Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Barnes (née Gilchrist) studied philosophy at Sweet Briar College, graduating in 1927. She subsequently attended Cambridge College’s School of Landscape Architecture (now Smith College) where she was among the first class of graduates in 1934. Following her education, she returned to Cleveland to start a landscape architecture practice with Hanna Champlin Scott and Lucille Teeter Kissack. Specializing in herb garden design, Barnes designed the Tudor-influenced Western Reserve Herb Society herb garden located in Cleveland’s Wade Park (1969, now part of the Cleveland Botanical Garden). Her 1965 design for the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum was later implemented by Sasaki Associates and dedicated in 1980.
In addition to herb gardens, Barnes designed residential landscapes in Cleveland such as the Wanda and Harry Ritchie Garden in Cleveland Heights (1956) and Pebblebrook Farm House and Garden (1948 and 1949), in Chesterland, Ohio, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Her signature inclusion of millstones in her garden designs can be seen at both the Western Reserve Herb Society and at Pebblebrook. In 1934, as part of a Civil Works Administration-funded project to improve Cleveland’s public space, Barnes participated in the City Plan Commission’s Landscape Division, for which she suggested landscape developments at several Cleveland cemeteries, including Monroe Street, Brookmere, Denison (now Brooklyn Centre Burying Ground), and Broadview (now Brooklyn Heights Cemetery). Barnes also served as the Director of Landscaping and Development at Sweet Briar College for 30 years and received various national awards for her contributions to the fields of botany and horticulture. She wrote numerous articles on garden design and maintenance for Landscape Architecture magazine with Kissack and Real Gardening magazine with Kissack and Champlin. Barnes died in Hickory, North Carolina, at the age of 89 and is buried at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.