Garden sizes

The changing face of British gardens

Garden culture


On behalf of, and with our thanks to Georgie White

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Gardens have changed over time in the UK, but how?

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Gardens in Britain are becoming smaller, and some houses don’t have gardens at all. 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.

Two million homes in the UK didn’t have gardens as of 2010, with the same results predicting that by 2020, 10.5% of homes wouldn’t have gardens either. This is not good news in light of research that suggests children with no access to gardens are 38% more likely to become obese.

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  • Plant pots: Originally made from clay, pots are now generally plastic or biodegradable.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

  • 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 Brits approach their gardens have changed too. 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 first garden centre opened in 1955 in Ferndown, Dorset and caused the ultimate trend which would revolutionise the way we garden. This widespread availability of plants meant heathers, conifers and bedding plants became popular.

However, 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. The 70s placed attention on self-sufficiency and encouraged those with gardens to grow their own flowers and vegetables. Colour TV’s invention also saw the widespread airing of gardening programmes.

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.

The way we garden is constantly changing, and the rise of the internet in the 2000s has had an impact. Now, information about growing and cultivating your own plants is everywhere, accessible through mobiles, desktops and tablets. Using the internet to our advantage, how can we help benefit our gardens? 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.

Georgie White



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