History of British Gardening: Edwardian Era

In our History of British Gardening Edwardian style craved a rural idyll to capture the romance of the countryside within the confines of the ever-expanding urban and suburban landscape. It was a period of prosperity and this was reflected in the exuberant gardening styles.

History of British Gardening Series
Tudor and Stewart
Georgian and Regency


1902 The first horticultural college for women opened: Swanley College for Women.

1907 to 1948 Lawrence Johnston creates Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire.

1903 The RHS acquires Wisley Garden in Surrey.

1908 Colour in the Flower Garden by Gertrude Jekyll is published.

1913 The first RHS Chelsea Flower Show takes place.

Edwardian Style of Gardening

Edwardians craved a rural idyll to capture the romance of the countryside within the confines of the ever-expanding urban and suburban landscape. It was a period of prosperity and this was reflected in the exuberant gardening styles. Informal planting schemes were mixed with formal, structured landscaping. This included herbaceous borders with drifts of colour, as suggested by Gertrude Jekyll, and informal woodland planting schemes using the best seasonal plants for garden lovers, as recommended by William Robinson.

Bedding plants were avoided while pergolas, paths, and garden buildings were highly desirable. Gardens would often have formal ponds with sunken gardens. The Arts and Crafts movement had an aversion to mass-produced products and gardens in this style would use locally crafted garden features, ornaments, and materials. The Italian Renaissance style also enjoyed a revival through architects such as Inigo Triggs and Harold Peto.

Arts and Crafts (1860 to 1910)

The Arts and Crafts movement, spearheaded by the artist William Morris, comprised individuals who sought a revival of meticulously crafted, handmade products, shunning the prevalence of mass-produced, inferior machine-made goods that had become ubiquitous during the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century.

In 1892, Reginald Blomfield (1856-1942), an accomplished architect and garden landscape designer, contributed to this sentiment by publishing “The Formal Garden in England.” Echoing Morris’s ideology, Blomfield advocated for gardens to exude a sense of orderliness, distinct from the wildness of Nature, while harmoniously integrating with the country houses’ surroundings.

Morris’s philosophy found expression in the meticulous design of the gardens at the Red House and Kelmscott. These enchanting outdoor spaces featured intimate enclosures, garden walls, flourishing orchards, and skillfully crafted topiaries, reflecting his commitment to a more natural and sustainable approach to gardening.

Inspiration was taken from nature and a nostalgic yearning for a bygone era, including the romantic stories and legends of the medieval period. There was a return to using local products and materials to create traditional styles of buildings. One of the most famous crafts gardens movement was Hidcote Garden in Gloucestershire. Gertrude Jekyll and the architect Edwin Lutyens created many Edwardian gardens.

History of British Gardening Edwardian Style Characters

Gertrude Jekyll (1843 to 1932)

Gertrude Jekyll is considered to be one of the most important and influential garden designers and writers of the early 20th century. She was born in London in 1843 and moved to Surrey at the age of five.

In 1861 she enrolled in the South Kensington School of Art to study painting and colour theory. Gertrude enjoyed painting and embroidery, and in 1875 the Duke of Westminster consulted her for advice on the furnishings at Eaton Hall. However, she began to develop an interest in gardening and in 1881 was asked to judge at an RHS show (now the RHS Chelsea Flower Show).

In 1891 she had to give up painting because of failing eyesight. This meant that she could devote all her time to gardening.

She became friends with architect Edwin Lutyens. They collaborated on many projects using her knowledge of plants and colour combinations and his formal use of materials and hard landscaping. Projects included Gertrude’s own house Munstead Wood in Surrey, Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland, and Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset.

In 1897 Gertrude was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour by the Royal Horticultural Society. She wrote many books including Lilies for English Gardens and Wall and Water Gardens in 1901, Roses for English Gardens in 1902, Old West Surrey in 1904, and Colour in the Flower Garden in 1908.

She died in 1932.

William Robinson (1838 to 1935)

William Robinson advocated the making of wild or natural gardens. He worked in the Royal Botanic Garden in Regent’s Park, where he was responsible for hardy herbaceous plants and building a collection of British wildflowers. This led Robinson to take inspiration from country lanes, hedgerows, and cottage gardens. He also used many non-native plants, particularly North American trees. Many of these were planted in his own garden at Gravetye Manor in Surrey. Many of his garden ideas were published in his book The Wild Garden.

Edwardian Themes

RHS Chelsea Flower Show

In gardening terms, this is the greatest show on earth. Between 1837 and 1883 the RHS had been holding regular flower shows at its Chiswick gardens. The society then decided to hold an annual big two-day spring event at Temple Gardens until 1911. The popularity of the show meant looking for a larger site. In 1913 the RHS settled on the grounds of the Royal Hospital where it’s still staged today.

During World War II the show took a break and started up again in 1947. In the 1970s the design aspect of the show started to gain more media interest than the practical side of plant growing, and, to this day, the show gardens are the biggest attraction at the event.

Women Gardeners

The Edwardian period saw the emergence of women in the gardening profession, but it became a popular hobby among women at home.

Gertrude Jekyll became the most popular name in this delightful flower garden design, while two colleges began to offer courses for women to study gardening.

Swanley College was founded in 1885 as a horticultural college for training men. It started to admit women in 1891, and by 1896 it had 39 female students. The last of the men left in 1902 leaving the college to establish itself as a women-only college for horticulture.

In 1898 the Countess of Warwick founded Warwick Hostel in Reading to offer training to ‘Surplus women in the lighter branches of agriculture’. This expanded and moved to Studley Castle in 1903, becoming Studley College for Women, teaching agriculture and horticulture.

The original content was published on the BBC Gardening website, however, the Design section with all of its content has been removed. We try to keep this great content alive here on the Gardenlife Pro site.