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Creating a Victorian English garden with RHS show designer

by | 17 Jun 24 | Domestic Landscaping, Garden Design, Long Reads

At this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, glasshouse and greenhouse manufacturer, Hartley Botanic, delved into the timeless charm of a Victorian English garden with its ‘Simple Elegance – A Traditional English Garden’ trade stand.

Hartley Botanic showcased its handmade structures amongst the backdrop of a design and planting scheme inspired by the English gardens of the Victorian era.

Landscape architect, Rachel Sampson (BA(Hons) Dip.CMLI,) who designed the planting scheme, shares her tips for creating a Victorian English garden.

Key characteristics

Ornat and lush aesthetics, geometric and symmetrical planting and an abundance of flowers are quintessential to Victorian-style gardens, says Sampson.

Roses were a staple in these gardens, offering a “riot of colours and scents” throughout the summer months, creating a “lush and inviting outdoor space.”


Planting techniques

Structure with topiary: “Start by incorporating clipped topiary, such as curves, spirals, pyramids, domes and beehives to create a strong framework.”

Layered planting: “Infilling with groups of plants, layering perennials for varying heights and foliage, and ensuring overflowing borders.”

Plant in odd numbers: “Use groups of odd numbers (3, 5, 7) to create a natural and soft appearance, with a “one that got away” to avoid overly rigid symmetry.”


Geometric shapes and structure

English Victorian gardens often feature symmetrical layouts with precise, geometric designs.

Paths, flower beds, and lawns are typically arranged in orderly patterns, often centred around a focal point, like a foundation, glasshouse or statue.

Clipped topiary: “As mentioned above, use topiary shapes like cubes and spirals for structure.”

Curved flower beds: “These create a softer, more organic look.”

Linear paths and lawns: “Defined by perennial borders that overflow with plants.”

Vistas and focal points: “Utilise classic geometry to create interesting views and focal points throughout the garden.”


Essential plants to use

Roses: “The heart and soul of an English garden, offering both beauty and fragrance.”

Peonies: “With their large, lush blooms, Peonies add a touch of opulence.”

Dahlias: “These vibrant flowers contribute a range of colours and intricate shapes.”

Foxgloves: “Tall and elegant, Foxgloves add height and a cottage garden feel.”

Hollyhocks: “These towering plants bring a sense of old-world charm and grandeur.”

Full Green Foliage: “Ensure ample greenery to fill in spaces and create a lush backdrop.”


Colour Palette

“A Victorian-style English garden often features a harmonious mix of whites, purples, and pinks, with bursts of hotter yellows and oranges in late summer. This palette provides a stable yet dynamic structure, ensuring year-round visual interest.”


Tree choices

Choosing the right trees is crucial for adding both structure and seasonal interest to the garden. Native British species are a great choice, including:

Malus (Apples): “Offer spring blossoms and autumn fruit.”
Acer campestre (Field Maple): “Known for its autumn colour.”
Fagus sylvatica (Beech): “Provides excellent foliage.”
Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam): “Adds a structure in winter.”


The role of a glasshouse

“Glasshouses were integral accessories and status symbols for the most elegant and wealthy gardens of the Victorian era in England. They were used to display the tropical and subtropical plant collections which were brought back from around the world by explorers and Botanists.”

For more information about Hartley Botanic’s glasshouses and greenhouses, visit:

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