Victorian landscape ideas

Victorian landscape ideas DEFAULT

Landscape Design for Homes of the Late Victorian Era (1860-1900)

Beautiful Victorian-era homes are prevalent throughout the South. In Mississippi, examples can be found in most small towns with plentiful examples in Natchez, Aberdeen, Columbus, Oxford, and Holly Springs. While they are not what most people think of when they imagine old Southern homes, these homes are a vital and often overlooked part of our region’s history.

Landscaping a Victorian-era property can be challenging. Unlike antebellum plantation homes, these residences were usually built in urban locations where property has been in heavy demand. For this reason, many Victorian homes have been adapted for other uses or had their properties subdivided. Further complicating matters, the landscape of such properties has often changed drastically over the years, making it quite difficult to determine the character or features of the original landscape. But with some research, determination, and effort, the owner of a Victorian residence can create a useful and appropriate landscape to complement the home’s dynamic architecture.


Landscapes are never created in a vacuum. Conditions in the South during the late 1800s were influential in shaping the home landscapes and ornamental gardens that were created during this period. Many properties were built after Reconstruction during the industrial boom that occurred from 1870 to 1900.

As industrialists, doctors, lawyers, and successful merchants became wealthy, they built large, impressive homes in many Southern communities. These homes were symbols of status and usually located in prominent positions in town along major thoroughfares. They included large porches, rich wood detailing, and a variety of paint colors, thereby presenting a pleasant and intricate façade to the public.

Collections of such homes made for a dramatic display of a town’s wealth and can be seen in locations like the Silk Stocking Row Historic District in Aberdeen. The landscapes that surrounded these homes provided a setting for the dramatic architecture and were sometimes equally ornamental in character.

The late 1800s was a dynamic period in garden history as a result of increased wealth, improved leisure time, and wider availability of products and services. As local grocers, dry goods stores, and meat markets could be relied upon for more and more necessities, home gardeners were able to concentrate increased effort toward ornamental gardening.

More homeowners than ever before embraced gardening as a hobby, and these gardeners had a wider plant palette to experiment with as a result of new introductions from expeditions to places like China and Japan. Gardeners embraced the new exotic plant imports, favoring new evergreens and bold and intricate foliage plants.

While not many homeowners could afford to maintain the detailed carpet bedding that defined Victorian landscapes, simple, layered beds (short on the exterior and taller on the interior) of low-maintenance plants can sometimes been seen in historic photographs from the period.

Primary attention was given to the ornamental street-side garden that passersby could enjoy as much as the homeowners. Ornamental picket fences of wood or cast iron consistently surrounded these gardens. Fences were critical for protecting ornamental plantings from wildlife, wandering livestock, and wayward carriages, but they also helped to establish the property boundary and present a pleasant decorative aspect to the public. Low, clipped evergreen hedges sometimes backed these fences, providing a dramatic backdrop, especially when placed behind white pickets.

Authors from the period, such as Frank J. Scott, who wrote The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds of Small Extent 1870, advocated for the use of lawns and openness (see Figures 2–4 for examples of plans from Scott’s text). Some Southern gardeners followed this advice, particularly later in the period at large, prominent homes with owners who could afford to maintain large lawns. These turf areas were considered luxurious and a sign of wealth, but they were somewhat less manicured than we might expect today.

Older and more modest properties sometimes had small areas of turf. Other homeowners simply chose heavier plantings with more shade trees. Some homeowners opted for areas of swept yard and had no turf at all.

Despite their reputation for ornamentation, landscapes of the late Victorian era were also places of considerable labor. These work areas were typically located out of view behind the home, as they would be considered unsightly. Many tasks necessary for the upkeep of the household took place in the very private area directly behind the home—food preparation, retrieving water, washing clothes, candle making, and other chores.

The remainder of the rear yard may have contained domestic animals, orchards, and vegetable and herb gardens, as well as associated outbuildings such as stables, hen houses, hothouses, sheds, and carriage houses. However, the size and extent of these areas was considerably diminished from the early and middle part of the 19th century, when homeowners were necessarily self-reliant. In the late 1800s, the home landscape was in a period of transition—not yet completely ornamental in nature (except in rare cases) but definitely moving in that direction.

