Gardening became a popular pastime in Victorian Britain with the rise of suburban gardens and a passion for the outdoors. New plant introductions from abroad brought a greater variety of plants, while improvements in technology made gardening more accessible. Gardening books and magazines spread the appeal and debate raged over the merits of colour and order versus wild and natural. The large and impressive gardens of country houses were emulated in suburban settings as the appeal of gardens and gardening spread to the masses, while the creation of public parks introduced green spaces to grey cities.
As with architecture, Victorian gardens underwent a 'battle of the styles', and an exploration of the period reveals contrasting fashions for garish bedding, ornate Italian terracing, naturalistic planting, cool ferneries, colourful parterres, tranquil Japanese water features, and the occasional eccentric embellishment. The characters involved include such Victorian luminaries as John Loudon, Joseph Paxton and Charles Darwin, alongside the garden designers William Nesfield, Charles Barry and William Robinson, plant hunters Joseph Hooker, Robert Fortune and William Lobb, and the influential women Marianne North, Alicia Amherst and Jane Loudon. The pace of change makes the Victorian era of gardens an exciting time of exotic new plants, fiercely competitive head gardeners, impressive glasshouse engineering, strong personalities and contrasting ideals.