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date: 14 October 2019

Jones, Kathleen Letitia Lloydfree

(1898–1978)
  • Rachel Berger

Kathleen Letitia Lloyd Jones (1898–1978)

by unknown photographer, 1920s

private collection

Jones, Kathleen Letitia Lloyd (1898–1978), garden designer and nurserywoman, was born on 4 June 1898 at Rotherslade House at Oystermouth on the Gower peninsula in Glamorgan. Known as Kitty, she was the ninth of the ten children of Arthur Lloyd Jones (1853–1932), a physician and surgeon, and his wife, Margaret Spears (1857–1931). Margaret's father, Robert Spears, a Unitarian minister, was one of the founders of Channing School for Girls, Highgate, Middlesex. Having been brought up in south Wales, Lloyd Jones left in 1910 to be educated at Channing School. She studied for a diploma at the Royal Botanic Society's practical gardening school at Regent's Park from 1917 to 1919 and continued her studies at Reading University until 1925; she attained firstly a degree in agriculture and horticulture and then a national diploma of horticulture.

Since she was unable to obtain an academic post, Kitty Lloyd Jones's first employment was as a private gardening tutor; she soon went to work for her employer Mrs Balfour's sister, Lady Gladstone, a keen gardener who ran a nursery. Her first design commission was for a large curved border at the Gladstones' home, Dane End House, at Ware in Hertfordshire, and she lived in a cottage in the grounds there from 1925 until 1931.

This first commission led through personal recommendation to others, and by 1931 Lloyd Jones had moved to the White Cottage, Binfield, Berkshire, where she established what would now be called a garden design consultancy. Most of her work was based in the counties near her home, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, and Oxfordshire. In addition, she won several commissions in northern France. Her most active period was from 1927 until the outbreak of the Second World War. Anecdotal evidence suggests that up to one hundred gardens around the country may owe something to Kitty Lloyd Jones, but little documentation about her work survives.

Those gardens for which detailed information is available include Upton House, near Banbury, Oxfordshire, which is the most famous of the gardens which Lloyd Jones designed. Here, between 1930 and 1936 she laid out, for the Bearsted family, a magnificent terraced garden of herbaceous borders, several linked small formal gardens, and a bog garden on the site of earlier stewponds; she returned to create a cherry orchard about 1950. At the Court House, Chipping Warden, Oxfordshire, the fine planting of many unusual trees is her work; a bog garden which she created in the 1930s has been recently restored. She designed an Anglo-Japanese garden about 1930 at Courances, near Fontainebleau, and in 1933, at Pontrancart, near Dieppe in Normandy, she planned several borders in the English style. At Greys Court, Berkshire, in the 1950s, she produced a design for a rose garden for Sir Felix and Lady Brunner.

After the war Lloyd Jones's efforts were concentrated on the garden at Achamore House, Gigha, Argyll, for Sir James Horlick. Horlick had acquired the island of Gigha in the 1940s with the intention of creating a garden full of exotic plants, and in particular rhododendrons. Lloyd Jones worked there from 1944 to about 1952, meeting the challenge of marrying the demands of a collector's garden with the aesthetics of garden design. Her glades of azaleas and rhododendrons and a bog garden still survive.

While only one plan remains in Lloyd Jones's hand (for the rose garden at Greys Court) and no complete plant lists, something about her design philosophy is known from a chapter which she contributed to Modern Garden Craft, published in 1936 and edited by Arthur Cobb, one of her former lecturers. In this chapter she showed a strong preference for plants with subtle colour combinations in wide borders. In addition to her obvious knowledge of and enthusiasm for herbaceous planting, Lloyd Jones became an expert on rhododendrons, shrubs, and roses: her selection of unusual trees and their planting showed a mastery in anticipating the mature form.

Kitty Lloyd Jones's importance as a garden designer lies not in any originality of style—her work resembles that of her contemporaries—but in the pioneering way in which she operated. One of the earliest graduates in horticulture, at a time when career openings for women were few, she developed a very personal approach to the newly developing profession of garden design. She would base herself at the home of her client as a house guest, and work with the gardening staff on changes to the gardens. She set very high standards and was always prepared to show the (male) workforce how a job should be done. Despite her demanding principles, her warmth and enthusiasm earned her affection from those who worked for her. She was popular, too, among her clients because of her willingness to give advice on modifying, rather than radically changing, an established garden. When at home she worked long days outside in her nursery, where she propagated plants for her clients as well as developing new strains; her evenings were spent on correspondence. In her later years she was bronchitic and crippled by arthritis and relied on the support of family and friends, many of whom were former clients. She died of heart failure on 9 July 1978 after an illness of several months at a nursing home near Ascot, Berkshire, and was cremated on 13 July at Easthampstead Park, Berkshire. Small in stature, dark-haired and strong-featured, Kitty Lloyd Jones had a lively and likeable personality. She never married. She was for many years a close friend of Sir James Horlick of Sunninghill, Berkshire, on whose gardens in Argyll she had worked.

Sources

  • private information (1998)
  • letters between Kitty Lloyd Jones and Lady Bearsted, Upton House, Oxfordshire
  • priv. coll.
  • A. Oswald, ‘Country homes, gardens old and new, Upton House II’, Country Life, 80 (1936), 274–9
  • J. Sales, ‘Valley transformation’, Country Life (25 April 1991), 66–9
  • G. Leveque and M.-F. Valery, French garden style (1990)
  • C. Quest-Ritson, The English garden abroad (1992)
  • T. Lord, Best borders (1994)
  • A. Pereire and G. van Zuylen, Private gardens of France (1983)
  • J. Horlick, ‘Gigha’, RHS Journal, 90 (1965), 236–45

Archives

  • NRA, priv. coll., MSS
  • Upton House, Warwickshire, Bearsted MSS

Likenesses

  • photograph, 1920–29, priv. coll. [see illus.]
  • photograph, 1950
  • photographs, 1960–78