This section is from the book "A History Of Gardening In England", by Alicia Amherst. Also available from Amazon: A History Of Gardening In England.
" So sits enthroned, in vegetable pride, Imperial Kew by Thames' glittering side; Obedient sails from realms unfurrow'd bring For her the unnam'd progeny of Spring ; Attendant Nymphs her dulcet mandates hear, And nurse in fostering arms the tender year ; Plant the young bulb, inhume the living seed, Prop the weak stem, the erring tendril lead ; Or fan in glass-built fanes the stranger flowers, With milder gales, and steep with warmer showers. Delighted Thames through tropic umbrage glides, And flowers antarctic, bending o'er his tides; Drinks the new tints, the sweets unknown inhales, And calls the sons of Science to his vales".
The importance of Kew gradually increased under the management of William Aiton. This able gardener was born in 1731, and obtained the appointment of Botanical Superintendent at Kew through the influence of Philip Miller. He brought out a catalogue of the plants grown at Kew in 1789. To each plant Aiton added the native habitat, and the date of introduction, and records, from his own recollection, those that were grown by Philip Miller at Chelsea. He identified those introduced by Peter Collinson with the help of his son Michael; James Lee, of Hammersmith, and Knowlton, who had been gardener to James Sherard, also gave him what information they could. The plants are arranged on the Linnaean System, and include between five and six thousand species, this number being raised to eleven thousand in the second edition to which Dryander and R. Brown largely contributed, published by the younger Aiton in 1810-1813. William Aiton died in 1793, and was succeeded by his son, William Townsend Aiton. Since then, under the many able botanists connected with it, Kew has assumed more and more the first place among the Botanical Institutions of the world. Of the work of the great botanists of this century, Lindley, Hooker, Brown, Smith, Loudon, Henslow, Sowerby, and the great Darwin himself, and many others, it is impossible to speak, but it is to these great men that the wonderful progress of this century is due, to say nothing of the men still living who are looked up to with respect and admiration by the practical gardeners in this close of the nineteenth century, not only in England itself but throughout her vast dominions.
In England a garden appears to have been attached even to the humblest home. As early as in Tudor times the peasant tried to grow an few plants around his cottage door ; and many an old cottage is still covered with a vine that has stood there for centuries, and many an apple tree has born its ruddy crops year by year undisturbed, while the gardens of the more imposing mansions hard by have passed away. Of late years the desire to cultivate again some of the old-fashioned plants which had been discarded, has led many to search for them in cottage gardens, and thus numerous treasures have been found which had for long remained hidden in some retired spot. The fruit and vegetables now grown by cottagers are often an example to their more wealthy but less skilful neighbours. In coldest winter, it is wonderful to see the bright masses of flowers in their cottage windows. Even in the towns the poor man tries to have some plants to " serve him with a hint that nature lives".
" Mark the dim windows ye shall pass And see the petted myrtle here ; While there upraised in tinted glass, The curling hyacinths appear.
The gay geranium in its pride, Looks out to kiss the scanty gleam ; And rosebud nurslings by its side, Are gently brought to share the beam.
Hands with their daily bread to gain May oft be seen at twilight hour, Decking their dingy garret pane With wreathing stem or sickly flower".
The Italian style of design, which was the prevailing one by the middle of this century, was easily adapted to suit the new florist flowers which were then rapidly increasing. The fashion of what is known as " bedding out," came in, and old-fashioned plants, which had been the pride of our gardens for centuries, were banished to make room for these newcomers. In an Essay on Landscape Gardening by Morris, in 1825,* he advocates this plan, which was then quite a new one. " The beauty of the flower-garden, in the summer season," he writes, " may be heightened by planting in beds some of the most freely-flowering young and healthy greenhouse plants. Where there is an extent of greenhouse, a sufficient quantity of plants should be grown annually for this purpose, and should be sunk in the beds about the middle or end of May. The following are among the most beautiful of this species: Anagallis grandiflora, Anagallis Monelli. Heliotropium grandiflorum, Fuchsia coccinea, Lobelia Erinus and unidentata, Hemimeris urticifolia, Alstroemeria peregrina, Bouvardia triphylla, Geraniums of sorts, Lychnis coronaria, Linum trigynum." These are what Morris suggests, but other plants, Petunias, Zinnias, Begonias, Ageratum, Calceolarias, and many more, might now be added to the list, besides the numerous foliage plants, such as Coleus, Echiverias, Cerastiums, Dracoenas, also Alternanthera, and other low growing things which are used for carpet bedding. More skill is now used in the selection of colours and arrangements of plants, some fine effects being thus produced with these combinations. Graceful and more feathering plants are planted among the old-fashioned bedding plants, such as a groundwork of some self-coloured viola, relieved by tall standards of ivy-leafed Geranium, Dracoenas, Cannas, or Grevillea robusta. At first the bedding-out consisted in merely filling the beds with flowers to produce as great a blaze of colour as possible. Trentham garden is described in 1859 as a " startling mass of Geraniums and Calceolarias," and this alone was the aim of the gardeners in many places.