The British Empire
y the time Queen Victoria (1819-1901) the Hanoverian Household was no longer guiding public taste, manners and social mores as the royal courts had done in former times. Even so she was, until her death 63 years later in 1901, to still cast a rather sombre ‘stiff upper lip’ tone of events as she presided through the years of Britain’s great Empire, the largest the world had ever seen and the greatest since the mighty Roman Empire some 2,000 years before.
Victoria came to the throne in 1837 when Australia was emerging from the dark convict days but still to experience the economic boom of the gold rush in 1850. Ties with the homeland were still extremely strong with negligible independence in matters of trade or culture. What was interesting, important and fashionable in England was equally so in Australia, and the new colonists eagerly waited for news, goods, gossip and guidance from ‘home’.
Social welfare concerns and civic pride saw the creation of municipal parks and gardens, and in cities the addition of more ‘squares’ and ‘boulevards’. The first truly public park of this kind being Regents Park (where the zoo is) opened to the general public in 1835, but this was followed by Battersea Park and others, along with boating lakes and sports grounds, all with prominent signs whose regulations enumerated the many activities that must be banned in order to achieve acceptable public behaviour. These were often secured by iron fences to keep out vandals. Special attention was given to the gardens around schools and hospitals. The monolithic London-based science organisations and establishments now saw equivalents set up in the growing, often industrial, cities to the north. Botanic gardens, for example, were founded in Liverpool, Hull, Glasgow, Birmingham, Belfast and Dublin. Public parks were places where nannies could wheel babies and people could promenade at weekends, enjoy picnics and listed to brass bands. New tree collections were established notably the Westonbirt Arboretum in 1829.
Science and technology was being incorporated more and more in gardening with extensive discussions about composts, fertilizers, pesticides, and greenhouse technology. The Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 (the ‘ Royal’ epithet was added when Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, granted a charter in 1861). Famous seedsmen gaining a commercial hold in the 1850s included Sutton & Sons and William Thompson (now Thompson & Morgan).Lawnmowers arrived in 1831 (invented by Englishman Edward Budding who adapted the design from the cloth-shearing machines so effective in the thriving textile factories) large versions drawn by horses on the grand estates. There was now a wide range of new tools for every conceivable purpose.
Only wealthy men had the vote. It was only in 1918 with the representation of the People Act that all males over the age of 21 were allowed the vote along with women over 30. There was opposition to any suggestion of women getting the vote although it was evident that Victorian women had very few rights and were unequal with men in the law. Until 1882 a woman’s property often went to her husband on their marriage. A National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies led by Millicent Fawcett campaigned in 1897 for the vote for women. Kew Gardens was the target of their concerns when in 1913 suffragettes smashed glass in the Orchid House glass and burned down the tea Pavilion. Gender differentiation was evident in horticulture as alsewhere with the men working vegetable allotments and women looking after the flowers. Gentile ladies studied botany and horticulture and accepted occupations including plant pressing and painting. But more and more women were achieving eminence. In Victoria’s era we can name a cluster of garden writers: Jane Loudon, Louisa Johnson (Every Lady Her Own Flower Gardener (1843), Gertrude Jekyll (writings dating from 1880 to 1930), Shirley Hibberd (Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste (1856), Frances Hope (with Gertrude Jekyll wrote articles for The Garden in the 1880s), and the wealthy Ellen Willmott who accumulated a vast plant collection at her family home Warley Placeand in 1904 became the first woman elected to the Linnean Society. Then in 1895 Kew employed its first professional gardeners and by 1910 women gardeners were being trained in seven colleges.
Towards the end of Victoria’s reign conspicuous horticultural demonstrations of wealth were again under public scrutiny. As successive governments increased land taxes the already debilitated landed gentry was now succumbing to the new wealth being accumulated by industrial magnates and city businessmen.
Gardening styles of the upper classes had, until the Victorian era, tended to arrive in waves of reaction to what had gone before. In the Victorian era the continued trend to ‘democratisation’ of gardening as the community of those considered in the avant garde increased, the affluent class became more diffuse, literacy rocketed, and monolithic design trends fragmented into an unprecedented eclecticism as fashion followed fashion – for ferns and ferneries, palms, monkey-puzzles and aspidistras; for croquet, summer houses and shrubberies; municipal parks with pavilions and bandstands; for backyards, garden gnomes (a German creation, the Gnomen-figuren followed by toadstools etc.). This was not the elite gardening of Arcadian landscapes, naturalistic swards of grass, and picturesque vistas: taste was being defined more by a ‘lower’ strata of society the people who occupied the urban ‘villa’.
