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style icon: gertrude jekyll

by Amy Azzarito

I’m so excited for spring (and summer) — sunlight, bike rides, swimming and, of course, lots of flowers. Although I am an appreciator of the geometric French garden, my heart belongs to the wild looking English garden. For the next lady in our series of style icons, May flowers dictate a nod to Gertrude Jekyll (1843–1932), one of the most influential British gardeners, known for her amazing painterly color compositions in the garden. In fact, when she was younger, Gertrude had hoped to be a painter. She attended the South Kensington School of Art (now the Royal College of Art) and excelled at everything from painting to carving and carpentry and was even an excellent embroiderer. She designed jewelry and wallpaper, visiting France and Italy to learn wood inlay and gilding. Just before turning 40 years old, her eyesight began to fail. She could no longer see well enough to manage fine detail work. Flowers and foliage had frequently been the subjects of Gertrude’s sketches, and when her mother purchased a property in England, Gertrude threw herself into botanical studies. — Amy Azzarito

Image above: Gertrude Jekyll’s garden at Munstead Wood from Country Life

Gertrude lived with her mother for nearly 20 years and dedicated herself to gardening. When her mother died in 1895, Gertrude built her own house and garden. But she didn’t confine herself to family gardens — Gertrude created 400 gardens all over the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. When she wasn’t gardening, she was writing. She contributed more than 1,000 articles to a variety of magazines and 13 books. (Some of the books, like Flower Decoration in the House, are available via Google Books.) When she began gardening, Gertrude bought a pair of men’s boots, and she was wearing the same boots (much repaired) 49 years later at the time of her death in 1932. Those boots are now in the Guildford Museum collection. For those of us who get a little panicked that we don’t have it all figured out, it’s good to learn about women like Gertrude Jekyll (or Julia Child, who started cooking at 37), who discover new passions later in life.

Image above: 1. Pruning Shears, $29; 2. Lace-up Boots, $255; 3. Leaf Bracelet, $96; 4. The Secret Garden, $10.88; 5. Napa Valley Bath Tea, $12; 6. Victory Seed Tubes, $16; 7. Bee Skep Basket, $42.90; 8. Pattern Click Pens, $3; 9. Vases, $73 (designed by Gertrude Jekyll and reissued by her great, great niece, Christina Freyberg, who discovered the vases in a Victorian catalog); 10. Gertrude Jekyll Rose

Images above: Traces of tulips and roses for Jekyll’s embroidery work; garden images from © Country Life Picture Library, from Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden by Judith B. Tankard, New York: Rizzoli, 2011; photograph of Gertrude Jekyll from Country Life

Image above: 1. Garden Gloves, $15.50; 2. Thorn Bracelet, $175; 3. Bee Charm, $200; 4. Weeding Fork, $31; 5. White Peony Tea, $40; 6. Thorn Ring, $35; 7. Floral Plate, $9.95; 8. Ladybug Push Pins, $7.64; 9. Brass Watering Can, $40.99; 10. A Mini Living Botanical Garden, $12.95

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