An Almost Impossible Thing by Fiona Davison
A Gardens Illustrated Top Ten Book of 2023.
A Book of the Year, RHS The Garden Magazine.
‘Gardening, taken up as a hobby when all the laborious work can be done by a man, is delightful, but as a life’s work for a woman, it is almost an impossible thing.’ Sir Joseph Hooker, 1817-1911.
While working as Head of Libraries and Exhibitions at the Royal Horticultural Society, Fiona Davison came across a cache of letters from a young gardener who was denied a scholarship by the RHS on the grounds that she was female. Intrigued by what happened to young Olive, Fiona began to research the wider story of early female professional gardeners and discovered a group of pioneers who battled derision and prejudice to change expectations of what women gardeners could do.
An Almost Impossible Thing follows six women gardeners in the years before the First World War, and examines their lives in the context of suffragism, collectivism and Empire. Although gardens are often seen as a refuge, a place to escape from the troubles of the modern world, this book reminds us of a period when British gardens were an arena for radical and far-reaching experiments. A time when a group of convention-busting women were gardening with purpose and quietly changing the world.
‘Fiona Davison…has written an engaging, thought-provoking account of “quiet revolutionaries hidden in plain sight”: the unmarried sisters and daughters who, in the dog days of the nineteenth century and beyond, chose to dedicate their lives to horticulture…Delightful, quirky and very human details animate Davison’s well-researched narrative.’ Matthew Dennison, The Daily Telegraph
OUT NOW in hardback.
FIONA DAVISON is Head of Libraries and Exhibitions at the Royal Horticultural Society. She is also the author of The Hidden Horticulturalists: The Working-Class Men Who Shaped Britain’s Gardens, which became a Top Ten Gardening Book in the Sunday Telegraph and was described as ‘delightful’ (Daily Mail), ‘highly original’ (Gardens Illustrated) and praised for its ‘deep research and insight’ (Literary Review).