The ‘Democratisation’ of Gardening and the Origins of a Very British Obsession

Overview of A Growing Obsession

Pictorial landscape design for large gardens evolved from the work of Humphry Repton. He responded to clients’ needs by emphasising the use of flowers, colour and formality near dwellings.This developed into his ‘Gardenesque’ style intended to display the beauty of trees and plants individually.

Exotics were imported from around the world. The Victorians, who loved the ornate, embraced these new arrivals. Nurseries proliferated. Mail order firms were established, selling seeds, plants and bedding patterns for use in domestic gardens.

John Claudius Loudon, writer and designer, now known as the ‘Father of the English Garden’ argued that for a design to be “recognisable” as a work of art exotics must be used. He also favoured perfect forms and geometrical flower beds. Loudon launched the world’s first gardeners’ magazine in 1826. He aimed to ‘raise the intellect and character’ of gardening enthusiasts. The Gardener’s Magazine contained planting instructions, model planting schemes and articles on newly discovered species. His target audience was the owners of medium and small ‘suburban gardens’.

Industrialisation brought new inventions, including the lawn mower in 1830. Small gardens could now have immaculate lawns.The glass tax was abolished in 1845 and greenhouses became an affordable and fashionable accessory for English middle class homes.

“The management of a flower garden is preminently a woman’s domain.”

Jane Loudon’s Instructions in Gardening for Ladies

Jane Loudon worked alongside her husband and was the author of many gardening volumes aimed at women. Less dictatorial in style, her ideas offered the lady gardener plenty of advice on design and practical know how. With Instructions in Gardening for Ladies 1840 she is credited with making gardening a popular ladies’ pastime and recreational activity. She was to Victorian gardening ‘what Mrs Beeton was to cookery’ (V&A).

As a nation we took gardening to our hearts.

Food production was no longer a necessity. Instead, we began to enjoy the physical and physiological benefits of gardens. Gardening climbed down the social ladder and across the gender divide.

The Victorian legacy has brought us the gardens we enjoy today and one could argue the greatest gardens in our history.


SponsorsLogoyardleylogoTuesday 30 June – Sunday 5 July

10am – 7.30pm

10am – 5.30pm*
note: plant sell-off at 4.30pm

Hampton Court Palace
East Molesey