Isabella Preston “Queen of Ornamental Horticulture”

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Isabella Preston

An ornamental plant pioneer, Isabella Preston created nearly 200 new hardy hybrids of lily, lilac, crab apple, iris and roses for Canada’s cold climate. During her 26-year career, she quietly challenged gender bias. When she began working in 1912, female plant breeders were rather rare. She became the first professional female hybridist in Canada in 1916. She was the first person to focus solely on breeding ornamental plants and her work set the stage for new generations of breeding programs at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, and elsewhere.

Born in Lancaster, England in 1880, Isabella Preston moved to Canada in 1912. She studied plant breeding at the Ontario Agricultural College (University of Guelph) and helped breed various vegetables, fruits and flowering plants. In 1920, she relocated to Ottawa to work at the Central Experimental Farm where she became a specialist in ornamental horticulture.

Isabella Preston gained international recognition by introducing the acclaimed “George C. Creelman” lily. She has developed many of the 125 different strains in the Central Experimental Farm lilac collection. It’s worth a trip to the Farm to see them in bloom along with her crab apples and two of her rose hybrids.

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