What did our park look like?
1) Background information
Public parks were designed according to the size and terrain of the land and the vision of the designer. Some had geometric plans; others were curvilinear. The facilities they offered depended upon the budget and the will of the council. Nevertheless, parks soon evolved into a relatively standardised form owing to the expectations of the local population and the need to accommodate large numbers of people.
Plants, trees and shrubs were the major element of park landscapes. The Victorians were keen collectors and, through exploration, many new species of plants were discovered throughout the Empire. Advances in transport enabled them to be more quickly exported back to the United Kingdom for show, while kept in small, sealed portable glasshouses called Wardian cases. More delicate plants and trees were displayed in glasshouses, but several could adapt to the British climate and were planted in the open.
To shut out the grim urban surroundings in which many people lived, parks were often screened by trees, shrubs or mounds of earth to create an oasis of beauty and peace within. These perimeter trees also provided shelter for less hardy trees inside. Tall shrubs were used to divide the park into smaller spaces and to screen paths for more intimate walks. In some parks, trees were planted in clumps, in others in avenues. Some parks even had displays of topiary, shaped into forms for the amusement of visitors.
Footpaths were carefully planned to take visitors around the park, not necessarily in the most direct route. Some were open, whilst others were more secluded. Paths were often used to divide the park into distinct areas, each with different planting schemes or recreational activity. Most nineteenth-century parks were planned to ensure that not everything was visible at the same time. This encouraged visitors to explore the park, coming across different features along the way.
Footpaths near flower beds were often bordered with low fences, kerbing, clipped hedges and shrubs to deter people from stepping on the carefully manicured lawns and getting too close to the beds.