Walking down the bustling streets of London, it’s hard to find somewhere to take time out for yourself. However, thanks to the Victorians, London is filled with scenic garden squares, ideal for those who want to enjoy a peaceful lunch or take a break from city life.
The Victorian era is more commonly known for the Industrial Revolution. However, it was also a time where popularity and interest in gardening grew. For the first time, authorities made a conscious effort to provide the public with scenic areas, in hope it would help decrease drunkenness and improve the manners of the lower classes.
How are the Gardens used today?
One of the most well known of gardens, Victoria Square is visited immensely day in and day out, but during the London Olympics the Victorian garden square will become a Mecca for sports fans. The popular east London public square will host live screening of the sporting action and many other special events to celebrate the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Victoria Square, designed by Matthew Wyatt during 1837-39 was landscaped as part of the C19th development of the Grosvenor Estate land in Belgravia and was originally an unpaved open space. However, today it boasts a formal and symmetrical layout, featuring raised beds, paving and seating, with a Catalpa tree planted at either end of the square. You will also discover a Catherine Laugel bronze statue of the young Queen Victoria, portraying the Queen at the age she would have been when the square was first laid out.
You can visit examples of these Victorian London squares at Bloomsbury, Belgravia, Pimlico, Brompton, Kensington, Notting Hill, and Cadogan Place.
The Red Cross Victorian Garden
Red Cross Garden in Southwark boats a compelling story of its creation in the Victorian era. Incepted as an open air lounge for the children of the tenements to play in, the Red Cross Garden has been restored to the original layout of this delightful Victorian garden. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery funding of £514,500 and the work of local residents, businesses, and historians, Red Cross Garden has become a Victorian haven once again. The pond with its rustic bridge, new flower beds, lawns and benches have been recreated and a new small information centre and gardener’s office has been constructed. Originally laid out in 1888 on the site of a derelict paper factory by Octavia Hill (1838-1912), a founder of The National Trust, the Garden set the scene for the annual Southwark Flower Show and many fêtes and concerts in its heyday.
History behind the Gardens
During the 1830s and 1840s, John Claudius Loudon designed many public parks including Great Tew, Derby Arboretum and Birmingham Botanical Gardens & Glasshouses. Following the latest fashions and themes, intricate bedding schemes and patterns were popular, which prompted Loudon to use more broad-leaved trees and plants in place of evergreens.
In 1830 manicure lawns were all the rage thanks to Edwin Beard Budding’s new lawnmower invention, which was designed as an alternative to the common scythe and primarily used to cut the lawns of sports grounds and extensive gardens. Ostentatious features were also desired by the public, especially once the monkey puzzle became the ‘must have’ plant of Victorian society in 1795.
Low box hedging was also extremely popular in Victorian Square Gardens and was often used to surround colourful and contrasting flower beds. To show off the gardener’s talents, the gardens would also showcase geraniums and lobelia, which varied from season to season.
In the 1830s intricate patterns of bedding plants became fashionable through the continuous introduction of tender flowering plants from places such as South Africa and Mexico. Rose’s, chrysanthemum’s and dahlia’s popularity exploded with many gardeners creating hybrids. By 1840 there were more than 500 cultivars of dahlias.
There are many influences we have taken from the Victorian way of gardening, creating living spaces outside so we can enjoy the scenery whilst sitting comfortable on a bench is just one. However, the most prominent of influences comes in the form of raised beds and our intrigue with creating new hybrids and discovering foreign plant species.
If the Victorians were not inventing or gardening, they were writing. Gardeners, such as Loudon and other enthusiasts took to books and magazines to share their interest, advice and experiences so others could benefit. This is something that has continued and evolved to this day, with many sharing their experiences on blogs as well as in magazines and books.
Mr McGregor is a guest writer for popular gardening centre, Notcutts who specialise in all things horticulture. At https://www.notcutts.co.uk gardeners can follow the much loved character as he experiences trials and tribulations, sharing his enthusiasm and love for the horticultural world.