Thursday, 27 January 2011

Great garden designers - Gertrude Jekyll

Gertrude Jekyll's home - Munstead Wood in Surrey - designed by Edwin Lutyens
I haven't been to any new gardens recently so thought I'd start an occasional series about British garden designers. Today focusses on Gertrude Jekyll, who spent many years working alongside influential English architect Edwin Lutyens. Born in London in 1843, she came from a wealthy and well-connected family, who allowed her to study painting and botany at the South Kensington School of Art once she finished her schooling. This was a really unusual choice for a young woman in Victorian times, but she was undoubtedly a determined character and had talent as a painter. When she started designing gardens later in life, she used her Art School training to best advantage when drawing plans for clients.
The water garden at Vann in Surrey - open every Wednesday this year under the National Gardens Scheme
When I first started visiting gardens in Britain, Jekyll reared her head repeatedly, so I tried to visit gardens she'd designed, but found that I encountered more and more that were either "attributed' to her, or "based on a Gertrude Jekyll design". There seemed to be little evidence of surviving Jekyll gardens open to the public, with the possible exception of the garden at her own home, Munstead Wood in Surrey; the parterre at Hestercombe (below) in Somerset, where she organised the planting; and the wonderful water garden at Vann in Surrey (extended opening hours this year - every Wednesday this year from 6th April - 29th June, click link for details). 
The parterre at Hestercombe Gardens, Somerset - attributed to Gertrude Jekyll
Ask any gardener to name a well-known garden designer and Jekyll will probably be the first. She worked almost exclusively with Edwin Lutyens, who she met in 1889 and commissioned to design her own house - Munstead Wood (top). This commission marked the beginning of his successful career as an architect and when completed, Jekyll used her garden there to experiment with the unusual planting style she favoured - swathes of plants in blocks of colour, similar to an artist's palette. Potential clients came to her home to see both house and garden. By the beginning of the 20th century it had become extremely fashionable to employ this formidable duo to design your house and garden. Their working relationship continued for the next 30 years and included properties like Castle Drogo in Devon (below) and Goddards in Surrey.
The garden at Castle Drogo, Devon - another Lutyens/Jekyll collaboration
Jekyll was clearly a colourful character and certainly a prolific writer, with more than 1,000 magazine articles and 14 books to her name. She wrote regularly for Country Life and produced several garden books, including "Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden", first printed in 1914, but still in print today. I have a copy of the modern edition and it's one of my favourite books because her writing is still a joy to read; her illustrations - both botanical and garden plans - are delightful; and her commentary on the seasons is extremely apt. Well worth getting a copy if you don't already have one!
Upton Grey, Hampshire - Jekyll's "Lost Garden" lovingly restored by current owner
One Jekyll garden that went missing in the archives until it was re-discovered by its present owners, was The Manor House at Upton Grey in Hampshire. It has now been faithfully restored by Rosamund Wallinger, who has also written a book telling the story of the garden, from discovering the plans right through to the completed garden that surrounds the house today. It's an amazing achievement on Rosamund's part and if you are in the area, you really should try and visit this exceptional garden.
Le Bois des Moutiers outside Dieppe, France, where Jekyll drew up the garden plans, although she did not visit
Another property where much of the garden design is attributed to Jekyll is Le Bois des Moutiers, just outside Dieppe on the North coast of France, where Lutyens designed the house. Although she never visited the property, she drew up all the garden plans for it, which were executed by her lifelong garden partner, Edwin Lutyens. The borders at the front of the house are particularly Jekyllesque. For another fine garden where the two collaborated, closer to home, visit The Salutation at Sandwich in Kent.
The water garden at Tylney Hall in Hampshire is attributed to Gertrude Jekyll
Gertrude Jekyll never married, but throughout her life she travelled the world and continued to draw up plans for other people's gardens. Interestingly though, she rarely visited the sites, but designed the gardens from afar. There's a Gertrude Jekyll society in England, which has information on many of her gardens, but some of her finest drawings, photographs, letters and memorabilia are held in the Reef Point Collection at the University of California - it was here that Rosamund Wallinger found the original plans for Upton Grey!
The "Secret Gardens of Sandwich" at The Salutation in Kent

16 comments:

  1. Here in Connecticut a Jekyll garden in Woodbury, Glebe House, has been recently restored as her only extant American garden - worth a visit!

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  2. Oh my, what wonderful photos... I especially love the picture of the water garden at Vann! Larry

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  3. This was lovely, It's snowing again in Maine and a trip like this was inspiring.
    This lady Jekyll, was a very amazing woman.
    I saw the name Jekyll and thought of Mr. Hyde.
    Guess the movie came after her. It is a
    wonderful post.The Upton garden is my favorite.
    Thank you for all the work.
    yvonne

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  4. Beautiful. I bought three Gertrude Jekyll related gardening books when I was in high school. It's time I dig them out again.

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  5. Visiting Hestercombe and seeing first hand the results of the Jekyll-Lutyens collaboration was a highlight of our England trip in September. Definitely worth a visit to Hestercombe!

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  6. I'm with Larry...anything with water & stone tugs at my heart strings. Great Pictures!

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  7. You are so right, If I were asked to name a famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll is the name I would come up with. Seems like she kept working well in to her later years. I love that picture of Upton Grey.

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  8. Charlotte, I will be looking for a copy of Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden...thanks for the recommendation.

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  9. Stunning photos as always Charlotte. Many of our visitors to Coombe Trenchard say that there is a strong design feel of Jekyll. We know that she worked locally with the architect/designer of our gardens (Walter Sarel) whilst he was staying here, so chances are she inspected his work.
    Sarah

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  10. I especially like the initial photo on the post, as I am somewhat of a turfgrass person. The alternate heights are interesting as they fluctuate from the manicured to the wild meadow. I try to use this contrast at home. My wife thinks it looks unkempt.

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  11. Great post. The design of the garden are fantastic and I love the house too.

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  12. I love your posts because they have beautiful photos, excellent writing, and are packed with useful information. I have a book of garden essays by my bed right now and will read the one by Gertrude Jekyll first. Why are her papers in California?

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  13. Wonderful information on a very talented woman. Every time I crack open a book I see her name. I have yet to read any of her books, but some day...

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  14. Charlotte,
    Fascinating post. I once heard Rosamund Wallinger speak about the restoration of Upton Grey. She and her husband were not keen gardeners when they bought the house, and only found out that it had a Jekyll garden subsequently (and even then didn't really understand the significance of what they had found!). She was very engaging talking about the trials and triumphs of reclaiming the garden, and I suspect her book would be fascinating.

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  15. When I read, "the first thing I consider when designing a landscape is what to put on the house.", by Gertrude Jekyll, it was a revelation.

    And so obvious !

    Glad Jekyll never married or had children. Instead we have her work.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

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  16. Charlotte, I love this new series, and I'll look forward to reading about other featured designers. I'm embarrassed to say that I've never read any of Gertrude Jekyll's books; this post was just the push I needed to remedy that.

    I hope you have good weather and a pleasant and productive time in India. -Jean

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