How UK Gardens have altered their appearance over the years

With homes across Britain shrinking, there has been a knock-on effect also witnessed with our gardens. For instance, the homes of today across the country are half the size as those which were constructed in 1920. Meanwhile, the typical British garden was 163.2 metres squared as of 2013 — down quite considerably from 168 metres squared in 1983.

According to figures from 2010, there are claims that more than two million British homes don’t even have gardens. It has also been predicted that 10.5 per cent of all homes in the country will not have a garden come 2020. This is not good news in light of research that suggests children with no access to gardens are 38% more likely to become obese. 

The look of our homes goes much deeper than just the size and access to gardens though. Instead, the entire approach to gardening in the UK has shifted as different materials have come into usage – from synthetic living spaces such as decking to actual gardening tools like fertiliser, which was originally organic. Some of the first things to change were:

  • Plant pots: Originally made from clay, pots are now generally plastic or biodegradable.
  • Fertiliser: Once, fertiliser was entirely organic. However, chemicals have now been developed to serve as fertiliser – although many gardeners prefer organics.
  • Lawn mowers: Originally, grass cutting relied on a manual process. Early machinery was developed in the 1900s which saw early versions of cylinder mowers powered by pushing. Now, electric-powered motors mean gardens are far easier to maintain.
  • Materials: Gardening still employs the same basic materials it always did: stone, clay, timber, and soil. Now, however, we use plastic, concrete and stainless steel – which was invented in 1913.

If we still manage to have access to gardens, our approach to these outdoor spaces are different to those from previous generations. During WW2, gardens became areas for growing food to supplement rationing, but also an area of refuge for those who built their own bomb shelters. In the 1950s, gardeners shrugged this sensibility off and focus shifted towards ornamentation and decoration, placing more attention on manicured lawns and neatly trimmed shrubs.

Garden centres started to enter the scene across Britain throughout the late 50s and early 60s. The first of these in Britain was based in Ferndown, in Dorset — opening in 1955, it forever changed the way British gardeners cultivated plants. This widespread availability of plants meant heathers, conifers, and bedding plants became popular.

Then came the counterculture movement of the 70s, which would change the garden again by making self-sufficiency and growing your own popular. Colour TV’s invention also saw the widespread airing of gardening programs.

By the 80s, gardens were recognisable to modern Brits — as was the concept of recreation in our outdoor spaces. BBQs and conservatories grew in popularity. By the 90s, this movement became more about the ‘makeover’ – with many people installing decking as a fast, affordable way to create a living space in their gardens.

Of course, gardening has witnessed a significant transformation as the internet has become more advanced and more readily available since the turn of the millennium. Now, information about growing and cultivating your own plants is everywhere, accessible through mobiles, desktops, and tablets. A renewed focus on climate change and healthy eating has also meant more people are aiming to create sustainable gardens with minimal harm to the environment, using recycled materials in everything from composite decking to plant pots.

It can be difficult to determine how we take advantage of all of this new information and these new materials when our garden spaces are shrinking in size though. For some, this means studying guides online and creating their own DIY fruit and vegetable gardens. For others, it means creating as much living space as they can in their shrinking gardens.



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After completing a degree in English Literature from Northumbria University, Andrew worked as an English Tutor for two and a half years, then completed a Masters degree in Modern & Contemporary Literature from Newcastle University. Andrew now works as a copywriter at Mediaworks and tutors in English when he can.