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Conventions of Gardening in Victorian England

What Victorian-Era Gardens Meant to the English

The Pemberton Family Gardens

"Whatever style may be adopted by the... gardener, ... [they] must be guided... by certain rules, deduced from fundamental principles."

                                                                         - J. C. Loudon, 1850

So what were the Conventions of English Gardening during the Victorian Era?


The following are some key gardening styles that were prevalent in and around the Victorian Era in England:

Cottage Garden: Cottage gardens varied in appearance, but according to landscapist J. C. Loudon, they were generally square or rectangular, enclosed by a fence, wall, or hedge, and had borders for culinary crops (potatoes, peas, turnips, etc) and herbs, flowers, and low shrubs.  The bulk of the garden was generally filled with fruit trees, easily accessible from the cottage or house nearby.  Overall, utilitarian concerns were at the heart of the cottage garden, both in the plants and the design. (Helmreich 69) Most Victorian-era gardeners saw the cottage garden as a "remnant of England's vernacular or folk culture, untouched by modernity or continental influence." (Helmreich 66)  In other words, the cottage garden became particularly connected with a collective English national identity because it was associated with a uniquely-English countryside and history.

Formal (or Architectural) Garden: Formal gardens were designed primarily by architects rather than gardeners.  According to a 1910 article in The Architectural Review, "attempts at imitating nature... [were] thrown aside as both foolish and futile" in the development of formal gardens. (Helmreich 91)  These gardens were marked by terraces, straight paths, "broad masses of shorn grass demarcated by trimmed hedges and alleys," and defined flower beds. (Helmreich 92)  As a 1907 article in The Spectator claimed,
The best garden for a garden-party is an old one, -walled, enclosed, subdivided, trim, and suggestive everywhere of shelter and limitation... Here we seen Nature thoroughly disciplined.  The most civilized thing in the world is a well-kept garden.

They were often used for badminton, croquet, and lawn tennis (Helmreich 92) - and emulated the country houses of the upper classes. (Helmreich 91)

Gardenesque: The gardenesque style was developed by landscape designer J. C. Loudon.  He described the style as follows:

The characteristic feature... is the display of the beauty of trees and other plants, individually... All the trees and shrubs are arranged in regard to their kinds and dimensions; and they are planted at first as, or, as they grow, thinned out to, such distances apart as may best display the natural form and habit of each.

The gardenesque style was also heavily involved in the introduction of new plant species from other parts of the Empire.  As Loudon said, the purpose of the style was to make use of the charms "which the sciences of gardening and botany, in their present advanced state, are capable of producing." (Helmreich 14)

Landscape (or Natural) Garden: The term "landscape garden" was most commonly associated with the eighteenth century, but continued to be used into the Victorian era.  Overall, Victorian-era definitions of the landscape garden were very vague.  For example, Henry Ernest Milner described it as "taking the true cognizance of Nature's means for the expression of beauty, and so disposing those means artistically as to co-operate for our delight in given conditions." (Helmreich 136)  By the late Victorian era, a landscape garden was generally considered any garden that was not a formal (architectural) garden.

Wild Garden: Associated with William Robinson's The Wild Garden, published in 1870, this style rejected popular gardening conventions, and claimed to model gardens from "the time of Shakespeare."  As Robinson wrote in The Wild Garden, his aim was to:

show how we may, without losing the better features of the mixed bedding or any other system, follow one infinitely superior to any now practised, yet supplementing both, and exhibiting more the varied beauty of hardy flowers than the most ardent admirer of the old style of garden ever dreams of.  We may do this by naturalizing or making wild innumerable beautiful natives of many regions of the earth in our woods, wild and semi-wild places, rougher parts of pleasure grounds, etc., and in unoccupied places in almost every kind of garden.

Robinson called the wild garden "natural," associating the style with the values of the English countryside.  While it claimed to be old-fashioned, the wild garden was also involved in Victorian-era movements like the importation of foreign plants, the experiments of natural scientists, and the association of garden with English rural culture. (Helmreich 39)