Life and Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll

Speaker: Lesley Chamberlain
Date: 30th October
Year: 2019

Lesley in full flow

Lesley Chamberlain gave us a very informative talk on the life and gardens of Gertrude Jekyll.

Gertrude Jekyll (1843 – 1932) was a British horticulturist, garden designer, craftswoman, photographer, writer and artist. She created some 400 gardens in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, and wrote over 1,000 articles for magazines such as Country Life and William Robinson’s The Garden.

She was the fifth of seven children of Captain Edward Joseph Hill Jekyll, an officer in the Grenadier Guards and her mother was an artist and musician. The family moved from 2 Grafton Street in Mayfair, London in 1848 to Bramley House in Surrey, where she spent her formative years.

Gertrude came from a very wealthy family, her grandfather Sir Joseph Jekyll was a politician and barrister, who was made Master of the Rolls in the 1700s; he also left money in his will to reduce the national debt!

In 1861 she enrolled as a student at Kensington School of Art, one of the first women to do so. There she copied old masters and learnt colour theory, basic foundation drawing and painting all to be seen in her later designs.

She was also knew the likes of John Ruskin, William Morris and G F Watts, also the influence of William Turner was to be seen in her later garden designs.

In 1863 she accompanied Sir Charles and Mary Newton as Mary’s companion on a tour of Europe, and the Middle East, the gardens she saw on this trip were going to have a big influence on her garden design in later years. She also knew William Robinson of The Garden magazine and wrote articles and numerous books.

Gertrude’s mother was growing tired of the constant stream of visitors, so she gave Gertrude a plot of land nearby and the plans for her own house, Munstead Wood, and garden were laid.

Gertrude was very interested in all local crafts and photography, including developing her films and could always be seen out and about the surrey lanes in her pony and trap.

She met the architect Edwin Lutyens at a mutual friends’ house, Heathersett, Littleworth Cross, where the family were growing azaleas and rhododendrons and Gertrude was helping with the garden. The meeting resulted in a partnership with Lutyens which lasted many years and produced over 100 gardens designed by them.

Her favourite garden features included the rill; pergola; circular steps; dry stone walls; long avenues; deep (20 feet) herbaceous borders; focus seating areas; bench and patterned paving.

Some of the gardens she designed using these features include:

Vann (1911) south of Godalming where she designed the water garden;

Lindisfarne (1911) where a cutting garden was laid out for the castle;

Kind Edward Sanatorium (1906) where she created a seating area for the patients;

Tylney Hall (1906) where she designed flower gardens and borders;

Wharton Manor (1908) where she worked with Lutyens to design walled gardens, a pavilion, hexagonal summerhouse and pergola.

Gertrude died in 1932 and is buried in St John’s churchyard, Busbridge. Her memorial, designed by Lutyens has an inscription which reads, Artist, Gardener, Craftswomen, the order is significant.

Gertrude Jekyll’s gardening boots
Sir William Nicholson 1920

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