2011 Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture Awards, Award in Garden History
Bee Dawson has written extensively on many aspects of gardening and horticulture but it is her two books on New Zealand horticultural history that make her such a deserving recipient of the Institute’s Award in Garden History.
The earlier of these books, Lady Painters: the flower painters of early New Zealand (Viking, 1999; reprinted 2007), is an account of nine woman artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of these women, such as Martha King, Emily Harris and Fanny Osborne, compare well with professional botanical artists anywhere and they illustrated their plants with great flair and accuracy. Others such as Margaret Stoddart, whose paintings are still in great demand, excelled more at landscapes, in portraying massed plants in gardens or in flower arrangements. All women were united by a delight in plants.
Lady Painters is a book to enjoy as well as being instructive and it is well illustrated by good examples of each artist’s oeuvre. In Bee Dawson’s own words, it is “fundamentally a social history, concerned rather more with the painters than the paintings”. However, in telling us of these remarkable women, of their difficulties and too often straitened circumstances, she makes us better able to appreciate what they achieved.
…As a social historian, Bee Dawson may well prefer people to plants. However, all of us who have an interest in gardening (and books) will be glad that she writes about people and their plants. Our appreciation of her efforts is shown by our presenting her with the Institute’s 2011 Award in Garden History.