Arts and crafts
In the late 19th century industrialisation encountered firm resistance in the Arts and Crafts Movement whose notable leaders William Morris (1834-1896), labelled a libertarian socialist and a member of the Pre-Raphaelite art movement, and social critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) bemoaned not only the grime and crime of the cities with their smoky coal-fired industries, but also the mind-numbing and inhumane repetition of factory work. They looked back to a time when the artisan was a master of his craft and could take a pride in his work as was the case with the workers ‘guilds’ of the Medieval era.
With industrialisation had come the mass-production of indifferent low-craft goods and a hint of the quick-disposal society to come. In protest people gathered in groups to maintain old skills, using natural materials to enjoy the creation of the objects of daily life, always emphasising the connections between nature, art, and simple rustic living. It was a movement whose ideas were strong in horticulture and which has continued in some form to the present day.
Naturalism was given support through the writing of Irishman William Robinson (1838–1935) a member of the Linnean Society with well-known friends like Darwin and London Nurseryman James Veitch. He is credited with the introduction of the ‘mixed border’ liberal use of trellises for roses, beds of shrubs, large lawns, and a discouragement of colourful bedding schemes. His reputation was sealed through his weekly magazine Gardening (later Garden Illustrated) and books The Wild Garden (1870) and The English Flower Garden (1883). His ideas about herbaceous border being given further artistic development by Gertrude Jekyll (1843–1932), a trained artist who admired the work of Monet and Turner she excelled at working with the aesthetics of borders, but especially their colour schemes. She was noted for her single- and multi-coloured herbaceous borders constructed using ideas on colour-theory in a new way, and working for nearly 40 years alongside designer Edward Lutyens (1869-1944) on gardens that became the admiration of gardeners at a new scale – that of the Country House whose gardens, as intimate ‘outside rooms’, were adored and carefully maintained by their owners.
Among the better-known country houses in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement and regarded as models of the best domestic architecture of the day – and managed by their owners – are Gertrude Jekyll’s own Munstead Wood, William Robinson (Gravetye), Great Dixter (Nathaniel Llloyd, followed by son Christopher), Sissinghurst (Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson), and Hidcote (Lawrence Johnstone). The literature and approach of this kind of gardening was still aspirational, following the activities of the well-to-do and socially celebrated although this too was not to last beyond the two world wars and Depression, except as amusement for tourists and sightseers and a garden community looking for ideas that could only be applied in a minor way to their own much more modest gardens.
There was some nationalistic hankering for the good old days of the past (the National Trust was founded in 1895), the ‘Merrie England’ of Shakespeare and Drake, which brought a restrained revival of past fancies like topiary, avenues, parterres, ruins and, indeed, across the sweep of the past that included Italian, Dutch, French. Elizabethan, and Jacobean elements, cottage gardens and more.
Rock gardens (the first in England said to be the constructed in the Chelsea Physic Garden from volcanic rock brought back from Greenland by Joseph Banks as ships ballast) enjoyed a period of popularity.
Carpet bedding and back to cottage gardens
Garden buildings especially greenhouses took on a new lease of life as new glazing technology found its niche in the new conservatories and stove houses: Joseph Paxton’s vast Great Stove (opened in 1843 by Queen Victoria in a carriage) took 500 people four years to complete and his monumental Crystal Palace completed for the Great Exhibition in 1851 – but there were other glories like the Palm House at Kew designed by Decimus Burton. Around teh Crystal Palace were colourful summer carpet bedding schemes (a French invention) with low-growing annual flowers set out in blocks and patterns. They were to become the rage, especially in the new municipal parks although by the end of the century they were cricised as garish, tasteless and extravagant so with a move from beds to borders the cottage garden and its wild flowers were back in favour.
Cottage gardens, whose rise in popularity had begun in the late 18th century, returned with their traditional honeysuckle, climbing roses, hollyhocks, marigolds – and window boxes for geraniums and perhaps succulents of some kind. At last this was an opportunity for the working class to contribute to to gardening as tradesman, cloth-makers, railwaymen, factory workers, the miners in the northern cities. By the 1830s Florists clubs were dotted across the country, building up collections of ‘florists flowers’ – ranunculus, pinks, auriculas, carnations, pansies, violas, polyanthus and many more, competing amongst themselves – the Paisley weavers notes for their laced pinks and so on. Each group of plants would have special shows with strict rules for the judges. Along with these clubs there were also the vegetable allotments, often on the outskirts of the cities, where extra produce could be grown year-round for a small fee.
