Helen Hendry: Fort Myers Pioneer

Guest Blog by Tom Hall and Robin Tuthill

Helen Johnson HendryNo discussion of Fort Myers’ female pioneers would be complete without mention of Helen Johnson Hendry. One of 24 women who are profiled in Female Pioneers of Fort Myers: Women Who Made a Difference in the City’s Development by Robin C. Tuthill and Tom Hall (Editorial Rx Press, 2015), Helen Hendry was the granddaughter-in-law of City Father, Francis Asbury Hendry, daughter-in-law of Everglades Nursery founder James Hendry and a confidant and consultant to Mina Edison on matters of gardening and landscape design. Described as a titan of horticulture in Southwest Florida, Helen Hendry died at the age of 85 on June 10, 2016.

Hendry first met Mina when she was just 12 years old. Already employed by Everglades Nursery, the eager, enthusiastic and ever-curious young girl bumped into Mina when she was exploring – uninvited – the gardens on the Edisons’ 13-acre estate. They formed a fast friendship, and Mina often consulted with Helen during her frequent trips to Everglades Nursery. After Mina deeded the Estates to the City of Fort Myers in 1947, Helen helped design landscaping installations at the Estates that included the traffic-stopping rosy-pink bougainvillea hedge along the north boundary behind the museum. Planted  in the 1950s, it is one of the most famous landmarks in Fort Myers and many consider it to be among her finest designs. In fact, Helen Hendry played such a critical role in the beautification of the nonprofit property and throughout the region as a “tree pioneer” that Estates President/CEO Chris Pendleton endearingly says Hendry “built her career from the ground up.”

Helen eventually became an Edison Ford trustee. In that capacity, she regularly walked the gardens with staff, pointing out historical tidbits and plant science. She worked on the long range plan for garden restoration and conservation and was a tireless plant scientist and designer. “Needless to say, she will be missed,” notes Edison Ford Curator Mike Cosden. But to ensure that her legacy will continue to live on, the Estates has established the Helen Johnson Hendry Horticulture Intern Scholarship to provide paid internships for college students working at Edison Ford who are pursuing academic work in  horticulture, botany, plant science and landscape architecture.

In addition to the Edison Ford Estates, Helen worked with many prominent clients in Naples, Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva Island. She left an indelible mark as far south as Key West through her expert efforts in beautifying private residences, municipal and government projects, and commercial developments. And for that work, Hendry was honored by numerous organizations during the course of her six-decade career, including the Florida Federation of Garden Councils, Florida Nursery Growers Palm Chapter, and the PACE Center for Girls of Lee County, which designated her one of their Grand Dames in 2010 along with Veronica Shoemaker and Jeanne Bochette.

In 1987, Helen became a director of the Florida Nursery and Grower’s Association, where she lobbied the Florida State Legislature for passage of a bill requiring registration and examination of landscape architects. She served on the Board of Landscape Architects for 14 years and was the third person and first female certified by the State of Florida’s Board of Landscape Architects. Her permit simply bore the numerals “03” in the space where the license number is printed.

For more on Helen Johnson Hendry’s life, times and accomplishments, pick up your copy of Female Pioneers of Fort Myers: Women Who Made a Difference in the City’s Development. To order your copy, please click here. And for more information on the Helen Johnson Hendry Horticultural Intern Scholarship or the upcoming exhibit of Helen Hendry’s work in the Edison Ford Caretaker’s House, please contact Nancy Achter, Edison Ford Estates Development Manager/Executive Assistant at 239-334-7419 or nachter@edisonfordwinterestates.org.

 

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