Woman Gibson, Emily

Educator, Garden designer, Horticulturist, Landscape architect, Pioneer and Writer
Alternative Names
  • Gibson, Millie

Written by Anne Vale, The University of Melbourne

Emily (Millie) Grassick (1887-1974) was a pioneer Australian trained horticulturist, the first female landscape architect and a campaigner for professional Australian landscape design training. She wrote prolifically for broadsheet newspapers and worked on significant public landscapes.

Grassick immigrated from Dublin in 1911. After graduating from Burnley Horticultural College (Burnley) in 1916, Grassick was apprenticed to Americans Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937) and Marion Mahony (1871-1961), architects who were at the forefront of architectural and landscape thinking in Australia at that time. Their planting design for the garden at Newman College, University of Melbourne executed around 1917, primarily utilised Australian native plants. This enabled Grassick to gain firsthand experience, designing one of the first examples of an Australian native garden planted by professionals. She was particularly influenced by the talented Marion Mahony whose landscape design, graphic art and plant knowledge was formidable and through contact with the creative Griffin associate, mural artist and landscape painter Bertha Merfield (1865-1921). Through this opportunity she became one of the first local professionals to be employed by the Griffins and the first female 'qualified Australian landscape architect' at that time. From 1918 until 1922 she was an instructor at Burnley lecturing in horticulture and landscape design. Grassick completed her education by taking a landscape architectural apprenticeship in London with the highly distinguished landscape architectural firm, Milner, White & Son.

She joined the daily broadsheet the Argus in 1924, writing under the pseudonym of 'Culturalist'. For the next 22 years she answered more than 2000 letters annually. From 1926 she also wrote for the sister publication, the weekly Australasian. In her 1933 obituary for the English designer Gertrude Jekyll she expressed admiration for Jekyll and associate William Robinson, in moving garden-making away from formality and towards a softer more natural style. After she wrote a full page spread on the famous Australian rose breeder Alistair Clark he named a beautiful dark red rose after her. In addition to garden journalism, Gibson gave a series of lectures to the inmates at the Melbourne prison Pentridge. As her commitments as a journalist were all consuming she passed on garden design projects to fellow designers, including one to the young Edna Walling.

Millie Grassick married the agricultural editor of the Australasian, Ernest George Muller Gibson in 1934, intending to retire from journalistic life. After Ernest's death in 1944, Gibson returned to her career. She taught at a number of schools including Tintern Girl's Grammar in Hawthorn and Brighton Technical College. In the 1940s, she returned again to Burnley, to instruct returned servicemen, where she continued to teach until 1953.

There being no postgraduate courses available in Australia, Gibson persuaded Kings College, Durham University in the UK, to accept Burnley graduates. She also actively encouraged her students to find work and establish landscape design practices. In 1949, Gibson drew up a plan for the garden for the new administration building at Burnley School of Horticulture which remains substantially as she designed it. She also commenced a long association with architectural firm Stephenson and Turner at this time, balancing her writing with large public projects. Her last known project was the garden of St Hilda's College at the University of Melbourne, completed in 1964. Gibson's forged opportunities for women's education in landscape architecture as a role model and active campaigner. Her influence extended over four decades disseminating garden making skills to generations of new gardeners.

Published Resources


  • Vale, Anne, 'Olive Mellor and the Australian Suburban Garden', Masters Thesis, The University of Melbourne: Faculty of Land and Food Resources, 2005. Details
  • Vale, Anne, 'Exceptional Australian Garden Makers of the 20th Century', PhD thesis, The University of Melbourne: Department of Resource Management and Geography, 2009. Details

See also