9 Victorian Garden Design Ideas

Cassidy Moody / Missouri Botanical Garden

With the growth of industrialisation, advances in science and technology and a fascination with innovation and exotic travel destinations, the Victorian era became a time of immense creativity and experimentation in the garden. “As public gardens became more popular in both England and the US, more and more people fell in love with gardening,” says Dana Rizzo, senior horticultural scientist and designer of South Garden Beds in the Victorian Quarter of the Missouri Botanical Garden. “The growing middle class now had the leisure and disposable income to fill their gardens.”

Elements of Victorian design still add elegance and whimsy to modern gardens. “You don’t have to recreate an entire Victorian garden to get the feeling,” says Leslie Harris, board-certified horticulturist and host of the Into the Garden podcast. “These features allow you to integrate individual elements or design a corner of your garden without overwhelming your space.”

Here are the most enduring traditions of Victorian garden design, plus tips on how to make them a part of your own garden.

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Topiary and trimmed greens

Neatly trimmed hedges and ornate shaped greens were standard in Victorian gardens. Traditionally, the topiary was a formal element in large manor gardens and was considered a status symbol. “You had to show off,” says Rizzo. “Your garden was in competition with others, and garden designers competed for commissions from wealthy clients.”

Plant this look: If you’re not willing to hire a full-time gardener or bother with regular topiary maintenance, consider adding plants that maintain their symmetrical shapes without pruning, such as B. round shrubs.



Tropical and exotic plants

Fueled by increased exploration and travel, gardeners have had greater access to a range of new and unique plants from around the world. “Plant researchers brought back exotic new seeds and specimens to display at home under glass or in a glass conservatory on the property, while plant breeders experimented with new plants,” says Harris. Tropical plants, especially ferns, were very popular and gave the gardens an exotic flair. Pteridomania, or “fern fever,” was at its peak in the mid-19th century as collectors scoured the world to support this new hobby.

Plant this look: Display potted tropical plants, such as Like the parlor palm, a Victorian favourite, in containers on your patio or indoors. Or plant ferns outdoors in shady areas of the garden.


For the Victorians, more was more! “It was really about an explosion of color,” says Harris. “Large, lush gardens full of bold, bright colors showcased new plants.” Not just one species of plant was used, but popular flowers included dahlias, roses, petunias and, most notably, geraniums. Cottage gardens also developed towards the end of the Victorian era, combining flowers and edibles in an informal way.

Plant this look: Rather than focusing on a specific, understated color scheme, plant a variety of colored flowers in containers and beds to bring a sense of uninhibited joy to your garden.


“Densely planted garden beds were created with lots of color and pattern,” says Rizzo. “There was dense ‘pincushion’ planting with no visible bare soil. Typically there were 2 to 3 types of flowers in the bed to form a geometric pattern. Basically, you would stuff in as many plants as possible to create a mosaic effect.” The technique is also sometimes referred to as rug bedding because the design resembles a patterned rug.

Plant this look: Plant a container densely for an instant lush feel, or create small geometric beds.



Statues, sundials, urns and other garden structures

While statues were part of earlier garden styles from Italy and France, the Victorian garden also featured statues, sundials, obelisks, spheres, urns, and ironwork of all kinds, Harris says. An ornate trellis, arbor or orangery, where citrus trees were sheltered from the cold, was also part of many Victorian gardens.

Plant this look: Incorporate a few decorative pieces to accentuate your garden, such as B. a pair of urns that don’t necessarily need to be planted to add style.


Wrought iron became particularly popular and was often used in fences or decorative benches. On large properties, benches provided a place to rest and admire the garden, Rizzo says.

Plant this look: A garden bench is always a wonderful way to stop and admire the view. You can also use pieces of salvaged iron fence as accents or backdrops in plant beds if you don’t want to fence off an entire area.


Estates would have a large outdoor fountain, but a cottage garden might include a bird bath or two, Harris says.

Plant this look: Small wrought iron or concrete bird baths offer a touch of Victoriana without the need for a garden makeover.


The Victorian cottage garden style includes many different types of flowers and edibles, and the Victorians had a particular love of aromatic plants like lavender, rosemary, thyme and fragrant geraniums, says Elizabeth Fogel, senior horticultural scientist at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia.

Add this look: Scented plants never go out of style because scents add another level of enjoyment to your garden. Plant them in containers, along the edges of hardscape to soften the edges, and in large swaths in beds.


Victorians created mini-habitats to showcase their newfound plants, like alpine plants and ferns, Harris says. The idea was to mimic what you would find in a natural setting on a rocky cliff or mountainside.

Add this look: While you may not be able to turn your yard into a mini mountainside, you can create a small rock garden with plants hidden between strategically and artistically placed rocks.


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