Personal touches: a Jekyll garden in the making

Recently catalogued from the Lindley Library archives: letters from Gertrude Jekyll show a softer side to the grande dame of gardening

Gertrude Jekyll in the Spring Garden, aged 80The Lindley Library holds a number of items relating to Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), including a collection of her correspondence with actress Amy Barnes Brand (1890-1974). The letters were donated to the Library by Amy Barnes Brand’s brother in 1975, and include around 50 items written by Gertrude Jekyll between 1926 and 1932.
In 1926 Amy Barnes Brand and her husband moved into Woodhouse Copse, a house designed and built for them at Holmbury St Mary, Surrey, by architect Oliver Hill.

Hill was an acquaintance of Gertrude Jekyll, and Amy Barnes Brand lost no time asking for an introduction. She asked Jekyll to supply planting plans, plants and advice, and Jekyll was happy to take on this work, despite being in her 80s and coping with poor eyesight. Following her death in 1932, Jekyll’s nephew Francis took over her nursery business at Munstead Wood, and continued the association with Amy Barnes Brand until 1941.

Correspondance from Miss Jekyll, Christmas 1927Advice by post

In the letters Jekyll proposes planting schemes, gives advice about colours, size of beds and proportions, and she encloses invoices with lists of plants she supplied from the nursery she ran from her garden.

The letters also include personal touches, messages such as ‘These bits of tarragon I am sending (for love) for you to pot', and in 1930 she admits that she cannot see as she writes - she says she sees only a hazy grey line, but she 'thinks' the letters carefully and hopes her hand is legible. There is also a handmade Christmas card Jekyll sent to Barnes Brand in 1927.
I recently catalogued the letters, repackaged them to archive standards in an acid-free album, and the originals are available to researchers in the Lindley Library Research Room at Vincent Square. The Jekyll catalogue is available via the Archives Hub. If you would like to view the archive, please make an appointment at the Lindley Library, London: [email protected]. If you have any questions about this or any other archive please contact the library at the same email address.

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