Victorian Gardens

Gardening for the masses 1820 - 1900

Lecture 1 - JC Loudon and his impact on gardens and gardening in Britain - 1820-1840
The rise of increasingly naturalistic style of landscape gardening had ground to a halt in the early part of the nineteenth century. Large landowners could not afford to undertake major improvements to their estates. Landscape designers following in the wake of Lancelot Brown, such as John Claudius Loudon, had to look for new types of clients and found them amongst the burgeoning middle class. Their modest urban villas and gardens required a new approach. Called 'gardenesque', this aimed to marry landscape design with earlier small formal garden styles. Loudon however did not create individual designs for garden owners but used books and the first gardening magazines to promote his ideas. This radical approach also extended to his campaign for the improvement of the ever-expanding urban environment through public green spaces.

Lecture 2 – The return to formality in search of a style - 1840-1860
By the 1830’s, many 18th century gardens were starting to suffer from a period of neglect. Those with the resources looked for ways of reviving them. For the first time, historic gardens predating the English landscape revolution started to be appreciated – particularly the formal gardens of the 17th century that had survived the attention of Lancelot Brown et al.. Variously described as Italianate, French or Dutch style, they introduced a return to formality as typified by carpet bedding. Plants came to the fore, particularly new ones to Britain provided by the intrepid plant hunters. Ferns were especially popular and the craze for them rivalled earlier manias for plants such as tulips. It was not only the wealthy who could enjoy such delights, as the first freely accessible public parks started to open.

Lecture 3 – The High Victorian garden, the reaction to it and a changing Britain - 1860-1880
The High Victorian garden with its emphasis on order and man’s control over nature reached its peak in the 1860’s. Increasing wealth and technology allowed more and more spectacular displays of flowers and plants and the kitchen garden reached its peak of productivity. Even stone and rock was recreated using manmade materials such as Pulhamite to create enormous rock gardens. However it was not to everyone’s taste. Many began to question the artificiality and the ‘working against nature’ of such gardens. The main protagonist in the debate was William Robinson, whose book 'The Wild Garden' influenced many later designers such as Gertrude Jekyll. Towns and cities across Britain vied with one another to create and develop sophisticated municipal parks, as a badge of civic pride.

Lecture 4 – The English flower garden at its height and a new respect for the past - 1880-1900
While Robinson advocated a return to informality (and in particular the removal of carpet bedding), he did not believe that only native plants should be used. Instead exotics should be naturalised in the main gardens and surrounding woodland. This new approach suited the new architectural style of the Arts and Crafts movement. Inspired by cottage gardens, this mixed style led to the popular gardens made by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll. Others such as Thomas Mawson and Reginald Blomfield redefined the formal garden, as the desire to preserve historic gardens gained momentum. This was driven by the expanding socialist movement and championed by William Morris and the founder of the National Trust, Octavia Hill.