Garden Design Approach

It can be challenging to decide how best to approach the landscape for a historic home due to the drastic changes that have occurred over time. Property that originally had open views and lawn could now have major specimen trees blocking views to the home and shading out the turf. On one hand, these changes may give the landscape a character that is completely unlike the original design. On the other hand, they provide the feeling of time and age that make such properties so compelling.

A balanced approach is necessary in most cases. This publication offers some general guidance and information for properties from this era. Obviously, every case is unique, and it is advisable to work with a licensed landscape architect to deal with more complicated or significant cases.

Historical Documents

A variety of useful resources can provide information about the history of the home and landscape. The local library is a great place to start and may be helpful in determining the date of construction, prior owners, and original lot information. The local tax assessor’s office may have pertinent property records, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History could have relevant historic photographs, maps, or other written documentation. University libraries are another possible source of documents and may also have access to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which can be useful in understanding the original lot layout, outbuildings, and organization.

Before undertaking any landscape alterations, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the home and landscape’s historical significance (whether local, regional, or national). Each individual historic property requires site-specific, thoughtful treatment; sites of significance also require the research skills and expertise of an experienced landscape historian.

General Organization

As can be seen in the Scott examples, considerable emphasis was placed upon the ornamental street-side garden. This landscape created an impressive and inviting setting for the home and demonstrated the family’s wealth and contemporary taste.

For most properties from this period, a contrast between this ornamental landscape and the more service-oriented landscape behind the home is appropriate. These two, distinct areas were often segregated by a visual screen. This could be an opaque wood fence or a landscaped boundary like an evergreen hedge, but the division is clear on many photographs from this period and on the Scott plans in the figures.

Heirloom Plants, Urns, and Vines

Gardeners of this period loved to experiment with dramatic foliage plants and often used potted plants, decorative urns, and hanging plants to create a dynamic porch and garden. Victorian gardeners also made frequent use of vines to create shade and privacy and sometimes even grew vines directly on the structure.

Appropriate plant choices are important; there are many old Southern favorites to choose from, although some caution is warranted as some plants from the era have proven to be invasive (such as English Ivy—Hedera helix). In most cases, however, these plants are showy and easy to grow and useful in establishing an appropriate landscape character for a Victorian home.      

Selected Plant List

This brief list of selected plants is based on a review of historic photograph collections from Mississippi and Louisiana. It is not intended as an exhaustive list but as a starting point for understanding the heirloom plants used in the South during this period. Where a general species is listed, not all varieties will be heirloom. Some nurseries specialize in such varieties and are excellent sources of further information.


Common Name

Scientific Name

Landscape Value



Juniperus virginiana


Evergreen tree sometimes seen pruned into an archway entry feature

Crape Myrtle

Lagerstroemia indica

Small deciduous tree

Cypress Tree

Taxodium distichum

Native deciduous tree

Southern Magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora 

Large, showy, evergreen native tree


Common Name

Scientific Name

Landscape Value



Platycladus orientalis

Evergreen tree/shrub with bright-green foliage and distinctive form

Banana Shrub

Michelia figo

Large, evergreen shrub with small, banana-scented flowers


Buxus sempervirens

Evergreen hedge, sometimes planted as a backdrop to a white picket fence


Eriobotrya japonica

Larger evergreen shrub/tree prized for its fruit


Nerium oleander

Flowering evergreen shrub

Sweet Olive

Osmanthus fragrans

Large evergreen shrub with sweet-smelling blooms

Sweet shrub


Calycanthus floridus

Native, deciduous shrub with sweet smelling flowers

Accent Plants

Common Name

Scientific Name

Landscape Value

Banana Tree


Musa spp.

Bold seasonal foliage plant; not cold hardy


Canna indica

Bold-leaved, flowering accent plant

Cast Iron Plant

Aspidistra elatior

Bold foliage plant for shade; frequently used in pots

Century Plant 

Agave spp.

Dramatic, easy-care potted plant



Narcissus spp.

Flowering bulb


Common Name

Scientific Name

Landscape Value

Climbing Roses


Rosa spp.

