention the great Beth Chatto—an English plantswoman and author who we can all credit with coining the adage, “right plant, right place” and her practice of ecological gardening which remains so relevant today. Chatto passed away in the summer of 2018 and there are few gardeners in the world who would not cite her as a profound influence in their own path.

terrain: In your view, what are the defining characteristics of a Heroine of Horticulture?

Martha: I think this would be a great question to pose to the audience at the talk! On short reflection, some traits that come to mind are resilience, independence, reflectiveness, contemplation, lifting up other women around her, and, of course, grit.

There are still a few spots left at Martha’s talk on Tuesday, August 13th! Tickets are only five dollars—click here for yours!

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