The age of empire, social change and industrial advances were key to Victorian garden design. Plants and seeds arrived from all over the globe, gardening became a middle class activity and structures made from wrought iron and cast stone enhanced even the most modest property.
The number of people who had a garden was on the increase and more leisure time meant that these people were spending greater time in the garden. New inventions such as the lawn mower began to have a tremendous impact on garden design and, with increased horticultural knowledge, gardeners learnt how to control nature as well as working with it.
Neatly manicured lawns with gazebos for entertaining and well stocked exuberant borders that painted a picture were the order of the day with ornate planting schemes that would include many seasonal plants in geometric patterns, together with summer bedding behind neatly snipped box. The path and edging would be terracotta tiling leading to a doorway bordered with climbers.
With the importation of more exotic plants and an increasingly ostentatious approach, gardening was all about show not harmony with nature. It wasn't until the late 19th century that more naturalistic planting once again became fashionable.
Plants And Planting
With the importation of exotic plants, ostentatious borders and ornamental planting schemes became familiar features of a Victorian garden.
Favourite plants included the showy flowers of agapanthuses, amaranthus cordatus, asters, calceolarias, chrysanthemums, the tall spikes of hollyhocks, hyacinths, irises, lilies, marigolds, pansies, snapdragons, sweet peas, and violas, all these will add colourful vibrancy to your garden.
Advances in science resulted in the hybridization of plants and the introduction of new cultivars, and the rose was one of the main beneficiaries.
There is no more suitable plant for your Victorian garden than a hybrid perpetual rose which is repeat flowering and features large fragrant blooms. Among the most popular and still available today are the red Countess of Oxford, introduced in 1869, crimson Empereur du Maroc (1858), white Gloire Lyonaisse (1885) and pink Lady Stuart (1851).
Dahlias should also be part of the picture, there were hundreds of varieties during Victoria's reign but of those only a handful of the originals survive: 'White Aster' (1879), the orange red 'Kaiser Wilhelm' (1881), 'Union Jack' (1882) and 'Tommy Keith' (1892) which are red and white, and the pink 'Stolz von Berlin' (1884) and Nellie Broomhead (1897).
Shrubs including acid loving azaleas, spring flowering camelias, hardy cotoneasters, forsythias, versatile fushias, hydrangeas, magnolias, skimmias with winter berries, and easy to grow viburnums were gathered from all over the world and found their place in a Victorian garden. For an iconic tree, why not choose a Monkey Puzzle that became available in the 1840s.
Heritage fruit trees could include an Egremont Russet apple (1872) or the heavy cropping Newton Wonder.(1887) which can be used to cook or eat. If you fancy a pear tree, the excellently flavoured Triomphe De Vienne has been growing vigorously since 1864.
If you need inspiration, visit Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire bought by plant collector James Bateman in 1840, this has separate gardens devoted to plants from different parts of the world while Hughenden Manor in Buckinghamshire has a more formal but no less colourful garden created by Benjamin Disraeli's wife.
Standen in Sussex is one of the best examples of late Victorian design heavily influenced by the arts and crafts movement, while Rowallane in Northern Ireland was laid out in the mid-19th century and contains both formal and natural elements. Peckover House in Cambridge is much smaller but no less interesting with a townhouse garden, many specimen trees and shrubs, fernery and a croquet lawn.
Victorians were particularly keen on ferns and collecting expeditions set off in all directions. There was even a name for the addiction, Pteridomania or Fern-Fever resulting in the near extinction of some native species.
Impressive Victorian glasshouses and ferneries were built to house tender specimens and grow other exotic plants such as pineapples. The most famous example is the Palm House at Kew Gardens that was built during the 1840s, Victorian engineering expertise utilizing wrought iron made possible the construction of large glasshouses in botanic gardens, public parks and on estates throughout the country, including National Trust properties at Cragside in Northumberland, Peckover House in Cambridgeshire and Sunnycroft in Shropshire.
Victorian greenhouses are characterized by a steep roof pitch for maximum light transmission and to create headroom for palms and other tall plants. Glass panels tend to be narrower than those used in modern greenhouses and period features such as cresting and finials abound.
Although built from high quality timber rather than iron, contemporary greenhouses such as the Forest Vale Victorian range reflect this styling with high ridges and long panes of toughened glass. There's also the Forest's Victorian Tall Wall Garden and heritage six-sided Victorian Greenhouse which will also make a lovely sun filled summerhouse.
Wrought Iron Features
Wrought iron also made possible garden features such as arches to support roses honeysuckle, clematis and other climbers. The Wrenbury metal arches from Rowlinson are a modern day equivalent, there's also the York and Abbey rose arches from Burbage, and the Huntingdon Ornamental Arch that comes with planters. All these benefit from a protective powder coating, and the arches will add structure and height while enhancing your garden with Victorian style.
Garden fencing made from wrought iron became increasingly popular due the Victorian era due to the fact that it is a malleable material that can be fashioned very ornately and corrosion resistant. Now replaced by powder coated mild steel, Burbage keeps up the tradition of decorative railings by manufacturing ornate ready made and bespoke fencing and gates.
To illuminate your Victorian garden there can't be anything more suitable than a gas lamp style lamppost. Made from excellent quality aluminium which has a black and gold finish, it has tremendous detail and the fluted stem is topped with an opaque glazed lamp holder.
Ever since Coade stone was formulated in the late 18th century, affordable cast stone ornaments have decorated our gardens, and the Victorians took full advantage of any new technology.
Companies such as Haddonstone, Chilstone and Borderstone now reference or reproduce Victorian designs, these items are so convincing that they have been used to replace damaged stone ornaments from stately homes because they are the same quality as the originals, just as hardwearing, and will develop the same attractive patina.
Bird baths, a sundial, statues, urns and pedestals placed surreptitiously or as a focal point were important to add structure and interest while Haddonstone's Gothic Fountain and Borderstone's Two Tier Cherub Fountain are elegant examples of similar water features that would introduce movement and sound into a Victorian garden.