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Historic Garden Designers: Fanny Wilkinson

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Historic Garden Designers: Fanny Wilkinson

Fanny Wilkinson

This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the life and legacy of renowned landscape designer, Fanny Wilkinson.

One of Great Britain’s most esteemed and celebrated designers, Fanny Rollo Wilkinson was the first ever female landscape designer in the UK. Known to have designed around a total of 75 gardens and parks throughout London, you can still observe Wilkinson’s beautifully sculpted landscapes to this day! Having designed Myatt’s Fields Park in the Borough of Lambeth, Meath Gardens in Tower Hamlets and the glorious Vauxhall Park, Wilkinson has a variety of well-known landscapes to her name. Next in our historic garden designer series, let’s explore the breathtaking landscapes and parklands crafted by Fanny Wilkinson.

Early Life 

Born in Greenheys, Manchester, in 1855, Fanny Wilkinson was the daughter of Dr Matthew Wilkinson and his wife Louisa Letitia. The oldest daughter of five siblings, Wilkinson was known to have spent the majority of her childhood playing in the fields adjacent to their family garden. Soon after her father suddenly passed away, the family relocated to Middlethorpe Hall in York, the location in which Wilkinson first discovered and developed her passion for gardening.

A revolutionary for landscape design

Kickstarting her education, Wilkinson enrolled at the School of Gardening in Crystal Palace as their first female student. This changed the way that women were viewed in the world of horticulture and in 1881 this influenced the school to begin accepting other women to study. Shortly after in 1884, Wilkinson was selected as honorary landscape gardener at the MPGA. A London based charity, the MPGA was formed to establish and sustain greener landscapes throughout the city centre. This led to Wilkinson designing famous London parks and gardens such as Myatt’s Fields Park in Camberwell and Meath Gardens in Bethnal Green.

In 1885, Wilkinson changed her title and officially became the very first professional female landscape gardener. Taking a strong role in both garden design and activism, Wilkinson also spent many years campaigning for women’s rights alongside her career. Designing gardens big and small throughout London, Wilkinson played a huge role in preserving and enhancing London’s natural beauty, whilst also altering the world of horticulture into a more diverse and equal industry.

Famous landscape designs

With her designs most commonly found throughout London, Wilkinson’s Victorian garden designs can be visited and walked around to this day.

Vauxhall Park in Lambeth is one example of Wilkinson’s most famous designs. Opened in 1890 by the Prince and Princess of Wales, Fanny Wilkinson transformed this eight-acre area into a glorious city centre landscape. Dressing the grounds with interest, you can find a glorious orchard, lavender garden and fountain embedded throughout the design.

Myatt’s Fields Park in Camberwell is another park designed by Wilkinson that you can still visit to this day. A glorious 14-acre Victorian park, Myatt’s Fields includes a variety of traditional Victorian garden features such as winding pathways and symmetrical avenues of trees. With bio-diversity at the heart of this design, you can observe native bulb planting, wildflowers and grasslands dotted throughout this nectar-rich design.

Wilkinson’s career also included converting and reinventing a variety of churchyards and squares into glorious gardens such as St Luke’s Chelsea, St George’s Bloomsbury and Wilmington square. Softening and blending the barrier between busy London life and nature, Wilkinson applied her masterly eye for landscape design to preserve these open spaces into timeless, public gardens.

Eager to dive into more horticultural history? Scroll through our stories and see what we’re talking about this week. 

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