A History of British Gardening Series – Modern

In our History of British Gardening Series – Modernism blended urban, public places and new housing estates with the older, more naturalistic form of gardening. Gardening became the nation’s most popular pursuit.

History of British Gardening Series
Tudor and Stewart
Georgian and Regency


1948 Hidcote Manor is the first place to be taken on by the National Trust on the merits of its garden alone.

1955 Landscape gardener Thomas Church published Gardens are for People. The American landscape designer pioneered a ‘Californian style’, which included the use of raised beds and decking. His style was to have an enormous influence in Britain.

1959 The National Association of Flower Arrangers’ Societies (NAFAS) was founded. Today NAFAS boasts more than 10,000 members, making it one of the most popular specialised associations in the UK.

1962 The designer Russell Page wrote Education of a Gardener, a hugely influential book which is still considered to be an authority on garden design.

1963 Karl Dahlman produced the first hovermower. It was made of plastic, making it light and easy to use.

1965 The Garden History Society was founded.

1968 The first Gardeners’ World programme is broadcast.

1969 The designer John Brooks started a fashion for using small urban gardens for entertaining.

1974 Fisons invented the first growing bag. This bag enabled people living in tower blocks who had a balcony to grow fresh produce.

1975 The Landscape of Man by Geoffrey Jellicoe is published.

1977 The Museum of Garden History opened in Lambeth Palace Road, London.

1978 The RHS formed the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens. The NCCPG aims to conserve, document, promote, and make available Britain’s great biodiversity of garden plants for the benefit of horticulture, education, and science.

Modern Style of Gardening

The second half of the 20th century provided a wealth of opportunity and new achievements. Horticulturists hit great heights, creating new design styles for both landowners and the general public.

After the war, there was a new era of rebuilding the damaged landscape. The 1951 Festival of Britain was a showcase for the new styles and ideas. Modernism became popular, blending urban, public places, and new housing estates with the older, more naturalistic form of gardening. Modernism used abstract shapes, concrete, glass, and low-maintenance plants.

There was a move away from European gardening styles and influence came from across the Atlantic ocean. The American Thomas Church was considered to be the founding father of the urban garden style. He advocated the idea of the outside room which was popularized in the UK by John Brookes.

More plants became commercially available to all gardeners with new varieties and cultivars evolving every day. There were effective labor-saving inventions such as the hover mower and the growing bag.

Outdoor Living

The popularity of outdoor entertaining grew during the 1970s. Barbecues became popular too as families combined cooking with dining outside.

A whole range of landscaping materials became available to the British public. Pre-cast concrete meant that patio slabs were readily available from the garden center. Patios were de rigueur, offering a place to sit, sunbathe or show off features such as hanging baskets, planters, and alpine troughs.

Decking became hugely popular in the 1990s, thanks largely to the TV program Ground Force, and Alan Titchmarsh. Decking was the answer to the public’s wish for an instant garden using cheap materials and simple construction methods.

Garden Centres

During the later part of the 20th century, gardening became the nation’s most popular outside pursuit. With increased wealth and prosperity, and a higher percentage of home ownership, people had the money and leisure time to indulge their horticultural passions at weekends at the local garden centre.

Garden centers no longer sold only plants, they became places to buy garden furniture, water features and ornaments, garden tools, hard landscaping material, and garden and leisure books.

Some garden centers now even have restaurants and display gardens for the customers to relax in.

Modern Characters

Beth Chatto

The preferred condition of each plant is the fundamental principle behind Beth Chatto’s selection of plants. She then designs the shape and form of her planting around the concept of a garden as an outside room. Beth runs the Beth Chatto Gardens which is also a nursery for ‘unusual plants’ from her home near Colchester. She’s won ten gold medals at Chelsea, been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Victoria Medal of Honour and The Lawrence Memorial Medal, and she’s written numerous books.

Christopher Lloyd (1921 to 2006)

Christopher Lloyd was considered to be an inspiration to gardeners. He was famous for his bold gardening with strong use of shapes and colors that gave interest all year. “There should be a willingness to use new and surprising color,” he once said.

Lloyd was born at Great Dixter in 1921. He attended Rugby College followed by Wye College, where he studied horticulture. He later became a lecturer at the college. Lloyd, who wrote many books about gardening, was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Victoria Medal of Honour and an OBE.

