Votes for Women! Gertrude Jekyll on the £20 Bank Note

by Victoria Madden

I was going through some old newspapers to be thrown away when I came across a well-argued little article in the Gardening section, putting the case for Gertrude Jekyll as what the Bank of England rather engagingly describes as its new ‘character’ on the back of the next £20 bank note.

I came to gardening myself in the early nineties – my grandfather was a professional gardener, and my grandmother and mother both keen amateurs, so I had little chance earlier of my own bit of earth – and was strongly influenced by the Arts and Crafts revival of the period, spending hours in bookshops poring over the stunning photographs of Tony Lord and Andrew Lawson, studying the painterly techniques of Rosemary Verey and browsing facsimile editions, reissued by the Royal Horticultural Society, of works by Margery Fish and, of course, Gertrude Jekyll.

Jekyll’s background and training was as an artist in many forms and she used a painterly approach to garden design that foregrounded colour and texture. She wrote 15 books and over 1,000 articles that were packed with practical advice clearly arising from experience and keen observation, and her evocative prose style takes you straight into the heart of her world:

‘There comes a day towards the end of March when there is but little wind, and that is from the west or even south-west. The sun has gained much power, so that it is pleasant to sit out in the garden, or, better still, in some sunny nook of sheltered woodland. There is such a place among silver-trunked Birches, with here and there the splendid richness of masses of dark Holly.’

Colour in the Flower Garden (1908)

Jekyll created over 400 garden designs in Britain, America and Europe, often in partnership with the architect Edwin Lutyens to create a harmonious flow between house and surrounding garden, and her ideas were hugely influential throughout much of the twentieth century. (The Earl of Emsworth’s Moss Walk at Blandings is very Jekyllian.) Her nomination as ‘someone who celebrates Britain’s achievements in the visual arts’ seems a sound one.

The article is available online, but is irritatingly interposed with adverts which make it difficult to follow the sense of what’s been written. I had intended to transcribe the article from the newspaper to get round this but fortunately thought to check for copyright issues first (techno-idiot tip – these are known as ‘content usage guidelines’ online) and discovered that I could only do so by paying a fee, however much I credited the author/newspaper.

This seems a shame, as Ambra Edwards makes a good, tightly argued, pitch I’d have liked to ‘re-blog’ in a clearer format. Try and read it online though and then go and vote – the Bank of England has a nomination form at its website – which I think closes today – so vote as soon as you can for Gertrude Jekyll as Britain’s representative of the visual arts!