Celebrating Gertrude Jekyll: Taking Inspiration from this Legendary Garden Designer & Protecting Her Legacy

I was both excited and incredibly relieved when I heard that the National Trust had purchased Munstead Wood, the Surrey home and eleven-acre garden of the legendary horticulturist, designer, writer, artist, photographer, and craftswoman, Gertrude Jekyll.

Here’s the sign for Munstead Wood. I am absolutely delighted that the National Trust have purchased Gertrude Jekyll’s home and garden.

Gertrude lived at Munstead Wood in Busbridge, Godalming, from the 1890s until her death in 1932.  Having met the renowned architect Edwin Lutyens early in his career, long before he achieved fame and was knighted, Gertrude invited Edwin to design her an Arts and Crafts house to complement the garden.  It was here at Munstead Wood that Gertrude and Edwin embarked on their celebrated creative partnership and began creating designs for homes and gardens that enhanced each other and their local landscape.

I took this picture of Gertrude Jekyll’s garden – Munstead Wood, back in April 2014. The white cherry blossom looked spectacular against the garden wall; the flowers added a welcome highlight and backdrop for the colourful Tulips and sunny yellow Fritillaria Imperialis Maxima Lutea blooms.

Gertrude Jekyll’s influence on the world of horticulture and garden design shouldn’t be underestimated.  A prolific designer, Gertrude created more gardens than ‘Capability’ Brown and Humphry Repton combined.  In 1897 the Royal Horticultural Society presented Gertrude Jekyll with their highest honour – the Victoria Medal of Honour.  Gertrude Jekyll’s significance and impact is such that today in the 21st Century, with a wealth of modern celebrities to choose from, new plants are still being named after Gertrude Jekyll – more than 90 years after her death.

A closer look at the pretty cherry blossom flowers at Munstead Wood in Godalming.

A proportion of Gertrude’s original planting survives at Munstead Wood, most notably in the Woodland Garden.  In addition to designing Gertrude’s house, architect Edwin Lutyens also designed the formal paths, walls, and pond at Munstead Wood; these have stood the test of time and remain in place today.  The Rock Garden has been found buried under layers of garden debris and is ripe for restoration.

Tulips have such a lavish air and add punches of colour to the garden. Unfortunately, Tulips don’t always return to flower again in their second year. This is a good time to order spring flowering bulbs, particularly daffodils. Hold off planting any Tulip bulbs until December to avoid a nasty fungal infection known as Tulip Fire.

Gertrude Jekyll was a trained and accomplished artist with a wealth of knowledge of colour.  Known for her naturalistic planting style and long borders, Gertrude’s gardens are famous for their painterly composition and innovative plantings with clever use of colour.  Munstead Wood was a blank canvas for Gertrude; here she could let loose and experiment with plants, trying out her ideas for new plant combinations.  Gertrude’s nursery raised all the plants to fulfil her many garden designs.  Seeds and cut flowers were sold in her shop.  Gertrude also bred plants including Aquilegias, Primulas, and Poppies.

The Spring Garden at Munstead Wood was a riot of colour when I viewed the garden with Head Gardener, Annabel Watts back in April 2014. The yellow of these Fritillaria Imperialis Maxima Lutea contrasts beautifully with the purple Honesty (Lunaria annua) and purple Wall Flowers, red tulips, the lilac of the Bergenia flowers, and blue Forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica).

Munstead Wood was once a fifteen-acre garden, giving Gertrude Jekyll the space to create a Spring Garden and Summer Garden, with ample room for plants!  Few of us are blessed with the luxurious gardens Gertrude enjoyed but by adopting some of the characteristics of Gertrude Jekyll’s signature style, we can bring her uplifting and elegant vibe to our gardens.

Here’s another gate. At the top of this wall, Ivy (Hedera helix) and ferns are growing happily. Yuccas and Choisya are growing either side of the gate. I took this picture back in April 2014, when Annabel Watt was Munstead Wood’s Head Gardener.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a wall in your garden, take inspiration from Gertrude Jekyll by adding some of her favourite wall plants, including: Aubretia, Thrift (Armeria maritima), Corydalis, Red Valarian (Centranthus ruber), and Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus).  These plants are drought-tolerant and robust, they’ll grow happily in cracks and crevices, around walls, steps, and paving, and make superb container plants.

