University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

In previous articles I've covered some famous people in horticulture with names beginning with the earlier letters in the alphabet.  You can find these on my Website at  With this article I'll continue this series with descriptions of some landscape designers, including Thomas Jefferson and Gertrude Jekyll, and other horticulturists whose names begin with J and K.

Thomas Jefferson was not only one of our most famous and earliest Presidents, but one of our country's first horticulturists.  With a keen interest in plants from a young age, and interest in all things American, he collected and planted local plants, as well as those from newly explored frontiers, on his famous Virginia estate Monticello.  He planned friends' gardens as well, keeping copious notes.  His Garden Book was his diary of these plantings and serves as one of the best records of plants and gardening of that period.

Gertrude Jekyll is perhaps one of the most famous of all flower garden designers, practicing in England about a hundred years after Jefferson.  Her work spans the Victorian period in the late 1800s, and the Arts and Crafts period in the early decades of the 1900s.  Trained originally as a water color painter, she was forced to give this up because of bad eyesight.  So she turned her talents to designing flower gardens with an eye to color, creating elaborate herbaceous borders and cottage gardens.  She wrote several books outlining her ideas, which to this day still influence flower gardening in this country.

One of her main design principles was to combine flowers that bloom at the same time next to each other, even if of different colors.  She felt that flower colors only had real value if contrasted with others.  She developed many of her gardens to landscape homes designed by her good friend Edwin Lutyens.

Sir Geoffrey Alan Jellicoe was a well-known and influential English landscape architect of the 1900s, who was knighted in 1979 for his services to this profession.  He helped found and led landscape architecture societies and has written several books and designed numerous landscape projects throughout England and the world.

Another influential English landscape architect and designer of landscape gardens was William Kent, who practiced this trade in the early 1700s.  Although first employed as an architect, he soon began designing landscapes and it is for these that he is most famous.  He was really the first to design "picturesque" landscapes, ones similar to many we have today.  At the time, formal gardens were in vogue.  His new style of landscape design was influenced by his studies of picturesque Italian paintings, as well as by the philosophy of his good friend and poet, Alexander Pope, who believed "all gardening is landscape painting."  With little knowledge of plants, his gardens reflect his artistic eye.  He designed not on paper first as many designers do, but in real life as if he were painting a scene.

Move ahead over two centuries, and to this country, and, in fact, to Vermont, and you'll find the famous landscape architect, Dan Kiley.  Along with other famous names from Harvard, including Garrett Eckbo and Thomas Church, Kiley helped create a modern approach to landscaping.   Focusing mainly on large-scale landscapes of public and commercial buildings, his works are opposite to those of Kent.  They reflect ideas that man-made landscapes should contrast with nature and that the landscape is not merely there to beautify buildings but has an artistic and functional connection with them.  In his landscapes you might see the influence of the formal 17th century French gardens.

Probably the least known of all those mentioned so far, and the only one who is not a landscaper, is Frank Kingdon-Ward.  Another Englishman, he was a plant collector in China during the first half of the 1900s.  He traveled extensively in that part of the world and wrote more than 20 books on his explorations. Some of his more famous introductions include many rhododendrons, primroses, and the Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis).  Although he didn't discover the latter, the seeds he collected were used to introduce it into cultivation.  Although this bright blue poppy is not hardy in cold climates, it is stunning and is pictured in many garden books.

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles