The Victorian Artisan’s Garden

The 19th Century was a period of great change. As industry developed, towns and cities expanded at a fantastic rate. Many people moved from the countryside to the new suburbs and gardening became a popular passtime, with the new middle-class.

A new gardening culture

Gardening magazines had been published since the 1820’s and more appeared as the century progressed. Horticultural clubs were formed and shows and competitions became seasonal events. There was a demand for new and exotic plants and plant hunters such as David Douglas, William and Thomas Lobb, George Forrest and Reginald Farrer, found nurserymen and botanists prepared to fund their expeditions around the world.

The repeal of the glass tax in 1845 meant that nurseries and some gardeners could afford glasshouses and many tender plant species were introduced. Exotic specimen plants were grown in borders, to shoe off.

Bedding plants in bright colours contrasted with the austerity of Victorian society. Elaborate bedding displays in municipal parks were imitated in private homes – though replaces two or three times a year – often overcome by acrid air.

Cut flowers became fashionable and parts of the garden were put-over to their cultivation’ whilst plant breeders created new shapes and colours of favourite flowers.

Vegetables were to show, rather than to eat – and the tradition of vegetable shows was established.

Taming nature the drive for bigger and better plants saw a demand for products to control pests and diseases. Poison such as mercury perchloride, read lead and copper arsenate were freely used. They were often as lethal to the gardener as to the pest and are now thankfully banned.