“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.” — Gertrude Jekyll
We all enjoy the visual and psychological joys of a well-groomed garden or a stunning display of indoor plants but where did it all come from? The art of plant design did not suddenly materialize out of thin air. We have been crafting artistic beauty out of plants for centuries and the designs we make today pay homage to the green thumbs of days gone by.
One historical figure’s story is of particular importance when it comes to the championing of all things plants — Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932). Widely considered one of the most prominent garden designers and horticulturists of her day, the London-born daughter of a British Army Captain garnered global acclaim for the more than four hundred gardens she designed in her life. The Jeykll family ran in the highest circles of English art and culture – her brother was befriended by the Scottish wordsmith, Robert Louis Stevenson, who immortalized their surname in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Jeykll’s designs were beloved for her unmistakable use of color – inspiring some to liken her gift for plant design to that of a master painter. In her youth, she attended the South Kensington School of Art where she quickly became enamored with using nature as her canvas. While in her forties, she crossed paths with an up-and-coming architect by the name of Edwin Lutyens. For the rest of her career, Jeykll and Lutyens worked together on a long list of much applauded garden projects.
The Manor House in Upton Grey is perhaps Jekyll’s most famous restored gardens. To this day, visitors still visit the country residence to bask in the beauty of the artist’s Formal Garden, Wild Garden, and Rose Garden. Jeykll originally designed the gardens for The Studio magazine founder/editor, Charles Holme. It is said that even some of the original daffodils Jeykll planted are still blooming at the Manor House.
As wonderful as the life-long plant lover’s designs were, it was perhaps Jeykll’s command of the written word that carried the greatest weight of her accomplishments. An influential writer, Jeykll authored multiple books and penned more than 1,000 articles for a host of popular magazines. For her efforts, she was bestowed the Victoria Medal of Honour by the Royal Horticultural Society in October 1897.
Gertrude Jekyll’s passion for intermixing the worlds of art and nature inspired many to carry on the tradition of plant design, and for this, we are eternally in her debt.
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