Gertrude Jekyll Gardens

By Molly Denver

It’s that time of year - the cold, bitter mid-winter doldrums take over.  You trudge through snowbanks to check your mailbox and behold!  Your mailbox is stuffed with seed and plant catalogs banking on your excitement to see spring break through with a riot of color!  If you’ve ever gone online to order seeds or plants, you know that for years following, you will get plant catalogs from those greenhouses and many you never even heard of.  It’s hard not to choose 10 different varieties of tomatoes ranging in color from black to pink and types of winter squash in every shape, but pace yourself!

Our scarecrow in the corn

For a few years I focused on my vegetable garden, but more recently, I turned my attention to my flower garden.  In researching what I wanted to experience in the small patch of grass beside my house, I came across a photo that became the basis for my design.  It is a photo of a garden by Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood in England. 

Gertrude Jekyll’s garden at Munstead Wood in England

Born in 1843, Gertrude Jekyll (pronounced “jeek-uhl”) was a British horticultural designer influenced by Arts and Crafts principles absorbed from John Ruskin and William Morris.  Beginning in 1873, she created over 400 gardens throughout her lifetime.  She believed that a sympathetic relationship between a house and its surroundings was crucial.  Every plant should be studied for color, foliage, habit and culture to achieve a beautiful and practical effect.

Portrait by William Nicholson commissioned by Edwin Lutyens in 1920

Barrington Court, Somerset

The walled garden at Lindisfarne, Northumberland

In 1889, Jekyll met a 20-year-old Sir Edwin Lutyens and began collaborating on many projects, introducing him to many of his early clients. 

The Salutation at Sandwich in Kent

Gardens at Hestercombe Park

In 1914, at the age of 71, Jekyll’s first American designs were commissioned.  By coincidence, my Aunt Eileen volunteers at the Glebe House Garden in Woodbury, CT, which boasts a gorgeous garden designed by the horticultural icon.  Glebe House had just been turned into a museum and board member Annie Burr Jennings commissioned Jekyll to create a garden.  

For reasons unknown today, the garden was not fully installed in the 1920’s and its very existence forgotten until the rediscovery of the plans in the late 1970’s.  It is now being completed according to the original plans, Aunt Eileen carefully chasing down errant weeds and invasive plants.

So, it’s time to pull out that catalog and order yourself some Nigella damascene. Channel your inner “Ms. Jekyll” in anticipation of warmer days to come!

Nigella damascene in the garden