The ‘Millmead Borders’ either side of the summerhouse in the Godalming Museum garden were originally laid out in 1988 following Gertrude Jekyll’s planting plan for the borders either side of the summerhouse at Millmead, Bramley (Gardens for Small Country Houses by Lawrence Weaver and Gertrude Jekyll has these plans on pages 4 & 5). By 2003 the background evergreens had met the box hedging at the front of the border in certain places so that the plants in between had been lost. Thus a decision was taken to remove those shrubs which had become too large and replant the border according to the original plan.
The beds in the Museum garden are smaller than the beds at Millmead on which they were modelled and therefore some of the trees could not be included in the planting. The original planting plan for Millmead has oak, plum and apple trees. In the Museum a single plum tree only has been used with one Viburnum tinus rather than the two in the original plan. Visitors to Millmead in Bramley may mistakenly think that the Millmead border is more or less the same size as the Godalming Museum border, but in recent years part of the original Millmead border has been lost. A small flight of steps has been made in its place, so that the north-facing border is now significantly shorter than it was when the original design was produced.
Planning and planting for the whole season
At Millmead, the summerhouse and the beds either side faced a rose garden and provided a quiet foil to the summer colour the rose garden provided. The summerhouse beds at Millmead (and in the Museum garden) are relatively shady. Therefore shade tolerant evergreen shrubs and perennials were used, none of which are particularly colourful, but which contribute good foliage and, in some cases, flower interest at different times of the year. Looking at Gertrude Jekyll’s original design, it is clear that she was planning a border which would have structure for much of the year provided by the evergreen shrubs, namely Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus), Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree), Aucuba, Red Cedar, Mahonia aquifolium (known as Berberis aquifolium in Jekyll’s day), Danae racemosa (known as Ruscus racemosus to Jekyll) and Ilex (Holly). Various deciduous shrubs provide interest in the different seasons - Forsythia suspensa in early spring, followed by the Syringa vulgaris (Lilac) and then Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ (Guelder Rose), which Jekyll often grew next to the Clematis montana which is covering the summerhouse, believing that the two associated particularly well.
The shade tolerant perennials used give a succession of interest throughout the seasons. In early spring there are Begonia cordifolia (called Megasea by Jekyll), Helleborus orientalis (Lent Hellebore) and Primulas. The Primulas which have been used in the north-facing section of the bed have come from the Primrose Garden at Munstead Wood.
The baton is then taken up by Tiarella cordifolia, Aquilega vulgaris (Columbine), Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon’s Seal) and bearded Iris. Hemerocallis (Day Lilies) and herbaceous Geraniums follow and then Galega officinalis (Goat’s Rue), Echinops ritro (Globe Thistles) and lastly Phlox paniculata. Ferns provide greenery, and two groups of Pansies complete the picture.
What did Gertude Jekyll have in mind?
It is hard to know exactly what Gertrude Jekyll had in mind when she wrote ‘Pansy’ on her plan. At present white-flowered bedding pansies have been planted, but these will only be able to be used for a few seasons as pansies tend to succumb to various diseases if grown in the same soil for several years. Of course, at Millmead, the planting could have been changed from year to year, particularly where annuals were concerned. After a couple of years, a different bedding plant will have to be used, perhaps Nicotianas which would cope with the shady conditions. Thereafter, perhaps, perennial Violas such as Viola cornuta could be planted for a few years.
In the renovation of the Museum garden, some of the original shrubs were not removed but severely cut back. New specimens of Viburnum tinus, Arbutus unedo, Aucuba japonica ‘Variegata’, Danae racemosa, Ilex ‘J. C. van Tol’ (a self-fertile holly) and two new Juniperus ‘Blue Arrow’ were planted. Jekyll did not always use the Latin plant names on her planting plans and this can make it difficult to decide which particular species or cultivar was intended. For instance, in the Millmead summerhouse plan, ‘Lilac’ is all we have to go on. A wide range of different lilacs are possible, but we opted for the white-flowered ‘Mme Lemoine’ as the planting plan indicated a definite bias towards white-flowered plants which would show up best in the shade and against the dark-leaved evergreens.
