[All images in this post ©Country Life Picture Library from Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden, by Judith B. Tankard, Rizzoli New York, 2011.]
A quick flip through my inspiration file reveals a common thread: I'm drawn to rooms that open up to gardens -- even if it's simply the illusion of a garden, like a tiny patio laden with potted plants. When a local warehouse conversion to residential lofts grabs my attention, it typically has an unexpectedly lush courtyard, such as Studioplex's tree-and-shrub-filled space; my weakness is buying fresh flowers and new plants; and I gravitate to places hidden behind green walls. That said, I know very little about garden design. Truth be told, almost nothing.
Somewhere along the line, though, I learned the name Gertrude Jekyll and have long been aware that she is a key figure in the history of landscape design.
Born in 1843, in London, and raised in the English countryside, Jekyll grew up to create gardens throughout the UK and abroad but she is most closely associated with English landscapes. As an Anglophile, I jumped at a recent opportunity to preview landscape historian Judith Tankard's new book, Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden, scheduled to hit book shops any day now.
Best known during her lifetime as a writer -- specifically as a longtime contributor to Country Life and as a prolific author of garden books -- Jekyll would probably be pleased by my curiosity. She wrote:
"I have lived among outdoor flowers for many years and rejoice when I see anyone, and especially children, inquiring about flowers, and wanting gardens of their own."
Tankard says that Jekyll's books caught on with the public because the volumes had a literary and visual flair that set them apart. Art and design had always been central in Jekyll's world. Her earliest aspiration was to be a painter and she attended the South Kensington School of Art, going on to pursue crafts including: carpentry, gilding, wood inlay and metalwork. She was among the first amateur photographers, she embarked on embroidery designs for the Royal School of Needlework, and she experimented with textile and wallpaper design.
This creative background is often cited in descriptions of Jekyll's gardens. Her style is said to be painterly and her sense of color exquisite -- even in cases where the plants chosen are simply cream, white, green and silver.
For me, Tankard's book is straightforward enough that I can follow along and learn, despite being a novice.
Now I better understand how Jekyll popularized a less rigid, naturalistic look that at the time was a breath of fresh air -- a sharp contrast to the earlier Victorian era's formal schemes, such as patterned, carpet-like beds of flowers. She favored hardy, native plants and designs which seamlessly combined both loose and structured elements. And her garden designs related closely to the architecture of a house; many of you already know that she is remembered for her collaborations with architect Edwin Lutyens.
If you are very well acquainted with Jekyll and the history of landscape design, I think the wealth of beautiful images in this edition will still feel fresh. In addition to black-and-white archival photography from Country Life (so striking on its own) there are numerous contemporary color pictures. Design enthusiasts of all kinds will be interested in the detailed section on garden ornament, the accounts of her work with architects, and the old houses featured -- I counted at least 30, including the National Trust's Barrington Court (pictured directly above). One photo in particular has me dreaming of white wisteria. It's not shown in this post but I hope these images whet your appetite.
Images posted with permission from Rizzoli New York.