Exotic plants from around the world were brought home to gardens by Victorian collectors. The bright new colours were displayed in more formal garden styles during this period.
Victorian features to look out for:
- Plant collections gathered from all corners of the world
- Arboretums to display collections of trees on a large scale
- Flower beds in bright colours
- Walled kitchen gardens using advanced technology to produce ever increasing ranges of fruits and vegetables
- Advances in glasshouse technology enabling the most tender of plants to be cultivated at home
- Rockeries inspired by expeditions to mountainous regions
- Wild gardens, which were a backlash against the industrial world
Victorian Garden History – Style Of Gardens In Victorian England By Mary H. Dyer
Gardening became wildly popular in England during the Victorian era. The wealthy had the space and money to create large, lavish landscapes, but the middle class, with more time on their hands than ever before, were also able to create beautiful gardens in Victorian England. Many elements of Victorian garden style are enduring and remain popular to this day.
Let’s learn a little more about Victorian garden history.
Characteristics of Victorian Garden Style Gardens in Victorian England were diverse, but they shared a number of notable characteristics:
Fences: Although they were usually cast iron, wooden fences were acceptable if cast iron wasn’t available. However, wooden picket fences were considered old-fashioned. Fences were draped with climbing roses or flowering vines.
Flower beds: Although gardeners in the Victorian area liked formal gardens and flower beds, Victorian style also included wild, exotic plants. Flowers were grown along walkways or in large, round beds, or if space and money allowed, in geometric shapes or intricate mosaics.
Plants: Certain flowers such as hollyhocks, larkspur, snapdragons, pansies and sunflowers were considered outdated and passé. Victorian gardeners preferred large, bold plants like cannas, lilies, dahlias, ornamental grasses, castor beans, ferns, gladiolus or coleus.
Greenhouses and exotic plants: Collecting plants imported from around the world became a popular hobby for Victorian-era gardeners. Wealthier gardeners overwintered tender plants in greenhouses.
Lawns: Green lawns were an essential element of Victorian garden style, used to frame a lovely home and for socializing or lawn games. Lawns in Victorian England were trimmed with a scythe, so they lacked the perfectly manicured appearance of many lawns today. Trees and shrubs: Victorian garden style often implemented shrubs and trees, both evergreen and deciduous, as specimen plants. However, they were also planted along property lines or in mixed hedges.
Ornamentation: Decorative elements included topiary, sundials on pedestals, stone or marble walkways, cast iron ornaments, statues, pools and fountains, urns filled with flowers and foliage, vine-covered trellises.
1 Topiary and Clipped Greens
Neatly clipped hedges and greens in elaborate shapes were a standard in Victorian gardens. Traditionally, topiary was a formal element in large estate gardens and was considered a symbol of status. “You had to show off,”. “Your garden was in competition with others, and garden designers vied with each other for commissions from wealthy clients.”
Plant this look: If you’re not ready to hire a full-time gardener or deal with the regular maintenance of topiary, consider adding plants that retain their symmetrical forms without trimming, such as round shrubs.
2 Tropical and Exotic Plants
Driven by increased exploration and travel, gardeners had more access to a number of new and unique plants from around the world. “Plant explorers brought back exotic new seeds and specimens to display at home under glass or in a glass conservatory on the estate, while plant breeders experimented with new plants,” says Harris. Tropical plants, and especially ferns, were immensely popular and gave an exotic flair to gardens. Pteridomania, or “fern fever” was at its height in the mid-1800s, with collectors scouring the globe to support this new hobby.
Plant this look: Display potted tropical plants, such as parlour palm, a Victorian favourite, in containers around your patio or indoors. Or, plant ferns outdoors in shady areas of the garden.
3 A Riot of Colours
For the Victorians, more was also more! “It was really about an explosion of colours,”. “Big, blowsy gardens overflowing with bold, bright colours showcased new plants.” There wasn’t just one type of plant used, but popular flowers included dahlias, roses, petunias, and especially geraniums. Cottage gardens, which combined flowers and edibles in an informal manner, also evolved toward the end of the Victorian age.
Plant this look: Instead of focusing on a specific, restrained colour scheme, plant lots of different colours of flowers in containers and beds to bring a sense of unrestrained joy to your garden.
