How Have UK Gardens Changed Over Time?

How Have UK Gardens Changed Over Time

How Have UK Gardens Changed Over Time?

In 2010, statistics showed that more than two million British home owners do not have access to their own gardens. By 2020 it is expected that a total 10.5% of these homes will not have a garden. Accompanied by figures suggesting that children with no access to a garden are 38% more likely to become obese, the statistics can seem worrying.

Homes in the UK have been shrinking over the past 100 years, and unfortunately our gardens have done the same. The average home in Britain has halved in size compared to those built in 1920 and gardens shortened from 168 meters squared to just 163.2 metres squared between 1983 and 2013.

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Over the years, new materials have been introduced to gardeners which has led to an entire shift in the approach to gardening. Examples include using recycled materials in everything from plant pots to composite decking and a change in tools such as fertiliser which was once organic. Over the past 100 years, further changes include:

  • Plant pots: Originally made from clay, pots are now generally plastic or biodegradable.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.

The way that we view our gardens has also changed over time. During WW2, they became areas for growing food to supplement rationing, but also as 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.

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The opening of the first garden centre in Ferndown, Dorset in 1955 led to an abundance of centres setting up across Britain – forever changing the way that gardeners cultivated their plants. This new, widespread availability of plants meant heathers, conifers and bedding plants became popular.

In the 70s, the concept of self-sufficiency and growing your own produce made a comeback. The invention of colour TV also saw the widespread airing of gardening programmes, encouraging aspiring gardeners to get involved.

The use of gardens for recreational purposes was introduced in the 80s as BBQs and conservatories rose 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.

In the 2000s, the internet shifted gardening once again. 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 plant pots to composite decking.

As garden space continues to decrease in size, how should home owners use new materials and information available to get as much as possible from their green spaces? 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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