Victorian Gardens

WhereGreat Broughton Village HallType of EventIllustrated Talk
WhenMonday 23rd May at 7.30pmTutor Marilyn Elm


Marilyn Elm, well known lecturer, writer, television and radio broadcaster, named her talk “The Eclectic Victorian Garden”. The Victorian gardeners derived ideas, style and taste from a broad range of sources.

Railways, the rise of the middle class, and success in war (Waterloo, Trafalgar) all made it easier to collect exotica from around the world. Marilyn mentioned several plant collectors, or their sponsors. Some such as Captain Cook and his botanist, Joseph Banks, and Archibald Menzies (monkey puzzle tree) were pre-Victorian. Others such as David Douglas (Douglas pine), George Forrest (rhododendrons), were scouring the Americas and Indo-China. Empress Josephine had a magnificent garden at Malmaison near Paris (tea rose) and wasn’t averse to disrupting Napoleon’s campaign if delivery of her precious tea rose specimens was threatened. These collections had to be transported long distances as seeds, or as plants using Wardian or Warrington cases (like mini frames).

Once back in Britain, the collections had to be nurtured and propagated before planting. Technical advances led to the building of large glass houses by Joseph Paxton (Chatsworth House, Crystal Palace), John Loudon (Bretton Hall in the Yorkshire sculpture park) and the Palm House at Kew. Heating systems and watering systems were also developed.

Another innovation Marilyn illustrated was the mowing machine invented by EB Budding, looking very like the push mowers still available. Arboretums, a term coined by Loudon, flourished.

Exotica was also an influence on garden style; specimen planting to display the plant’s importance, rockeries and ferneries copying on a smaller scale the terrain of the plant’s origin. The Italianate style became very fashionable with parterres of mass bedding. Marilyn gave an explanation of house “classes” in Victorian times (1st class was a detached house with more than 50 acres!) with an example of 4th class (terraced house) that followed the geometric fashion, but might have a monkey puzzle tree in the front garden as the exotic equivalent of a Porsche! Portable but huge flower baskets were also used either in beds or alone.

There are still typical Victorian gardens to visit (Cragside and the restored Biddulph Grange in Staffs), but towards the end of the 19th century there was a renewed interest in more naturalistic, cottage style gardens with traditional plants. Marilyn mentioned the Ancient Society of York Florists, the oldest horticultural society in the world, organising flower shows long before Chelsea.

Altogether a most interesting talk and some wonderful photographs

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