Nineteenth Century Gardens

The Victorian era was a time of social change, scientific discovery and technological innovation, all of which had an impact on gardens and gardening.

The introduction of plate glass and cast iron allowed prefabricated glasshouses to be marketed to the masses, widening the scope of the suburban gardener and facilitating the creation of elaborate conservatories to display exotic plants. The lawn became a distinctive feature of suburbia due to the invention of the lawnmower, replacing the labour-intensive scythe to cut grass.

Many gardening magazines and books were published in the Victorian era, sharing gardening advice, promoting tools and gadgets, providing a forum for discussion, advertising products and services, and providing detailed descriptions of gardens.

The new species of plants being introduced from abroad by plant hunters and nurseries prompted the creation of arboreta on large estates and fuelled the craze for orchid, alpine, rhododendron and fern collecting. The availability of brightly-coloured bedding plants inspired a new style of Italian Garden, where terraces filled with bedding were used to display wealth and taste. On a more modest scale, bedding was a fashionable feature of suburban villa gardens and was used extensively to create colourful displays in the new public parks.

Alexandra Park in Hastings was opened in 1882 by the Prince and Princess of Wales and was designed by Robert Marnock. Many of the original Victorian features of the park, including paths, garden buildings, railings and plantings have recently been restored.

Alexandra Park Hastings strip Small w650
Alexandra Park, Hastings


Originally a private garden, laid out from 1880 by Sir Francis Montefiore, Worth Park in Crawley became a public park in the 1960s. The gardens retain many original Victorian features, including rockwork and a fountain designed by James Pulham & Son. Crawley Borough Council has been awarded a grant of £2.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and The Big Lottery Fund to restore Worth Park to its former Victorian glory - work started in Nov 2012 - see work under way on this video clip filmed and produced by Central Sussex College media students Azar Khan and Charli Tamplin Work starts on Worth Park restoration - it will be interesting to watch how the restoration proceeds over the next few years. If you are interested in finding our more about Worth Park contact Worth Park Friends (e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Worth Park strip Medium w650
Worth Park, Crawley


The Victorians created cemeteries within designed landscapes where funerary monuments and cemetery chapels were linked by serpentine paths and ornamented with specimen trees. Woodvale Cemetery  in Brighton, opened in 1857 as a response to the rapidly increasing population of the town, retains its original layout and buildings.

Woodvale Cemetery Brighton strip w650
Woodvale Cemetery, Brighton


As a reaction to the formality and exuberance of bedding, towards the end of the nineteenth century Arts and Crafts ideals were embraced. The style is represented in the collaborative work of Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens, who produced houses and gardens made with local materials in harmony with the landscape, reviving cottage garden plants and traditional building methods. The Lutyens-designed house at Barton St Mary near East Grinstead has a garden designed by Jekyll and originally featured a long double herbaceous border, a characteristic element of Jekyll's style for which she was renowned for her skill in the blending of colours.

The garden at Standen, created alongside the house designed by Philip Webb in the 1890s, embodies the Arts and Crafts style. House and garden were conceived as a single entity, with the flowers of the garden mirrored in the Morris & Co textiles furnishing the house.

Standen strip w650
Standen, East Grinstead (© NT/John Miller/Rupert Truman)


In 1870, William Robinson published his book, The Wild Garden, in which he proposed a new style of gardening in contrast to the artificiality and formality of Victorian gardens. The book prompted a revolution in garden style, and a return to informality, advocating the embellishment of natural woodland and naturalised planting, situating plants in areas where they would flourish without the need for intervention. In Robinson's own garden at Gravetye Manor, spring flowers naturally die back and are replaced by summer-flowering plants and wildflower meadows replace lawns to add colour and reduce maintenance, while the woodlands are embellished by colourful rhododendrons and other hardy plants from abroad.

Gravetye strip w650
Gravetye Manor, West Hoathly