Victorian gardens: 1837-1901

The craze for plant collecting that took hold in the 19th century resulted in a return to a more formal garden style in which to display the latest plant introductions.

The Italian style terraces and balustrades made a welcome return to fashion by those who had tired of too much nature. Parterres were reintroduced, this time filled with the bright colours of exotic species reared in the new technologically advanced glasshouses. Towards the end of the 19th century an appreciation of a more natural garden was expressed, most famously by William Robinson who favoured native plants. This resulted in the fashion for woodland gardens and a return to informality.

Style at a glance:

  1. Plant collections gathered from all corners of the world
  2. Arboretums to display the collections of trees on a large scale
  3. Flower beds reappear in ever brighter colours
  4. Walled Kitchen Gardens benefit from advanced in technology to produce ever increasing ranges of fruit and vegetable
  5. Advances in glass house technology enabling the most tender of plants to be cultivated at home
  6. Rockeries become the craze as expeditions to mountainous regions increased
  7. Wild gardens increase in popularity as a backlash against the industrial world

Where to see Victorian gardens:

    Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire

    One of Britain’s most unusual high-Victorian gardens was created by James Bateman to house his collection of plants from around the world. It's made up of a series of connected ‘rooms’, devoted to different parts of the world - at Biddulph you can visit a Victorian vision of China with its bright red pavilion, the pyramids of Egypt and even a Himalayan glen.

    Bodnant, Conwy

    Begun in 1875 Bodnant is a spectacular garden situated above the river Conwy with dramatic views across to Snowdonia. On the upper level huge Italianate terraces and formal lawns give way to a wooded valley, stream and wild garden below. Don’t miss the impressive 55 metre laburnum tunnel of golden blooms that flower from May to June.

    Cragside, Northumberland

    One of Britain’s finest high-Victorian gardens is home to one of the largest rock gardens in Europe. The pinetum contains a fine collection of North American conifers and on the terraces is an orchard house, designed specifically for the cultivation of early fruit. The carpet beds, planted out for summer colour, confirms the gardens Victorian origins.

    Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire

    Gawthorpe has the distinction of a fine parterre designed by that most eminent Victorian architect Sir Charles Barry, while the stone and tiled urns were designed by that other giant of Victorian design A.W.N. Pugin. Woodland and riverside walks can also be enjoyed here.

    Hughenden, Buckinghamshire

    Set in a delightfully wooded valley, the high-Victorian garden that surround Disraeli’s house was the creation of his wife, Mary Anne, who also designed the vases that decorate the terrace. Formal bedding from the 1880s has been restored in the South Garden and there's an orchard with 35 varieties of old apples.

    Peckover House, Cambridgeshire

    This outstanding Victorian townhouse garden was originally home to a Quaker banking family. Of interest are several specimen trees include ginkgo, Chusan palm, a Tulip tree and the most Victorian tree of all, the monkey puzzle. There's also an orangery, a Victorian fernery, a croquet lawn and an elegant summer-house.

    Rowallane Garden, County Down

    This beautiful plantsman’s garden was laid out in the mid-19th century and features all types of gardening enjoyed by the Victorians including a large rock garden, semi-natural gardens, wild flowers and a formal walled garden. There's also a unique collection of conifers and an outstanding collection of acid-loving plants.

    Scotney Castle, Kent

    One of England’s most romantic gardens, Scotney was laid out by the Hussey family in the 1840s around the ruins of a 14th-century moated castle in an appropriate Picturesque style. Rhododendrons and azaleas flourish in the spring and in the summer the ruins are covered in roses and wisteria.

    Standen, Sussex

    This important Arts and Crafts house was laid out in the 1890s by the architect Philip Webb. The gardens are on several levels with spectacular views over the valley, and contain all the elements to be expected from a garden of this period, including a kitchen garden with some original fruit trees. The most impressive feature is the Quarry Garden which was created with the help of the famous rock garden specialists, the Backhouse nursery.

    Sunnycroft, Shropshire

    Sunnycroft is the place to go if you want to experience a late-Victorian villa garden. It has survived largely unaltered with an avenue of wellingtonia, a kitchen garden, meadow, conservatory, peach house, orchard, shrubbery, herbaceous and cut-flower beds and that most Victorian of all garden features, a croquet lawn.

    Tyntesfield, Somerset

    No expense was spared in the creation of Tyntesfield, where Italianate garden terraces contrast with the Victorian gothic revival house. The gardens are undergoing long term restoration enabling visitors and students to learn lost crafts in the process, and already the 19th-century orangery, at the heart of the kitchen garden, has been rescued from decay.

    Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

    You may be forgiven for thinking you're in France when you arrive at Waddesdon as it was built by the Rothschild banking family in the 1880s in the style of a French chateau. It remains one of the best high-Victorian gardens in Britain famous for its collection of specimen trees and its impressive formal parterres.