Early professional female landscape gardener receives English Heritage blue plaque

  • Fanny Wilkinson honoured with plaque at her former home on Shaftesbury Avenue

Fanny Wilkinson, believed to be Britain’s first professional female landscape gardener, and a campaigner for the protection of open space in London, has been commemorated with a blue plaque, English Heritage announced today (7 June 2022). Marking the façade of the flat on Shaftesbury Avenue, where Wilkinson lived and worked between 1885 and 1896, the plaque will look out onto the small open space that she laid out over 130 years ago, just a few months before moving into the flat. In reference to the spot outside her future home, she recommended that, 'if some trees were planted, or seats placed on it, it would be a great boon to this crowded neighbourhood'.

Wilkinson began work as an honorary landscape gardener to the Metropolitan Public Boulevards, Gardens and Playgrounds Association (MPGA), an organisation whose mission was the formation of gardens and public parks that would create playgrounds and green 'lungs', especially in poor districts of the capital. In June 1885 it was agreed that she should be able to charge five per cent on all her MPGA payments leading her to drop the 'honorary' title and become Britain’s first professional female landscape gardener.

Gardener and television presenter, Rachel de Thame, said: "Fanny Wilkinson was a horticultural pioneer. She blazed a trail for those women who work as head gardeners, garden designers and landscapers at the highest level today. Many of her gardens survive, including Vauxhall Park and Paddington Street Gardens, and remain a great asset to the capital. And yet, few of us will immediately know her name. English Heritage is to be applauded for this blue plaque, which will bring Fanny Wilkinson’s considerable achievements to prominence once more."

English Heritage Historian, Rebecca Preston, said: "For her role as an early professional female landscape gardener, a promoter of women’s horticultural education, an advocate for women’s rights, and a campaigner for the protection of open space in London, Fanny Wilkinson deserves to be better known. She is to be honoured with a plaque at the place where she really established her career – and laid out an adjacent piece of ground."

"Her legacy is to be found not just in the larger parks and the many gardens created from London’s disused churchyards, which she was also responsible for, but in the multitude of small open spaces – such as the one that still lies opposite this building – to be found throughout London."

The London blue plaques scheme was established in 1866 and today, only 14 per cent of the scheme’s 970 plus plaques commemorate women. English Heritage doesn’t think this is good enough and is working to address the historic gender imbalance in the scheme. The London blue plaques scheme relies on public nominations and since 2016 the charity has been encouraging people to nominate more remarkable female figures from the past – figures like Fanny Wilkinson – for an iconic blue roundel.

The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme is generously supported by David Pearl and members of the public.

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