In 1896, Alice Hutchings and Annie Gulvin were the two first women gardeners employed by Kew. Both were recruited after obtaining a Diploma from Swanley Horticultural College for Women, in Kent. Hutchings had obtained a Kent County Council Scholarship to attend the two-year course. Swanley Council persuaded the Director of Kew, William Thiselton-Dyer, to experiment with the employment of Swanley students. Hutchings wrote to Kew to apply for the position. She excelled in her role and became sub-forewoman in the Alpine Pits.
On leaving Kew she went as gardener to Mrs Cranfield, near Ipswich. Later she became the Head Gardener at Burstall, Suffolk. By 1902 all of the women gardeners employed as part of the experiment at Kew had left to take up horticultural posts elsewhere.
In 1902 Alice Hutchings married another Kewite, William Henry Patterson, who had also been a colleague at Swanley. When Patterson obtained a government post in the West Indies, Alice accompanied him. In 1912 Patterson was appointed Government Entomologist for the Gold Coast in West Africa, where they stayed for 20 years. Mrs Patterson joined her husband on numerous trekking expeditions, and on occasion entered native districts where no white woman had travelled before. After Patterson’s retirement they stayed on in Uganda. At the time of her death she was visiting her daughter in England.
Women gardeners were not employed at Kew again until the First World War.
Cope, G. (1945), In Memoriam, Alice Hutchings (Mrs W.H. Patterson), Journal of the Kew Guild 6: 403.
Parker, L. & Ross-Jones, K. (2013), The Story of Kew Gardens in Photographs, Arcturus Publishing, London.
Photo: Kew Guild Collection, KGU/1/9/3/262