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Gertrude Jekyll & Edwin Lutyens’ Munstead Wood

Munstead Wood’s 11-acre garden surrounds an Arts and Crafts house designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Photograph: Megan Taylor/National Trust.

Harriet Sherwood, Munstead Wood, prototype of classic English garden, saved for nation, 1 June 2023

National Trust to restore Gertrude Jekyll’s ‘horticultural gem’ at Lutyens-designed home in Surrey before public opening.

A garden created by the pioneering horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll that was the prototype of the modern English garden has been saved for the nation by the National Trust.

Munstead Wood near Godalming, Surrey, Jekyll’s home and garden until her death in 1932, was acquired by the trust through a private sale with support from the government “in order to secure it for public enjoyment and benefit”, the NT said.

The 11-acre garden will now be assessed by NT experts before a programme of restoration of the grounds and house begins. It is not expected to open to the public for at least a year.

A view through into Munstead Wood’s summer garden from the herbaceous border. Photograph: Megan Taylor/National Trust.

Munstead Wood was described as a “horticultural gem” surrounding an Arts and Crafts house designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Andy Jasper, the NT’s head of gardens and parklands, said it was a “delicate and enchanting space – a beautiful Lutyens building surrounded by amazing architecture”.

Speaking from Munstead Wood, he said: “The sun is reflecting on rhododendrons in full bloom and azaleas that are a key feature of this garden. The air is thick with their scent. I’ve just watched a fox walk in front of me.”

Jekyll moved to Munstead Wood in the 1890s, beginning work on the gardens before embarking on the house. She ran a garden centre there and bred many new plants.

She became one of the most influential garden designers and transformed horticultural practice, collecting plants in Britain and Europe and introducing at least 30 new varieties into British gardens.

Jekyll created about 400 gardens in the UK, Europe and America, collaborating with Lutyens on many projects. She wrote many books, and contributed more than 1,000 articles to Country Life, the Garden and other magazines, and was also a talented painter, photographer and craftswoman

She was the first woman to be awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Victoria Medal of Honour – the highest award for British horticulturists.

A photograph of a painting of Gertrude Jekyll by William Nicholson. Photograph: National Trust.

“Before Jekyll, late Victorian gardens were formal, almost regimented places,” said Jasper. “Jekyll started using plants like a painter would use a palette of oil paints. You start to see a sense of theatre and showmanship and delight.”

She created areas “like a series of rooms” to flower in different seasons, “so there was always something to see. She really played with colour. She used very strong, bright colours in the foreground, and then more muted shades at the rear, to create a sort of foreshortening so you imagine the borders were much deeper than they were.”

Some of Jekyll’s original planting survives at Munstead Wood, particularly in the woodland garden where her approach to artistic “wild gardening” is evident.

The formal paths, walls and pond near the house remain intact, and Jekyll’s innovative rock garden was recently rediscovered buried under layers of garden debris.

In the 1950s the garden was simplified, but later owners of the property restored Jekyll’s design and planting. The NT’s restoration project will be based on surviving documentary evidence, including photographs, planting plans, paintings and written descriptions.

Munstead Wood’s north courtyard. Photograph: Megan Taylor/National Trust.

Jasper said Munstead Wood was “not only a rare surviving example of Jekyll’s work, it is also the garden where she developed and clearly expressed her ideas, and the birthplace of her rich collaboration with Sir Edwin Lutyens.

“It was the source of the planting experiments she described in her writing, the hub of her garden design and nursery business and had a huge influence on garden design and planting not just in Britain but internationally.”

The garden showcased “Jekyll’s signature naturalistic design, her bold use of colour and innovative use of everyday plants. There is no greater example of a classic English garden.”

Hilary McGrady, the NT’s director general, said: “The survival of both house and garden offers an extraordinary chance to tell the story of the house and garden, and Jekyll’s enormous impact, inspiring a new generation of gardeners and nature lovers. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this seminal garden.”

See also: Munstead Wood, a masterpiece of Arts and Crafts, is acquired by the National Trust

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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