Literacy suddenly rocketed for the first time in history, bringing garden information to a much wider cross-section of society (see British literature and Australian literature). It was during this time that Australian gardeners avidly devoured the new gardening books being published in Britain using new and cheaper printing techniques as the First Australian publications began to emerge. By far the most productive and trenchant author of the period who catered for the rising middle class – a workaholic Scotsman John Claudius Loudon (1783 – 1843) who gave us the word ‘gardenesque’ to describe a planting style that characterised the period, replacing the former ‘picturesque’. Though catering more for the ‘villa’ gardener we see in Loudon an opening up of gardening ideas to people from … ‘the terraced houses of mechanics – usually with a meagre fourteen foot frontage, two rooms per floor and a small back garden – and the slightly larger cottages of artisans and junior clerks’. In 1830 he published The Manual of Cottage Gardening and Husbandry; then in 1847 garden historian George Johnson produced The Cottage Gardener (renamed the Journal of Horticulture in 1861), the first magazine for more lowly gardeners. For the Florists clubs there was The Floricultural Cabinet (1833-1859) and The Florist (1848-1884).
Though by this time Australian plants had lost some of their attraction – they were fussy and difficult subjects not really suited to the English climate – others were still pouring in from the new British colonies and beyond: South Africa, India, China, Japan, the Caucasus and Siberia, New Zealand, North and South America. After about 1830 sea transport of the plant treasures was greatly facilitated by the invention by Nathaniel Ward of the glass cabinets known as ‘Wardian Cases’.
There was still great Romance, adventure and excitement associated with plant hunting and the arrival of new treasures that were snapped up by the RHS itself, specialist nurserymen and private collectors. In the 1830s the Royal Horticultural Society took Banks’s former role by sending out plant collectors as Kew languished after Banks’s death in 1824 with a lack of leadership. Heroic collectors of the period include: David Douglas, Ernest Wilson, William Kerr, Robert Fortune, George Forrest, William and Thomas Lobb their names echoing down to us today through the plants named in their honour. In the colonies government officials, clergy, and amateur naturalists were pleased to spend their spare time on nature rambles collecting for the gardens of their friends back at home.
Among the recipients were successful nurserymen like Loddiges in Hackney and the Scottish Veitch family, son James sending out his own plant hunters and later visiting Australia to comment on its horticultural endeavours. Scotsman made up a surprisingly large proportion of the industrious horticulturists of the Victorian era following in the footsteps of the formidable Philip Miller. Garden historian Jenny Uglow points out that three of the eminent founding members of the RHS were Scots: William Aiton (head gardener at Kew), William Forsyth (followed Miller as Curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden), and nurseryman James Dickson.
By the early 19th century pineapples, melons, currants, oranges and lemons were being imprted from as far away as the West Indies. Cauliflower trade commenced in 1836 and strawberries became popular in the 1860s. By the mid 19th century market gardening was a major industry and at this time a tomato mutation changed teh appearance of the former ribed and unattractive tomato into a smooth, round, red and plump fruit. Towards the end of the 19th century there was a division of markets ito wholesale and retail sectors, refrigeration arrived in 1880, many plants were grown under glass, seed merchants were flourishing and florists shops arrived. By th early 20th century all major branches of today’s horticulture were established.
In 1898 fruit arrived in Britain from Australia.
Plant fads and fashions rolled by – for ferns and ferneries, palms, monkey-puzzles, aspidistras, dahlias, chrysanthemums, orchids and rhododendrons (Indian Himalayan species collected by Joseph Hooker now added to those from Europe and America).
For carpet bedding there were old favourites like lobelias, pelargoniums, and marigolds were supplemented by new plants from South America, Mexico and Chile, like species of Salvia, Petunia, Begonia, Calceolaria, and Eschscholtzia (from California).
Cultivars (garden selections) were now appearing in profusion among the chrysanthemums, gladioli, delphiniums, peonies and more, while fruits and vegetable cultivars numbered vastly more than the few staples in the global food chain of our Supermarkets today, a credit to the highly productive Victorian kitchen gardens.
The rose, whose major variants, the gallica, alba, moss, cabbage and damask in a tradition inherited from the Romans, were now the material for new breeders. There was a run on standard roses and French creations were popular. Using Chinese sources (the British embassy in Peking was opened in 1791) the modern tea roses were created, smelling of the chests of tea that were coming into Britain from China to meet the insatiable thirst for tea-drinking that had first passed into polite society but was now a classless ritual. One popular addition was the scrambling Rosa banksiae ‘Alba Plena’ brought back from China in 1824 and named in commemoration of Joseph Banks’s wife (Banks himself had died in 1820) and also the Bourbons, notably ‘Souvenir de Malmaison’ recalling Empress Josephine’s celebrated rose garden, and a host of other cultivars named after various aristocratic ‘celebrities’.
