Melbourne is renowned for its iconic Victorian houses. Whether it’s a terrace, semi-detached or a standalone, these houses are what give our streets their quintessentially Melbourne feel.
The Victorian era didn’t just leave us with a legacy of houses however. This was the time when gardening became accessible for the ever-growing middle class and became the pass time of the masses. Furthermore, there was an ever-expanding number of technologies and new plant varieties for Victorian gardeners to employ. This was all seen as man’s effort to rule over nature and bend it to their will. This resulted in a number of classic elements that are iconic of the Victorian ear.
In this post we will look at some of the ideas behind a classic Victorian garden and highlight plants that you can use today in your modern Victorian garden.
There were 3 main uses for Trees in the Victorian era. Firstly, they were used to shade key parts of the house and to provide a degree of privacy.
Secondly, they were used to frame key features of the property. This could be the entrance to the property, like a path or driveway, or the house itself. This latter use is very common to see through out the streets of Melbourne. Symmetry played a key role in the design of gardens, both large and small. It played into a sense of order and control that the Victorian gardener endeavored to achieve.
Thirdly was the use of smaller, more colourful trees as a feature. Weeping trees were very popular for their unique form and compact size. Coloured foliage was also a favourite of the Victorians for providing seasonal interest.
With the increased amount of leisure time that the middle class were able to enjoy, the use of shrubs as hedges saw a massive upswing in the 19th century. They were used to define borders and paths, as well as to hide unsightly necessities of urban dwelling. Furthermore, long stretches of neatly clipped hedges reinforced the notion of man’s control over nature. Standards also became common in pots or standing above garden beds.
The Victorians were also avid plant collectors. Rose gardens were common, and with new plant varieties being made available, Victorians were spoilt for choice.
There were 2 very distinct styles of garden beds in the 19th century; carpet beds and herbaceous borders.
Carpet bedding was the use of masses of plants grown to the same height in patterns or motifs. These were perhaps most iconic in parks and sprawling gardens where intricate motifs could be developed. However, for a gardener aiming for a formal garden, these ideas were transferable to the home garden.
Herbaceous borders, most commonly associated with the cottage garden, was the practice of arranging plants in the garden bed so as to allow them to grow to their full potential, whilst maintaining a degree of order. Plants were arranged so as to have the shortest growing at the foreground of the bed, and then arranged in ascending order so that the end result is a bed with a gentle slope, all enclosed within a hedged border.
Climbers also came into their own, being used over pergolas, rotundas and verandahs; climbing roses were a particular favourite.
Urns, statues, bird baths, arbors, arches, ponds and water features were the icing on the cake for the Victorian garden. 2 urns could be placed either side of a door way to give a grand entrance. Bird baths placed on a paved area in the lawn. Seats situated under trees were used to coax visitors into the garden and to position them to view the garden from the best angle. Arches guided visitors along the path, framed a vignette and gave a structure for prized climbers to grow up.
In today’s modern gardens, Victorian gardening principles are still used to great effect. However, the modern gardener often enjoys a simplified and easier to manage take on Victorian ideals. Hedges can be looser and garden beds planted en mass are favoured over mixed beds. And there is no reason why you can’t mix things up with plant selections. The key is to create something reminiscent of a Victorian garden, rather than a replica.
Our top picks for plants for a Victorian Home:
Pittosporum Miss Muffett
Port wine Magnolia
Loropetalum China Pink
Liriope Munroe white
Acer Crimson Sentry