The decision to use Juniperus ‘Blue Arrow’ for the pair of conifers either side of the summerhouse (shown as ‘Red Cedar’ on the original plan) was arrived at by a rather complicated route. In the past it had been assumed that Jekyll had intended this to be Thuja plicata, the common name of which today is Western Red Cedar. This was a rather surprising choice for such a position and the Thujas used there initially soon grew too large. We agonized over what else Jekyll could have meant until William Robinson’s book The English Flower Garden revealed that in Jekyll’s day ‘Red Cedar’ was a common name for Juniperus virginiana, a plant recommended by Jekyll, who seemed to have a great affection for Junipers. One of the present day cultivars derived from Juniperus virginiana is Juniperus ‘Blue Arrow’, an improvement on the well-known Juniperus virginiana (syn. scopularium) ‘Skyrocket’. This plant has a size, shape and growth habit which seemed exactly right for the position on either side of the summerhouse, where two verticals were needed. So it was chosen, even though that particular cultivar would not have been available in the early 1900s when the planting plan for Millmead was produced.
Wherever possible cultivars which have special connections with Jekyll have been used in the Museum garden. For instance, where ‘Columbine’ - Aquilega vulgaris - is indicated, ‘Munstead White’ (also known as ‘Nivea’) was employed. That particular cultivar was selected and bred by Jekyll at Munstead Wood, as was the white-flowered Vinca minor ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ which has been planted at the top of the dry stone wall at the Museum end of the ‘Millmead Borders’
Converting a dry corner into a garden picture
This end section of the border does not correspond to the original plan, as the hard landscaping at the Museum differs strongly from the Bramley site at this point. This section of the garden would be in the forefront of the view of visitors looking out at the garden from the Museum window. It was therefore requested that the planting here should be made more interesting. Accordingly, plants recommended by Gertrude Jekyll were used to convert this rather unpromising dry, dark corner into a garden picture. Obviously only shade tolerant plants could be used and, as most of these flower in the spring before the leaf canopy on trees develops, the planting is most interesting at that time of year. The plants used include Cyclamen coum and C. hederifolium, Dicentra spectabilis alba, Omphalodes verna, Vinca minor ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, Epimedium pinnatum subsp. colchicum, Iris foetidissima, Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Giganteum’, Asplenium scolopendrium and Bergenia cordifolia.
The rest of the planting in the Museum garden is not based on any specific Jekyll planting plan, but rather uses her teachings, principles and recommended plants in trying to create the ‘garden pictures’ she writes about. Modern cultivars have been used where appropriate, but the basic species are mostly Jekyll recommendations.
The narrow border along the wall adjoining Oglethorpe House, with the rambling roses, shrubs and perennials which enjoy the hot dry conditions, has not been replanted - although two groups of Iris unguicularis, the winter-flowering Iris loved by Jekyll, have been added.
Choosing a "hot" colour scheme
The border at the foot of the fire escape has been largely replanted, the intention being to create a scheme which would have flower interest from late spring right through to the end of the summer. By this period, apart from the bedding plants in the containers, much of the flowering in the rest of the garden is over. A hot colour scheme has been chosen, including purple-leaved Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ and Ajuga reptans ‘Atropurpurea’, yellow Kniphofia ‘Shining Spectre’, red Geum ‘Mrs. Bradshaw’, orange Potentilla ‘William Rollison’, red Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Achillea ‘Terracotta’, red Sedum telephium ‘Munstead Red’, red Hemerocallis ‘Chicago Apache’ and an earlier-flowering yellow Hemerocallis, yellow Alchemilla mollis and orange-yellow Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’. These hot colours follow on from the cooler colours of the roses along the wall, using Gertrude Jekyll’s system of leading the eye through the cooler colours, into the warmer colours, culminating in a crescendo of yellows, oranges and reds.
Just how purist should the planting be?
In a garden such as that of Godalming Museum it is difficult to know how purist the planting should be. Should the planting in the ‘Millmead Borders’ exactly follow the original plan to create a museum piece, or should the emphasis be rather on providing a garden full of colour and interest which all visitors can enjoy? I suspect both points of view are represented amongst visitors, and certainly the Museum Management Committee has argued for current interest rather than historical accuracy. One of the ways I have tried to add interest to the ‘Millmead Borders’ without detracting from the original design, is to use some seasonal bedding. Thus in the spring there are white Triumphator tulips and, this summer, white Nicotianas.
It would be interesting to know the views of visitors on this matter. I wonder, too, what Gertrude Jekyll herself would have thought.