Say the name Gertrude Jekyll and for those who know of her creative life in the garden world, it is a sort of horticultural shorthand that conjures to mind visions of English gardens of great beauty. For those unfamiliar with Jekyll’s books, garden plans and indeed, her gardens, Barbara Segall selects five of the finest gardens created by the renowned Edwardian horticulturalist.
Surrey-born Gertrude (1843-1932) was a polymath: a person with many skills and interests, in all of which she excelled. She was a musician, composer, embroiderer, woodworker, metalworker, artist, garden writer, photographer and botanist. Above all, though, she was the creator of plans and designs for around 300 gardens in Britain and some abroad in France and the United States.
She wrote some 15 books and over 2,000 articles for magazines, including Country Life and The Garden, (1870) founded by William Robinson. She also photographed and developed her own pictures.
Her early training as a student at the School of Art, Kensington, brought her into contact with artists such as Frederick Leighton and Burne-Jones. She regarded the artist William Turner a great influence, the realisation of which is visible in the colour drifts that she created in her garden plans. With Ruskin and William Morris as acquaintances and her own inclination towards a life where art and beauty were hand in hand with use and practicality, she was at home with the taste and style of the Arts and Crafts movement of the time.
In 1878 Miss Jekyll and her mother moved to Munstead, where Gertrude set about laying out and planting the garden at their home, Munstead House. Just a few years later in 1883 she bought the land across the road at Munstead Wood, where she began to create her own garden, arguably one of her greatest creations.
All the while she continued writing articles, sending exceptional, medal-winning plants for display at the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) monthly London shows and planning and planting her own garden. Many of those plants have Munstead or Munstead Wood, in their names, referencing her home gardens, and are available today.
In 1889 she met young architect Edwin Lutyens. He eventually designed her house at Munstead Wood, fitting it into the garden she had already created. Together they worked on many house and garden projects where his hard landscaping and her plantsmanship combined to produce memorable creations.
In 1897 the first 60 Victoria Medals of Honours were awarded by the RHS to mark Victoria’s Jubilee. Only two women were among those honoured: Jekyll and her friend and contemporary, Ellen Willmott. Several decades later Miss Jekyll was awarded another of the Society’s honours, the Veitch Memorial Medal.
Although she produced several hundred commissioned garden plans, not all were for complete gardens. Some were for a border, or a particular area. Of those gardens that survive not all are open to visit and many are not in prime condition, or are in a fragile state. Richard Bisgrove, author of The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll (Frances Lincoln, 1992), suggests several that should be on your list to visit. Some which open under the National Gardens Scheme have individual elements that were originally designed by Miss Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens, and many are described as Jekyll-influenced. There are five Jekyll gardens belonging to the National Trust that are open to the public at Lindisfarne Castle, Northumberland; Barrington Court, Somerset; Hatchlands Park, Surrey; and Devon’s Knightshayes and Castle Drogo – as well as hundreds of less well known havens which thrive in Britain’s quieter corners.
The Manor House, Upton Grey, Hampshire
The garden was designed in 1908 by Gertrude Jekyll for Charles Holme, founder and editor of the Studio magazine, and influential in raising the profile of crafts to the status of applied art. The garden that Jekyll created here was on a relatively smaller scale to many of her other country house commissions and feels more approachable.
However, it fell into a decayed state and some 70 years later, when the house and garden were in some considerable disarray and neglect, Rosamund Wallinger and her husband John, purchased the house. Soon after they arrived in 1984 they requested copies of Jekyll’s plans for the garden from the Reef Point Collection at the University of California, Berkeley, USA where they, and much more printed memorabilia besides, are held.
From then onwards they took on the restoration of the garden, bringing back to life the features and plantings that Gertrude had planned. Rosamund has documented the restoration and produced two books on the work that she undertook. Today, the garden is considered to be the most perfect and authentic restoration of a Jekyll creation, combining formal gardens and the wild garden of the original plans, with borders sparkling with drifts of colour in most seasons. The garden is on several levels, reached by stone steps, with plants flowing from one level to the next.
May is good for peonies, while the herbaceous borders, the rose garden and the orchard are full of interest right through to autumn. The Nuttery is the source of material for coppiced hazel rods to make fences and plant supports that you can see in various parts of the garden.
Visitors welcome by appointment. Open Monday to Friday, 9am-4pm from 1 May to 31 July (closed weekends and bank holidays). www.gertrudejekyllgarden.co.uk
Hestercombe, Cheddon Fitzpaine, Somerset
Hestercombe is considered to be one of Jekyll and Lutyens finest collaborations, combining several gardens created over several centuries. The Lutyens/Jekyll garden, commissioned by the Hon EWB Portman, is known as the Edwardian Formal Garden. They worked on it from 1904-8. Lutyens used local stone for the steps, walls, paths, the rill and the pools, and the pergola that runs across the site, rimming the edge of the formally laid out Grand Plat and framing the view across to the Taunton Vale.
