Kathryn Aalto is an American writer, designer, historian and lecturer living in Exeter, England. For the past twenty-five years, her focus has been on places where nature and culture intersect: teaching literature of nature and place, designing gardens, and writing about the natural world. She is the author of The New York Times Bestseller The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh:
A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood (2015) and Nature and Human Intervention (2011). Her wry expat humor, energy, and experience have made her a go-to speaker everywhere from Ivy League universities to the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world.
Kathryn grew up in the San Joaquin Valley of California surrounded by peach, walnut and almond orchards. She was educated at the University of California at Berkeley, Western Washington University, the London College of Garden Design and the University of Bristol from which she received a Bachelor’s in English, a Master’s in English, a Diploma in Garden Design and a Master’s in Garden History. She is working on her third book. After renovating a turn-of-the-century farm and gardens, and restoring a salmon spawning stream outside of Seattle for 15 years, she left the Pacific Northwest for picturesque Devon in 2007, discovering England’s ancient network of public footpaths, a landscape feature that weaves its way into much of her writing.
Her work explores historic and horticultural themes with a contemporary twist. With interests in the arts and sciences, she has taught biology, critical thinking and American Literature of Nature and Place at a range of places including U.C. Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, the Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University, the English Department at Western Washington University, and Everett Community College. She is Adjunct Lecturer at Exeter College and a member of the Author’s Guild, the Association for Writers and Writing Programs, the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, and the Garden History Society.
As a landscape historian and parent of three children, the changing nature of childhood and children’s freedom in the natural world has been a focus of hers. She is also interested in plant hunters and literary landscapes. In addition to her books, Kathryn’s writing has appeared in in Sierra, The Children and Nature Network, The Wild Network, Devon Life and many other magazines and newspapers.
As a landscape historian and garden designer, Kathryn’s projects are diverse in scope. They are noted for their historical narrative, comprehensive site analysis, underlying simplicity, and painter’s eye for composition, colour, shadow and light. She designs classic to contemporary gardens with a strong background in Italian and English garden history informing her work. In the public realm, she has special interest in designing natural playgrounds for children and therapeutic gardens for hospices and hospitals. See her Design page for a sample of projects.
Kathryn brings a historical breadth and depth of into her writing, design and lectures. Professor of Garden History Timothy Mowl describes her writing interpreting landscapes and gardens as “exemplary” “impeccable” and “perfect” — noting its beauty, clear analysis, and an assured combination of primary-source research and meticulous site investigation. A warm and experienced speaker, she delivers lively lectures on history and horticultural themes with a modern sensibility. Learn more about her speaking here.
Hear Kathryn speak in the following video.
Are Gardens Art? The RHS Debate
More interviews can be found on Kathryn’s Media page.