The Changing Face Of The Garden: How Have They Changed Over Time?

Our green spaces have been gradually shrinking in Britain, and now our homes are being affected by this trend. 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. Together with Arbordeck, specialist retailers of decking boards, we explore this phenomenon and how the garden has got smaller over time.

By 2020 it is estimated that 10.5% of all homes will not have a garden; according to figures produced in 2010, two million British homes already do not have a 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.

History of gardening Britain

When we look at the history of gardening, it’s not just the size of a garden that has changed – its purpose has also changed.

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  • Plant pots: Originally made from clay, pots are now generally plastic or biodegradable.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

Depending on a home owner’s needs at the time, many have found various reasons to use their gardens in different ways. 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.

The garden centre was first popularised in the early 50s and 60s. The first was to be set up in Ferndown, Dorset in 1955, changing the way gardeners cultivated plants for generations to come. This widespread availability of plants meant heathers, conifers and bedding plants became popular.

In the 1970s, growing your own fruit and veg once again became a hugely important concept. Colour TV’s invention also saw the widespread airing of gardening programmes.

In the 1980s, the garden was a space to chill out and relax with friends and family. BBQs and conservatories grew in popularity. By the 90s, this movement became more about the ‘makeover’ – with many people installing backyard decks as a fast, affordable way to create a living space in their gardens.

Once again in the early 2000s, the garden changed to something new. 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.

So, in 2017, how can gardeners find the best information for improving their garden and following the best trends? 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.