Origins: Whenever a new king or queen ascends England’s throne, it usually means more than a new face on the banknotes. It’s also an excuse for architects to dust off the drafting tables. During Queen Victoria’s long reign, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. The motto seemed to be “Let no surface go unadorned,” which carried through to landscaping styles as well.
Characteristics: Victorians loved detail and ornamentation; the fussier the house façade, the better. Excess was a sign of progress: Why have one turret when you could have two? Patterns, rich colour, exotic materials and an abundance of fancy trim around porches, windows and rooflines were revered.
Design: The first automatic lawn mower was developed around 1830, making lawns a focal point. “Suddenly everyone from maid to minister could have their own miniature green sward with minimal labor, and lawns sprang up everywhere as the ultimate status symbol of the Victorian garden,” writes Weishan. A typical urban Victorian back garden consisted of a central lawn surrounded by flower borders, with a rockery at the back and two oval island beds in diagonal corners, all surrounded by a brick wall. An intricately designed carpet bed in the front garden displayed the latest hybrid annuals, bulbs and tender perennials. (These precise patterns of flowers were called carpet beds because their patterns resembled the ornate carpets in the Victorians’ parlours.) A less labour-intensive substitute is a ribbon bed of tightly planted annuals, which was also popular at the time. Victorians liked their flower colours strong and contrasting.
Surface materials: Clay bricks set on an angle, in a diamond pattern or something equally ornate are appropriate for a front walkway or terrace. Gravel or pea gravel would not be out of place for more utilitarian areas.
Structures: Broad steps and spacious front porches gave hoop-skirted women room to manoeuvre; today, they offer plenty of room for a cluster of containers filled with bright annuals. Vertical structures for climbers, such as iron pillars, chains and arches, were also popular. Fences were made from intricate cast or wrought iron with curlicues and embellishments that echoed the fancy trimmings on the house.
Finishing touches: A gazing globe on a pedestal with concentric circles of contrasting annuals planted at its base would do Queen Victoria proud. Edge flower beds with clay tiles or low iron fences.
Plants: Those with a weeping or cascading habit and foliage that was an unusual colour or variegated were highly prized. Victorians were especially taken with coleus and fuchsias, and most homes, regardless of size, had a rose garden.