Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) was born in London, the fifth of seven children. The family moved in 1848 to Bramley House, Bramley, Surrey, where Jekyll was educated by her parents and by governesses. In 1861 she enrolled at the National School of Art in Kensington, where she learned botanical drawing and other disciplines. She exhibited her paintings from 1865 at the Royal Academy and her work was commended by John Ruskin.
The family moved in 1868 to Wargrave Hill, Berkshire. Jekyll spent time with William Morris, G.F. Watts, and other prominent artists, and her artistic services were increasingly in demand. She produced plans and planting designs for Phillimore's Spring near Wargrave, and a wide range of work including table cloths, quilts and window boxes, for individuals such as Lord Leighton. She received interior design commissions from the Duke of Westminster, Lord Ducie, Jacques Blumenthal and others, designing gates, door panels, tapestries, wall and ceiling decorations, quilted curtains, inlay work and furnishing arrangements.
In 1876 her father died and the family moved to a specially commissioned house on Munstead Heath, Surrey. Jekyll designed and laid out the gardens, which were to be visited and acclaimed by notable horticulturists such as William Robinson, Sir Joseph Hooker, George Fergusson Wilson, Sir Thomas Hanbury and many more. In 1896 she moved across the road to Munstead Wood, to a house designed for her by Edwin Lutyens, and she laid out the gardens there to similar acclaim.
Jekyll travelled to Turkey in 1863-1864, Italy in 1872 and 1876, Algiers in 1873-1874, and Capri in 1883. She was much influenced by her trips to the Mediterranean. She brought back plants from these trips, and also collected plants from the wild and from cottage gardens in Britain. She received awards for her plant breeding, including a bronze Banksian medal in 1900. Some of these plants were introduced commercially by friends in the industry. She was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour in 1897 and the Veitch gold medal in 1929.
Jekyll's eyesight began to deteriorate at quite a young age, over time leading her to abandon art and craft work that required close-up attention to detail, and instead to specialise in art through garden design and creation, and through writing and photography. Between 1881 and 1932 she wrote 1138 articles for the garden press, including William Robinson's weekly journal, 'The Garden'. She wrote and published 13 books. Jekyll carried out more than 400 commissions for garden designs, many direct from clients, others in collaboration with her friend Edwin Lutyens and with other distinguished architects of the time. In 1908 she established a plant nursery at Munstead Wood, supplying plants and plans to her clients for 35 years until her death in 1932. Thousands of plants were dispatched every year and she took pride in supplying better plants at cheaper prices than the larger nurseries. Despite ill health, she continued to work into her 89th year. Following her death the nursery was run for nine years by her nephew, Francis Jekyll.
Source: 'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography' and letters in the archive