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The History of Gardens

Gardens are generally considered to be planned outside spaces using plants to make a pleasing display or to cultivate certain plants for enjoyment. We tend to think of gardens as something modern, a place to barbeque or relax and enjoy the outside while we’re at home, but gardens have a long history.

The Earliest Gardens

Although there are some indications from ancient art that there were gardens dating back to ancient times, the earliest gardens in the UK that we know of existed in the first century and were planted by the Romans who conquered Britain at this time. An example of Roman gardens exists in Fishbourne Roman Palace, a heritage site in Sussex. It is best known for its extensive examples of Roman mosaics, but also has a restored Roman garden which showcases plant varieties that were known to exist in Roman times.

Gardens in the Middle Ages

Between Roman times and the Middle Ages gardens were not considered particularly necessary. During the Middle Ages however gardens once again became important. Monastic gardens provided food and medicine for monks and local communities and together with manor houses these imposed the garden style of this period.

Gardens during this period were often enclosed with quickthorn hedges or wattle fences, with raised flower and herb beds. Trellis walkways and arbours provided shade and privacy and turf seats and mounds provided places to sit. Water features such as fish ponds and fountains also often featured. Examples of this style of garden exist in Alfriston Clergy House in East Sussex and Buckland Abbey in Devon.

Gardens in Tudor Times

Tudor gardens were influenced by Italian garden design, which manifested in more regular design that reflected the relationship between the garden and house façade. Knot gardens are the most recognised feature of gardens of this time. These consisted of lawn hedges in intricate patterns that could be viewed from raised walks or mounts and which were often filled with flowers, herbs and shrubs in the spaces in between.

Sundials and statues also became popular again for the first time since the Romans and deer parks were the ultimate status symbol. Examples of the Tudor garden style can be seen in Godolphin in Cornwall and Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire.

Gardens in Stuart Times

Gardens from this era are heavily influenced by the French taste for formal gardens. This usually consisted of a broad avenue sweeping away from the house with rectangular spaces made of rigidly formal low hedges down each side. These parterres began to evolve from and eventually replaced the Tudor knots. There was also significant Dutch influence at this time. Examples of Stuart gardens can be seen in Blickling Estate in Norfolk and Ham House in London.

Gardens in Georgian Times

During the eighteenth century, garden fashions changed away from the formal styles and began to adopt a more natural look. Curves replaced straight lines, with wantering paths and grass instead of parterres. Ponds and lakes were round instead of rectangular and trees clustered together instead of being planted in rigid lines. Georgian gardens were more informal and open and the landscaped garden united the English country house with the surrounding fields and farmland. Claremont Landscape Garden in Surrey is a good example of this style.

Gardens in Victorian Times

The Victorian era gave rise to a large number of public gardens and green spaces, with some of the best examples of this period being public parks, such as People’s Park in Halifax. The most significant features of gardens of this time were bright colours, bedded plants, rockeries and plant collections from around the globe.

Modern Gardens

Gardens from the twentieth century onwards have adopted a mixture of styles, but noticeable features are the herbaceous border and gardens that are based on colour schemes.

There are examples of modern formal gardens around the country, but one thing that stands out about modern gardens is that a large proportion of people in the UK have their own. Whether your garden is large or small, formal or informal, mostly flowers and beds or a well kept lawn, your garden reflects your own taste and styles just as the gardens from history reflected the tastes and styles of the people from those times.


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