Vine grown on porches or arbors

Confederate Jasmine

Trachelospermum jasminoides

Evergreen flowering vine with scented white flowers

Coral Honeysuckle

Lonicera sempervirens

Native, flowering vine


Publication 2992 (POD-07-19)

Reviewed by Robert Brzuszek, Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture.

Copyright 2019 by Mississippi State University. All rights reserved. This publication may be copied and distributed without alteration for nonprofit educational purposes provided that credit is given to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Produced by Agricultural Communications.

Mississippi State University is an equal opportunity institution. Discrimination in university employment, programs, or activities based on race, color, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, or any other status protected by applicable law is prohibited. Questions about equal opportunity programs or compliance should be directed to the Office of Compliance and Integrity, 56 Morgan Avenue, P.O. 6044, Mississippi State, MS 39762, (662) 325-5839.

Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. GARY B. JACKSON, Director


6 Tips For Creating A Victorian Garden

An example would be a diamond shape with only red zinnias planted to establish the square. While not all Victorian gardeners and botanists agreed with the carpet bedding design element, it remained popular.Gertrude Jekyll, a famous Victorian gardener and author of books on gardening, preferred the ‘herbaceous border’. This style of border grew lower plants along the edge and continued up the ladder of height with the tallest varieties grown in the back. Her philosophy of growing was that each flower should be appreciated for its own intrinsic beauty. Mixing colors, textures and heights added dimension to the flowerbed.A list of Victorian flower varieties to plant follows: Acacia, Ageratum, Amaranthus, Aster, Tuberous Begonia, Bluebell, Caladium, Calendula, Campanula, Chrysanthemum, Coleus, Dianthus, Dusty Miller, Ferns, Fuschia, Geraniums (including scented varieties), Heliotrope, Impatiens, Lobelia, Marigold, Morning Glory, Nasturtium, Periwinkle, Petunia, Prime Rose, Roses, especially miniature roses, Snap dragon, Sweet Alyssum, Mignonette, Verbena, and Zinnias.A Victorian Garden: The Vines
Vines created shaded secret areas for resting, courting and idling with a book on a warm summer day. Climbing vines such as Clematis, Wisteria or Trumpet vine climbed over garden structures creating a flower bower. Vines were trained to grow along unsightly fences and to hide tree stumps or other less than perfect elements of the yard.A Victorian Garden: The Fencing
Fencing was an important feature of a Victorian garden. Ornate iron fences and gates allowed a view of the yard, but also delineated where one yard stopped and another began.

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Victorian Landscape Style Guide

Use this design sheet to help you create the perfect Victorian-inspired landscape. You'll get ideas for color, décor, materials, plants and fabric. It is a great starting point for any landscaping project.

Victorian Landscape Style Guide(PDF)

View all Landscape Design Style Guides

Lynn's Plant Suggestions

Classic garden plants:

Glossy abelia
Ferns (in urns or hanging pots)
Perennials for color

Mediterranean climate plants:

Medium water:
Mayten tree
Duranta erecta
Mutabilis rose
Iceberg rose
Australian bluebell creeper
Heartleaf geranium
White cyclamen (winter color for small pots)

Low water plants:

Peppermint Tree
White bougainvillea
Fortnight lily (Dietes)
Ornamental sage
Dwarf yeddo hawthorn (boxwood substitute)
Ray Hartman California lilac
Pacific wax myrtle
True myrtle (Myrtus)
Sweet bay
California bush anemone
White Kalanchoe in pots

The Victorian era blended ornate embellishments with the classic refinement of an English garden. While the manicured hedges and clean lines of the landscape might lead you to believe the Victorians were stuffy, in fact, says landscape designer Donna Lynn, "they had a marvelous sense of experimentation and loved to incorporate exotic plants and whimsical décor touches into the landscape." Lynn has been designing landscapes for over 20 years, and here she shares her professional tips for creating a Victorian-inspired garden.


