Jonathan Denby and Philippa Pearson
The Victorian era came to be known
as one of the greatest ages of gardening.
The gardens behind the home were more laid-back and free-flowering ornate, and more suited to relaxing and for entertaining friends, paramours, and family privately. It was a place for courting couples to take a romantic stroll and profess their undying love. Or sit and converse or read a book on beautiful stone benches. Many of the flower beds were reminiscent of cottage gardens, and victorians loved planting plants with meanings, and big roses in beds, on archways and fancy trellises. Those well-to-do gardeners had conservatories, orangeries, fancy greenhouses and summerhouses built in their big backyards. Gardens further from the house were of a ‘country’ style that was casual and more natural.
The gardens were glorious, and mostly due to the fact that most folks who were well-to-do didn't do the back-breaking work that was sometimes involved. They had their live-in Gardeners do it. The lady of the house sometimes took charge and did a bit of rose pruning, but rarely got dirt on her hands or dress. Mostly picking flowers to decorate the home, but some ladies adored their gardens and supervised the plants planted in it, and the care of them. She would sometimes be seen kneeling in a flower bed doing minor weeding or new planting, wearing a big, gorgeous sunhat to avoid the sun touching her head or pearly white skin. No decent woman of wealth and position would be seen with a tan. It was considered gauche and common to have a sunkissed face.
Those who insisted on strictly designed formal gardens usually had the means to own a separate summer cottage in the country or near the sea, and that is where they let loose with a cottage garden filled with wildflowers and unruly favorites, surrounded by fountains and benches. Those were the most beautiful gardens, minus the strict must-have plants and design. The formal gardens were insisted upon in socially acceptable Victorian gardens.
Big, flowery, free-flowering plants and flowers were considered country cottagey and for lower classes of countryfolk. But when unfettered by social convention, the Victorians had an eye for the stunning visual of a country garden, and many convalescents spent their days in that type of garden with their dogs, a pot of tea, and a book of soothing poetry. Children loved those gardens, loved to play there, have tea parties, and participated in the growing and picking of things.
plantings neat, symmetrical and precise remained a must for
the Victorian garden.
The outline of a design or motif was filled with the same plant, in the same color and height. Like a circle of just pink geraniums.
While not all Victorian gardeners and botanists agreed with the carpet bedding design, it remained quite popular.
The flower beds resembled a carpet, by using low-growing plants of even height. At first the designs were simple geometric shapes, but later evolved into more intricate patterns like butterflies or sundials.
This style of border grew short plants along the edge, and gradually gained height with the tallest plants growing in the back. So that each flower could be appreciated on it's own. Mixing colors, textures and heights added dimension to the flowerbed. More along the lines of present day gardens.
Ornamental vines were used to create shaded private areas for resting, evening romance, and reading on warm summer days. Clematis, Wisteria or Trumpet vine climbed over garden structures creating a flower bower. Vines were trained to grow along unsightly fences and to hide tree stumps or other imperfect elements of the Victorian backyard. A trellis or arbor at the gate allowed a climbing rose to frame the home.
Popular shrubs to use in a Victorian garden are: Vibernum, Bridal Wreath Spirea, Mock Orange, Forsythia, Quince, Boxwood hedges, and Clove Bush. The frilly flowering shrubs,, like peonies and hydrangeas were enjoyed by Victorians in the landscape and as a way to enhance the fences. The Victorian garden was also very fragranced and romantic.
Decorations and Structures
Known for their uber-flamboyance, Victorians took great pleasure in decorating their gardens. Almost always over-the-top. Less was never, ever, more. You were judged by your stuff and how much you spent to acquire it. And you displayed it as ostentatiously as possible.
The Victorian Folly
This eccentric and opulent 19th century craze saw everything from giant pineapples to faux-classical ruined temples constructed for the sole purposes of showing off, and providing employment for local artists. They really had no purpose at all. That's why they were called follies. These featured everything from Roman temples, ruined Gothic abbeys, to Egyptian pyramids. Other follies represented exotic Chinese pagodas, Japanese bridges, and large Aabian tents. Follies were an important decoative feature of the English garden.
Look at the gingerbread trims on the houses and the front porch, and remember the long era of Fern Mania... both design ideas were used to create a look of flamboyance, and the themes were always based on a desire to ornament the home, the yard, and all aspects of life. If it doesn't move, decorate it. More stuff means you are wealthier and had a more prestigious and richer lifestyle than your friends, associates and neighbors. And especially your in-laws.
Ornate birdbaths, sundials, obelisks, and gazing balls all found their way into the Victorian flower garden and yard. Empty urns decorated the entrance to the backyard. To replicate the look, place a birdbath at the curves of a serpentine ornamental flower bed. Place a gazing ball under a tree that's encircled by a flowerbed. Place an obelisk in corners or centers of flower beds, and attach flowering vines to that trellis.
A small pool or fountain gave the yard a look of grandeur. With water lilies floating on the top, and the soothing sound of water flowing from a fountain, the ornamentation of the yard was complete. The surprise end to a walk through their gardens was accomplished with seats and benches that made the garden and yard inviting. Benches made of wood could be tucked into the backyard flowerbed for resting after pulling weeds after gardening. Stone benches, urns and other embellishments added to the overall theme of wealth and opulence. A seat that offered a grand view of the entire garden and landscape was an absolute must-have. Ornate cast iron tables and chairs set in the backyard presented a lovely space for afternoon tea and al fresco dining.
Since gardening and growing was a passion for the Victorians, it was absolutely necessary to share cuttings with neighbors and friends. Having a greenhouse or glasshouse in the backyard enabled amateur botanists to indulge their desire to establish new and exotic plants.
Gazebos offered outdoor living with style and grace. Vines would grow all over the gazebo, blending it in to the landscape. A rose garden planted around the perimeter of the gazebo provided romantic and heady fragrances to the space. Within, or around the perimeters of the gazebo, tea was served, and relaxation, surrounded by nature, was the gift.