Take a look inside a real gardener's garden

We launch our new book The Gardener's Garden at Munstead Wood, the quintessential English garden
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Munstead Wood main garden
Munstead Wood main garden

We’ve grown accustomed to, and comfortable with, high end gastronomy being described as art, thanks to the innovative culinary creations of chefs such as Ferran Adria, René Redzepi and Alex Atala. But long before Ferran and co were beavering away in their laboratories, conceptualizing creations that would change the high-end food world, British gardener and horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll had steered a similar course, working on designs that would re-imagine and go on to define the very notion of the English garden. 

Jekyll’s story is a fascinating one and it provided the backdrop to our launch of a new book The Gardener’s Garden yesterday, at her garden and Edwin Lutyens-designed home in Munstead Wood, Godalming, half-an hour south of London. The book features over 1200 photographs of historical, contemporary, private and public gardens offering ideas and visual inspiration for any garden. Jekyll's work both in the UK and the US gets a strong showing.

 

Munstead Wood flowerbed
Munstead Wood flowerbed

In the late 1800s, Jekyll (her younger brother Walter was friends with Robert Louis Stevenson who borrowed the family name for his story, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde) fused  fauna from around the world in her garden Munstead Wood. From the work done in this outdoor workshop she went on to create around 400 gardens in Europe and America.

Munstead was Jekyll’s own garden and the site of much of her horticultural exploration. Imagine Ferran Adria’s elBulli Foundation or Redzepi’s NomaLab but on an even bigger scale.

At Munstead, Jekyll had a smithy where she would make her own gardening tools, she blew glass to create the vases that would best show off her creations and she took and developed the photos of her gardens that she published in numerous books and magazine articles. (it’s reckoned she wrote over a 1,000 in her long lifetime). 

 

Some of the guests tour the gardens
Some of the guests tour the gardens

But in the years following Jekyll’s death in 1932 the garden had a somewhat chequered history. Immediately after her death it fell to ruin and by the 1950s was lawned over and covered with tennis courts. The infamous storm that battered the UK in1987 destroyed over 200 trees but provided a catalyst to revive Jekyll's original designs and restore the garden to how it looked when she lived and worked there.

So it’s a hugely influential garden in terms of 20th century design and a place of pilgrimage, for both hoticulturalists and architects. The perfect place to launch The Gardener’s Garden.

The Lutyens house came after the garden but their partnership came to be a fruitful one according to Toby Musgrave contributor to the book who was at yesterday's launch. 

 

Munstead Wood flowerbed
Munstead Wood flowerbed

“Towards the end of the 19th century people were already getting fed up of bedding displays here there and everywhere," Toby told us. "But it was really Lutyens and Jekyll who proved you could have an architect and a gardner working together as a team. When you got the right personalities together you ended up with this incredible product that was absolutely suited to the site, using indigenous materials or local materials in local ways and really leaning on that local arts and crafts tradition. Jekyll was a one in a million genius," Musgrove said, "creating planting designs of a quality I don’t think has ever been beaten.”

According to Munstead Wood's head gardener, Annabel Watts, "Jekyll was a no nonsense character who came from a military family, quite a feminist, with a twinkle in her eye. Obviously something the young Ned Lutyens warmed to!"

She was also painter who’d campaigned for women to be admitted to the RA and so brought a painterly colour theory to her planting. Her clever designs featured flowing borders and drifts of colours influenced by British painters such as Turner. 

 

The Edwin Lutyens house
The Edwin Lutyens house

Watts has tended the garden for the last 12 years, immersing herself in Jekyll's legacy, and pretty much single handedly nurturing her original vision.  We asked her what makes a garderner’s garden different. 

“Oh it’s that personal stamp," she said. "In this case it’s all the typical Jekyll planting here. If you go to Hestercombe or Lindisfarne you will recognize all the plants that would originally have come from here. But it’s the personal stamp of that particular gardener. And Jekyll put such thought into her own garden, it’s her legacy. People expect it to look like Jekyll has a hand in it still. I get quite frightened that I’m in charge of the place! I prefer not to think of it."

 

Annabel Watts
Annabel Watts

"I don’t know if I feel particularly close to her when I'm here, she continued, "that’s a bit exaggerated. But I think if I did she’d probably be telling me to get a move on and stop listening to the radio!”

Look out for more Gardener’s Garden stories next week, including interviews with Annabel Watts,  why Toby Musgrave thinks Jekyll's work is on a par with Monet's and five great Jekyll ideas that will make any garden look better. Over the coming weeks we'll also be bringing you some exclusive looks inside the book. But before then, read a bit more about the book and pre-order it here.

 

The Gardener's Garden
The Gardener's Garden


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