History of English gardens and gardening

History of English gardens and gardening

January is generally a quiet month for gardeners so it is a good time to sit back and relax, and perhaps contemplate any changes you might want to make once the weather is better.

Gardening in England has gone through many “fashion” changes over the centuries so here is a little bit of history to perhaps give you some inspiration.

The earliest examples of gardens that we know of were around the Roman villas in the 1st Century AD. They were generally symmetrical and formally laid out, with low box hedges punctuated by niches to contain ornaments such as statues and urns, or garden seats.

There is little evidence of gardening in Anglo Saxon England, probably because life was too uncertain and warlike.

However, gardens did play a large part in the Medieval monastery. Generally, they were required to be productive, so there would be a walled garden for herbs used in both food and medicine and for growing vegetables, plus an orchard for fruit. The cloister provided an open green space surrounded by covered walks, generally with a well, or fountain at the centre.

There would also have been small, enclosed courtyard gardens in castles, with paths through raised flower beds and turfed areas for sitting.

Manor house gardens were mostly a simple green space surrounded by hedges or fences, used for games such as bowls.

It was in Tudor times that a distinctive garden design emerged, the Italian-inspired formal Knot Garden. Knots were intricate patterns of lawn hedges, usually of box, intended to be viewed from the mount, or raised walks. The spaces between the hedges were often filled with flowers, shrubs, or herbs.

By the Stuart era, the fashion in garden design had changed again, this time to the French fashion for formal gardens, featuring a broad avenue sweeping away from the house, flanked by rectangular parterres made of rigidly formal low hedges.

The 18th Century ushered in a complete change of taste towards landscaped and unstructured vistas, with curved paths, lakes, trees in clusters and open, like a park joining the house to the outside world rather than a carefully nurtured refuge from it.

This was the era of some of the country’s the famous gardeners, including William Kent and Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

It was in the Victorian era that the gardens began to be planted with flowerbeds filled with colourful and often exotic blooms. This was a period that also saw the development of public gardens and green spaces.

By the 20th Century, many more people lived in houses surrounded by land fenced off or with hedges marking their limits and the English love affair with gardening developed to its full. One of the most influential garden designers was Gertrude Jekyll, who popularised the herbaceous border and planning a garden based on colour schemes. This built on the tradition of the “Cottage garden”, with its profusion of flowers wherever space permits, and climbers on trellises and walls.

Work in the garden in January

This month is generally for completing any tidying up not completed in December.  Weather permitting, it may be possible to plant your bare root roses but it is also an ideal time to do a winter wash.

This involves adding 10 Millilitres of Jeyes Fluid to 5 litres of water (normal watering can size) and using it to soak your rose bushes and the ground around them to kill off any black spot spores which are lurking in the soil.  Spores left can reinfect plants next spring and summer.

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