Comprehensive information about how to garden and landscape and a brief history of the British garden

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What is it about gardening that attracts people and why do people work so hard in their gardens? Gardening allows us to take control of nature in a small way and landscape our small part of the earth in to something tranquil, productive and attractive. And if something doesn’t work out, then you can start again and try new plants or ideas. It might not be for everyone, but almost everybody can recognise the beauty in a well laid out garden.

Laying garden paths in a variety of materials can give your garden a landscaped feel

Laying garden paths in a variety of materials can give your garden a landscaped feel

Why do people like gardening?

There are lots of reasons and it will depend on who you are why you want to garden. Here is a selection of the main reasons that people reach for a trowel to start gardening:

  1. Grow your own food; In a relatively recent survey by the University of Illinois discovered that the number one reason that people wanted to garden was so that they could grow safe and healthy food. You have complete control over what goes on your plants and you know the provenance of the fruit and veg that you produce.
  2. Building beauty; When you are gardening you are creating a beautiful environment and working with spectacular plants. Even if it a simple planter in a patio or a window box in a flat window you are adding colour, a touch of nature and making a focal point that the eye is drawn to. There are few things as satisfying as creating and then watching a garden grow and change through the seasons
  3. Gardening is good exercise; Gardening in a free “sport”, and provides excellent cardio and aerobic exercise. It requires lots of bending and stretching keeping people supple and calories are burnt – around 300 an hour for women and about 400 for men.
  4. A leaning experience – Not only will gardening exercise your body it is a great challenge for the mind also. The topic is so broad that there will be something to suit most people; for the more academic there are the Latin names and the biology of the plants and for the more artistic there is the challenging of matching colours and creating garden styles or themes. Gardening is also a wonderful place for children to start to learn about plants, agriculture and nature.
  5. Gardening is emotional; People also garden so that they can express their creativity, they can satisfy an emotional need for tranquillity and a distraction from every day life. It is also an opportunity to create an enduring legacy that will last and grow on, possibly for many generations.
  6. Get you outside; Gardening takes people outside and out of the house. It is a highly accessibly activity that almost anyone can get involved with at any stage of life and it takes no knowledge to start. You learn as you go and there are no rules – you can do whatever you like and experiment as much as you dare. It can be a social as you want to make it as there are lots of gardening clubs available. And if you don’t feeling getting too hands-on simply visiting someone else’s garden can give you huge pleasure. Have a look at the RHA website for some great suggestions.
  7. Getting close to nature; many people use their gardens to attract wildlife and encourage birds, insects and wild animals. It is relatively easy to add features and plants to your garden that will attract bird and butterflies. Have a look at our project for more information and ideas for attracting birds to your garden.

A Short history of the British Garden:

For many thousands of years man has attempted to tame nature and use the land to cultivate plants for his own use. Forest Gardening is the earliest form of this style dating back to prehistoric times. This approach was more for agricultural reasons, and soon by about 10,000 years ago out door spaces were being enclosed, although the purpose is not full understood. The history of the garden really begins with the Romans when they conquered Britain.

Roman gardens: Despite this long history we will take up the story of the British garden in roman times as this is thought to be one of the earliest times that gardens were planted here in Britian. There is a wonderful example of a roman garden at Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex. Romans gardens were formal and often planted with low box hedges. There would have been urns, statues and garden seating. They would also have had more open landscaped gardens and most villas will have had a kitchen garden which would have grown fruit and vegetables for the household.

When the Romans left, the warring Saxons were considered not keen gardeners and little is know about them.

Monastic Gardens: It was the monasteries in the middle ages that made the garden important to life in Britain once again. Gardens would be found all around monasteries and they would provide a tranquil environment for the monks as well as food for the monastery. They were typically small and enclosed with a well or fountain as the centre piece. Walk ways would be covered and seating would most likely be turfed and there would be mounds for resting on.

Later in the medieval period garden became common around castles and fortified manor houses. These were simpler and often just grass areas surrounded by hedges where games like tennis were played.

After the reformation, powerful land owners enclosed common land to create parks where they kept cattle and deer. More formal garden could be found near the house protected by walls and hedges.

Tudor Gardens: The Tudor garden followed the Italian style with formal gardens laid out in relatively strict proportions. Garden ornaments again came back into fashion and statures could be once again found in gardens. One of the best examples can be found in Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace, although it has not survived intact.

Tudor gardens great contribution is the knot garden. These are intricate patterns of lawns and typically box hedges. In between the hedges were flowers, herbs and shrubs. The idea that this sort of garden would be views from above, such from windows of the house.

Stuart Gardens: The Stuarts took the French style of garden and made the formal Italian Tudor gardens less formal. Chatsworth house in Derbyshire is an excellent example of this style, which is characterised by broad avenues sweeping away from the main house. These are often flanked by square parterres with formal low hedges.

By the 18th century William Kent had created a highly influential garden for Lord Burlington at Chiswick house. This style created vistas and follies in open parkland settings with statuesque trees and classical ornaments.

English Landscape Garden: Kent’s pupil and son-in-law, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown had a huge impact on the English garden and even architectural style. As the leading proponent of the English Landscape Garden he led the movement started by his farther-in-law for more rounded and natural features; out went the straight lines, rectangles and hedgerows and fences; in came a style for open parkland coming right up to the house. Great examples include Longleat and Blenheim Palace.

Victorian Gardens: The Victorians brought us the public garden and there are a large number of parks and green spaces created for public use during this period aimed at brining culture to everyone.

The style shifted back to one of masses flowers in beds which were brought on in greenhouses. Intricate designs and bright colours were fashionable. There were variations between the formal and the wild gardens, which could be imaginatively integrated in a single garden.

Modern Garden: This can be thought of as an extension of the traditional cottage garden. Flowers, shrubs and climbers are crammed into a boarder to make a profusion of colour and texture. The undisputed champion of this period is Gertrude Jekyll, and possibly the most influential gardener of her period. Her inspiration was to consider that the home and the garden were a whole to be designed as one, rather than the garden and interesting after thought.

Gardening can be a very rewarding pass time and there is a long history and heritage in this country to draw garden ideas and inspiration. The reasons why we garden are almost as varied as the history of gardening, but we hope you find everything you need to know to help you on your way in this our gardening and landscaping section.