Isabella Preston

Grand Lady of Canadian Horticulture

Today is the birthday of Canada’s first professional woman plant breeder - a woman called the “dean of hybridists” and the “Grand Lady of Canadian Horticulture" - Isabella Preston, who was born on this day in 1881.

Vita Sackville-West once acknowledged,

"I must confess I don't know anything about Miss Isabella Prestonof Ottawa. . ."

Preston's name had become famous as the result of her lily hybrids. She bred the renowned George C. Creelman hybrid lily in 1919. 
Vita would have loved Preston's practical and hard-won advice. When a colleague asked Preston what she should do with her rock garden, Preston's advice was fascinating:

“Use every bit of rock – Don’t be afraid of it. Plant between, atop or along side. Presently, you will be convinced that flowers need near them the harsh stability of stone.” 

Preston was a self-taught plant hybridizer. In 1920 she joined the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. For almost three decades, she endeavored to create more blooms on more disease-resistant plants.  She created over 200 cultivars of six different plants, including lilacs, lilies, crab apples, columbine, Siberian iris, and roses. Preston Lilacs are named in her honor. Preston received many honors for her work. 

This post was featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

helping gardeners find their roots,
one story at a time
Isabella Preston
Isabella Preston

Leave a Comment