The History of Suburban Gardens – Dr Twigs Way

We were so pleased to welcome Dr Twigs Way to our meeting on 17th October.  Twigs is well known to many of us and it is always a pleasure to see her in Biddenham.  Twigs is a researcher, writer, speaker and consultant in garden history and designed landscapes and really knows her stuff so we were looking forward to her talk on the history of suburban gardens and we were not disappointed.  Twigs illustrated her talk with the musings and writings of authors and the paintings of artists from various times and eras and from the words of the Pet Shop Boys to the words of John Betjeman.  The suburbs are continuously evolving and expanding as rural areas are built over and everything starts again …

Twigs took us back to the Romans as they strived to create the ideal of the countryside in the urban area by using frescos depicting country scenes in their gardens. Details from a map of London dated 1578 showed houses with gardens on the edge of the city.  People wanted to live on the outskirts of towns but as soon as they moved into the suburbs they found themselves in the urbs again as more homes were built.  Following the purchase of their delightful new suburban villa, the owners had a dilemma  – How to lay out the garden? What should they be doing? There was no shortage of advice as, by the nineteenth century, the first books on how to lay out a suburban garden were being published.  The Villa Garden Directory of 1809 encouraged everyone to know their place and told people what not to do – forget aspiration! As time went by small front gardens divided the owners from the road.  Pollution was becoming so great that deciduous shrubs were killed off and only evergreens remained.  There was a determination to keep one’s front garden looking beautiful whilst sharing it with others.  The new towns of the 1930’s actively discouraged the use of hedges so that the layout of everyone’s front garden could be taken in at a glance.

Taking a look then at rear gardens.  Were these a private utopia or an aspirational   display?  They tended to be more informal as there were more things to hide and    disguise – coal houses etc.  The repeal of the glass tax in 1847  led to more glass houses which enabled pelargoniums and other tender annuals to be overwintered or forced.  The repeal of the brick tax in 1851 meant that no suburban garden was    complete without the edition of the Hogg’s Edging Tile.  Other influences included the 1851 Great Exhibition and mass outings in the “charabanc” to seaside gardens.  People were also influenced by what was going on in the public parks with their    immaculate bedding.  Everyone wanted a piece of the countryside even though they lived in the towns. Advertisements for gardening items expanded with the numerous gardening periodicals and seeds and later plants could be delivered via the post. In the 1940s adaptations were made to suburban gardens with the emphasis on  “digging for victory” and burying the air raid shelter.  By the 1960s Woolworths targeted the suburban gardener with seeds and plants and especially roses.  Of course Twigs ended her talk with the bane of modern suburban front gardens – no plants – just the parked car.  But she also reminded us to treasure our suburban gardens as they have a long history and represent the countryside meeting the town.
Thank you to Twigs for a most comprehensive talk  – very well received by our audience of members and visitors.  Please come again – visitors that is and, of course, you Twigs. 
And finally, many congratulations to Pauline and Jan for your winning entries in the Biddenham Show:

  • Awards presented at BGA meeting October 2023

Do join us in the Village Hall at 7.30 pm on Tuesday 21st November when Timothy Walker will be talking about the Twelve Plants of  Christmas.  As always visitors will be very welcome – £5 on the door. 

Linda Truscott

New members and visitors are always welcome.  For more information contact:
Linda Truscott on 01234 270747

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