Recently I was invited by the National Trust to visit Munstead Wood - Gertrude Jekyll’s own house and garden. Hallowed ground for me as you can imagine! I had visited before but possibly 10 years ago when the house and garden were a private home. As you probably know, the National Trust have recently purchased Munstead Wood and they are working hard to figure out how best to manage such a unique property. It is challenging and nothing like the ‘normal’ stately home.

It is not large, there is poor access, and so it is quite a challenge to figure out how it will work for visitors. I am going to be part of a panel that will help to advise the National Trust on their recent purchase and be part of the discussion of how to use the property for good. Myself, Troy Scott-Smith (head gardener at Sissinghurst), Matt Pottage (curator of RHS garden Wisley), and Annabel Watts (head gardener Munstead Wood) are to act as ‘godparents’ to the garden to make sure that any changes stay true to the spirit of Jekyll. It's a great honour. I am really pleased to be able to help and to create a relationship between Munstead Wood and Hestercombe.

Munstead Wood feels very different to many gardens. It’s a special place. But it got me thinking, what makes it special and how do we retain the feeling of ‘special’?

Here are my first thoughts.

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People often ask me what drives me to garden at home after gardening all day and all week. They ask how I have the energy, and that’s the clue, the energy is different. At home is the only time that I get to freely garden for myself. Decisions that I make in my garden are made by me, for me. Other times that I garden I am using my skills in exchange for money, as a job, or as part of a career.

I am gardening for someone else whether that is the garden owner, a charity, or a project. At home I get to play. I am not trying to meet a standard or manage someone else’s expectations. If something goes wrong it’s no problem. If I decide one day on a whim to try something, change something, I can just do it. I don’t need permission. No one else is watching, monitoring, or judging. I am not trying to please anyone else. It’s my space.

And that is why gardens like Munstead Wood are so important. Like Great Dixter and Beth Chatto’s garden they are private places of self experiment and self learning. A voyage of discovery. Gertrude Jekyll’s designs for Hestercombe were created to fulfil a design brief and as a means to make money. They were made to please other people. That’s why Munstead Wood feels so different. When you visit you get that feeling that you are snooping, that you have stepped into a private space.

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At school, children are always told to show their workings, and Munstead Wood does exactly that. You get to see how the brain of Gertrude Jekyll manifested the design of places like Hestercombe - and that is what makes it special. And that is why it is so important.

How that sense of ‘special’ continues when the gardens become a public space will be the challenge.

It may be a year or so before Munstead Wood is fully open to the public and I cannot wait to see how it plays out. I will of course keep you posted!

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