Tankard, Judith B. & Martin A. Wood
- Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood Writing Horticulture Photography Homebuilding
Bramley Books, Godalming, Surrey, UK, 1998.
Quarto; hardcover, with illustrated boards; 201pp., colour and monochrome illustrations. Minor wear; slight scuffing to dustwrapper with lightly worn edges and corners. Near fine and professionally protected by superior non-adhesive polypropylene film. About 1883, the Jekyll family purchased a tract of land near the family home for Gertrude to develop, which she described as 'fifteen acres of the poorest possible soil, sloping a little down towards the north with a thin skin of peaty earth on the upper part'. There was a natural growth of heath, whortleberry and bracken flourishing where a wood of Scots fir had been cut down in the 1870s. A chest-nut grove stood in the central portion, where she would eventually build her house, and, below that, a poor, sandy field that she later turned into her working gardens. Jekyll promptly set out to organise the grounds, keeping some of the natural groupings of trees and shrubs and thinning out others. She began by creating a series of paths through the woodlands, each with a distinct character. A wide grass walk was flanked by carefully chosen groups of rhododendrons pink tones in the fore-ground and white-flowering types where the woodland became denser and the shade deepened. She referred to this walk as the 'most precious possession' because it gave 'illusions of distance and mystery'. Another walk meandered through the heather; wildferns, bracken, and lilies flanked some of the smaller, more naturalistic-looking paths, each one of which provided a vista to the house. After establishing the woodland gardens, Jekyll turned her attention to ornamental gardening by creating a series of 'pictures'. One of her primary considerations, however, was the inseparability of house and garden. In the normal course of events, the house and garden would have been designed together, but at Munstead Wood, most of the gardens had been laid out before the house was built. The most successful aspect of linking the house and grounds was the small footpath leading from the lane to the house, for there was no carriage drive sweeping up to the front door, as one might have expected. 'I like the approach to a house to be as quiet and modest as possible, and in this case I wanted it to tell its own story as the way in to a small dwelling standing in wooded ground.' The hall and south terrace were centred on the grassy woodland walk laid out 15 years earlier; where it met the lawn, there were groups of silver birch mingling with the rhododendrons. From the terrace, one could see large sweeps of daffodils growing in the old smugglers' tracks and, in a clearing in the centre of the woodland, there were brilliantly hued Ghent hybrid azaleas. By 1948 the house and garden were considered an anachronism, which, together with the dispersal of her estate and the breaking up of the property seemed to spell doom. Her professional papers found a good home at the University of California at Berkeley, after they were purchased by the American landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, who was an early admirer of Jekyll's and had initially visited Munstead Wood in 1895. The house and woodland gardens survive in excellent condition, and separate parcels, all still privately owned, include The Hut, the gardener's cottage, and the kitchen gardens (now known as Munstead Quadrangle). Jekyll's legacy lies primarily in the books and articles she wrote about Munstead Wood and in the photographic record by Charles Latham, Herbert Cowley and Jekyll herself, now updated, a century on. The end of the First World War brought financial hardship to Jekyll, who was by then in her seventies and growing more reclusive. Before that, she may have lived beyond her means, with a large staff, including a head gardener and two under-gardeners. Her nursery sales helped to defray expenses, but in the end, she made few improvements to the house or garden. At the time of her death in 1932, the shrubberies around the house were considerably overgrown, and most were later cleared. (From Country Life Article)
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