Victorian Gardens, Colonial Gardens, Medieval Gardens

Love of flowers and gardening reached a passionate peak in the early 1800’s in England. Queen Victoria came to the throne in  1837, and the mood of the times included a love of all things delicate and young and fresh. Flowers became an important part of the grand garden, and gardeners enthusiastically greeted new plants arriving from all over the world. Victorians were also passionately interested in scientific discoveries, and the art of flower hybridization was extremely popular.
With the rise of a new well-to-do middle class, the suburban garden was born. For the first time, businessmen worked in the city and lived in rural areas. Nicolette Scourse, in  The Victorians and Their Flowers, said that “the suburban garden was acknowledged as a means by which a person could obtain social credit via his obvious wealth and his ‘correct taste.’ ” The feasibility of a suburban garden was increased dramatically with the invention of the lawn mower in 1830. Lawns had formerly been cut with a hand scythe or cropped by sheep. With a lawn mower, however, it was possible for a member of the middle class to maintain a grassy area without the help of gardeners and yard men or a flock o sheep. Flower beds became a central point of the garden, and, “bedding out” was quite the rage. This was the practice of setting out greenhouse plants during the summer months to add color to the garden. Used by the thousands, these flowers were sometimes arranged in designs and patterns. Carpeting, the use of low-growing plants to add color, was also quite popular. Areas holding these floral carpets were sometimes sloped so that the viewer could better see the entire design. With the Victorian passion for intrigue and clandestine meetings, secret paths and hidden benches became favorite parts of the garden. Grottoes, bowers and ornate garden statuary completed the Victorian garden. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, “bedding out” went out of vogue, and long perennial borders inspired by cottage gardens of rural England became popular. Some of the flowers found in Victorian gardens were aster, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, Japanese iris, pincushion flower.
William Garden 3

Colonial Gardens:

Though separated by many centuries, colonial gardens and medieval gardens were similar in that they were both primarily utilitarian. Early settlers in the New World had little time or energy to put into planting gardens for pleasure. Their gardens were instead, an outgrowth of the needs of the colonists. Flowers grown were used for cooking, medicine, fragrance, and dyeing. There were really no typical colonial gardens, for each was based on the individual needs of a particular family. The plants in these gardens were grown from slips or seeds brought from the Old World, were given to the settlers by the Indians, or were transplanted from the surrounding woods and fields. An additional function of these early gardens was to remind the colonists of the homes they had left behind and to help lessen the homesickness they felt. Familiar flowers and herbs helped them feel more at home. although gardens in Europe during this period were becoming more open and casual, the colonists were carving a new civilization out of wilderness, and they desired the strict geometry of a formal garden. Rigidly laid-out walks and beds with neat hedges not only made them feel more civilized but also took less time to care for than freely formed spaces. There was a little organization as to placement of plants in these early American gardens. Vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers all generally grew in the same plots. The “best” flowers were sometimes grown near the door to show them off or give them extra protection. Useful herbs were planted close to the kitchen door, where they were easily accessible. Nearly all colonial gardens were surrounded by a fence. A picket fence was found to be the most useful, for it allowed good air circulation but kept animals out. Even the sharp points on the picket had a purpose: they discouraged roosting fowl. During the late colonial period, well-to-do gardeners planted landscapes imitating those popular in England. Broad sweeping lawns and manicured woods became a status symbol. Gardens planted in American cities at this time were very formal and were planted near the house so the family could enjoy both the beauty and the fragrance of the garden. Typically, these gardens consisted of eight square beds in the center with two wide borders parallel to the length of the fence. These beds would be separated by a series of gravel walks. Flowers found in colonial gardens included; calendula, Canterbury bells, day lily {yellow}, globe flower, grape hyacinth, hollyhock, honesty, Johnny-jump-up, larkspur, nasturtium, peony, pink, tansy, tulip, and yarrow.

Medieval Gardens:

Almost without exception, medieval gardens were based on strict geometrical shapes, usually squares or rectangles. They were always walled in or surrounded by thick hedges. Within these walls, there was usually a rather large square or rectangular “flowery mede filled with grass and a multitude of different flowers from the woods and fields. These were very similar to the meadow gardens that are so popular today. Both the word meadow and the word mede are from a root word meaning “mouth,” for the medes were kept mown by the mouths of sheep and other grazing animals. This medes are often shown on medieval tapestries. Other beds contained particular flowers or herbs for specific needs. These beds were raised above the normal soil level and were edged by planks. Rocks or stone pathways separated the different beds. Along the walls or between the beds were raised hillocks covered with turf, used for sitting on during dry weather. Some of the flowers included within medieval gardens were artemisia, autumn crocus, calendula, columbine, cornflower, crocus, English daisy, foxglove, hollyhock, iris, lavender, lily, lily of the valley, peony, poppy, primrose, rose, Saint John’s wort, scilla, vinca, and wallflower.