Being desirous of taking up horticulture for a living, the fact that I was born in Cambridge, England, led me to the University Botanic Garden to further my education after leaving school. During my years there I came across books written by Gertrude Jekyll. The volume that interested me most was Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden, so much so that I read and re-read it, and even gave a talk upon the subject to my fellow students. She lived in Surrey, where the soil was lime-free, and this influenced my steps when I came to seek a job on leaving the Garden. And so, having secured work in a nursery in Surrey in 1931, on Saturday 6 September I cycled from Woking to Munstead, south of Godalming. I had been given an introduction to Miss Jekyll, and very fortunately had been invited by her to visit her garden. I have never ceased to be grateful for this happening, for she was not really receiving strangers at that advanced time of her life. She died fifteen months later.
Her house, which she called Munstead Wood, had been designed in the Surrey vernacular by Edwin Lutyens, later to be knighted for his services to architecture. It had no imposing gateway and drive; a simple hand-gate in the fence led directly to the door. I was shown into her room and I remember her looking almost the same as Sir William Nicholson’s portrait of her, sitting in her chair. I was welcomed, bidden to go round the garden, pick a piece of anything I wished to talk about, and come back and have tea with her.
Her garden was almost the first one of any size in private hands which I had seen; moreover it was on sandy acid soil, much of it covered by a thin woodland of Scotch pines, Spanish chestnuts, oak and birch – a totally different assembly from what would have obtained in Cambridge, on its sticky, limy loam. Even the native plants – heather, vaccinium, galium and teucrium – were different from anything I had previously met.
Wandering through the formal areas around the house exceeded my greatest expectations. There were the colour borders, still full of bloom, with gradations of tints so skilfully managed. Although she was a great lover of flowers and plants, it was her desire to extract the greatest effect from them that exercised her mind more than anything else. The colour, the stance, the form were to her of much greater value in the garden than botanical rarities, and she kept her magnificent and principal border in colourful condition by several expedients. Foremost among these was the expert use of making one plant drape itself over the spent display of another, and the growing in pots, in readiness for popping into gaps, of lateflowering hydrangeas, dahlias and others for augmenting the display. Thus was
6 GERTRUDE JEKYLL AT MUNSTEAD WOOD