The Unexepected Gardener, Wingfield

FRANCES HART Delia Paton’s vivid engaging presentation entered a world where a gentleman’s daughter was considered eccentric for enrolling at art school.


Not being a student of garden history, I had no idea until I heard this dramatised talk that the Munstead Lavender in my border was developed by garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, nor that my love of informal, exuberant planting made me a follower of hers. Neither was I aware that this ground-breaking artist was forced by failing sight to abandon her beloved painting in her fifties and embark on an entirely new career, painting with plants.

Delia Paton's vivid engaging and scholarly presentation at St Andrew's Church took us into a world where a gentleman's daughter was considered eccentric for enrolling at art school and had to enter into various subterfuges to earn money; ladies were supposed to live on private means.

It was also an endearing world where the architect Edwin Lutyens could call her Bumps and Woozle and arrive well provided with humbugs (her favourite sweet).

While presenting a stern and abstracted appearance to unwanted garden viewers who distracted her from her books, crafts and plants, Miss Jekyll was a congenial companion to her friends and a disciple of beauty, who reproduced as closely as possible the work of nature and whose first act on acquiring a piece of land was to plant primroses under the trees.

The diminutive birdlike Delia Paton's professional acting skills enabled her to bring to life not only Miss Jekyll but also Lutyens and an array of minor characters. She demonstrated how different the life of a working female artist was in the late 19th and early 20th century and stimulated a desire, at least in this member of the audience, to view some of the few Jekyll gardens which still exist (it would have helped me in this if they had been listed in the otherwise informative programme).

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Lutyen's Woozle might have liked to recall the comment of Alexander Pope, “all gardening is landscape painting”.

Happily her planting bore more relation to the painting of her contemporary Claude Monet than to the stiff, municipal school of gardening she so disliked.