A swag of Clematis frames a wooden bench and patio. Architect Edwin Luytens designed this house for Gertrude Jekyll. Lutyens also designed the wooden bench and patio. This area of Munstead Wood is framed by the Arts and Crafts house which is decorated by Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris). The low hedging is Box (Buxus sempervirens).

For container gardens, Gertrude recommended placing groups of containers near the house, close to a water tank for easier watering.  Gertrude planted Hostas, Hydrangeas, and lilies in planters.  She was particularly fond of the regal lily, (Lilium regale) which Gertrude planted in borders and containers.

Next to the Yew hedge (Taxus baccata) are two wooden barrel pots planted with Hydrangeas. When I took this picture in April 2014, Munstead Wood was a private home and Annabel Watt was the Head Gardener.
Lilium regale flowers have a gorgeous perfume that’s sweet and heady, and intoxicating. NB: This picture was not taken at Munstead Wood.
I didn’t take this picture at Munstead Wood – I’m including it here just to show you the flower because it was a favourite of Gertrude Jekyll. Lilium regale bulbs are planted in autumn and winter. Look out for bulbs in your local nursery or garden centre or order online.

A pergola adds extra height and can enhance a seating area.  Gertrude was very fond of pergolas, planting them with grape vines, Jasmine, Aristolochia, and Wisteria.

Here’s a closer look at one of the pergolas at Gertrude Jekyll’s garden – Munstead Wood.

Gertrude Jekyll is known for her love of long borders and exotic planting.  In the 200ft long Main Border at Munstead Wood, the planting starts at either ends of the border with pale coloured flowers and silvery foliage.  Gertrude used plants with cool-blue, soft-yellow, and white blooms, and purple, white, and pink flowered plants; as the border progresses the flower colours intensify, becoming warmer and bolder.  This builds up to a powerful crescendo of vibrant planting with hot-oranges, bright-yellow, white, and red flowers in the centre of the border, before the planting returns to softer colours as before.

When I visited Munstead Wood and took these pictures back in April 2014, Annabel Watts was the Head Gardener and Munstead Wood was a private home. Now the National Trust have purchased Munstead Wood, I am looking forward to visiting the garden when it opens to the public. When I visit I will share my photos with you.

In her Main Border, Gertrude planted groups of Yucca.  The Yucca’s tall white flowers added a welcome highlight to the flowers around them.  Gertrude added an extra dimension to both the cool and hot-coloured tones in the border by using white-flowered accents.

Here’s one of Gertrude Jekyll’s garden gates; this entrance was flanked by Yuccas, Choisya, and Bergenia when I visited back in April 2014.

Gertrude Jekyll made sure her gardens were functional as well as beautiful.  A wall built from local stone makes a marvellous backdrop for the Main Border.  Directly in front of the wall there’s a narrow path which goes unnoticed but enables gardeners to tend the plants at the back of the border and undertake weeding, pruning, and other tasks.

This tall wooden frame, Bargate stone wall, and Yew (Taxus baccata) hedging shield one section of garden from another with the result that the beauty and colours within are only revealed as you enter each new area.

Gertrude planted multiples of the same plant in a group to create flow of colour and impact through the border.  Groups of three, five, or seven plants tend to look more pleasing than groups of two or four.  To give a natural feel to your planting, avoid positioning plants in straight lines and vary the numbers of plants used for each variety to ensure your plants don’t appear regimented.

The lively fresh green of the Euphorbias contrasts beautifully with the blue of the Forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica) and the soft cream of the Primulas at Munstead Wood. I took this picture in April 2014 when Munstead Wood was a private home and Annabel Watt was the Head Gardener.
Silver Birch (Betula pendula) trees are very beautiful. One of our native trees, Silver Birch is a beautiful tree to plant in your garden (if you have the space to accommodate it). The Yew (Taxus baccata) hedging provides a place for birds to nest and wildlife to shelter, as well as a backdrop to garden planting and a way to define and enclose different areas of the garden. Yew is a good choice of plant for a hedge or clipped topiary. There were some bulbs and Heather growing in this terracotta container. When I took this picture back in April 2014, Munstead Wood was a private home and Annabel Watt was the Head Gardener.