Russell Page (1906 to 1985)

Russell Page studied painting at the Slade School of Art in London and in Paris before pursuing his passion for plants. He became a professional garden designer in 1928 and, with his background in art and horticulture, became a very influential landscape gardener. Once a business partner with garden designer Geoffrey Jellicoe, Page went on to develop a garden design practice throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America.

His gardens varied from small cottage and town gardens to elaborate layouts such as the Battersea Festival Gardens in 1952. He wrote the book The Education of a Gardener in 1962. Page died in 1982.

Alan Titchmarsh

Perhaps the best-known gardener in the UK, Alan Titchmarsh was the presenter of Gardeners’ World from 1996 to 2002 and Ground Force from 1997 to 2002.

He was brought up on the edge of Ilkley Moor, Yorkshire, and left school at 15 to become an apprentice gardener in the local nursery. He continued his training at an agricultural college and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

From there he became a horticultural journalist and was deputy editor of Amateur Gardening Magazine. He then turned to a freelance career in broadcasting and writing.

Alan writes regularly for BBC Gardeners’ World magazine and is a gardening correspondent for several publications. Alan has written more than 30 gardening books, including The Gardeners’ World Complete Guide to Gardening, as well as four novels.

Other programs Alan’s presented include Nationwide, Pebble Mill, Songs of Praise, Titchmarsh’s Travels, Chelsea Flower Show, The Proms, and the British Isles: a Natural History.

Geoffrey Jellicoe (1900 to 1996)

Geoffrey Alan Jellicoe was one of the most famous garden designers of the 20th century. He originally trained as an architect at The Architectural Association before winning a scholarship to study the gardens of Italy in 1923. He designed many famous gardens, including one of the last Italian gardens in England at Ditchley Park, the Water Garden at Hemel Hempstead, the Kennedy Memorial in Runnymede, the gardens at Sutton Place, and the canal at The RHS Garden Wisley.

Dame Sylvia Crowe (1901 to 1997)

Dame Sylvia Crowe had an enormous influence on gardening styles during the 20th century. She worked on many projects in Britain and the US, including reservoirs, hospitals, and universities. Her 1936 Gold Medal garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show made a big impact on garden design with her use of concrete. She became a landscape consultant for the Forestry Commission with her belief that forests should be places of enjoyment and the contours of landscapes should be defined by the groupings of trees.

Geoff Hamilton (1936 to 1996)

Geoff Hamilton was the longest-serving presenter of Gardeners’ World from 1979 to 1996. His horticultural career began as a landscape gardener, before becoming a journalist with Garden News and Practical Gardening. He was one of the first gardeners to start advocating organic methods of gardening. Hamilton’s first TV job was presenting Gardening Diary on Anglia TV in the early 1970s. In 1984, he found a Victorian farmhouse in Rutland called Barnsdale with more than five acres of pastureland. This became the new home of Gardeners’ World. He was on a charity bike ride in 1996 when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was buried in his jeans and boots.

Percy Thrower (1913 to 1988)

Britain’s first celebrity gardener, Percy Thrower, was a presenter of Gardeners’ World from 1969 to 1976. He changed how people perceived gardening and their gardens, creating the image of gardening as a popular leisure activity.

Thrower’s career began at the age of 14 when he left school to join his father, a head gardener at Norwood House. Thrower was the presenter of the first gardening series produced by the BBC, The Gardening Club, which established him as a celebrity. The program was filmed entirely in a studio and, in order to hear Thrower properly, microphones were concealed in soil (radio microphones hadn’t been invented yet). He took over Gardeners’ World in 1969. The show was shot in the garden of his four-bedroomed bungalow in Shropshire – The Magnolias.

In 1976, Thrower broke the BBC ‘No advertising’ policy and was fired for endorsing fertilizers on TV.

Modern Themes

Gardeners’ World

Gardeners’ World is the BBC’s longest-running gardening show. Today it regularly attracts millions of viewers on Friday nights. The first episode was filmed in 1968, presented by Ken Burras, and came from Oxford Botanical Gardens.

In the 1970s it was filmed on TV cameras weighing half a tonne. The kit needed 36 people in five lorries to transport, lift and operate it.

Gardeners’ World was produced by the BBC until 1991 when it was handed over to Catalyst TV. It returned to the BBC in 2003 to a new garden at Berryfields in the Midlands.


The organic movement grew in the late 1960s and early 1970s as public awareness of the dangers of pesticides grew, leading to the formation of strong support for food crops to be treated with naturally derived products as opposed to chemicals.

Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA) has become the main group associated with this organic movement

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.