Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

NOVEMBER 29th

On this day in history in 1843, was born Gertrude Jekyll.

Jekyll was a writer, artist and garden designer, who created the concept of gardening as an art form.

Jekyll (rhymes with treacle) was born on 29th November 1843, in London, the daughter of a prosperous family. She received a home based education in which music and painting predominated. In her youth, she travelled extensively in the Greek islands, where she studied the local architecture. At the age of 18, Jekyll was admitted to the South Kensington School of Art, where she studied the painterly arts, as well as botany, optics and the science of colour.

Jekyll would have had a career as a painter had not her sight began to fail and made the design of portraits difficult, or indeed impossible. 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. She produced over 400 gardens, mostly in Britain but also in Europe and America, many of which survive today. Her work is known for its radiant colour and the brush-like strokes of her creations. She was influenced by the landscape painter, Joseph Turner, and by the Impressionist movement. Her concept of design by colour and her Impressionistic schemes were possibly the product of the deteriorating eyesight, which ended her carer as a painter.

In 1889, Jekyll was introduced to the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, with whom she began an association, creating landscapes for his avant-garde constructions. In her later years, she brought together a collection of plants, for the purpose of preservation, which she donated to horticultural institutions. 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.  In 1986, the rose breeder David Austin created a deep-pink shrub rose and named it in Jekyll's honour. Jekyll’s brother, Walter, was a friend of the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, who borrowed his name for the title of his psychological thriller, Jekyll and Hyde. Probably the best preserved of Jekyll’s surviving works is The Manor House, Upton Grey, Basingstoke, Hants RG25 2RD. [Open to the public. Admission fee]

Jekyll died on 9th December 1932 at Munstead Wood, Surrey. She is buried in St John’s Churchyard, Busbridge. [St John the Baptist Church, Brighton Road, Busbridge, Surrey, GU7 1XA. A remarkable church, noted for its architecture, and works by William Morris and Edwin Lutyens.] On her tombstone is inscribed the simple epitaph by Lutyens, ‘Artist Gardener Craftswoman’.

Recommended reading. 

Bisgrove, Richard.  The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll.
Bisgrove, Richard.  Gertrude Jekyll's Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden. (Paperback)
Wood, Martin. The Unknown Gertrude Jekyll.

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