Perry's Perennial Pages-- Famous Perennial Persons

Gertrude Jekyll
by Jessica Z.

Gertrude Jekyll (1843 - 1932) grew up as one of seven children at Bramley house, near Guildford in Surrey, England. (Kipling mentions both Bramley and Guildford in his Just So Stories.)

Interested in plants as a child, she was a true renaissance woman, proficient in, among other things, thatching, walling, fencing, carpentry, metal working, carving, gilding, inlaying, painting, and embroidery. She studied at South Kensington School of Art and many of her drawings are housed in the University of California, Berkley. However, she was forced to give up many of her pursuits because of failing eyesight and turned her attention wholly to gardening. She was greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, and counted William Morris among her wide circle of friends

She designed over 400 gardens; meticulous in their attention to detail and little influenced by the fads of the day. Although many of them have been planted over or destroyed, some are being restored and can be seen in Britain, Europe, and North America. Among these are Upton Grey in Hampshire, which she designed in 1908 for Charles Holme, and Hestercombe in Somerset. She was known for her herbaceous borders and often designed them around the theme of a single color, using wide swaths of color as she had once used a paintbrush.

Jekyll collaborated with the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens for many years, beginning after a chance meeting in 1899. She helped build his career in Surrey, introducing clients to him. During the Paris Exhibition of 1900, her brother Hubert and he were responsible for the design of the British Pavilion.

Lutyens was to become well known for his memorials to World War One, and for work on public buildings around the world. Jekyll helped design many of the gardens, particularly for his country homes in England. Two of his cartoons of her survive, including one labeled Bumps (his children's pet name for her was Aunt Bumps due to the rough Surrey roads she took them over in her pony cart.) and Lut-lut.

One of Lutyen's earliest jobs was the design of the home of her latter days, Munstead Wood, built in Godalming near her girlhood home of Bramley house. Gertrude designed some of the furniture of this house, including two desks. In Munstead she ran a garden center, bred plants and kept four employees busy in her five-acre garden. She was also active in the movement for female suffrage and embroidered the banners for the Guildford and Godalming chapters.

She was a prolific author, contributing over 1,000 articles to magazines such as Country Life and The Garden. She also wrote many books, including, Wood and Garden, (published in 1899), Home and Garden (1900), Wall, Water and Woodland Gardens (1901), and Old West Surrey (1904), a nostalgic memoir for the Surrey of her youth, before the rails brought swarms of Londoners. These are only a small selection of her works. In all, she wrote over fifteen books!

Another of her brothers, Walter, was a good friend to the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson. It can only be speculated whether the brother inspired the name (though not, one hopes, the character,) of the infamous protagonist of Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Although few of her gardens survive, Gertrude Jekyll's contributions to gardening have been many and long lasting, especially in the United States. The rose that bears her name could attest as much!

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