Munstead Wood was the home of Gertrude Jekyll from 1896-1932. It was here that Gertrude Jekyll created not only her home, but also her business. The house included a book room, flower room, workshop, and a dark room where she developed the photographs that she took of her garden and the surrounding countryside.
Gertrude Jekyll was one of those bigger-than-life historic characters who captured our imaginations. Not only was she an extraordinary gardener, she was also a photographer, painter, silversmith, embroidery artist, and writer–a true Renaissance woman.
We visited Munstead Wood on 2018 September 14 and it was inspiring to see the place that Gertrude Jekyll called home.
Photography | Susan Libertiny
We made an appointment to visit the garden at Munstead Wood by contacting Annabel Watts, the Head Gardener, through the Munstead Wood website. The garden is privately owned, so an appointment was required to visit.
We were told that the garden was tricky to find, so we left early in case we got lost. It turned out that we left so much extra time, we arrived an hour early. Annabel Watts greeted us upon our arrival and suggested a private tour since we had arrived so early. To tour Gertrude Jekyll’s garden with the Head Gardener was an amazing experience–a dream come true!
The tour started at the front entrance of the house, located within a sheltered area that you access through a brick archway. The brick and tile patterns in the archway were quite unique and I’m glad we were able to get a close-up image.
Once through the archway, the front door to Jekyll’s home was on the right. It’s a simple wooden door with hand-hewn arching timbers and a strange-looking pull mechanism that’s used to ring the bell.
As we started out tour, Annabel provided details about the architectural design and collaboration between Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Edwin Lutyens. Lutyens was an English architect known for his Arts and Crafts style Country homes. He was the architect who designed Jekyll’s house and they became life-long friends and collaborators.
We began the garden-portion of the tour in the most formal area: The Tank and Courtyard located between two wings of her house. The stone pavings of the courtyard are richly textured with stone, brick and river pebbles. There are square brick planters filled with round box shrubs. Annabel said there was a standing joke between Jekyll and Lutyens about “the box in the box” which they found very funny.
Jekyll designed her house to include space for her business. Her house included a large work room, book room, flower room, and a dark room where she would develop the glass plates for the many photographs that she took. As part of her business, Jekyll sold cut flowers from her garden. People could purchase flowers by walking up to the door of the flower room through the courtyard. This was the retail portion of her business that she operated out of her home.
This is the first time I learned that Jekyll sold cut flowers and created floral arrangements to decorate the dining tables of homes in London. I was amazed as I looked through the windows, imagining Gertrude Jekyll busy arranging flowers for her clients.
Seeing the courtyard garden was particularly exciting because the courtyard was discussed in her book, Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden. In her book, she describes the use of potted-plants within Italian gardens |
“…good groupings of smaller plants in pots is a form of ornament that might be made more use of in our own gardens, especially where there are paved spaces near a house or in connection with a tank or fountain, so that there is convenient access to means of daily watering. I have such a place in a cool court nearly square in shape. A middle circle is paved, and all next to the house is paved, on a level of one shallow step higher. It is on the sides of this raised step that the pot plants are grouped, leaving free access to a wooden seat in the middle, and a clear way to a door on the left.” | Gertrude Jekyll
When reading her book, she made it easy to follow along with her design concepts through her writing and photographs.
I love visiting historic homes and gardens for this exact reason–imaging what the space looked like “back in the day”. To be able to put garden spaces together with the words I’ve read was really exciting.
Jekyll believed that the only way to design a successful garden color scheme was to have gardens devoted to plants that bloomed during certain times of the year and that was how the gardens at Munstead Wood were arranged.
In her book Gardens for Small Country Houses, she described Munstead Wood in detail |
“From the lawn a wide turfway leads to another at right angles, beyond which is the main border of hardy flowers, eighteen feet wide and about one hundred and eighty feet long. It is backed by a narrow alley, not seen from the front, but serving conveniently to get at the plants in the back of the border, and those on the other side against a high wall of local hard stone.” | Gertrude Jekyll
The photograph below shows a section of the Hardy Flower Border described in Gardens for Small Country Houses,
“The border has a definite colour scheme; at the two ends blue, white and the palest yellow, with grey foliage; and purple white and pink, also with grey foliage, respectively; the colour then advancing from both ends by yellow and orange, to the middle glory of strongest reds. Bold groups of yucca are at the ends, and flank a cross path that passes by a doorway through the wall.” | Gertrude Jekyll
In Gardens for Small Country Houses, Gertrude Jekyll explained that there were no exact plans made for the whole garden at Munstead Wood and that “the garden falls into separate spaces – an accident that has been used to some advantage by devoting each space to a season.” As we walked through the garden, we were shown those various garden spaces. A Spring garden that featured bulbs, peonies and columbine; a summer garden, a primrose garden, a September-October garden filled with Michaelmas daisies and even a garden devoted entirely to purple, white and pink with grey foliage colour scheme.
I loved the old yew hedges in the garden that have clearly been in place since Jekyll’s time. They provided an amazing dark green backdrop to the garden with a small entryways leading into the garden beyond.