List of books and magazines of the 19th century. Adapted from the list given in Carter, T. 1984. The Victorian Garden. Bell & Hyman: London.
Abercrombie, J. 1857 (original in 1767). Every Man His Own Gardener. 26th ed. with notes and additions by J. Main and G. Glenny. Longman & Co.: London.
Abercrombie, J. 1834. The Practical Gardener. T. Cadell: London.
Anderson, J. c. 1880. The New Practical Gardener and Modern Horticulturist. William Mackenzie: London.
Baines, T. 1885. Greenhouse & Stove Plants. John Murray, London; revised ed. 1894
Beeton’s Book of Garden Management. 1872. Ward Lock & Co: London
Blomfield, R., Inigo, T.F. 1892. The Formal Garden in England. Macmillan & Co.: London.
Boyle, E.V. 1884. Days and Hours in a Garden. Elliot Stock: London.
Bradley, R. 1726. A General Treatise of Husbandry and Gardening.
Bridgeman, T. 1829. The Young Gardener’s Assistant. 12th ed. 1847.
Burbidge, F.W. 1877. Cultivated Plants, Their Propagation and Improvement. William Blackwood: Edinburgh.
Cobbett, W. 1833. The English Gardener. London, reissued by Oxford University Press, 1980.
Cole, N. 1877. The Royal Parks and Gardens of London. Journal of Horticulture, London.
Delamer, E.S. c. 1860. The Flower Garden. George Routledge & Sons: London.
Delamer, E.S. c. 1860. The Kitchen Garden. George Routledge & Sons: London.
Don, J. 1796. Hortus Cantabrigiensis. 13 rev. edn P.N. Don 1845. Cambridge.
Doyle, M. [pseudonym of William Hickey] The Flower Garden, William Curry & Co., 1845 ed.
Glenny, G. 1861. The Culture of Flowers and Plants. Houlston and Wright, London.
Glenny, G. 1865. The Hand-Book of Gardening. Cassell, Peter and Galpin, London.
Glenny, G. c. 1855. Glenny’s Hand-Book of Practical Gardening. C. Cox, London, c. 1855
Glenny, G. 1851. Hand-Book to the Flower-Garden and Greenhouse. C. Cox, London.
Harrison, C. A. 1823. Treatise on the Culture and Management of Fruit Trees. 2nd ed. London 1825.
Hazlitt, W.C. 1887. Gleanings in Old Garden Literature. Elliot Stock: London.
Hibberd, S. 1878. The Amateur’s Flower Garden
Hibberd, S. 1873. The Amateur’s Greenhouse and Conservatory. Groombridge and Sons: London.
Hibberd, S. 1877. The Amateur’s Kitchen Garden Groombridge and Sons, London, 1877.
Hibberd, S. 1855. Brambles and Bay Leaves. Groombridge and Sons, London.
Hibberd, S. 1875. The Fern Garden. Groombridge and Sons, London.
Hibberd, S. 1860. Profitable Gardening. Groombridge and Sons, London.
Hibberd, S. 1875. Familiar Garden Flowers. Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co., London.
Hobday, E. 1887. Villa Gardening. Macmillan and Co., London.
Hole, S. R. 1892. A Book about the Garden. Thomas Nelson & Sons, London.
Hooper’s Gardening Guide. 3rd ed. 1883.
Hogg, T. 1832. A Concise and Practical Treatise on the Growth and Culture of the Carnation etc. Whittaker, Treacher and Co., London, 5th ed.
Johnson, G.W. 1856. The Gardeners’ Dictionary. Rev. ed., George Bell and Sons, London, 1877.
Johnson, L. 1845. Every Lady Her Own Flower Gardener. 8th ed. William Orr and Co., London.
Keane, W. 1865. Out-Door Gardening. Journal of Horticulture, London.
Kingsley, R.G. 1907. Eversley Gardens and Others. George Allen & Sons, London.
Loudon, J. 1867. The Amateur Gardener’s Calendar Longmans, Green and Co., London.
Loudon, J. 1845. The Lady’s Country Companion, or How to Enjoy a Country Life Rationally. London.
Loudon, J. 1846. The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower-Garden 1841; 4th ed. William Smith, London.
Loudon, J. 1841. Practical Instructions in Gardening for Ladies 1840; 2nd ed. John Murray, London. Loudon, J. C. 1838. Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum. Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmans. London.
Loudon, J. C. 1840. The Cottager’s Manual Baldwin and Cradock, London.
