The Gardens Celebrates Influential Women

Herbalism, Horticulture, IDEA, Research

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we collected just a few of our staff’s picks for the women who most influenced them, personally and professionally. Read on and celebrate the vital role of women in American history. 

“I watched and learned from my mother, Frances Dixon, a math teacher who loved to see math in nature, such as the Fibonacci sequence, and grew whatever fancied her visual interest and taste buds. Then there was a garden center coworker, Diana Hibbard, who embodied the fact that plants help people through the hardest times. There are too many women to count who have influenced me to become a horticulturist and horticultural therapist, and I will never forget them and I thank them in my heart, mind, and through the work I do every day.” ~Irene B., Education

“I chose Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), a Maine native, a gender non-conforming social and political feminist, and American poet who, in 1923 at the young age of 19, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Her work influenced the likes of nature poet, Mary Oliver. Vincent’s famous poem, “Renascence,” explores, as did much of her poetry, the human condition and our connection to nature from a feminist point of view. Her life’s work inspired the creation of the Millay Colony for the Arts, a popular community arts program offering residency, retreats, and workshops to aspiring writers, poets, and artists, as well as offers arts programs for local, underserved schools.” ~Jen D., Horticulture

“Tasha Tudor was a children’s book illustrator, farmsteader, and avid flower gardener. She lived her life uniquely by surrounding herself with the things she loved most in life—tulips, fragrant dianthus, honeybees, deciduous azaleas, goats, African violets, birds, and children. Her home gardens, which she tended herself by hand, are awe-inspiring.” ~Courtney L., Horticulture


Edna Millay; Arnold Genthe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Rachel Carson; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


E. Barrie Kavasch is a foremost authority on Native American cultures and cuisines. She is an herbalist, ethnobotanist, mycologist, and food historian of Cherokee, Creek, and Powhatan descent, with Scotch-Irish, English, and German heritage as well. I did a drumming circle with her for years when I worked at a nature center and gave school group tours about Eastern Woodland Indian culture. She has written many books, including The Medicine Wheel Garden that she included my recipe for skin crème in! Though already reading everything I could on plants and how they are used, she, in her very sweet and unassuming way, gave the book a grounded and holistic dimension that became part of me ever since.”  ~Vanessa N., Education

Maria Sibylla Merian was a naturalist and biological illustrator who was one of the first people to closely observe and document insect metamorphosis and categorize species and their interactions within their given environment—before Darwin! She collected and raised insects to observe their life cycles at a time when people thought they just appeared out of the ground. She was also one of the first people to document that insects have specific host plants that they depend on for survival. Also her artwork is just beautiful!” ~Emily B., Education

“Although there have been many inspiring women along the way, I have found myself recently very inspired by Abra Lee, our 2021 Ina and Lew Heafitz Lecturer. She has made an artform out of storytelling and connection, weaving the considerable threads of her plant-based knowledge with the truths, legacies, and histories from Black gardeners and farmers who came before her. Abra Lee has been researching and shining a light on Black history’s growers, helping to put them into their rightful places in the overall history of American gardening and horticulture—and, along the way, inspiring others to follow their passions, wherever they lead.” ~Tory P., Marketing


Abra Lee
Town and Garden Club c/o Abra Lee

“Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and author who changed the world through her powerful and eloquent writings including Silent Spring, The Sense of Wonder, and The Sea Around Us. Her works effectively communicated the majesty of the natural world, the threats that human activity posed to ecosystem health, and the deep importance of conservation. Carson spent her summers on nearby Southport Island.” ~Michaela B., Philanthropy

“My ornithology professor in college, Dr. Susan Hengeveld, was one of the most approachable, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable professors that I had. She gave me hands-on experience with birds (literally – through the class, we handled birds that had been caught in mist nets), she showed me the great sandhill crane migration (which will forever stick out in my memory both for its incredible sight and sound), and she taught me birding skills that I still use today, both for fun in my free time and for work where I share my love for birds with our guests here at the Gardens.” ~Bridget V., Education

“For me, Deb Soule, herbalist and founder of Avena Botanicals, has been a huge influence in my own herbal studies. I remember finding her book Healing Herbs for Women in a used bookstore, and it changed my life. It also set me on a path of studying biodynamic horticulture, which is based on the work of philosopher and scientist Dr. Rudolf Steiner, and has been developing since 1924. I’m so inspired by how closely she aligns her life with the yearly agricultural rhythm.” ~Amy H., Marketing

To learn more, visit womenshistorymonth.gov, where the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have come together to offer a variety of resources to encourage the study and celebration of the contributions of women.