Sunday 15 January 2017

Gertrude Jekyll's Fairy Rose and the Essential Book

I have a little rose that I call the Fairy Rose. It came to me from a cottage garden, and I have never seen it elsewhere. It grows about a foot high and has blush-pink flowers with the colour deepening to the centre. In character the flower is somewhere between the lovely Blush Boursault at its best and the little De Meaux. It is an inch and a half across and is of beautiful form, especially in the half-opened bud. Wishing to enjoy its beauty to the utmost, and to bring it comfortably within sight, I gave it a shelf in raised rock-work and brought near and under it a clear pale lilac viola and a good drift of Achillea umbellata. It was worth doing. Gertrude Jekyll

blush boursault

I enjoy the writing of Miss Jekyll just as much as I adore her garden designs. Her beautifully constructed sentences offer a dependable guide to the placement of flowers. Then there is the deep affection for her subject matter recounted as if to a friend while taking a break from labours in her workshop.

Oh to be that friend! Would she warm to me or be completely unimpressed as by the hopeful Edith Wharton. Miss Wharton had the misfortune of bringing along her young niece Beatrix Farrand who Gertrude thought was much more the ticket. Beatrix, of course, went on to be a trailblazer in American garden design.

de meaux

Now there are some who are not madly in love with Miss Jekyll. Michael Pollan* is positively gleeful when he finds negative articles, written, I would conjecture, by those wishing to make a (dubious) name for themselves and Jill Sinclair^ in the Guardian complains of GJ's domineering tone.

Someone who includes a charming sketch of her cats into her published work is O.K. by me.

Three Cats
Image: Godalming Museum Collection
By which I mean if I feel a sense of compatibility with a writer I'm much more willing to trust their advice.

If I had to make a list of essential books for my garden library Colour in the Flower Garden by Gertrude Jekyll would be on it.

2001 edition 1908 text with illustrations by
Charlotte Weiss
Which set me to thinking, what books would be on your essential list? 

P.S. I'm on the hunt for Gertrude Jekyll's Fairy Rose, more to come.

*Michael Pollan, review of The Sensuous Garden by Montagu Don, The New York Times Book Review, 7 Dec1997 

^Jill Sinclair, review of
The Unknown Gertrude Jekyll, selected and edited by Martin Wood, The Guardian, 17 June, 2006


  1. I've been really lucky to get used gardening books at the Economy Shop and Kingfisher Books. One that I have used quite a bit is "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew. As you know, I don't have much garden space and trying to squeeze as much as possible into my floating garden is a challenge. An even bigger challenge is having space for crop rotation. I have several gardening pamphlets from Rodale on organic gardening and companion gardening that have been well used as I learn more about vegetable gardening, pest control and such. I even found three of their old Organic Farms and Gardening magazines at the Economy Shop that have great articles. I wish I could have found more. - Margy

  2. A great many of my "essential" garden books are there, not for their advice, but for the glorious photos that keep me going during a particularly drawn out winter. Sanity is priceless!

    1. I'm with you on the sanity thing. I have a book which is nothing but photos of cottage gardens-that baby will never be tossed out.

  3. Why is it that people are put off by someone who knows of what they speak and they speak their mind? I will have to look into this book, as I plan to add color to my gardens this year. I am spending too much time and space on purely vege.

    1. Big plans this end too. The existing veg plots are going over to flowers and new beds are being dug in the meadow for veg.

  4. Gertrude Jekyll was a talented woman, wasn't she? As a retired garden communicator I have more gardening books than I could ever use and started giving them away several years ago. I'd decided I wouldn't review any more but what passionate gardener in their right mind would turn down a free book? lol I do like one with lots of colour photos to keep me inspired for my gardens.
    I hope you find the GJ 'Fairy Rose'.

    1. Garden communicator-sounds like a dream job! Although perhaps tiring-gardeners never run out of questions do they? I was fortunate enough to see photocopies of some of DJ's plans. Seeing her handwriting, blots and scribbles included, and reading her comments and practical advice, as I stood in a garden designed from those plans, was a meaningful experience.

  5. oh that looks and sounds like a great essential. This one may sound off the wall but it comes from my life long love of raising chickens (which I earned very honestly from my dear mother). I just ordered Happy Hens, Fresh Eggs.
    but I do have some very practical essential books. I have the entire series of Lois Hole's Perennial, Annual and Tomato books (she was a friend of my mom's). I also love my Bob Flowerdew's "going Organic" and the University of Alberta's "Perennials for the Prairies". But since moving here to the island, I haven't yet acquired any books that would pertain to this area or gardening zone.