The first president of the Landscape Institute was a design pioneer and helped shape the future of the profession. Now a new book sheds light on her achievements

Brenda Colvin
A photograph of Brenda Colvin taken in the 1970s, courtesy of Colvin Moggridge

A biography of Brenda Colvin, the first president of the Landscape Institute, was published earlier this month, giving her some well-deserved publicity.

She showed foresight and flair both in promoting landscape architecture as its own profession, and in her design approach by promoting ecology and using touches such as block planting of perennials.

When she was elected to lead the LI in 1951, the appointment made national news because she was a woman. Colvin went on to further the cause of landscape architecture while sitting on post-war planning committees dealing with major projects such as new towns, roads, power stations and reservoirs.

Her work can still be seen today at Trimpley reservoir in Worcestershire and a number of wildlife ponds that were created near power stations. Another of her key projects was the redesign of Aldershot.

Strong-willed

Former colleague Chris Carter, a consultant at her practice Colvin Moggridge, recalled how architects working on the project would draw lots to decide who had to phone her with news that she might not like.

He added: “She was a shy person really, but you can be shy and have a strong will. She could turn people to pillars of salt just by looking at them.”

One project that she worked on in the early 1960s is still underway. A hill was built at Gale Common in North Yorkshire using waste ash from coal-fired power stations. When complete the scheme will cover 303 hectares.

Born in India in 1897, she came to England as a child and set up her own practice in 1922. Throughout the twenties and thirties she concentrated on designing private gardens, showing her unique talent by using drift planting and slopes to conceal grass tennis courts.

Colvin was one of the founder members of the LI in 1929, a group of professionals who wanted to distinguish themselves from garden designers. She had visited America where landscape architecture was well-established, and went on to promote the discipline in the UK.

She burned many of her plans and drawings but had two influential books published – Land and Landscape and Trees for Town and Country.

Brenda Colvin: A Career in Landscape was published by Frances Lincoln on February 3 2011.

 

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