SHEroes of Horticulture: Episode 1

By Christine March, Master Gardener, SCMG

A semi-regular series celebrating women who made significant contributions to horticulture but whose stories have been lost in the dustbin of history.

 Lorrie Dunington-Grubb

If you garden in southern Ontario you are likely familiar with Sheridan Nurseries. With eight stores spanning Kitchener to Whitby, most of us have shopped at one of their stores at some point in our gardening lives.

But did you know this iconic chain of gardening stores was co-founded by a woman?

No?

Let me introduce you to Lorrie Dunington-Grubb. A woman who was a pioneer in a field mostly dominated by men.

Lorrie Alfreda Dunington was born in England in 1877. She travelled widely with her family as a child but eventually settled back in England where she attended the Swanley Horticultural College. Following graduation Lorrie became the Head Gardener for an Irish estate, a position normally held by men. In time Ms Dunington partnered Mr. H. Selfe-Leonard and together they designed gardens all over Britain. It was through Mr. Selfe-Leonard – a disciple of Gertrude Jekyll – Ms Dunington developed her love of herbaceous borders.

In 1911 landscape architect Howard Grubb attended a lecture in London by “rising lady landscape architect” Lorrie Dunington. They married and, in an unusually progressive move, blended their surnames, each adopting the new surname “Dunington-Grubb.” That same year the couple moved to Canada, settling in Toronto where they opened their firm: H.B. & L.A. Dunington-Grubb, Landscape Architects. In no time their small firm was enjoying great success and the designing couple became the darlings of the Toronto elite.

Frustrated by the lack of ornamental plant material available the couple opened Sheridan Nurseries on 100 acres of land in Sheridan, ON in 1913. They hired Scandinavian horticulturalist Herman Stennson to run the nursery thus freeing the Dunington-Grubbs to concentrate on their design projects. From their base in Toronto this dynamic couple created classic gardens for both private and public clients. Some of their better known projects include the design and layout for Toronto’s Lawrence Park suburb, the Rainbow Bridge Gardens in Niagara Falls, the gardens of the Manitoba Parliament Buildings, the entrance park at McMaster University, Torontos grand University Ave, Toronto’s Graydon Hall Manor (now a luxury wedding and event venue), and the Parkwood Estate in Oshawa, ON.

By 1926 the nursery had grown to 250 acres and grew a wide range of trees, shrubs and perennials. The first seasonal garden centres were opened in the early 1920s in what is now downtown Toronto and on Southdown Road in Mississauga. Today the name “Sheridan Gardens” is synonymous with quality garden materials, design expertise, and home accessories.

Ms Dunington-Grubb’s active career was cut short in 1928 by tuberculosis but she remained committed to the landscape design field, and was active in numerous organizations that supported women in the arts. She also belonged to societies such as the University Women’s Club and the Council of Women. She spoke on out on numerous social issues and lectured on housing and town planning at the University of Toronto.

In 1934 Ms Dunington-Grubb co-founded the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects with her husband, Howard and seven others, and was President until shortly before her death in 1945 at the age of 68.

Lorrie Dunington-Grubb was a trailblazer, an entrepreneur, a supporter of women-focussed causes, an educator, and an equal partner with her husband in creating iconic landscape designs across the country, and the co-founder of what is arguably the best known retail gardening chain in Ontario.

And yet when I search for her name on the CSLA website there is no page dedicated to her career and many accomplishments. She appears in her husband’s biography and is noted primarily as an appendage to her husband. Lorrie Dunington-Grubb deserves better.