These mellow hard landscape materials were further softened by billowing drifts of colour from foliage and flowers in Gertrude Jekyll’s planting plans. The large Great Plat, a sunken garden has four grass panels, flanked by double borders holding perennials rather than annuals including peonies, delphinium, poppies, asphodel, kniphofia, iris, vebascum, foxgloves and campanulas, as well as hellebores and bergenia.
The plantings vary depending on shade or sun and on season, providing an exciting effect. Architectural plants such as tall, grey-leaved giant thistles and neatly shaped hummocks of cotton lavender complement the colour and formality of the landscaping. Lavender, echinops, Stachys byzantina with their grey foliage and varying shades of blue to mauve flowers blend well with the stone balustrades and pathways. Roses clothe the pergola piers and hug the balustrades of the formal stairs that descend to the gardens. Opportunist seedlings of the fairy-dust daisy, Erigeron karvinskianus, colonise any gaps they find in the paving of the circular stone steps that lead down to the Formal Gardens. Lutyens deliberately made spaces in some places within the hard landscaping for plants to seed into.
The gardens are at their best in summer, it is worth visiting at all times, since it has plants that cover several seasons.
Open year round, except Christmas Day, 10am-5.30pm, last entry at 5pm (dusk in winter). www.hestercombe.com
Vann, Hambledon, Surrey
The five-acre gardens at Vann, open under the National Gardens Scheme and also by appointment, are largely the creation of three generations of the same family, including Arts and Crafts architect WD Caröe, grandfather to the present owners. Vann is an English Heritage registered property. The garden enfolds the Tudor and William and Mary house at its heart and has cottage garden and formal elements.
Caröe took on the property in 1907, finished the building work in 1908 and then worked on the Yew Walk in 1909. In 1911 he turned to his neighbour Gertrude Jekyll to advise on and provide plants for a water garden. The existing watercourse was a stream, dammed to form a field pond. Below the pond the water cascades, then curves to the property edge, with bridges criss-crossing it and paths making figure of eight shapes, along its length.
Jekyll suggested the creation of a woodland water garden, with four of the smaller ponds planted up with exotic plant introduction. For the woodland garden she suggested shade and moisture-loving plants including mossy saxifrage, primulas, hostas, marsh marigold and mimulus, as well as ferns. Today the succession of small ponds is planted with many of the same plants, some of the re-planted areas having new varieties of hostas, day lilies, hellebores and pulmonaria. Her plant list consisted of some 1,500 plants all supplied by her.
The water garden, like the rest of the site, is planted for seasonal interest. In spring it sparkles with carpets of spring foliage, while later in the year the foliage of many of the plants chosen by Jekyll, are the stars of the show.
The garden has many other fine features to delight, including clematis and roses that clothe the house walls, plant-filled borders and the Yew Walk with clipped yew hedges, offering a formal feature in the garden.
Open every Wednesday from April to July. www.vanngarden.co.uk
Durmast House, Burley, Hampshire
Durmast House was the New Forest home of Gertrude’s cousin Miss Nelly Baring. She commissioned Gertrude in 1907 and carried out the work according to the plan sent to her by her cousin. It was designed remotely, after a request from Miss Jekyll for a detailed ground plan and a sample of the soil. Jekyll completed the work in 1910 at a time when her fame was at its height, but she is not thought to have ever visited the property owing to mobility issues in her advancing years.
The current owners, Mr and Mrs Daubeny, have a copy of the original plans, which are now held in the Reef Point Collection, University of California, Berkeley. Since 1999 the couple has been restoring and refreshing the gardens.
In 1908 Gertrude Jekyll wrote Colour in the Flower Garden, and many of her ideas and plans for the use of colour in drifts, rather than in the precise plans of Victorian gardens are visible in the garden at Durmast House.
She re-organised the garden, gave it a shape and a design, and sent plans for borders with hot colours and cool colours, as well as for seasonal interest. There is a formal rose garden, with lavender edging and a long herbaceous border.
Munstead Wood, Heath Lane, Goldaming, Surrey
Miss Jekyll’s former home, designed by her friend Edwin Lutyens, is partnered by the now restored garden. A woodland garden, a river of daffodils, banks of azaleas and rhododendron, pergolas, roses and shrub borders, are among the features. The present owners used her original plans and in 1987 began work on the restoration of her garden.
Jekyll’s attention to detail and a desire to have colour, form and interest in the garden throughout the year, were clear in the plans, making restoration a viable possibility. Successional seasonal displays were the driving forces behind much of the planting in this garden. Spring and summer displays were encapsulated in displays of tulips, irises and peonies. A nut walk, a rose-covered pergola and borders graded in colours, are among the signature features of the garden. She also enjoyed aromatic and fragrant plants such as lavender ‘Munstead Blue’. She began work on the garden in 1883 when she was just 40, continuing to add to it, with the help of numerous gardeners in her later years. http://munsteadwood.org.uk