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Part 2: Interpreting Jekyll's Plans

Part 2: Interpreting Jekyll's Plans


Despite having access to the original plans, there were problems of interpretation to overcome.

Some of Gertrude Jekyll's instructions to the gardeners were highly specific.

On the plan for the Dutch Garden of 1907 for instance, she directs the gardener ‘please to grow Ageratum americana tall and dwarf and Trachelium caeruleum for filling and to sow, where marked red, Sutton's Godetia 'Double Rose'

click here to see plan

But the plant names Jekyll used were often generalised. Since she herself supplied many of the plants from her own garden at Munstead Wood, she didn't trouble to name them in detail on the plan, referring, for instance, to ‘lavender', ‘echinops' or ‘white pink' rather than a particular species or cultivar.

To flesh out the names, Roy Cheek provided lists of possible plants and Madeleine consulted books by Gertrude Jekyll, such as Colour in the Flower Garden and Wood and Garden for clues as to the individual plants she favoured in certain situations.

‘We didn't have any record of Miss Jekyll ever visiting Hestercombe, so we assumed it was probably a desktop plan - Lutyens gave her the plans and she put in the combinations that she knew would work,' explains Madeleine.

Detective work was also needed to identify plants where the original names had changed. Roy Cheek helped with information on modern equivalents, and Madeleine also consulted the second edition of the RHS Dictionary of Gardening and old nursery catalogues. Eurybia, for instance, was identified as Olearia, while Funkia is now known as Hosta.

The Great Plat from the
East Rill in 1980

Bergenia schmidtii, 1975.

Of all the plants that needed identifying, it was the ubiquitous bergenias (or Megasea, as they were known to Jekyll) that gave the most trouble.

Rosa ‘Reine Olga' with kniphofia foliage and
flag iris, 1979.

The bergenias in the Great Plat had been wrongly labelled as Bergenia cordifolia. However, it took some time to identify them correctly. They were no Bergenia ligulata, B. cordifolia or B. crassifolia, which Gertrude Jekyll used regularly.

Madeleine was eventually able to identify them as Bergenia x schmidtii, a cross between B. ciliata ligulata and B. crassifolia, when Penelope Hobhouse referred her to Graham Stuart Thomas's book Perennial Garden Plants, in which he states that Jekyll used Bergenia x schmidtii exclusively at Hestercombe. (It is possible that he made this identification while visiting the garden with Laurence Fricker.)

A small proportion of plants were unobtainable and were replaced by plants as close to the original as possible. Where a particular cultivar was unknown or unavailable, the team would consult Miss Jekyll's own descriptions of plants in her books to identify the height, habit, form, colour and flowering period of the plant she wanted, and would then, with Roy's help, match it to the best plant available.

The deep-red Rosa ‘Reine Olga de Wurtemburg', used by Jekyll on the East Rill terrace, was an example of a cultivar that could not be found anywhere, and was replaced with Rosa‘Guinée' as the closest replacement that could be found.