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by Ted Howell
The Mid-Victorian Garden
For much of the Victorian period the ‘Gardenesque’, a style conceived and promoted by the landscape designer, theorist and prolific author, John Claudius Loudon, dominated gardens.

Loudon described the Gardenesque as:

‘The production of that kind of scenery which is best calculated to display the individual beauty of trees, shrubs and plants in a state of culture; the smoothness and greenness of lawns, and the smooth surface, curved directions, dryness and firmness of gravel walks’. He goes on to suggest that ‘a garden is a work of art and a scene of cultivation, every plant or tree placed as never to be placed there by nature or accident or as to prevent the practices of cultivation being applied to it’.

- J.C.Loudon, The Villa Gardener, 1850.

Loundon preached a garden philosophy based upon three axioms: The garden is Art not Nature (a venerable and continuing debate in garden and landscape design); individual plants were to grown to produce their ‘perfect’ form and, perhaps most significantly for the future of domestic horticulture, a garden is a place where the art and practice of gardening could be easily carried out (Loudon was a great popularist, producing, editing and contributing to the first regular garden publication, his Gardener’s Magazine, a quarterly journal appearing in 1826).

Gardenesque landscapes tended towards lawns dotted with ‘specimen’ trees and shrubs often set in small circular, or oval beds filled with seasonal plants such as polyanthus, viola and carnations. With advances in plant breeding and glasshouse technology, the Gardenesque readily adopted the new fashion for ‘bedding out’ to produce seasonal displays best typified today by the Local Authority gardens in our seaside resorts.

As gardens were Art and not Nature, so called ‘monstrous’ forms were to be preferred – fastigiate or weeping trees, plumed and tessellated ferns, the cultivated Snowball bush (Viburnum opulus Sterile) over the wild Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus).
Gardens were also ‘convenient’. Wide, firm gavel walks allowed the owner and gardener to move around easily in all weathers. Plants were well spaced and accessible to cultivation while the small beds at the foot of specimen trees and shrubs made mowing easier (the mechanical lawn mower was introduced in 1832)

In overall design, the Gardenesque garden was eclectic. Formal and informal elements where combined to produce ‘themed’ gardens such as ‘Italianate’ and ‘Egyptian’. Loudon’s Hints on the formation of Gardens and Pleasure Grounds (1812) was the first book to produce a range of designs suitable for the ‘small’ garden of one acre or less.

The mid –Victorian garden at Friars Lawn is shown in some detail on 25 inches to the mile Ordnance Survey maps of the period (Middx. 15/14 1865 and Middx. 15/15 1st. Ed.). Unfortunately the property has been split, north-south between two maps that were penned by different cartographers! As a result, the detail displayed varies between maps. Thus the more easterly map (15/15) shows the line of garden paths that disappear off the left hand edge of the map, never to re-appear on it’s westerly continuation (15/14).

Nevertheless, I have merged the two maps to produce a hypothetical plan for the garden in the mid-1860s. My reconstruction is conservative in that I have only added or extended such elements as are essential to the proper functioning of a real garden.

The garden is divided into rectilinear plots by broad paths, which, at this period, would most likely have been of gravel, wetted and rolled on a daily basis by the garden boy. Within the plots defined by these paths are shown shrubs or small trees.

The garden is divided east west by a wall, which corresponds with the present day change in level (note Jennifer Selfridge Macleod’s comments below). The right hand path crosses this division and branches into the garden beyond.

There are no indications of beds around the shrubs (these can be seen, for example, in the gardens of Norwood Lodge) nor are any borders shown other than those defined by the paths (there is no sign of Jennifer’s ‘ flowerbed and flag stone walk’ described below).

My interpretation of the plan is of a garden laid down to lawns and specimen shrubs. The change in level was marked by a rustic stonewall about 60 to 75 centimetres high, much as it stands today, which was skirted to the right by the main longitudinal path. Along the right hand, southwest facing, boundary wall ran a long, wide border. This favoured aspect would have likely sheltered trained fruit – pears, sweet cherries, peach and apricots – and possibly smaller flowering shrubs, such lavender and rock rose (Cistus), roses, hardy perennials and bulbs. It may even have provided room for the new craze for bedding out the latest novelties from a burgeoning local nursery industry.

An alternative reconstruction is a garden geared to food production. The decorative shrubs become trained fruit trees and the flower border and lawns are space to grow vegetables, soft fruit and herbs. It must be noted that, with one exception, the area occupied by each of the ‘trees’ is fairly regular, which is consistent with the idea of planting for production. However, it is also in line with the Gardenesque ideal of the perfectly displayed specimen tree or shrub.

The 1865 maps show no details of the front garden. However, the 1894 edition does show a straight path leading directly from the front gates to the front steps (see below: Jennifer Selfridge Macleod’’... There was a flag stone walk to the front steps, surrounded by a small lawn).

Some additional information may be gleaned from a series of late Victorian postcards that show the front of the property. In two winter views across Norwood Green the front garden of Friars Lawn appears filled with mostly evergreen shrubs. On the extreme left of the facade, where it joins The Grange, a leafy climber (possibly a rambling rose, many of which are fully or partially evergreen) is seen scrambling up to the first floor windows. Evidence from later photographs and descriptions, would indicate that the shrubs were restricted to a border behind the front wall, with the rest of the garden being open.  



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