Norah Lindsay (nee Bourke) was a gardener and garden designer active in the early- to mid-20th century. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography she was born in India in April 1873. Miles Hadfield in his British Gardeners: A Biographical Dictionary, however, places her birth in County Galway, Eire.
She was the second child of the military officer, Major the Honourable Edward Roden Bourke (born 1835, died 1907), and his wife, Emma Mary Augusta Hatch (born 1853, died 1935) of London, England. In 1874 she and her family moved to back to England, first into a house in Montagu Square, London and then to 25 Great Cumberland Place, London. With her family being quite well off, a governess educated her.
On 27 April 1895 she married Henry Edith Arthur Lindsay (died 1939), a soldier of similar means, the younger brother of artist, Violet Marion Margaret Lindsay (born 1856, died 1937), later Violet Manners, duchess of Rutland. The two were given a Tudor manor house at Sutton Courtenay in Oxfordshire as a wedding gift by Lord Wantage, a family friend.
Soon after giving birth to her two children, Nancy Robina Winifred (born 1896) and David Ludovic Peter (born 1900) Norah Lindsay began to take a strong interest in practical gardening.
At the Manor House, Sutton Courtenay, rather than following current gardening trends and allowing long drifts of only single kinds of plants, she allowed self-set seedlings to stay and created vast arrays of mixed flowers, contained and controlled by box hedges and carefully clipped yews. In the 1920s, she added a wild garden beside the river Thames that skirted the property. She described her efforts in detail in an article she wrote for Country Life magazine published on 16 May 1931.
Upon the advice of her friend, Nancy Astor, in the 1920s she began to charge for garden consultancy. She had designed gardens for Astor at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire and was remarkably skillful in dressing up its gardens for Ascot house parties. Soon she began arranging colourful planting schemes for other country house owning elites including the Horners at Mells in Somerset, Nancy Lancaster at both Kelmarsh in Northamptonshire and Ditchley in Oxfordshire, Philip Lothian at Blickling Hall, Philip Sassoon at Port Lympne and Trent Park, the Prince of Wales at Fort Belvedere in Windsor Great Park and the Russells at Mottisfont Abbey. Her work greatly impressed Christopher Hussey and Vita Sackville-West.
What started amongst her circle of aristocratic friends in the UK soon spread abroad. Norah Lindsay designed gardens for Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan in France, Princess Aspasia at the Palazzo Contanini Accademia in Venice, Prince Otto von Bismarck at Friedrichsruh in Germany and Prince Paul of Yugoslavia at Bled.
Her greatest gardening friendship was with the French-born, garden designer Major Lawrence Johnston (born 1871, died 1958) in the 1930s. Together Lindsay and Johnston worked on bringing the planting of Johnston's garden at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire, England to its best.
After the Second World War, Johnston wished to retire to his garden in France and intended to leave Hidcote Manor to Lindsay who had been forced to sell the manor house at Sutton Courtenay, following her husband's death in 1939.
When Norah Lindsay herself died suddenly, at her London home, Flat 410, Carrington House, Hertford Street, Westminster, on 20 June 1948, the National Trust acquired Hidcote Manor. David Astor bought Sutton Courtenay.
Brown, Jane, ‘Lindsay , Norah Mary Madeleine (1873–1948)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/49184> [accessed 27 December 2007]
Hadfield, Miles, et. al., British Gardeners: A Biographical Dictionary (A. Zwemmer, 1980), pp. 180-181.
Hayward, Allyson, Norah Lindsay: The Life and Art of a Garden Designer (London: Frances Lincoln, 2007)
The National Portrait Gallery, London, Search the Collection, 'Norah Mary Madelaine Lindsay (nee Bourke) (1873-1948), Gardener' <http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp15236> [accessed 27 December 2007]