The History of Gardening and Garden Design – Part 2

Part 2 of our blog exploring the history of gardening and garden design.

In the previous blog we looked at the origins of horticulture with our earliest agricultural ancestors selecting and growing food crops to survive. “Garden design” was born when elite ancient Egyptians began to use plants to create aesthetically pleasing spaces for leisure and relaxation.

Having a garden and gardening remained exclusive to the very richest in society until the mid-19th century.

During the 1800’s there was a surge in plant collecting from far flung lands, bringing in an abundance of new species of all colours, shapes and sizes. The need to provide the right growing conditions for plants from warmer climes, drove the development of greenhouses.

New plants were initially kept in botanical collections, but stocks were bolstered by advancements in propagation techniques. There was a resurgence in the popularity of formal designs using geometric shapes to display various exotic species in blocks of colours. At this time, walled kitchen gardens were a must have for any notable land owner and this era saw an influx of new fruit and veg that could be grown in these protective environments.

walled garden

As the century went on, improvements in architect meant that new homes were being built with modest gardens and yards, and after years of propagation, plants became more readily available to buy. Gardening was now starting to become accessible to the professional classes. Common working people however, would not have had the time or the expendable income to have a garden. If they were fortunate and industrious they may of used a patch of ground to grow veg.

vegetable garden

During the latter part of the 1800’s, gardening was becoming a very British past time, and with the introduction of workers’ rights, including the right to time off work, the average person had the opportunity to brighten up their yard with something of purely aesthetic interest.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the classic “cottage garden” started to become common place. Ordinary gardens were planted with a mixture of medicinal, edible and ornamental plants in an informal style, providing food, medicine and beauty.

velvet border

This style of planting inspired the influential garden designer Gertrude Jekyll to develop the mixed herbaceous border. Her designs included large beds filled with colourful combinations of shrubs, roses, herbaceous perennials, annuals and bulbs, creating gardens with a natural, informal feel. She pioneered these garden design ideas from 1881 onwards, designing some 400 gardens, before her death in 1932.

Next time we will look at garden developments through the 20th and 21st century.