4 Bedding Plants
“Tightly-planted garden beds were laid out with lots of colour and pattern,”. “There was a tight ‘pin-cushion’ planting with no bare ground visible. Typically, there were 2 to 3 species of flowers in the bed to form a geometric pattern. Basically, you’d cram in as many plants as possible to achieve a mosaic effect.” The technique also sometimes is referred to as carpet bedding because the design resembles a patterned rug.
Plant this look: Tightly plant a container for an instantly lush feel, or create small geometrically-shaped beds.
5 Statuary, Sundials, Urns and Other Garden Structures
While statues were part of earlier garden styles from Italy and France, the Victorian garden also featured statuary, sundials, obelisks, gazing balls, urns and ironwork of all sorts, says. An ornate trellis, arbor or orangery, where citrus trees were protected from cold weather, also were part of many Victorian gardens.
Plant this look: Incorporate a few decorative pieces to punctuate your garden, such as a pair of urns,which do not necessarily need planted to add style.
6 Decorative Metalwork
Wrought iron became especially popular and was often used in fencing or decorative benches. On large estates, benches gave you a place to rest and admire the garden.
Plant this look: A garden bench is always a wonderful way to stop and admire the views. Also, you can use pieces of salvaged iron fencing as accents or backdrops in planting beds if you don’t want to fence an entire area.
7 Water Features
Estate homes would feature a large outdoor fountain, but a cottage garden might include a bird bath or two.
Plant this look: Small wrought iron or concrete birdbaths offer a touch of Victoriana without requiring a garden overhaul.
8 Aromatic Plants
Victorian cottage garden style includes many different kinds of flowers and edibles, and the Victorians had a special love for aromatic plants such as lavender, rosemary, thyme and scented geraniums.
Add this look: Scented plants are never out of style because fragrance adds another layer of enjoyment to your garden. Plant them in containers, along the edges of hard landscaping to soften edges, and in beds in large swaths.
Victorians created mini-habitats to showcase their newly discovered plants, such as alpine plants and ferns. The idea was to mimic what you’d find in a natural setting on a stony cliff or mountainside.
Add this look: While you may not be able to transform your garden into a mini-mountainside, you can create a small rock garden with plants tucked among strategically and artistically placed rocks.
In the Victorian era, the pendulum swung again, to massed beds of flowers (bedding out plants raised in greenhouses), exotic colours, and intricate designs. The most influential gardeners of this period were J.C. Loudon, and later, Joseph Paxton (Chatsworth House and Kew).
The Victorian period also saw a profusion of public gardens and green spaces aimed at bringing culture to the masses. Some of the finest Victorian gardens are public parks, like People’s Park in Halifax.
Taste in the late Victorian period varied between formal and the “wild” garden advocated by the influential writer William Robinson. Sometimes the formal and informal looks were combined in the same garden, as at Sissinghurst Castle (Kent), and Hidcote Manor Gardens (Gloucestershire).
Can we incorporate a maze perhaps? Even if it is just a mown maze.
Plants for Victorian gardens: Garden guides from the 1930s
More plant ideas
The Victorians presided over the biggest changes we have ever seen in our gardens and introduced unbelievable numbers of new plants from around the globe. Many of these automatically ‘look right’ when planted next to a Victorian building.
Wisteria is perhaps the quintessential plant for adorning a Victorian house. Jasmine was also very popular.
Fruit trees were popularised by the Victorians and fig trees were the absolute height of fashion.
Evergreen magnolias are fine, even against smaller houses, as their roots do not seem to cause a problem to foundations. For larger gardens, try the monkey puzzle, Araucaria araucana, or Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, the Lawsons cypress. Victorians loved exotics, too, especially Trachycarpus fortunei, the fan palm, from China.
Japanese anemones, Dicentra spectabilis, ferns and lillies are ideal.
Bedding was enormously popular, including antirrhinums, scented stocks, scarlet geraniums, petunias and dahlias. Cannas were used for random splashes of bright colour.
Spotted laurel, cotoneaster, skimmia and mahonia were originally used for winter bedding, but later became key shrubs along with rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias