Gertrude Jekyll: The First Lady of the Arts and Crafts Movement

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In a recent article, we discussed the origin of the Arts and Crafts movement and highlighted one of its leading lights, William Morris. This week, we’ll look at the contributions of Gertrude Jekyll.

Gertrude Jekyll’s contribution to the Arts and Crafts movement began with horticulture and garden design in Britain, starting around 1881. In partnership with renowned architect Edwin Lutyens, another leading light of the Arts and Crafts movement, Gertrude brought design elements to the outdoors that had never been considered. Characteristic of her designs were beautiful geometric aspects paired with terraces and colorful borders alive with movement.

Connecting the Landscape with Architecture
She created incredible landscapes around Lutyen’s architectural designs, starting around her own home, Munstead Wood, Surrey. An artist and a writer, Gertrude took a decidedly painterly approach to her designs, relying heavily on the same Arts and Crafts sensibilities that we see in the textile trends and interior floral arrangements from the same period. The color wheel was a constant guide and companion in her work.

Gertrude focused on the way the plants, flowers, and pathways made a viewer feel, and how they influenced the mood of individuals dwelling in between the staid rows. Given her failing eyesight, these lovely, almost Impressionist stylings of greenery lent a calm, ordered, flowing feel to her projects and paired beautifully with Lutyens’s benches, which he designed expressly for her garden spaces. The bench style he created are still immediately recognizable as some of the very best outdoor Arts and Crafts design, and are still reproduced.

Jekyll Incorporated Borders and Pathways into Designs
Many of Gertrude’s theories and principles of planting are used in modern landscapes today, especially as they pertain to borders around gardens and pathways. This concern for framing greenery to its best advantage even led to the design of a line of garden vases, created in the finest Arts and Crafts tradition of simplicity and functionality. She received silver and bronze medals from the Royal Horticultural Society and National Rose Society for her vases.

All told, this amazing woman designed over 400 gardens and wrote 15 books. She covered the subjects of gardening, garden design, and the study and appreciation of plants. She took an incredible number of photographs, and her book In Old West Surrey, showcases over 300 of them. She eventually received the Victoria Medal of Honor for her work, and the Veitch Memorial Medal.

Examples of her work still in existence, through restoration, include her former home, The Gertrude Jekyll Estate, Sandwich in Kent, and Upton Grey. Her works can also be viewed at Project Gutenberg. Her vase designs can be purchased as reproductions honoring her original designs. Gertrude firmly believed that floral décor in a room was simply another branch of gardening, and her vases reflect that sensibility. They are elegant and timeless, just like the woman herself.

Fun Fact! There is a reason the name Jekyll may be familiar. Gertrude’s younger brother Walter was a close friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, and Stevenson borrowed the name Jekyll for … you guessed it, his novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!