  • Do divide your space into garden rooms. Creating outdoor nooks and divided sections in the garden allows you to have transitions between different color and décor styles throughout the garden. Clipped hedges help define the space without feeling too constricting.
  • Do have fun with garden ornament. Bird baths and fountains, trellises and arbors, and iron furniture all make great features in the Victorian garden.
  • Do use gravel pathways to connect different areas. Gravel was often used in Victorian garden paths because its fine texture recedes visually and allows the hedges and plantings to take center stage. Harmonize the color of the gravel with the color of your home.
  • Do choose urn-shaped pots on pedestals, or hanging planters. The Victorian style is opulent and abundant, so lushly overflowing planters make the perfect focal point in the garden.


  • Don't let it get messy. "Having lots of detail and visual interest need not look messy if designed right," says Lynn. "Use greenery to create garden structure, and repeat plant species throughout the landscape for a soothing feeling of continuity."
  • Don't leave wood unfinished or use other earthy elements. "The Victorian style is more manicured and has strong attention to detail. Instead of leaving wood unfinished, paint it white for a crisp, bright appearance," says Lynn.
  • Don't use contemporary design elements. While modern and Victorian design share clean lines, the similarities end there. The modern minimalist look, with silver, chartreuse, black and orange, doesn't mesh well with the lavish, old-world colors and décor of the Victorian times.
  • Don't feel limited to pastels or classic English garden plants. "People in the Victorian era loved specimen trees and plants with unusual or weeping forms such as tree ferns or monkey puzzle trees," explains Lynn. "They definitely loved to try new and different plants."

How does the Victorian garden fit into modern times? Lynn says, "My interpretation of a modern-day Victorian-style landscape is lower-maintenance. By creating structure with green shrubs and confining high-maintenance flowers to large urn plantings or groupings of smaller pots, you can enjoy the beauty of a Victorian style with less work." In climates where water use is a concern, "keep lawn areas small or refrain from having lawn altogether," she suggests. "And in Mediterranean climate areas, plants that need little water can be substituted for traditional garden plants."

Lynn's background in art and photography has given her a strong color sense and excellent understanding of design principles. By using 3-D rendering and computer imaging, she creates landscape plans that are easy for clients to visualize and interact with, so her finished landscapes can better reflect the personality of the people she designs for.

Donna Lynn operates Donna Lynn Landscape Design, a locally based Santa Barbara, CA company and Virtual Home & Garden Design, through which she offers full landscape design nationwide.

Step-By-Step: Design And Grow An All-White Victorian Garden

For Curbside Appeal, Try These Stunning Victorian Landscaping Ideas

Before you begin planning your Victorian landscaping project, it helps to understand the period. The reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 to 1901, was a time of contrasts. A rigid social class system divided society. The upper and middle classes lived by a set of strict social rules that governed almost every aspect of life.

The same period was also a time of explosive growth and exploration. Science and Art were undergoing radical changes. The Industrial Revolution was altering the way people lived, and the very fabric of society. And Victorians approached this contrast not with fear, but with a sense of fun, humor, and whimsy unparalleled in modern society. We can see these same contrasts in Victorian landscaping.

Victorian gardens are highly structured, neat and tidy, and favor well-demarcated spaces. At the same time, experimental and exotic plants abound. This style emphasizes opulence and elegance, and makes great use of ornaments. And there is plenty of room for whimsy. This contrast is what makes the Victorian landscaping style so attractive. And, if you’re willing to put in the work, you, too, can have a Victorian style garden.

Let’s take a look at some of the features of Victorian landscaping that you can reproduce in your own garden space.

2. Highly Structured, Divided Spaces

The Victorian garden, like Victorian society, was planned and structured to the smallest detail. Shapes, colors, plant types, and ornamentation — nothing is left to chance. Victorians liked to divide their gardens into garden “rooms.” Each garden room might have a separate theme. Some themes include medicinal plants, herb gardens, plants from different regions, plant types, and color-coded flowers. Victorians used hedge features to divide rooms and frame ornaments. Hedge mazes were also popular.

Depending on the amount of space you have for your garden, you can create garden rooms in different ways. You could divide an outdoor garden using temporary or permanent paths. Another option is to use steps and walls to create levels. Also, consider using outdoor furniture like tables or shelving units to create divisions and sections.

