Elements of a Victorian Garden
Victorians loved their flowers. Even if your home is not in the typical Victorian style, you can still incorporate Victorian elements such as painted wrap-around porches, symmetrical flowerbeds, and ornate woodworking. Whatever your budget, there are plenty of ways to demonstrate this romantic era in your yard, whether you live in a simple cottage or bungalow, or even a two story clapboard farm house. You don't have to reside in a formal "painted lady" to live with Victorian sensibilities.
When one thinks of the Victorian Age, "abundance" generally comes to mind. Victorian homes were ornate and full of trinkets from their prosperous age. Their books were full of flowery elaborate prose and their gardens were drenched in blooms. The quintessential Victorian home was built between 1850 and 1890, but elements of the style stretched into the next century. Today, the style of this era is beloved by many for its beauty and romance.
Plants and ornamental garden props will go a long way in reshaping your space into one reminiscent of Victorian times.
The Victorian Ethos
The Victorian gardener's motto might have been something like, "man's conquest over elements of the natural world." This control might be most apparent in the propagation of lawns. Formal gardens demanded both front and backyard lawns, although more country-style gardens and informal gardens could rely on other types of ground cover that required less maintenance. However, the ideology of the late Victorian era favored more natural growth with less manicured features--so today's gardeners may choose either path for their garden.
The range of plants beloved by the Victorians is too large to sum up in one article, but they did have their favorites. Exotics were wildly popular during this era of colonization, and gardeners took great pains with them--many private and public conservatories came into being in order to cultivate these "hot house" plants. So, when considering popular shrubs for your own Victorian garden, consider: Azalea, Holly, Hydrangea, Rose, Lilac, Forsythia, Andromeda, Barberry, Peony and Quince. Prized vines might include: Clematis, Ivy, Wisteria, Morning Glory and Honeysuckle.
Commonly planted perennials and annuals include: Delphinium, Aster, Alyssum, Chrysanthemum, Tulip, Pansy, Violet, Lavender, Daylily, Hosta and Yarrow.
Fern-collecting was a popular pastime for botanical enthusiasts in the Victorian era, and flowers were known to have their own special meanings. A bouquet of pansies indicated thoughtfulness. Lilies meant purity, which is why many a Victorian bride walked down the aisle with them. Likewise, myrtle signified love and marriage; morning glories given meant affection. Victorians loved flowers so plant plenty of varieties that may be cut for bouquets to bring inside for the vase or to give as gifts.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Kathy Bosin adds, "Try surrounding a large (annual) castor bean plant with multi-colored cleome for a traditional, formal Victorian planting. Mulch heavily and be sure to allow plenty of space for the castor bean to grow - in one season, it can grow to 12 ft. high and 6 ft. wide."
Cast iron fencing was most popular in the Victorian time because of the ornate design that could be incorporated. Most properties would be fenced whether they were city or suburban dwellings or large formal estates. More rustic picket fences might be employed, but these would generally be hidden by shrubs or vines. Shrubs might also be used to hide an unsightly foundation, but for the most part, Victorians were proud of their homes and did not seek to cover them up with plants. They also believed that plants could deteriorate the house if they attracted insects and decay, so gardens became a distinctly separate affair.
The Victorians liked to ornament their gardens with many types of garden props that might include urns, statues, sculptures, gazing balls, birdbaths, sundials and seating. Benches were quite ornate--usually made of stone or cast iron. Gazebos and pavilions were often found as grand focal points for more formal gardens, and they add plenty of Victorian elegance to the landscape. Seats were generally placed at the end of a garden walk or wherever a grand view was to be had. Formal gardens might also employ stone planters. Less formal homes would sport window boxes brimming with pansies, perhaps.
For your own landscape, consider adding garden structures like a gazebo or enlarged porch. If you are inclined to tropical plants, mini-greenhouses are available and would go far in transforming your garden into a Victorian affair. Less formal, but certainly functional, would be an ornately-carved arbor with a built-in seat situated near a three-tier stone birdbath replete with fountain. A nice touch might be to find old Victorian chimney pieces and incorporate them as planters. For your flowerbeds, edge them with Victorian tiles once used for such purpose. True antique tiles are available, but even simple terracotta tiles could be employed to great effect.
Chinese art and objects were wildly popular during the Victorian era, so you may consider adding a touch of the Orient into your Victorian garden. Red-glazed planters with painted scenes from the far east or black lacquer garden stools would suffice. Or, consider a Chinese screen for the porch. On that note, Victorians often incorporated garden pools filled with goldfish--also from the Orient--and water gardens are wildly popular today. Whatever type of home and garden you have, as you can see, there are many Victorian touches you can add.