Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A Gertrude Jekyll Garden in Early Spring

A look back to Easter Sunday. A day of cold, bright sunshine after grey skies and rain. We visited a New Forest garden that opens to the public for just a few days each year. People were out and about, enjoying the respite of a rare fine day. Tree buds were opening, daffodils were at their best and the framework of a designed garden emerging from winter was one that showed the promise of summer flowerings to come.

Durmast House is a large and elegant Victorian country house with some additions in Edwardian times. It was built in 1850 by a Lieutenant Sampson Edwards RN, who bought fourteen acres of Forest land and meadows in 1848.

In 1907, the long term tenant of the house was a Miss Nelly Baring. A member of the Baring banking family, she was a woman of independent means. She was also a cousin to the eminent garden designer, Miss Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932). It was to Gertrude Jekyll that Miss Baring turned for advice , when she decided to plan a "first rate garden" for her New Forest home.

Getrude Jekyll was born in London in 1843, into an upper middle class Victorian family of independent means. When she was a young child, the family moved to the Surrey countryside, and it was in the beautiful, gentle hills and sandy landscapes of Surrey that she spent much of her long life.

Educated in the liberal arts, she became a skilled craftswoman and a talented artist. Gertrude was much influenced by the natural world around her and by the Arts and Crafts Movement. Unfortunately, she was very short sighted and when, in her thirties, her sight began to deteriorate, she turned from painting to garden design as a way of developing her artistic talents. Her own Surrey home of Munstead Wood, near Godalming, was a template upon which she planned, using design and colour to create a magnificent country garden.

Gertrude Jekyll was commissioned to design gardens for many of the great country houses of late Victorian England and in her later years, she developed a fruitful design partnership with the architect Edwin Lutyens. The story of their partnership is well told in Jane Brown`s excellent book, "Gardens of a Golden Afternoon" ( Penguin , 1982).

When Miss Baring asked her cousin to assist with the design of a garden for Durmast House, Gertrude Jekyll was an elderly woman in poor health. Although she was unable to travel in person to the New Forest, she did agree to design the garden from a distance, if details of the landscape and an accurate ground plan were to be sent to her. Miss Baring hired a surveyor to produce a ground plan and this was then worked on by Miss Jekyll in her Surrey home at Munstead Wood. The resulting plans were then implemented by gardeners at Durmast House.

In the intervening years, much of Gertrude Jekyll`s garden became neglected and overlooked. However, when the present owners moved there in 1991, they were determined to resurrect as much of the original Jekyll garden as they could. They have done a wonderful job and have undertaken careful research before working to restore each area of the garden. The project is ongoing, but is obviously a labour of love. A visit to the garden in early spring shows the "bare bones" of what is to come and we look forward to yet another visit when the garden opens to visitors in the summer.

A charity plant stall at the side of the main house.

Part of the herbaceous border originally designed by Gertrude Jekyll, where, in summer, colours move from the "hot" colours of reds and oranges, through to the softer hues of pinks, whites and pale blues.

Bamboos behind a bird table.

Bright euphorbias in a bare winter bed.

Old English lavenders protect pruned rose bushes.

A Lutyens designed summer house, added by the present owners, has replaced an earlier building marked on Miss Jekyll`s plans.

Through the pergola . A view of the rose beds and herbaceous beds which lie beside a Wisteria covered red bricked wall.

Early bumble bees on Pulmonaria.

A rockery path , flooded after recent heavy rain.


A stunning white azalea in bloom beside the rockery.

An old apple tree, entwined with a climbing rose, in the orchard.

Crimson berries of Skimmia japonica in the shaded woodland edge of the garden.

Dicentra flowering in the shade.

Lenten Hellebores among the spears of bluebell leaves.

In the orchard, a beautiful undercarpet of daffodils shone in the afternoon sunlight.

Snakeshead fritillaries among the orchard daffodils.

The cheerful cottage garden shrub Ribes, a flowering currant, breaking bud near to the old wall.

Old branches of wisteria curl and tangle along the red bricked wall.

Wooden obelisks where old fashioned varieties of climbing rose show early leaf.

A Monterey Pine which was planted early in the history of Durmast House.

A side view of the house, from the shade of the Monterey Pine.

Along the perimeter wall, espalliered trees and daffodils.

A pale magnolia breaks bud.

Last summer`s figs.

Finally, somewhere to rest and contemplate this rich and beautiful spring garden. The chair is of a design by Edwin Lutyens, who worked alongside Gertrude Jekyll to produce some of the finest country houses and gardens of the early twentieth century.

As well as referring to Jane Brown`s book, "Gardens of a Golden Afternoon", I am grateful for information found in the fourth edition of the guide book to the gardens of Durmast House, which was written by the current owners of the house and garden, Philip and Margaret Daubeney.


Kath said...

What wonderful photos! The mention of Wisteria, reminds me of when I attended Regents college in London. The whole front of the college is laden with Wisteria and the blooms hung like bunches of grapes.
My favourite of your photos is the little pagoda- I love it.

Angie said...

What an amazing garden ...great photos. I love that seat.

ChrisJ said...

What an amazing array of plants and shrubs. The garden looks to be huge. I like the old bench, so beautifully designed.

Bovey Belle said...

Oh what a beautiful garden, and so much promise of what is to come too. A perfect day out for you and your husband and I hope that it filled you with inspiration to add to your already-lovely garden.

Dartford Warbler said...
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