On this day in history : 8th December 1932 – The death of garden designer and horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll – who created over 400 gardens in the United Kingdom….

Portrait of Gertrude Jekyll by William Nicholson, painted in October 1920 after being commissioned by Lutyens – Public domain

Gertrude was born on the 29th of November 1843 in Mayfair, London and was one of the seven children of army officer Captain Edward Joseph Hill Jekyll and his wife Julia Hammersley…. In 1848 the family moved to Bramley House, in the Surrey village of Bramley, near to Guildford….

In 1861 Gertrude entered the South Kensington School of Art to study the paintings of Turner and the writings of Ruskin…. It was whilst at Kensington that she became interested in gardening and creative planting….

Gertrude was to travel widely – recording what she saw by painting in watercolour and oil, particularly the plants, landscapes and local ways of life…. She developed a wide circle of friends including other artists such as William Morris, Helen Allingham, G.F. Watts and watercolour artist Hercules Brabazon Brabazon, who greatly influenced her….

South Border at Munstead Wood by Helen Allingham

After living in Wargrave, Berkshire for a while Gertrude was to move back to Surrey in 1878, to Munstead near to Godalming…. She returned with her mother, following the death of her father, to what was a newly built house – and it was here that she found her love of designing gardens…. In 1882 her mother bought her some land nearby – with the idea that her daughter may one day build her own house upon it….

Gertrude loved to get out and about to explore the countryside, learning about the plants and flora…. She continued to draw and paint them – and she also took a great interest in traditional country crafts…. She learned the skills of wall building, fencing, thatching and was also taught carpentry and metalwork…. She took up photography – which helped her later as her eyesight deteriorated…. Eventually Gertrude became so shortsighted that she had to give up her art and craft work….

And so she began to concentrate on garden design – and then in 1889 she was introduced to young architect Edwin Lutyens…. She asked him to design a house for her, to be built on her land…. Work on Munstead Wood began in 1896….

Lutyens also designed the gardens for the houses he was commissioned to design for his clients – and Gertrude became more and more involved with working with him…. Steadily their reputation as a partnership grew…. She was also to work with architect Robert Lorimer….

Gertrude designed over 400 gardens – most of which are now lost…. However, some have been restored, including her own at Munstead Wood – and also Hestercombe House, Woolverstone House and Upton Grey Manor House…. In 1897 she was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour of the Royal Horticultural Society and the Veitch Memorial Medal in 1929….

Restored long border at Upton Grey Manor House – Image credit : Aquilineyes CC BY-SA 3.0
Gertrude Jekyll’s hand-drawn plans for Upton Grey Manor House, Hampshire – Image credit : Anguskirk via Flickr

Gertrude never married…. She is buried in the churchyard of Busbridge Church, near to Godalming – alongside her brother…. The Jekyll family memorial was designed by Lutyens….

Jekyll family memorial in Busbridge churchyard – Image credit : Carcharoth – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0
Hestercombe Gardens – Image credit : Scott Zona CC BY 2.0

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