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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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….