Gertrude Jekyll by Andrew Sankey

On 16th January forty three members took part in our BGA Zoom session. We were joined by Andrew Sankey who gave us an insight into the life of Gertrude Jekyll, one of the most well known horticulturalists of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century and recipient of the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour …

Gertrude, who was born in 1843, came from a very wealthy family who were interested in art and music, in fact her mother had studied music under Felix Mendelssohn. Gertrude was a clever, inquisitive child whose earliest memory of a garden was the shared garden at the family home in Berkeley Square. Following their move from London the family owned a number of large houses and gardens. Gertrude studied Art at Kensington School of Art and subsequently travelled through Europe studying gardens. It was during this time that the family relocated to Wargrave Manor and Gertrude’s father asked her to design part of the garden. Following her father’s death in 1882 her mother moved to Munstead House and Gertrude created a garden for her. Opposite the house was Munstead Wood a 15 acre woodland site which was purchased for Gertrude by her mother and it was here that Gertrude made her own famous garden. Gertrude subdivided the garden into “rooms’. Water gardens, rock gardens, spring gardens, herbaceous borders – some hot, some cool all became features of her designs. The garden at Munstead Wood included a nursery where Gertrude did her propagation and ran her nursery business.

Whilst living with her mother at Munstead House Gertrude had met a young architect, Edwin Lutyens, and she asked him to design a house for her at Munstead Wood. This had a pergola, semi circular steps, sun dial, rills and other features that are characteristic of Lutyens’ designs. Gertrude and Edwin collaborated on many more projects including Bois des Moutiers in Normandy, Woodside at Chenies Buckinghamshire, Deanery Garden at Sonning and Hestercombe in Somerset. Some of the gardens were captured on canvas by Gertrude’s friend the artist Helen Allingham. In 1895 the editor of The Guardian asked Gertrude to write a column for the newspaper. In all she wrote 2,000 articles for various publications, she wrote 15 books and completed over 400 garden designs. Her “Colour in the English Flower Garden” published in 1908 is one of her best known works.

Gertrude was a plants woman with a keen eye for new or better plants. She loved scented cottage garden flowers. Wild and woodland gardens were her favourite but she is also known for her herbaceous borders, her drifts of colour repeated so that the garden had a unified feel. Very few of the gardens that she designed can now be seen. During the First World war it was impossible to provide the man power they needed to maintain them. Many were transformed to grow vegetables and at the end of the war many were grassed over. Sadly Gertrude’s garden designs and plans were sold for a small sum and are now in America. However her influence is to be seen in the gardens at Sissinghurst as Vita Sackville West, as a young girl, visited the garden at Munstead Wood with her mother, Lady Victoria. The garden was also visited by the seven year old Christopher Lloyd with his mother – apparently he loved the “hot” borders and subsequently recreated them at Great Dixter. And, finally, I suspect that if we looked in the gardens in Biddenham we would find dwarf Lavender Munstead, Pulmanaria Munstead Blue and Nigella Miss Jekyll alba. The influence of Miss Jekyll – plants woman, writer, photographer, artist, nursery woman and business woman lives on. Many thanks to Andrew who really captured the life and times of this very energetic and enterprising woman.

Please join us next month on Zoom on 16th March when Alec White will be talking to us about growing peonies and alstroemerias. Details can be found on our website. As usual this meeting will be open to all members and visitors.

Linda Truscott

[Pls Note: Unfortunately, photos are not available due to copyright problems’, Andrew Sankey]

New members and visitors are always welcome. For more information contact: Linda Truscott on 01234 270747

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