logocolour bestWelcome to the Birkbeck Garden History Group web site. The group is interested in studying garden history through lectures, garden visits and exhibitions and in encouraging others to become interested in the subject of garden history. Click on the links along the top of the page to find out more about the BGHG and our activities. Click ‘Follow’ at the bottom of this page on the right to receive alerts when new items are posted.

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October Update


As our 2019 programme of garden visits draws to a close with a Study Visit to Upton Park on 8 October, we look forward to our Annual Lecture: one of two annual events open to the general public. This year our lecturer will be Clare Ford Wille, art historian, Birkbeck University of London and her subject will be the life and work of MARIA SIBYLLA MERIAN 1647-1717: Artist and Botanist who published her ground-breaking two volume study of Caterpillars, Their Wondrous Transformation and Peculiar Nourishment from Flowers in 1683, combining scientific study with exquisite illustrations. In 1699 she travelled to the Dutch Colony of Suriname in South America in order to study that country’s butterflies and the result of her outstanding observations and paintings was Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, in which some of the first examples of serious botanical illustration combining science and art can be seen. The Lecture will take place on Tuesday 12 November 1830 -20.00 at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square (corner of Bedford Way) London, WC1B 5DR

To book visit Eventbrite


Last month we highlighted here the 2019 Autumn/Winter Lecture series offered by the London Parks and Gardens Trust (LPGT). This month we have details of The Gardens Trust London winter lectures. Running from 15 January to 11 March 2020. Topics include: Herbariums and Garden History: the Fulham Palace Experience – Lecturer Dr Mark Spencer, Honorary Curator at the Linnean Society of London; Nicholas Leate (1569-1631) ‘a worthy merchant and a lover of all faire flowers’ – Lecturer: Dr David Marsh, independent researcher; Princes, Parkland and Politics: the legacy of Muskauer Park and its modern revalorization – Lecturer: Brian Dix; Beth Chatto: A Life in Plants – Lecturer: Dr Catherine Horwood, social historian and author; Re-visioning the High Line, New York – “two guys with a logo” – Lecturer: Dr Jill Raggett, Emeritus Reader in Gardens and Designed Landscapes.

Fuller details are available at Talks & Lectures.


If you haven’t yet purchased your copy of our latest publication Digging Deeper full details are available at Publications, along with details of a number of new garden history-related books due to be published this month.

Titles include Tim Richardson’s latest: Cambridge College Gardens;  a new  edition of Great Gardens of London: 30 Masterpieces from Private Plots to Palaces by Victoria Summerley, Hugo Rittson Thomas & Marianne Majerus; Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill by author Thomas Christopher & photographer Ngoc Minh Ngo; English Gardens: From the Archives of Country Life Magazine by Kathryn Bradley-Hole & Duke of Devonshire; The Artist’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Greatest Painters by Jackie Bennett; and Roman Gardens by Anthony Beeson .

“Circuit gardens evolved as new attitudes to nature coincided with the application of early notions of the picturesque in landscape painting, poetry and the theatre were applied to landscape design……….The four types of circuit – circuit garden, ferme ornée, circuit shrubbery and circuit in a garden – all contained elements, such as pastoral fields, shrubberies or set scenes, which could be found in the other types of circuit. This means that the boundaries between the four types of circuit are not clear or fixed but are somewhat permeable.” (Chapter 1: Circuit Gardens in Eighteenth-Century Landscape Gardens: The Complexity and Interdependence of Circuit Types)

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September Update II

On Sunday morning 13th October 2019 historian Dr Richard Hewlings will talk on Lord Burlington’s Black Servants as part of the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust Kitchen Garden Open Day. For full details please see Lord Burlington’s Black Servants  


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September Update

The new Introduction to Garden History course announced in our July update has proved to be very popular and has already sold out. As a result, the Gardens Trust is considering repeating the course, or something similar, in 2020 and would like to assess potential demand. The 6-7 week course would be held in London at a location yet to be determined.

If you would be interested in such a course, please email GTintrocourses@gmail.com

Looking ahead to the autumn and into 2020, some new talks programmes, study days, and courses have been added to Outside Events, Lectures and Talks, and Short Courses and Longer Courses pages.

Amongst new lectures and talks in coming months are The Deepdene: a landscape rediscovered being given to the Surry Gardens Trust by Alexander Bagnall, who has been the driving force behind the Deepdene rescue project; and a ‘celebration’ of Follies, Grottoes & Garden Buildings published over 20 years ago, organised by The Folly Fellowship.

The annual ‘garden history’ orientated spring event at Rewley House, Oxford next year will be on Woman and Gardens (May 29-31) followed shortly after, also at Rewley House a 1-day course on Plant Hunters (13th June). Three 10-week courses – on Gardens and the Subconscious, The Artist and the Garden, and 20th Century Gardens and Lifestyle – at Cardiff University have been added to our Longer Courses page.

