What has caused UK gardens to change over time?

A brief history of British gardens

Unfortunately, in the UK, our green spaces have been shrinking. Homes today have halved in size compared to those built in 1920, and the average British garden has shrunk from 168 metres squared to just 163.2 metres squared, between 1983 and 2013.

In addition to this, in 2010, it was reported that an outstanding two million British home owners do not have access to their own garden. 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 entire approach to gardening has transformed over the years as new materials have come into use, such as synthetic materials to create decking and gardening tools like fertiliser which was once 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  • Plant pots: Originally made from clay, pots are now generally plastic or biodegradable.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.

Our reasons for using our gardens have also altered with time. Currently, a renewed focus on climate change and healthy eating has meant more people are aiming to create sustainable gardens with minimal harm to the environment, using recycled materials in everything from plant pots to composite decking.

During WW2, gardens became areas for growing food to supplement rationing, but also an area of refuge for those who’d build 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.

As garden centres were introduced in the early 1950s, the way that British gardeners cultivated their plants changed forever. The newfound widespread availability of plants meant heathers, conifers and bedding plants became popular.

The gardening landscape changed again in the 1970s, with self-sufficiency and growing your own produce becoming popular again. Colour TV’s invention also saw the widespread airing of gardening programmes, encouraging keen gardeners to get involved.

In the 80s, a rise in recreation in the garden begun as 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.

Now, due to the rise of the internet, information about growing and cultivating your own plants is everywhere, accessible through mobiles, desktops and tablets. This is allowing gardeners to study guides and learn how to manage their own DIY fruit and vegetable allotments and make the most of their shrinking gardens.

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