2. Neat and Tidy

A typical English garden is overgrown and wild. Not so the Victorian garden. One of the downsides of a Victorian style garden is that it needs constant care and attention to detail. Not a hair, or a blade of grass, out of place — just like an upper-class lady. Victorian gardeners spent a lot of time on their gardens. Many were members of the new middle class, and had more free time on their hands. Others were people of leisure. Others were keen amateur botanists. If you want to keep up the typical Victorian look, you may have to spend a lot of time snipping and trimming, to make your garden look “just so.”

Succulent Garden

Image CC by CC 2.0, via Patrick Standish, Flickr

If you don’t have loads of time to devote to grooming your garden, you might think about drought-resistant plants. Though not typical of Victorian gardens, drought-resistant landscaping would have appealed to Victorians in a couple of ways. First, many drought-resistant plants, like cacti and succulents, are neat and tidy by nature. Many do not require constant work. In addition, Victorians loved exotic and experimental plants. They enjoyed the challenge of making non-native plants grow and bloom. Drought resistant plants would be one easy way to bring Victorian tidiness — and exotic flair — to your garden, without all the work.

3. Paths and Walkways

Victorian gardens were a place of calm and refuge. Walkways turn a garden from something to look at into something to do. In addition to dividing the garden into rooms, walkways are a way of curating the features of your garden. Planning a route through the rooms gives order and structure. Victorian gardens often favored well-kept gravel paths. But you could use paving stones, tiles, wooden planks, or anything else that strikes your fancy. If your garden will be restricted to indoor spaces, think about arranging plants in different rooms according to species, color, type, or theme.

Image CC by A-SA 3.0, by Daniel Case, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Trellises, Arbors, Pergolas, Gazebos

Trellises, arbors, pergolas and gazebos were popular features in Victorian gardens. They give structure, add to theme, and increase beauty. Trellises are wall pieces that support climbing vines. Typically a trellis is a wooden lattice attached to a wall or the side of a house. Arbors are free-standing arches that support climbing plants. They can also divide a garden into sections. A gazebo is a freestanding “room” with a roof and a floor. It gives shade, and a place to sit, gaze, and contemplate the garden. A pergola combines the features of the other types of structures, and may have a trellis on one or more sides, to support climbing plants. It can look similar to a gazebo, but often does not have a complete roof. The term can also apply to a structure over a walkway that supports climbing plants and shades the path.

If you have the room, adding one of these structures, and covering it with climbing vines and plants, is a dramatic way to add a Victorian flavor to your garden.

potted arrangement..

Image CC by SA 2.0, by SBT4NOW, via Flickr

5. Opulence and Luxury

Controlled elegance. Opulence with restraint. This is a hallmark of Victorian landscaping. Think tall, elegant pots bursting with exotic flowers. Think hanging baskets spilling over with cascading succulents, ferns or vines. Structure, control and tidiness do not mean boring. Rather, restraint and control can help to show off the elegance and beauty of your plants. If you want to add a Victorian touch to your garden, think about hanging baskets, ferns and other cascading plants, and tall, elegant planters.

Egyptian themes were all the rage during Victorian times. Not only had Napoleon’s recent invasion of Egypt shown Britain an exotic new world, it also kicked off an “Egyptomania” that would affect fashion and home decor for decades to come. The opulence of Egyptian gold and the exotic themes appealed to many people at this time. Consider adding Egyptian motifs to your planters and garden embellishments for a true period feel.

6. Experimental Plants

Science was growing out in all directions during Victorian times. Charles Darwin’s discoveries, and the idea of natural selection had amateur plant and animal breeders madly experimenting with new varieties of plants. Hundreds of new species and hybrid species of plants came into existence, many at the hands of keen amateur gardeners. Victorian gardeners loved exotic plants, as well as the challenges of keeping non-native species healthy and growing. People were garden obsessed. Collecting, documenting, and growing new species was a national craze.

Another way to add a Victorian flourish to your garden is to include some specially selected unusual plants. Try cultivating something that doesn’t naturally grow in your area. Or something that stands out for its unique appearance. Or try your hand at creating your own hybrid variety of flower or vegetable.

