Often wondered where Dr Jekyll got his name? Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote the book Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, was friends with Walter Jekyll and borrowed his name. Walter though had a more famous sister, Gertrude Jekyll, who really should be better known for her name and its legacy. Gertrude Jekyll is an architect of gardens, a prolific designer with over 350+ commissions in England and America. Born in 1843, she conducted many of her projects by correspondence without leaving her home. Where did this love of gardening begin?
Gertrude became a gardener because the pastimes of her generation were embroidery and painting, but due to severe myopia she had to abandon them – she was a promising watercolourist. Rather than paint plants, she grew them. She experimented in her own garden at Munstead Wood, trying out plant combinations. She sought colour and contrasting plant textures in much the same way an artist does on the canvas. Her influences included Turner, colour wheels and Impressionism. Her recommendations – hostas, bergenias, lavender and roses – are familiar to modern gardeners but perhaps not at the time.
Her approach to gardening followed the principles of Art and Craft, those used by John Ruskin and William Morris. She considered the relationship between house and its surroundings as crucial. Each plant was studied for its foliage and colour, to achieve the best effect. Unexpected views were often sought.
The Arts and Craft movement began in response to the Industrial Revolution. Its purpose was to beautify the changing landscape of England by emphasising natural materials and individual craftsmanship. In many respects the movement is a forerunner to present day environmental approaches to landscaping. Gertrude incorporated these ideas not just into the gardens but the ornaments, baskets and vases.
She collected plants, especially hardy plants for her famed borders, from wild Britain and elsewhere, sending specimens to Kew Gardens for conserving. She had her own plant nursery for supplying her gardens and her clients.
Her contribution to gardening included 1000+ articles in Country Life and The Garden, and other popular magazines. She also collaborated with architect Luytens on many projects. She eventually died in 1932, but was working right up to her death, including writing for articles for Gardening Illustrated in her usual detailed manner. The editor noted that he would not dare touch her meticulous layout which she sent to the publisher.
Sadly, many of her gardens have not survived, but the seeds can still be acquired through merchants including the Gertrude Jekyll rose.
Do you like to read about free chapters and short stories, or find out more about your favourite author including their work in progress?
Interested? Then sign up for my reader’s club newsletter: Rachel’s Readers and you’ll receive a complementary short story.