Loudon, J. C. 1822. An Encyclopaedia of Gardening; new ed. Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, London.
Loudon, J. C. 1829. An Encyclopaedia of Plants. Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmans, London.
Loudon, J. C. 1842. An Encyclopaedia of Trees and Shrubs (abridged from the Arb. & Fru.). Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, London, 1842
Loudon, J. C. (anonymously) The Green House Companion. Harding, Triphook, and Lepard,
Loudon, J.C. Hortus Britannicus. 1830; new ed. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, London.
Loudon, J.C., edited and revised by W Robinson, The Horticulturist. Frederick Warne and
Maling, E.A. 1862. In-Door Plants and How to Grow Them. Smith Elder & Co., London.
Martineau, A. 1913. The Herbaceous Garden. Williams & Norgate: London.
McIntosh, C. 1838. The Flower Garden. New ed William S. Orr & Co.: London, 1844
Mclntosh, C. 1830. The Practical Gardener and Modern Horticulturist. Thomas Kelly: London.
Miller, P. 1757. The Gardeners Kalendar. J.& J. Rivington: London.
Mollison, J.R. 1875. The New Practical Window Gardener. Groombridge and Sons, London, c.1875; new ed Henry J. Drane, London, 1894
Moore, T. 1855. A Popular History of British Ferns. Lovell Reeve, London, 2nd ed.
Nicholson, G. 1887. The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening, a Practical and Scientific Encyclopaedia of Horticulture. L. Upcott Gill, London.
Outline of Flemish Husbandry. 1840. Baldwin and Cradock, London.
Paterson, N. 1838. The Manse Garden. ed. William Collins, Glasgow.
Paxton, J. 1840. A Pocket Botanical Dictionary. J. Andrews, London.
Pratt, A. 1856. The Fens of Great Britain. S.P.C.K. and Frederick Warne and Co., London.
Prior, W.D. 1881. Hardy Shrubs. George Routledge and Sons, London.
Rivers, T. 1872. The Rose-Amateur’s Guide. Longmans, Green & Co, 10th edn, London.
Robinson, W. 1870. Alpine Flowers for English Gardens. John Murray, London.
Robinson, W. 1883. The English Flower Garden. John Murray, London.
Robinson, W. 1868. Gleanings from French Gardens. Frederick Warne and Co., London.
Robinson, W. 1870. The Wild Garden. John Murray, London.
Robinson, W. & Barnes, J. 1881. Asparagus Culture. George Routledge and Sons, London,
Rohde, E.S. 1932. Sinclair The Story of the Garden. The Medici Society, London.
Sedding, J. 1891. Garden-Craft Old and New. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., London.
Shaw, C.W. 1880. The London Market Gardens. The Garden, London.
Slater, J.c. 1859. The Amateur Florists’ Guide. John Heywood, Manchester.
Smith, J. 1839. A Treatise on the Growth of Cucumbers and Melons. J.M. Burton, Ipswich.
Sweet, R. 1821. The Botanical Cultivator. James Ridgway, London.
Thomson, D. 1868. Handy Book of the Flower-Garden. William Blackwood & Son, Edinburgh.
Thomson, D. 1881. Handy Book of Fruit Culture under Glass. William Blackwood & Son, Edinburgh.
Thomson, W. 1869. A Practical Treatise on the Cultivation of the Grape Vine. William Blackwood & Son, 6th ed 1869.
Thompson, R. 1859. The Gardener’s Assistant. Blackie and Son, Glasgow, 1859; revised and extended by Thomas Moore, 1881.
Towers, J. 1839. The Domestic Gardener’s Manual. John W Parker, London.
Watts, E. 1869. Elizabeth Flowers and the Flower Garden. Frederick Warne and Co., London.
William, B.S. 1878, 1881, 1883. Choice Stove and Greenhouse Flowering Plants. 3rd ed. pub. by author.
Wood, S. 1878. The Bulb Garden. Crosby Lockwood & Co., London.
Wood, S. 1881. The Ladies Multum-in-Parvo Flower Garden. Crosby Lockwood & Co., London.
There were also a range of influential periodicals including:
The Gardener’s Magazine; The Gardener and Practical Florist; The Annals of Horticulture; The Gardener’s Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette; the Floricultural Cabinet and Florists Magazine; The Floral World and Garden Guide; The Naturalist; The Cottage Gardener and Country Gentleman’s Companion (from 1861 The Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentleman; The Gardener’s Weekly Magazine and Floricultural Cabinet; Gardening Illustrated; The Gardener; Garden-Work for Suburban, Town and Cottage Gardens; Chambers Edinburgh Journal; The Illustrated London News.