The Mid-Victorian Garden
by Ted Howell
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,
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
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 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
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.
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
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