Gertrude Jekyll Garden at Woodbury’s Glebe House Museum

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Eileen Denver, a garden volunteer at the Glebe House Museum & Gertrude Jekyll Garden in Woodbury, CT gives us a bit of history about the site’s Gertrude Jekyll garden.

Nearly 100 years ago, the famous English garden designer Gertrude Jekyll was commissioned, sight unseen, to design perennial borders for the newly restored Glebe House, which had just opened to the public as a historic house museum. But the plan Jekyll sent to Woodbury in 1927 disappeared, no one knows why. Nearly 50 years later, a copy of her plan was discovered by a graduate student doing research at UC Berkeley’s School of Landscape Design. A copy of the plan had been among the papers bought upon Jekyll’s death by the well-known American garden designer Beatrix Farrand. When Farrand died, all the papers in her collection went to the landscape school archives.

The Glebe House Museum welcomed back the plan. Soon, a large group of volunteers–including horticulturalists, local gardeners, landscapers, and ag-school students–teamed up to study the plan and, eventually, to install the borders. The first shovel went in the ground in the late 1980’s, with photos and articles in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines spotlighting the beauties of the hardy perennial border whose drifts of color and cottage-gardening approach were changing the face of American gardening.

In the first few years, the gardeners had to make some necessary changes, to accommodate the New England winters and to substitute for plants that were not available in the U.S. As the years went by, a smaller group of volunteer gardeners now tended the garden on a twice-a-week basis. Other changes happened over time — some of the perennials shouldered out others, or failed to flourish after a while. The garden volunteers made changes as necessary, keeping in mind what the original plan called for in terms of color, height, and bloom time.

Now the team has decided the garden needs to be restored to be closer to Jekyll’s original plan. To begin the restoration, one team member put in a huge number of hours researching exactly what the original plan calls for and, if substitutions are necessary, which would be closest to the Jekyll plan. The team is faced with the complex project of making a multitude of changes in a garden that is always on show. Plans have been drawn up and we have begun the restoration, moving in some new perennials, digging out and selling some of the older plants, transplanting some of the perennials we have to different spots, creating a nearby growing-on garden as a holding pen for plants we will eventually use. It will take several years, and funds are very limited. But restoring the only Jekyll garden in the country is an exciting project, and it should be a boon both for the Glebe House Museum, for Woodbury, and for interested gardeners from all over.