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Gertrude Jekyll

Path and field at Hartland Abbey
Hartland Abbey ©Shutterstock / David Hughes

The prolific horticulturalist, writer and landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll is attributed with the idea of blending horticulture with art and design. Many of her 400 garden landscapes and designs, which were created during the late 19th and early 20th century, can still be seen and enjoyed today.

Early Years

Gertrude Jekyll was born in Grafton Street, Mayfair in 1843 to a wealthy and distinguished family. Her father was Captain Edward Jekyll with the Grenadier Guards and her mother was Julia Hammersley.

Her brother Walter was a close friend of author Robert Louis Stevenson and he was thought to have lent his name to the classic tale "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde".

Passion for Gardening

Gertrude's formative years were spent at Waverley in Surrey at the family home, Bramley House. Her passion for gardening was started when at the age of 18 she attended the Kensington School of Art. Here she developed a love of arts and crafts and the creative art of planting. As her work became well known and her influence spread, she chose not to teach the art of gardening but rather to study plants and write about her observations.

Her garden design work is best known for its radiant colour and Impressionist-like sweeps of plantings in her famous hardy flower borders.

Edwin Lutyens

Gertrude Jekyll's association with the well-known English architect, Edwin Lutyens, led to a successful partnering of their skills. They met when Gertrude was 46 and Lutyens was just 20. Jekyll designed and planted numerous landscapes to partner the great estate homes which Lutyens created, one of the best-known being Hestercombe in Somerset.

Their creative partnership greatly influenced the Arts and Crafts Movement of the 19th century. Together they worked on more than 100 gardens out of a total 400 designs which Gertrude created throughout the UK, Europe and the USA. Some of their most prestigious joint commissions was for Upton Grey Manor House in Hampshire and Knebworth House in Herts.

Hartland Abbey

Sadly many of the gardens have been lost, but Glebe House in Woodbury, Connecticut and Upton in Hampshire have recently been restored. Jekyll's original garden designs are stored at Surrey History Centre and from these records authentic restorations can be made. The gardens at Loseley Park are based on one of her designs and her beautifully designed paths through woodland gardens remain at Hartland Abbey in Devon.

Together Lutyens and Gertrude's brother Herbert designed the Pavilion for the 1900 Paris Exposition which was widely acclaimed. Lutyens also designed Jekyll's beloved home, Munstead Wood, just outside Goldalming, which has some stunning gardens.

Gertrude organised large collections of plants which she contributed to various institutions as a means of study and preservation. She was also interested in traditional rural crafts and furnishings and was concerned that they should be preserved and recorded.

Later Years

Gertrude Jekyll spent her later life in Godalming, where her failing eyesight finally restricted her gardening, writing and watercolour painting. She died there in 1932, aged 89 and is buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist Church alongside her brother, Sir Herbert Jekyll and her sister-in-law, Lady Agnes Jekyll.

Her grave is marked by a monument appropriately designed by her working partner for many years, Sir Edwin Lutyens.

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