Girl History Month – Gertrude Jekyll ‘Artist Gardener Craftswoman’

There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight.

Gertrude Jekyll

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) was an influential British horticulturist, garden designer, artist and writer. Her brilliant designs continue to inspire gardeners everywhere.

Hidcote Manor Garden

Hidcote Manor Garden

Gertrude was born into a prosperous family and was educated in the arts from an early age. Jekyll’s brother, Walter, was a friend of the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, who borrowed the Jekyll family name for the title of his psychological thriller, Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde.

Young Gertrude

Young Gertrude

When she was 18, Jekyll was admitted to the South Kensington School of Art, where she studied painting, as well as botany, optics and the science of color. She would have had a career as a painter had not her sight begun to fail.

Watercolor by Gertrude Jekyll

Watercolor by Gertrude Jekyll

As her eyesight dimmed, Jekyll conceived the idea of creating art works from flowers and shrubs, and turning the design of gardens into an art form. She started to design simple cottage gardens and, as her career advanced, produced grand designs for country houses.

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Jekyll was greatly influenced by William Morris, one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement in art, architecture, and crafts during the late 19th century.  Morris advocated a return to an informal planting style based upon an idealized English cottage garden.  Jekyll shared Morris’s mystical view of nature and drew on the floral designs in his textiles for her garden designs.

William Morris Textile Design

William Morris Textile Design

In 1889, Jekyll was introduced to the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, with whom she began an association, creating landscapes for his avant-garde constructions. This successful partnership, with each influencing the other, resulted in one hundred Lutyens/Jekyll designs and greatly contributed to the English way of life.

Hestercombe House Garden

Hestercombe House Garden

Jekyll was a formidable plants-woman, who experimented with plants in her own garden at Munstead Wood in Surrey before recommending them to anyone. She taught the value of ordinary plants familiar to gardeners today, Hostas, Bergenias, Lavender and old fashioned roses.

Glebe House

Glebe House

Gertrude Jekyll concentrated her design work on applying plants in a variety of settings, woodland gardens, water gardens and herbaceous borders always striving to achieve the most natural effect. She had an artist’s eye for color and contrasted plant textures to great effect.

Munstead Wood, Surrey

Munstead Wood, Surrey

Jekyll was the author of 15 books, her most famous being Wood and Gardening, a guide to the creation of gardens in a variety of climates and conditions. She was a prolific designer, completing around 350 commissions in England and America, many of which still exist today.

In 1986, the rose breeder David Austin created a deep-pink shrub rose and named it in Jekyll’s honor.

David Austin's "Gertrude Jekyll" Rose

David Austin’s “Gertrude Jekyll” Rose

Jekyll died on December 9, 1932 at Munstead Wood, Surrey. She is buried in St John’s Churchyard, Busbridge. On her tombstone is inscribed the simple epitaph by Sir Edwin Lutyens, ‘Artist Gardener Craftswoman’.

grave stone

Are There Too Many Bees In London? – Counterpoint

Rooftop Beekeeping In London

I believe it’s only fair to give equal time to those readers who take the time and trouble to provide thoughtful commentary on this issue. Here is a comment by Jude Earl:

The arguments put forward by LBKA are flawed – and in some instances totally wrong. In particular :

– The National Bee Unit shows 466 apiaries within a 10km radius of NW5. This is 314 square km …very different from the 10 sq km stated.
– According to London Ecology Unit Data 66% of London is occupied by green spaces and water …of this 22% is private gardens, 22% parks and sports facilities and 22% other habitats inc grassland woods cemeteries canal banks and railway embankments and water
– Even if a generous 22% is discounted as having no potential use for forage –eg waterways sports fields – then there would still be 44% of Greater London’s 1583 square km as potential forage. This doesn’t take into account street trees which provide nectar pollen and honeydew. In 2009 the BBKA stated that 4 or 5 large trees can provide as much forage for bees as an acre of wild flower meadow.

– These figures date back to 2000 and although there has been a loss of green space in some areas it seems unlikely there’s been a significant overall change and in some areas …notably the establishment of the Thames Chase woodland ( where 1.6 million trees are to be planted as mixed woodland) there has been a large increase. There has also been increased awareness of bees and the necessity to plant “ bee friendly” plants in parks and gardens.

– The figures given for honey production of 31lbs per hive (this was the 2011 figure not 2010) is for surplus honey taken from the hive ( the honey left on the hive for the bees is not counted ). This was an average yield over the whole of the South East region which covers all of Sussex Kent and Surrey as well as Greater London …so it seems unlikely that lack of forage alone was to blame for low yields. The South East Regional Bee Inspector put the low yield down to the drought conditions which prevented nectar flow. In Cumbria the yield for 2011 was down to 15-25 lbs per hive and there was a similar pattern in other areas of the country.

– Whilst there may be too many bees and not enough forage in London the arguments put forward so far seem to be low on correct and reliable facts and high on emotive arguments

Ode to Gertrude Jekyll, a Postscript

I knew Ms. Jekyll had to be a proponent of beautiful beekeeping !!

Bee hives

A cottager’s bee hives
Surrey History Centre ref. 6521/2/2/198

This photograph was taken by Gertrude Jekyll and appeared in her book Old West Surrey in 1904. She wrote:

‘Many cottagers are clever bee-keepers. The old straw hive is still in use amongst the poorer folk. Luckily for appearance’ sake, it is cheaper than the more scientific wooden one, and the cottager’s device for sheltering it, as in the case shown, with a bonnet made of pieces of sacking, and the broken halves of a red-ware washing-pan, adds to the prettiness of the little bee establishment.’