Details of the London Parks & Gardens Trust (LPGT) annual lecture series are now available on our Lectures and Talks page: topics featured over the coming winter series (October 2019 -March 2020) include Historic Trees, Thamesmead, Vauxhall Gardens, Royal Gardens, Greenwich Park and ‘Rediscovering the permanence of place’.

Two garden history books are due to be published during September: Theory of Gardens (Ex Horto: Dumbarton Oaks Texts in Garden and Landscape Studi), by Jean-marie Morel; and The Blue Garden: Recapturing an Iconic Newport Landscape by Arleyn A Levee;

AND FINALLY, if you haven’t yet got your copy of our latest publication, Digging Deeper, details of its contents, and how to purchase your copy, are available alongside the books mentioned above on our Publications page.

Our September extract from Digging Deeper: ‘In 1899 the Board of Education was created and education became the responsibility of county councils. The system of giving grants to schools for teaching specific subjects was changed and the new system provided grants according to the needs of individual schools and their pupils. Taking the change a step further the 1904 so-called ‘New Code’ provided specimen courses in school gardening. In the same year the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) examination in ‘Cottage and Allotment Gardening’ was introduced. The impact of these changes was immediate and by 1911 there were two thousand school gardens in England’. [Chapter 4: The Teaching of School Gardening to Young People, 1900-1971, by Gwyneth Godding].

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August Update

‘A growing number of middle-class women remained unmarried as men left Britain to seek commercial opportunities overseas within the Empire. Many women needed to find work to become financially independent and sought to change the status quo by entering professions. Garden and landscape design would be amongst these……….’

(Extract from A bright glimpse of fair and still places’: How women philanthropists and social reformers used landscape and gardening to improve the lives of the poor’, Chapter 3 in BGHG’s latest publication, DIGGING DEEPER (2019)

See Publications for further details and how to purchase.

New courses have been added to our Garden History Studies pages, including Plant hunting; Women and gardens; The artist and the garden; Portuguese gardens; Gardens of Tuscany; Late 19th century gardens; 20th Century gardens; The botany & history of City of London gardens; and new ‘Garden History in 10 objects’ days.

The course ‘1000 years of the English Garden’ scheduled for 2019 at Oxford Department of Continuing Education will now take place there in August 2020.

See Short Courses and Longer Courses for further details of all courses.

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July Update

New garden history course announced.

The Gardens Trust, in association with the Garden Museum, is offering a new 9-week INTRODUCTION TO GARDEN HISTORY course starting in October 2019.

Aimed at those new to the study of garden history it’s an exciting opportunity to learn about the fascinating history of park and garden design. Delivered by well-known and distinguished speakers in their field the course will provide a chronological panorama of the development of garden history from medieval, Tudor and Elizabethan gardens through the centuries to the present day.

For the full programme and details of booking, visit http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/events/an-introduction-to-garden-history

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June Update

Hay is mentioned frequently in the records of the society, proof that he was an active member and one whose good judgement and expertise was valued. An early ambition of the society was the creation of an experimental garden, partly to give advice on the best horticultural practices and partly to test, under local growing conditions, the new plants coming into Britain. To this end, at the Annual General Meeting in 1815, Sir John Sinclair proposed that two representatives from the society should be commissioned to visit Europe to discover what advances had been made in agriculture. Eventually three members made the tour: Patrick Neill accompanied John Hay and Alexander Dickson.’ 

An excerpt from John Hay (1758-1836), Scottish garden planner, and his search for the ideal heating system for glasshouses, by Doreen Wilson, Chapter 2 of BGHG’s latest publication Digging Deeper. Full details of the publication, its contents, and how to purchase can be found on our Publications page.

Two new exhibitions, both concerned with botanical art have been added to our Outside Events page:  Worth a Thousand Words at the RHS Lindley Library until 26 July 2019; and Modern Nature at The Drawing Room until 7 July 2019.

New talks have been added at Garden History Lectures & Talks with themes including the nurturing of London’s green spaces; Derek Jarman’s garden at Prospect Cottage and his continuing influence; the saving of Japanese cheery blossom; the history of the Wisteria; and the Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace.

Our Garden History Short Courses page has been updated with information on courses being offered by The Garden Historians, Oxford University Department of Continuing Education, and Denman College.

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May Update

A copy of the new BGHG Constitution, with amendments agreed at the AGM on 21 February 2019, has been added to our About Us page.

Dates for Garden Visits in August and October have now been confirmed and can be seen on the BGHG Future Events page

The Do Join Us page has been updated

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