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Edward Lutyens


An Article for Garden History by Jennifer Ward


Deemed the greatest British architect of the 20th century, Sir Edward Lutyens is known solely amongst gardeners in conjunction with gardening guru Gertrude Jekyll. Lutyens was a brilliant designer in his own right when it came to blueprints, but it is his famed friendship with Jekyll that continues to esteem him to circles of a more green-thumbed nature.

Born in London during the latter half of the 19th century, Lutyens was the tenth child in a family of thirteen. An early battle with the rheumatic fever left him physically weak and frail. As a result, he was the only boy in the family who did not attend public school or university. While this may have been seen to be a professional death sentence, Lutyens eventually rose above the odds with astonishing talent in mathematics and the graphic arts. Roaming the English countryside as a boy, Lutyens devised a clever reusable sketchbook: he would hold up a glass pane to a building, and trade it with pieces of soap sharpened to fine points. This method soon came to clearly illustrate his keen eye and proclivity towards design, and his abilities were soon noticed by his neighbour and fellow illustrator, Ralph Caldecott. The young Lutyens' dedication and skill led him to the top of the field, culminating in the "mother of the arts" itself: architecture.

Lutyens studied architecture at the South Kensington School of Art in London. As many great minds often do, he left after two years, feeling that he had learned all he possibly could from the program, and settled into what would eventually grow into one of the most expansive portfolios in architectural history. It was at Kensington where he met Herbert Baker, whom he would later work with in designing and building the Viceroy's house in New Delhi. Lutyens practiced architecture during a century of great change. During his years at school, the Statue of Liberty was being completed and the Eiffel Tower just begun. The modern era was burgeoning with technological advances, showcased by the various international exhibitions that became like fairgrounds for national pride. At first drawing heavily from the Arts and Crafts movement, Lutyens' work eventually took on more Classical design components. Whatever the family of influence, the breadth of his work is astounding: from private residences to churches and castles, to war memorials, museums and public gardens, Lutyens' scope established him as one of the most innovative and adaptable designers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is well-known for the Viceroy's house in New Delhi, Castle Drogo in Devon, the Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool, the British Embassy in Washington, DC, for Queen Mary's famous dollhouses, and for Gertrude Jekyll's own home at Munstead Wood.

Lutyens married Emily Lytton in 1897, the daughter of a Viceroy of India. Though it is said that he was the most spirited and witty of dinner guests, a lively punster and able to engage a variety of people, Emily remained dissatisfied in their marriage. Lutyens was myopic in his architectural vision, perhaps enabling him to accomplish such a wide variety of work. On the home front however, he left Emily bored and unattended to.

A serendipitous meeting with Gertrude Jekyll in 1889, who was his senior of over twenty years, led to a lifetime of close cooperation. She was both a major influence on his early work, and also somewhat of a public relations manager, introducing him to many of his early clients. In fact, Lutyens probably owed Jekyll full credit for his landscape work, and any of his notable accomplishments as a gardener. She helped him to acquire garden-specific design skills, augmenting his architectural scope and creativity. Her own home in Surrey, Munstead Wood, came to be one of his most well-known and well-preserved destinations. The characteristic "Lutyens-Jekyll" garden overflowed with shrub and herbaceous planting, all housed within the classical borders of stairs and terraces. It merged the disciplined elements of architecture with the playful unpredictability of the natural world. It was somehow both ordered and chaotic at the same time, with each strengthening and dramaticizing the other. Meandering brick pathways, walls overflowing with lavender, and a less-constrained approach helped the two define the English Garden of the later Victorian era against what was previously a more formalist approach. Some of their most popular collaborations include Hestercombe Gardens, Barington Court near Illminster, le Bois des Moutiers near Dieppe, and the garden of Goddards, at Abinger. These gardens draw thousands of garden and landscape aficionados every year, and stand as witness to one of the most revered design teams throughout history.

Founded in 1984, The Lutyens Trust is an educational charity, acting as a source of information, and also contributing to the care and maintenance of his works. The Trust intends to promote the preservation of Lutyens' works for the benefit of the public.

Please also visit Old London Maps on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens from
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.

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