GJ Cover

A new publication from Sussex Gardens Trust explores the work of the renowned plantswoman, Gertrude Jekyll, through her drawings, correspondence and garden notebooks to reveal a fascinating picture of her commissions in Sussex.

(£15 + £3p&p. To purchase a copy please send a message via this link)

The research focuses upon the plans and planting schemes by the accomplished garden designer for a selection of gardens in Sussex, reimagined and brought to life through an extensive use of drawings, photographs and correspondence, recently made available through a joint project between SGT and the Environmental Design Archives in California.

Jekyll described herself as an artist gardener, and her art school training and study of the impressionist painters such as J. M. W. Turner can be seen in the careful detail of her designs, where her aim was to compose a living picture in the garden, with plants arranged in subtle, and sometimes bold, drifts of colour rather than the straight lines or stiff blocks of some of her contemporaries.

One of her most ambitious schemes was for the planting at the King Edward VII Sanatorium in Midhurst, created so that the patients could benefit from being outside and soothed by scented plants such as rosemary and lavender. But her commissions in Sussex were also for smaller, individual garden spaces, and this new book examines her less well-known work, including an unusual commission for a pleasure ground near Midhurst and one of her earliest assignments, a water garden for a society hostess at West Dean Park near Chichester. The EDA collection also contains a number of letters to Jekyll from her clients and the relationship between garden owner and designer, as plans and planting schemes are drawn up, provides an engaging picture of Jekyll’s working practice, glimpsed through the correspondence.

This latest publication by SGT takes a fresh look at the work of Gertrude Jekyll, whose close connection with Sussex remained throughout her life, and the research, together with maps, original plans and photographs, adds a further dimension to the study of this artist, gardener, craftswoman.

To see a zoomable Google map, click this link Jekyll Sites in Sussex  


To hear a radio interview with the editor click this link  Joe Talbot of BBC Sussex Interviews Sally Ingram 

 Gertrude Jekyll at home: a glimpse from the 1921 Census Return

Jekyll 1921 census 1 Large

The 1921 Census Return for England and Wales was released on 6 January this year and reveals a fascinating glimpse of households in the 1920s. For the first time the 28,000 bound volumes of the census have been painstakingly transcribed and digitised and together with the original forms, completed by hand on the night of 19 June 1921, can viewed on line at  https://www.findmypast.co.uk/

Jekyll 1921 census 2

Gertrude Jekyll’s household of three single women would not have been that unusual. With the death of so many young men in the First World War, the resulting imbalance in the sexes meant that more women than ever before were without a man to marry. Her cook and parlourmaid, now in their early forties, might have experienced more independence during the war and found a variety of employment but, as the men returned, women were once again in the difficult position of getting jobs and many found themselves back in domestic service.
Gertrude Jekyll liked to describe herself as an artist gardener, but on the census return she has made her occupation very clear as a garden designer, working from home. Exactly how many women, or men, described themselves as a garden designer in 1921 is unknown. It does not appear even as a category of work in the 1911 census, although 118,739 gardeners were then recorded. There is a woman on the 1921 census, much younger than Jekyll, living in Kensington, who gives her occupation as a garden designer: Henrietta Tuke, aged 27, was then a boarder with the Bristow family, although at the time recorded as out of work.

Jekyll 1921 census 3

Very little is known of Tuke, but she worked with Norah Geddes (1887-1967), the Scottish landscape designer, in laying out children’s playgrounds in the poor areas of Dublin for the Women’s Health Association of Ireland. Together they aimed to transform derelict areas in the city that could provide play spaces for the local children and in 1912 opened St Monica’s Garden Playground which had a sand pit and shower-bath. In 1911 Henrietta was living in Co. Sligo, but had moved to London by 1921, perhaps to seek new opportunities for garden and landscape design.

The census return is a once-every-decade event, eagerly awaited by family historians, but 2022 will be the last for another thirty years. The census returns of 1931 were lost in a fire, and the 1941 census was prevented because of the second world war and so it will not be until the 1951 census is released that another snapshot of family and professional life is revealed.

Sally Ingram 1/2/22

Here are some pages from the book:

Jekyll map and index

 W Dean hand coloured plan Lesser known commissions


KE VII Garden Plan


 GJ Artist and Craftswoman


Gertrude Jekyll in Sussex: SGT and the Digitisation of the Archive

Born in 1843 and with a professional life that lasted almost until her death in 1932 Gertrude Jekyll might have taken her artistic skills in any direction: painting and embroidery, wood-carving and silver-making, photography, even dry stone walling, yet it is for gardening and her garden writing that she is remembered. She was involved in as many as 400 commissions, mainly in this country but a small number abroad, and ranging from grand gardens to advice for a simple window box.

Until now the only opportunity to see the plans for these garden designs has been on a rather unclear microfilm or as paper copies kept at the Godalming Museum in Surrey. After Jekyll’s death the entire contents of her home at Munstead Wood were put into an auction and the collection of her garden plans was bought by the American landscape architect, Beatrix Farrand, for her library at Reef Point in Maine. Farrand eventually donated the archive to the University of California, Berkeley and the Gertrude Jekyll collection is now owned by the Environmental Design Archives (EDA) at Berkeley.

In 2018 Sussex Gardens Trust was delighted to be part of an important project to have the drawings, plans and correspondence relating to the commissions for Sussex digitised. Michael Edwards, a conservation architect, was instrumental in securing a significant proportion of the funding to make the digitisation possible, and the work was completed in 2019. Michael had previously helped the Surrey Gardens Trust to have their Jekyll collection in the EDA digitised and now this significant archive relating to Jekyll’s work in Surrey and in Sussex is available to researchers and contemporary gardeners worldwide. The conservation of this valuable collection will help to raise awareness of her influence on garden design and her lasting legacy.

There are seventeen folders in the EDA archive of drawings and plans associated with gardens in Sussex, dating from Jekyll’s first recorded commission of 1887 to 1931, a year before her death. The number and range of documents relating to each commission varies. The most extensive is for Plumpton Place, the home of Edward Hudson, the owner of Country Life, with a fascinating collection of letters to Jekyll, as he seeks her advice about the planting design and sends her black and white photographs of the garden.Here is a sample (for other images visit Jekyll documents relating to Plumpton Place)

Plumpton Place. Plan for Flower Borders

The folder for the ambitious gardens of the King Edward VII Sanatorium near Midhurst has fifty-three plans with intricately drawn planting schemes. Here is a sample (for other images visit Jekyll documents relating to King Edward VII Sanatorium)

KE VII Sanatorium Plan for Garden East

The digitisation of Jekyll’s archive captures the work of a renowned and highly influential garden designer, allowing access to gardens that may have been lost over the years, but now can be visible again. We hope that our project will encourage other country garden trusts to have their collections digitised, creating a complete online archive.

Do please visit the EDA website where you will find all the documents relating to Jekyll’s commissions in East and West Sussex. (Jekyll archive at University of Berkley, California)

For the last year the SGT research group has used the collection as the showpiece for a study of Jekyll’s work in Sussex, focusing on some of her less well-known commissions in the county. Our new book, with many plans and drawings that have not been seen before, was published in the summer of 2021 - see top of this page for details