Check out these links:

Imp Garden Gnome Dwarf Fabric Garden Figure Image CC by CC 0, via Maxpixel

7. Ornaments

Don’t forget, the Victorians loved to have fun. One of the ways they had fun with their gardens was by picking out interesting and whimsical garden ornaments. Today’s gardeners have no shortage of embellishments to choose from. From garden gnomes to statues both serious and humorous, to bird baths, fountains and other water features and more. The choices seem endless.

In Victorian times, some popular embellishments included stone and cast iron urns, statues, and fountains. Use your ornaments as a way to show off your creativity, inventiveness, and style.

Creating the perfect Victorian style garden takes planning, effort, time, space, and money. But even if your resources are limited, you can still put together a garden with a Victorian flair. Just keep in mind the principles that make up the Victorian ideal: restraint, neatness, experimentation, elegance, and whimsy. Even if your garden isn’t one hundred percent authentic, you may well create something that would have made a Victorian gardener proud.

Here are a few links to help you get started:

Featured image CC by CC 2.0, by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, via Wikimedia Commons


Landscape ideas victorian

Landscaping for a Victorian Home

By Barrett Barlowe

Victorian flower beds feature bold colors.

Landscapes in Victorian times reflected a love of pattern and color--and ready access to skilled and cheap labor. Creating a landscape for Victorian-style houses requires some research to learn what comprised popular garden designs of the era, and some planning to help meld the Victorian aesthetic with a modern lifestyle. Luckily for gardeners in the Bay Area, the climate is compatible with many Victorian-era plants.


The Victorian era lasted from the 1830s until the early 20th century, getting its name from and roughly coinciding with the rule of Queen Victoria in England. The Victorian era saw a rise in the middle class, and the beginnings of the industrial revolution. Victorian homes were ornate and decorative. Gardens reflected a return to formal design and fondness for pattern and color. Exotic species brought back from the Colonies survived in greenhouses and challenged the gardening skills of avid plant collectors.


A Victorian-style garden is at once formal and sinuous. Victorian rose gardens featured new hybrid tea roses arranged in circles or other geometric shapes, and separate from other plants. Smaller gardens featured asymmetric planting beds with bold-colored flowers arranged in geometric patterns. Curvilinear pathways, whose twists and turns revealed benches and sculptures as a visitor progressed though the garden, maintained a sense of mystery in a little space. Landscapes ideally created a sense of seclusion and enclosure. "The Secret Garden," by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published at the very end of the Victorian era, presents the garden as a place of lost love, decay and renewal.


Victorian home landscaping calls for masses of single color in decorative patterns. Formal planting beds in kidney or oval shapes cut geometric patterns out of turf lawns. Richly colored and intricately patterned coleus plants work well in the Victorian landscape. Some varieties feature purple, gold, scarlet and green multicolored and ragged-edged leaves. Exotic plants such as ferns provide texture in sun or shade. Tropical Victorian favorites such as African violets work best in small planters, and protected on porches from cold and rain. Gazebos or pergolas create a sense of enclosure and decorate a space. Large iron birdcages set in corners can function as ornate plant hangers. Gardens-within-gardens or hidden secret spaces are quintessentially Victorian. They work where space allows high walls or tall vine-covered trellises to enclose a separate area.


Gardeners planning Victorian landscapes in areas such as San Francisco can grow many of the plants that English Victorians loved. Foggy days and adequate rain both benefit bedding plants and lawns, but some large-leaved plants might get damaged in rainstorms. Tender plants such as brugsmansia might need protection from the elements, so plant them against a south wall and away from ocean winds.


A Victorian-style garden can be labor intensive. Clipped hedges or topiary associated with the style require constant trimming. Flowerbeds need weeding and deadheading, and lawns require edging. The opulent floral displays need water and sunlight. Large trees can overwhelm small gardens. Select small patio-size species to avoid creating too much shade in the space.


Writer Bio

Barrett Barlowe is an award-winning writer and artist specializing in fitness, health, real estate, fine arts, and home and gardening. She is a former professional cook as well as a digital and traditional artist with many major film credits. Barlowe holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and French and a Master of Fine Arts in film animation.

Top 80 Hillside Landscaping Design ideas - Beautiful Garden


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