‘A garden is a grand teacher’: Gertrude Jekyll and Winterbourne

“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” – Gertrude Jekyll

Oscar pictured with the house behind him

Hello to all Winterbourne members and thank you for taking the time to read my small contribution to this edition of the E-newsletter. My name is Oscar Wright and I have been working at Winterbourne since September 2021 as a trainee of the Historic and Botanic Garden Training Programme. International Women’s Day is celebrated globally on 8th March; it is an opportunity not only promote women’s rights across the world but also to commemorate the historic contributions women have made to our culture, politics and society. With that in mind, I would like to briefly write about a woman for whom our gardens form merely a small part of a remarkable legacy.

Born on 29 November 1843 in Mayfair, Gertrude Jekyll has come to be seen as one of the most important figures in the development of English garden design. Her most famous projects include the gardens of Hascombe Court, Lindisfarne Castle and her home Munstead Wood, but she ultimately left an extraordinarily diverse body of work, creating over 400 gardens in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, as well as authoring a dozen books and over 1000 articles. Her prolific partnership with the architect Edwin Lutyens allowed the artistic vision of the Arts and Crafts movement, of which they were both an important part, to be realised in a synthesis of the home and garden; we when think of the Arts and Crafts garden, with its impressionistic flushes of border colour, verandas and pergolas entwined with climbing plants and its distinct seasonality, it is in many ways Jekyll who has offered us this vision.

Illustration from Gertrude Jekyll's Wood and GardenGertrude Jekyll’s lifetime, within which the construction of Winterbourne House and Gardens falls, was a period of huge social and cultural flux in Britain. The Arts and Crafts movement itself was partly a reaction to the massive changes in the aesthetic landscape wrought by mass industrialisation and all the dirt, disease and squalor that came with it. For many women, these kinds of disruptions led to shifting social expectations and economic realities and ultimately new levels of freedom and autonomy; Jekyll’s rise to mastery of her field is testament to this, and her artistic legacy, which we continue to enjoy, a reminder of its sincere importance. The fact that she was able to do this as an unmarried woman, at a time when women were still denied many basic political rights, only reinforces the depth of the admiration we ought to have for her talent and determination.

I recently attended a talk here at Winterbourne about the various horticultural influences imbibed by both John and Margaret Nettlefold as they set about the task of designing and constructing their garden in the early years of the twentieth century. I was very struck by just how much Margaret – another vitally important woman in Winterbourne’s history – was influenced by Jekyll, far beyond a simply miasmatic relationship with the aesthetic symbols of the Arts and Crafts movement. We have records of Margaret’s Christmas present list for the year 1905; to a ‘Mary C’ she gifted two copies of Jekyll’s books. Representations of Jekyll’s garden features crop up around Winterbourne like the meter of a poem; the dipping pool, the rock garden, the crinkle crankle wall; these can all be found in photographs of Jekyll’s work in precisely the kind of books that Margaret would have been reading. Here at Winterbourne we owe a considerable debt to Gertrude Jekyll and her importance as a gardener and an artist deserves to be remembered.

Margaret Nettlefold Gift List

Margaret’s Christmas present list – 1905

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