X428 • 3 semester units in History
There is a widespread assumption that the 18th-century English landscape garden marked the pinnacle of garden making in England, followed by a long period of decline into the horrors of the Victorian period. However, Victoria’s long reign, from 1837 to 1901, marked a period of unprecedented opportunities for garden making. A tidal wave of new plants came in from all parts of the world, their survival greatly enhanced by improvements in transport. Enormous increases in wealth among the more fortunate members of society were combined with almost unlimited opportunities to employ that wealth on the products of the Industrial Revolution, from Mr. Budding’s mechanical lawnmower to mass-produced busts of Roman emperors.
A doubling of the population during Victoria’s reign led to the building of millions of new houses, and many thousands of gardens around the new suburban villas of the emerging middle classes and the demand created by all these developments led to an explosion of the nursery industry, further enhancing the supply of new plants to fill these gardens. Not least in the world of the Victorian garden was a proliferation of books and especially of magazines chronicling and directing the form and contents of the garden.
By the middle of Victoria’s reign, there were already reactions to the worst excesses of the new industrial age, social and aesthetic, with such idealists as John Ruskin and William Morris seeking a path to a new Utopia. These ideas, too, were reflected in the making of gardens and in the literature of garden making, whether from the loftier ranks of head gardeners, professional garden journalists such as William Robinson and Shirley Hibberd, or gifted amateurs such as Gertrude Jekyll and Eleanor Sinclair Rhode.
The making of gardens has always involved a combination of art, science and technology, and the garden has been a sensitive barometer of political and philosophical thought. In this course, explore all these aspects and their influence on the evolution of the Victorian garden, examine the reasons why the Victorian garden has gained such an unfortunate reputation and perhaps start to plot a reawakening of interest in a period of gardening considered by its contemporary commentators to be "perfectly dazzling."
Make one long journey to visit two of England’s most remarkable Victorian gardens, Biddulph Grange and Trentham, in Staffordshire, and then, take much shorter visits to the Rothschilds’ Waddesdon Manor; Benjamin Disraeli’s Hughenden Manor; William Waldorf Astor’s Cliveden—all in Buckinghamshire; and the newly restored Forbury Gardens, a small public park in Reading (Berkshire).
Elliott, Brent. Victorian Gardens. Batsford, 1986.
Jennifer Davies, The Victorian Flower Garden (BBC Books, 1991)
Jennifer Davies, The Victorian Kitchen Garden (BBC Books, 1987)
You are expected to write one paper of 1,500 to 2,000 words and to deliver one oral presentation.
15% course participation
25% in-class presentation
60% final paper
Richard Bisgrove, M.L.A., studied horticultural science at Reading University and landscape architecture at the University of Michigan. He has written seven books on garden history and garden design. Recently retired as course director for landscape management at the University of Reading, Bisgrove received the Landscape Institute's Peter Youngman Award in November 2010.