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 the 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 humor, energy, and experience have made her a go-to speaker everywhere from universities to the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world.
Kathryn grew up in the San Joaquin Valley of California — “The Bread Basket of the World”– surrounded by peach, walnut and almond orchards. She is the granddaughter of California farmers and the daughter of a high school agriculture teacher who designed gardens.
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 BA in English, a MA in English, a Diploma in Garden Design and a MA 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 is interdisciplinary and explores historic, horticultural, and natural history themes with a contemporary perspective. With interests in the arts and sciences, she has taught long-form journalism, creative nonfiction, research paper writing, composition, critical thinking and biology at a range of places including 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 currently an Associate Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Plymouth. She is a member of the Association for Writers and Writing Programs and the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment.
As a landscape historian and parent of three children, the changing nature of childhood and access to nature 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 Outside, Sierra, The Children and Nature Network, The Wild Network, Devon Life and many other magazines and newspapers. Her latest article for Outside magazine entitled “Women Writing About the Wild: 25 Essential Authors” can be read here.
Kathryn’s garden designs 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 wild/natural playgrounds for children and therapeutic gardens for hospices and hospitals. Her Design page has sample projects.
Kathryn brings a historical breadth and depth of into her writing, design and lectures. Professor of Garden History Timothy Mowl describes her interpretive writing about 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 teacher and speaker, she delivers lively public lectures on history and horticultural themes with a modern sensibility. For large corporate events, she is represented by Chartwell Speakers here. For booking smaller events at museums, universities, libraries and garden clubs, you can learn more here.
Below, a debate at The Royal Horticultural Society “Are Gardens Art?” More interviews can be found on Kathryn’s Media page.