In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gardens

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Garden Histories and Biographies
  • Gender, Class, and Aesthetics in the Garden
  • Garden Architecture and the Built Environment
  • Gardens and Empire
  • Gardens in Nonfiction Prose
  • Anthologies and Bibliographies
  • Biographical Dictionaries
  • Websites and Databases

Victorian Literature Gardens
Elizabeth Chang
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0169


Research on the Victorian garden brings together scientific, economic, social, and cultural histories into a deeply interdisciplinary field of study. This has not always been the case: for much of the twentieth century, garden history was a part of art history, and prioritized study of elite landscapes and landscape designers within a relatively narrow understanding of what a Victorian garden might be. Expansions of cultural and environmental theory over the past decades have changed the study of Victorian garden life, both by expanding the kinds of spaces that might be considered gardens, and by asking new questions of those spaces. These questions—of usage, accessibility, biodiversity, ecological impact, and symbolic meaning at both an individual and national level—have all helpfully broadened the field. Most significantly of all, advancing scholarship on the British Empire has demonstrated the revisions colonial expansions and circulations imposed on understanding of the natural world. These revisions shaped cultivated spaces like the garden as much as they did the wild nature of the British Isles; indeed, since so much of the territory of 19th-century Britain existed under some form of cultivation, research in Victorian gardens can help inform research in Victorian environmentalism more generally. Scholars of Victorian literature, who were once mostly confined to analyzing descriptions of gardens in realist novels, can now draw on a wide range of theories and methodologies to analyze the meaningful role the garden played in all kinds of Victorian writings.

General Overviews

Assessments of the Victorian garden show sharp division between general interest and specialist texts. While books meant for general readership focus primarily on the architecture and botany of aristocratic gardens, academic scholarship generally examines gardens through an interdisciplinary lens, focusing on cultural dynamics that can be explored using the methodologies of environmental history and cultural studies. General interest publications of interest to students and those seeking a broad overview of the field include Elliott 1986, Carter 1985, Morgan and Richards 1990, Stuart 1988 and Wilkinson 2006. While not all of these include a comprehensive scholarly apparatus, they identify canonical garden designers and clearly illustrate the forms and styles of traditional Victorian gardens. Also useful are the lists of estates known for their landscaping and gardens included in Stuart 1988 and Morgan and Richards 1990. For closer attention to more advanced and specialized garden theory, readers would do well to start with Hunt 2000, which, though not exclusive to the Victorian or even British context, offers a field-defining overview of garden theory foundational to the scholarly texts in this section. Quest-Ritson 2003 overviews 18th-century and 19th-century developments in garden design leading up to the early Victorian era, with the forceful argument that architects and landscape designers have overly directed garden theory with no attention to economic and social factors. Dümpelmann 2013, in a volume that is part of a longer series edited by John Dixon Hunt, importantly shows the influence of the British Empire on gardens in the nineteenth century. Helmreich 2002, covering the later portion of the Victorian era, provides an essential description of the ways that garden designers produced a vision of horticultural national identity through their work. Ritvo 1992 gives a brief but erudite review of the taxonomic challenges involved in defining public and private garden spaces.

  • Carter, Thomas. The Victorian Garden. Salem, NH: Salem House, 1985.

    An overview of aspects of the bourgeois private garden, including sections on the kitchen garden, floriculture and the language of flowers, and gardening periodicals by Loudon and others. The text relies heavily on direct quotation from 19th-century texts. Lacks footnotes but provides a comprehensive primary source reading list.

  • Dümpelmann, Sonja. A Cultural History of Gardens in the Age of Empire. A Cultural History of Gardens 5. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781350048089

    This book, and the larger series it is a part of, is a global history using illustrative anecdotes (rather than encyclopedic surveys) to present the cultural impact of 19th-century gardens; Victorian gardens take a rightfully central place within this story.

  • Elliott, Brent. Victorian Gardens. London: B.T. Batsford, 1986.

    One of the earlier serious histories of Victorian garden and landscape design, focusing on influential figures including John Loudon, Shirley Hibbert, and William Robinson, and major trends including the use of exotics, the “wild” garden, bedding out, and European influences.

  • Helmreich, Anne. The English Garden and National Identity: The Competing Styles of Garden Design, 1870–1914. Modern Architecture and Cultural Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    A closely detailed and essential history of garden design during the later Victorian era, focusing on the transition from more structured, designed, and artificial gardens to the “wild” and purportedly more natural style championed by Robinson and Jekyll.

  • Hunt, John Dixon. Greater Perfections: The Practice of Garden Theory. London: Thames and Hudson, 2000.

    A broad theoretical survey describing both the evolution of garden theory and the difficulties in defining and identifying the garden as a cultural and social space. Necessary background to other texts in this bibliography addressing these theoretical and nonbotanical aspects of garden design.

  • Morgan, Joan, and Alison Richards. A Paradise out of a Common Field: The Pleasures and Plenty of the Victorian Garden. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.

    Derived from a set of radio programs for BBC, a history of the gardens of the country estates throughout the nineteenth century, including flower gardens, conservatories and hothouses, fruit and vegetable gardens, landscape design, and the staff that maintained these sites. Contains a list of estates and their 19th-century owners.

  • Quest-Ritson, Charles. The English Garden: A Social History. 1st U.S. ed. Boston: David R. Godine, 2003.

    A strong repudiation to earlier garden studies focusing on garden design and designers, the chapters of this history (one of which covers the Victorian era) emphasize social factors in the evolution of garden styles and make interpretations through the lens of economic history.

  • Ritvo, Harriet. “At the Edge of the Garden: Nature and Domestication in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain.” Huntington Library Quarterly 55.3 (1992): 363–378.

    DOI: 10.2307/3817683

    This essay ranges beyond its 18th- and 19th-century parameters to interrogate the defining characteristics of the British garden and the categorical terms used to identify those characteristics, concluding that this period marked a clear transition in the balance between the wild and the civilized in British nature.

  • Stuart, David C. The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

    Survey of traditional garden history covering major trends in garden design, horticultural advancements, and key publications. Also includes a comprehensive list of major Victorian gardens.

  • Wilkinson, Anne. The Victorian Gardener: The Growth of Gardening & the Floral World. Stroud, UK: Sutton, 2006.

    While a general interest publication, contains researched history especially of the “Golden Age” of Victorian gardens during the 1860s and 1870s, with attention to a wide range of figures including Shirley Hibberd and the amateur Elizabeth Watts.

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