In a fit of New Year zeal, we started (note that I said ‘started’) a bit of a clear-up of what for want of a better word you might call ‘stuff’. Out of this stuff emerged some old family photographs, reminding me that I should organise them a bit better and finally get around to finding out more about the people featured in them, adding to sometimes unreliable family tales. Those with subscriptions to Ancestry or other genealogical databases will know immediately what’s coming: I was soon addicted.
What might this sorry story have to do with horticulture? Bear with me, please.
Amongst the stuff were box-loads of index cards recording research material that we had produced literally decades ago in pre-Google times. The purpose of the research was to compile a database of British and Irish Journalists – at least that task was accomplished and published!- and my Ancestry addiction offered the chance to do a bit of editing.
Here we reach the point of this post. Among the information gleaned from the records of the Society of Women Journalists at the British Library and other sources was a biographical sketch of Helen Colt, a fellow of the RHS. In the 1911 census Helen Ann Mary Colt, of 4 Priory Court Mansions, Mazenod Avenue, West Hampstead, gave her occupation as ‘jobbing gardener’. Indeed the project had already noted one of her appearances in print on the subject:
Woman’s Platform, interviewed on jobbing gardening as a career for women, March 1912.
A photograph of Helen Colt appeared in the Daily Mirror on 16 March 1915 accompanying an article in which she demonstrated the use of a rake and a spade and in the same month The Globe reminded readers that she gave lectures to teachers on school gardening every Saturday at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Regent’s Park. But Helen Colt wasn’t active only in this country during the war. In August 1917 she was one of a party of professional women gardeners organised under the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps to advise on the tending of British war graves in France. Furthermore:
In 1920 she established [an] organisation with the object of restoring and provisioning the small gardens attached to local schools in the areas of France that had been devastated by war. This involved the encouragement of English schoolchildren to help by contributing seeds and plants to the project. By mid-1923 she reported that 250 gardens attached to elementary schools in France had been restored and provisioned through the action of the organisation. [Notes taken from https://scoop-database.com/%5D
The coincidences of the title of this post relate only partly to the recovery of these index cards and my family tree obsession. In November 2021 – just two months ago – Maria Precedo, a volunteer with the London Gardens Trust, submitted a blog post about Helen Colt to the LGT site. * I found this via a Google search for Helen Colt after we unearthed our ‘stuff’ and I assume that the research is part of the Gardens Trust’s current interest in forgotten women gardeners. **
Exactly 140 years after her birth, Helen Colt seems to be having a moment.
* https://londongardenstrust.org/category/uncategorised/ [Helen Colt]
** https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/forgotten-women-gardeners-alice-the-all-powerful-de-rothschild-tickets-224681647857 [Talk about Alice d Rothschild]