An English Country Garden

Beatrice Colin ambles through the flowerbeds of Gertrude Jekyll.

Few women in Victorian times became artists and fewer still gained any recognition for their work. In a society where they were regarded as little more than child-bearers or ornamentation. Gertrude Jekyll (pronounced like treacle) studied at art school. never married and is now regarded as one of the main influences in modern garden design. as well as being the first Impressionist garden designer.

She came from an upper-middle-class background and spent some of her childhood in the country in Surrey. where she developed a love of rural life and a gardener‘s feel for plants. Her then liberally minded parents supported her wish to be an artist and enrolled her at art school in London. She was compulsively creative and. after finishing her studies. mastered a number ofother crafts. including wood-carving. modelling. house-painting. embroidery and silver work.

In London. she moved in a social circle which included many ofthe artists who went on to i become part of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Ruskin. William Morris and the water-colourist

i Brabazon were all an influence on her developing 1 style. Described at the time as ‘a paragon ofwitty

l conversation. energetic activity and artistic

i talent'. her status. denoted by her sex and independent financial position. was unfortunately

’A paragon of witty conversation, energetic activity and artistic talent.’

always seen as strictly amateur and she was rarely acknowledged or paid for her work.

Shortsightedness was supposedly a disability common to all the Impressionists and one which Jekyll also suffered. Her sight progressively worsened until. like Monet. she had to give up most of her close work and concentrate instead on her garden. Here. she could work with texture and smell in close-up. and use her blurred perception ofcolour and light for overall design. She also took up photography. then in its infancy. and this exhibition of over 1()() photographs taken between 1888 and 1914 are from her personal photo-notebooks.

Jekyll designed hundreds of gardens in Britain.





Jekyll is a main influence on modern garden design

Previously. gardens had been more concerned with the ornamental shape ofthe llowcrbed than what went into it. She was more interested in flowers and loved hollyhocks. walll‘lowers. double daisies and lily of the valley from cottage gardens. and used the shades of their petals in the same way the Impressionists used brushstrokes ofpaint. ‘The whole border can be seen as a picture.” she wrote. ‘the cool colouring at the ends enhancing the brilliant warmth in the middle.‘ White flowers and neutral foliage were also essential to her designs. as she understood the intensity that the shades could bring to strong colour. and the best way to make flowers work with each other. She published fifteen books on her theories on gardening. including one written for children.

Many of her photographic studies are of the garden of Munstead Wood. the house which she commissioned the architect Edwin Lutyens to build. The Queen Anne style ofarchitecture at that time focused on the harmony between house and garden. and by the time Jekyll met Lutyens she had already worked with a number of architects. She soon recognised his youthful talent and secured a working partnership with him which lasted over 40 years and established a Lutyens house and a Jekyll garden as the height ofgood taste.

with detail and the exhibition also includes some

The photographs of the garden at Munstead Wood document her work there and show the changing seasons. ‘I’rimrosc Garden‘ was taken in April in the early 1900s. and shows flowers which she had by then been breeding for 30 years. She also explored the decorative possibilities of nature. like many of her contemporaries. and made photographic studies ofwoodland scenes and tangled tree roots.

Perhaps the most appealing photographs are her portraits. Family. friends and the people who helped her with the garden are incorporated into the landscape. Her subjects include a bonnetcd housekeeper looking severe beside the hollyhocks. and barefooth Victorian children learning to knit beneath Scotch fir trees.

These black-and-white photographs are filled

studies which have never been published before. However. you can’t help wondering what she

would have achieved with colour photography. Gertrude Jekyll's portraits always portray her with bun and glasses. always at night even in old age. she couldn‘t bear to spend any daylight hours away from her garden. GertrudeJe/(yllx A Vision ()fGarr/en and Wood is . at the Street Level (Jul/cry. 279-281 High Street. ; Glusgo w until November 24.


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