A hedge brings life and positivity to the garden!  Gertrude Jekyll was a great fan of Yew (Taxus baccata) hedging; she also used Box (Buxus sempervirens).  Due problems with Box Blight and Box-tree Moth I don’t recommend planting Box.  Yew makes a good replacement, as does Euonymus japonicus ‘Green Spire’, Euonymus japonicus ‘Jean Hugues’, Euonymus japonicus ‘Green Rocket’, Euonymus japonicus ‘Green Spider’.  When planting hedging plants, please remember hedgehogs; allow your hedge to grow down to ground level where it will provide hedgehogs and wildlife with a place of refuge and somewhere to nest.

These Hazel (Corylus avellana) trees are underplanted with Hellebores, Forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica) and a sprinkling of Ajuga and Violets.

To maximise interest in a small garden, plant complimentary trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs, choosing plants that will happily grow together and flower one after the other.  In the Nuttery, hazel was coppiced to provide a sustainable supply of materials for arches, fences, supports.  Gertrude’s Nuttery was underplanted with Hellebores.  When the Hellebores faded, Primroses (Primula vulgaris) came into bloom and a sea of English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) carpeted the ground.

These Hazel (Corylus avellana) trees are underplanted with Primulas. Gertrude Jekyll bred Primulas, as well as Aquilegias, Foxgloves, Lavender, Nigella, Pulmonaria, Sedum, Vinca, and Violas.
When I took this picture in April 2014, Munstead Wood was a private home and Annabel Watt was the Head Gardener.

Munstead Wood was offered for sale on the open market earlier this year following the death of its owner Lady Clark; the National Trust had to move quickly to secure the property and garden for the future.  The National Trust will now develop a fundraising plan to support the restoration work at Munstead Wood.  To donate funds to support the National Trust’s work at Munstead Wood here’s a link.

I love details like this brick embossed with the date 1895. Pictured at Gertrude Jekyll’s house and garden – Munstead Wood – in Surrey.

If you want to learn more about Gertrude Jekyll, there are three collections relating to Gertrude Jekyll that can be viewed by appointment in the Godalming Museum Local Studies Library.

• The Gertrude Collection of Garden Drawings (copies available courtesy of the Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley)
• Correspondence between Gertrude Jekyll and Clients (copies available courtesy of the Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley)
• Original Plant List Notebooks (Godalming Museum Collections)

This is one of the handsome gates at Munstead Wood, the home of the legendary gardener and designer, Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932).

Worplesdon Garden Club have invited Munstead Wood’s Head Gardener, Annabel Watts to give a talk entitled, Munstead Wood Through the Seasons on Tuesday 12th September 2023 at Emmanuel Parish Centre, Stoughton, Guildford, Surrey, GU2 9SJ.  Doors open at 7.45pm, the talk starts at 8pm.  Entry is free for Worplesdon Garden Club members and £2 for non-members.

Gertrude Jekyll once said of Munstead Wood: “My garden is my workshop, my private study and place of rest.”

When the National Trust open Munstead Wood garden to the public I will try my best to visit and I’ll take updated pictures for you.  Here are the remainder of my pictures from my 2014 visit….

I adore the colour combinations in this area of Munstead Wood. The yellow of these Fritillaria Imperialis Maxima Lutea contrasts beautifully with the purple Honesty (Lunaria annua) and purple and cream Wall Flowers, red tulips, the lilac of the Bergenia flowers, and blue Forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica).
Silver Birch (Betula pendula) and daffodils (Narcissus) pictured at Munstead Wood, Gertrude Jekyll’s garden in Surrey. When I took this picture back in April 2014, Munstead Wood was a private home and Annabel Watt was the Head Gardener.
A closer look at the Clematis montana flowers in the secluded seating area next to the house at Munstead Wood.
The National Trust has purchased Munstead Wood, the Surrey home and garden of legendary garden designer and plantswoman, Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932). The National Trust is fundraising to support the restoration and reimagination of the garden and house; the charity will be working with the community and partners to develop plans for the best way to open the property to visitors in future.

For gardening advice for August, please click here.

To read about more Surrey gardens, please click here.

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