This month we were treated to beautiful scenes alongside a garden history lesson, when Annabel Watts – Head Gardener at Munstead Wood – came to give our Club Night lecture.
Munstead Wood, near Godalming, was the home of the celebrated gardener Gertrude Jekyll. Turning the conventional order of property development on its head, she first made a garden here, on 15 acres of dry sandy soil, and only then did she have a house designed for the plot by the young architect Edwin Lutyens. It was in this space that the pair experimented with the ideas in garden design and architecture for which they were to become respectively famous.
The garden was completely lost after the Second World War, when the plot was divided. The new owners of Gertrude’s house tarmacked and lawned over the beds and the paths, and added a swimming pool, paddocks and a tennis court. In the hurricane of October 1987 200 trees were lost. Once the debris from this destruction had been cleared the outlines of the Jekyll paths and borders could be seen. Using these outlines and Gertrude Jekyll’s writing an ambitious restoration of the garden began. And hence the garden we can see today was reborn.
Gertrude Jekyll was influenced by William Robinson and his Wild Gardening movement. So she rejected Victorian carpet bedding in favour of cycles of perennial plants that would provide colour, form and movement throughout the year. The challenge for Annabel and her fellow gardeners at Munstead Wood, is how to preserve the gardens so that they feel like Miss Jekyll has only just left. They do this by using the Jekyll planting plans, utilising the plants she specified wherever possible.
We learned how Gertrude Jekyll was a formidable business woman and a skilled craftswoman who made wood work with ornate inlays, intricate shell work and silver repousse. Munstead Wood was the headquarters of her enterprises, where she had a workshop, a forge and a flower shop.
It was fascinating to hear about the life and achievements of this formidable lady, whose influence is still very much with us more than a century later.