Gardens through the Ages

In today's society, a garden is a staple for many and wishful thinking for others.

For many of us, life without a garden would be difficult to endure. Now that I have a garden of my own, I can fully appreciate and understand why they are so sought after and why they can often make or break a decision to relocate.

Gardens have been an important feature for decades, although they have not always been a common entity for home and land owners. I have gone back in time to see where the concept of a modern day garden has come from and how their function has changed throughout each new era:

The Roman Garden:

The earliest English gardens that we know of were constructed during the 1st century AD when the Roman army conquered Britain. Gardens and large outdoor spaces would have been prevalent in rich Roman villas and palaces, where neat straight lines were the core design feature, hence the popular usage of low box hedging to create boundaries and borders. Sculptures and art were also key design implementations, seamlessly merging the outdoors with the indoors.

(Credit – and

During this period, outside spaces were dedicated to kitchen gardens, a vital source to feed a hungry household. Fruits and vegetables would have been grown in abundance with orchards and vineyards in succession too. They would have been fully functioning and elaborate (if you were wealthy!).

The Anglo Saxon Garden:

Generally, Anglo Saxon gardens catered for multiple purposes. They would have been used as a place where spiritual prayer and acts took place, alongside growing food for the home and herbs for medicinal remedies. 


Gardens were less likely used as a place of tranquility and relaxation and more for practicality.
The grandeur box hedging and sculptures introduced by the Romans were forgotten and a more rugged style adopted in its place.

The Middle Ages:

The Middle Ages brought about a change for gardens in British society. Monasteries and manor houses maintained the use of a kitchen and herb garden to provide both food and medicine for the monks and the local community.

However, during this time, certain elements were re-introduced from the Roman period, recycling design ideas from a bygone time and relishing in new-found prosperity. Open, green spaces were surrounded by hedging or walls and the concept of a courtyard garden was born within castles and forts, with raised flower beds filled with powerfully scented herbs and blooms. Gardens were beginning to take shape as a place of escapism and not solely for practicality.

The Tudor Period:

Tudor gardens were much influenced by the style and fashions that were rife on the continent, with a key focus centered on the romantic and luxuriant designs from Italy. Architectural features such as fountains and banqueting houses were introduced along with statues and sculptures.

Gardens were increasingly being used as a tool in which to depict a person's wealth and lifestyle and were vital when hosting social gatherings. Mythological ornaments were widely used and knot gardens of interlacing patterns were a key implementation, filled with sensual herbs and gorgeous, elaborate blooms.

Quintessential garden games emerged during this time with activities such as bowls and tennis. It was during this period where a garden was used as part of social congregation.

The necessity of a kitchen garden was still commonplace, although areas were now specifically designed to enjoy time spent with relatives and guests.

Georgian Period:

Many gardens we visit today have been inspired by the Georgian style with the use of grottos, lakes and temples.

There was a distinct vision for gardens to look more like a landscaped park with pathways that meandered through varying settings such as shrubberies, past lake sides, over bridges and through ornate structures and architectural buildings.

Victorian Period:

The Victorian period was a time where plant discovery was a popular trend and where a formal collaboration of planting was on display. Italian culture and design proved a continual inspiration to British gardens.

Terraces, balconies and greenhouses were popular features within a modern Victorian garden, where advances in glass house technology enabled people to grow tender plants for the first time at home. 

Focus was evident for exotic planting with new breeds being brought over from the continent and beyond. Wealthy households would fight to source the rarest and most unique blooms, to act as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. The Victorian period also saw the introduction of Arboretums - a place where a collection of trees could be showcased on a grand scale. 

Wild flower gardens and meadows were also on trend to rebel against the developing industrial environment.

20th Century Gardens:

As we all know, the 20th century saw immense cultural and social change.

I believe that there has been no greater change seen in a century. The early part of the 20th century saw the Arts and Crafts movement which was heavily stimulated by the writings of John Ruskin and William Morris. The design concept featured neat, straight lines with perfectly clipped hedging. Topiary and garlands of climbing plants were at their prime with blooms tumbling over archways, walls and pergolas. It was a romantic period which was to end too soon.

Two world wars devastated the country and left many grand country houses in disrepair. As a poignant mark of solidarity and positivity, colour saturated gardens were a popular theme across the country to boost morale. Gardens became increasingly ornamental and low maintenance, becoming less of status symbol but more a method of motivation. People would gather in their front gardens to socialise and it became a safe place for children to play. The back gardens were used for both practical function and privacy. It was a place to store household waste and to wash and dry clothing with some space dedicated for relaxation.

Credit: from the original 'My Brighton' Exhibit

The 60's and 70's saw an injection of green spaces. Family was the most important aspect in one's life and back gardens became a place where family and friends were brought together - the idea of building a suburban dream after the hardships of the war. These decades saw a craze for grasses and conifers with less focus on voluptuous trailing blooms and perfectly trimmed and clipped hedges.


As the century drew to a close, garden styles became more relaxed. Low maintenance gardens became popular for those with busy work/home schedules. Prairie planting and wildlife meadows increased in popularity and kitchen gardens re-kindled their importance for those who wished for self-sufficiency.

21st Century Gardens:

This century is still very young and we will encounter much change in our garden designs, ideas and function. It has been said that people in today's society will absorb and learn more information in one day than what the average person learnt in a lifetime during the 16th and 17th century. With this bombardment and desire for information, comes the need for solitude and escapism. 

We are all turning to our gardens to seek this. 21st century gardens do not follow rules or trends but have become part of the household, reflecting individual taste. Some gardeners will look to the history books to re-capture styles of the past. Some will look for an environmental haven where recycling and up-cycling are key design concepts. Some will seek a sustainable and ethical way of gardening. Whatever your style or motive behind your design, I hope that we can all agree that we use this space to unwind and retreat from an often intense and hectic lifestyle.


It has been fascinating to undertake the research for this week's blog. On my mission for information, I came across a Monty Don documentary on You tube : 'The Secret History of the British Garden'. I will certainly take some time to catch up on this. I hope you find this of interest too!

Have you noticed a historic influence in your own garden? Do you have a favourite period or style?
I would love to know!


  1. Hi Becky...More than interesting this week! By reading your blog it is fully understandable how and why gardening has developed into the various types and styles over the years and helped to form the individual landscapes of some of the Country's and in fact World's iconic gardens today..i.e. Italian formal gardens, topiary gardens, Capability Brown landscapes etc...something to suit all said before 'who said gardening is boring?'Rest my case!

  2. Hello! It was absolutely fascinating looking back over the ages! I could have written paragraph after paragraph but thought I ought to stop somewhere. As you say, gardening is far from boring. If only the landscapes could talk...


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