Which UK botanical gardens offer the most in-depth courses on Victorian horticultural practices?

The Victorian era, spanning the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901, was a period of profound change in horticultural practices. During this time, the British Empire brought plants from distant lands to the UK, sparking immense curiosity and setting fresh trends in horticulture. Today, several botanical gardens in the UK offer courses on these Victorian practices, enabling you to delve into this fascinating period of botanical exploration. Let's take a closer look at these institutions and what they have on offer.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world-renowned institution, boasting a verdant tapestry of plant collections. Its course on Victorian horticulture is an immersive journey into the past. Here, you'll gain insights into how Victorian horticulturists cultivated and cared for their plants. This includes a look into the Victorian Wardian case, an early form of the terrarium, and how it revolutionized the transportation of exotic plant species.

The course goes beyond theory, allowing you to practically engage with the era's horticultural tools and techniques. You'll get to recreate Victorian bedding schemes, understand the architectural aesthetics of Victorian glasshouses, and learn about the role of plant hunters during this period.

Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), Wisley

Renowned for its commitment to advancing horticulture and promoting good gardening, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), Wisley offers a course that explores Victorian garden history and its influence on contemporary gardening.

The course content includes studying Victorian garden designs, understanding the significance of plant introductions during this era, and exploring the impact of technological advancements on Victorian horticulture. Furthermore, you'll learn about Victorian social history and how it intertwined with gardening practices, focusing on how plants and gardens were used for both aesthetic and practical purposes.

University of Bristol Botanic Garden

At the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, you can immerse yourself in a course that covers the Victorian fascination with ferns or 'Pteridomania'. This course delves into the peculiar obsession that Victorians had with these plants, which led to the creation of 'ferneries' or specialised areas where ferns were collected, displayed, and studied.

You'll explore the diversity of ferns, their propagation techniques, and the Victorian influence on fern cultivation. The course provides the opportunity to recreate a small fernery, adhering to Victorian design principles.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

At the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the Victorian horticulture course focuses on greenhouse and bedding practices that were popular during the era. You'll learn how greenhouses were designed and constructed, gaining an understanding of how these glass structures enabled the cultivation of exotic plants in the UK.

The course also covers Victorian bedding practices, focusing on the intricate designs and vibrant colour schemes that were characteristic of Victorian gardens. You'll also learn about the Victorian passion for creating 'carpet bedding', a form of decorative garden design that used tightly packed low-growing plants to create intricate patterns or designs.

Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden

Finally, the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden offers a course that takes you back to the Victorian era, exploring the influence of plant collectors and the introduction of new plant species. You'll investigate the adventurous journeys of these collectors, understand their plant hunting techniques, and how these new found species were propagated within the UK.

In addition to this, the course covers the Victorian fascination with medicinal plants, delving into how these plants were cultivated and used for their medicinal properties.

In conclusion, the UK is home to several botanical gardens that offer in-depth courses on Victorian horticultural practices. These courses provide an engaging and hands-on learning experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in the fascinating world of Victorian horticulture. Whether you're a budding botanist or a seasoned gardener, these courses offer an opportunity to broaden your understanding and appreciation of this pivotal period in horticultural history.

The Chelsea Physic Garden

Founded in 1673, the Chelsea Physic Garden is the oldest botanical garden in London, and it offers a comprehensive course that focuses on Victorian horticulture's influence on the medicinal plant world. This course is a deep-dive into the Victorian era's significant advances in understanding and using plants for medicinal purposes.

You'll learn about the vital role of the Apothecaries during the Victorian era, their invaluable contribution to horticultural science, and their quest for medicinal plants. The course syllabus covers a broad range of subjects including the cultivation and use of medicinal plants in the Victorian era, the impact of plant hunters and explorers, and the introduction of new medicinal plants to the UK.

The Chelsea Physic Garden course is more than just theory. It also provides a practical component where you'll have the opportunity to engage with Victorian horticultural practices firsthand. You'll learn about the evolution of the physic garden, the designing of medicinal plant beds following Victorian principles, and you’ll even get to cultivate your own medicinal plants following Victorian techniques.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Located in Cornwall, the Lost Gardens of Heligan is one of the most famous restored gardens in the UK. Known for its remarkable Victorian Productive Gardens and Pleasure Grounds, Heligan offers a unique course that delves into the practical aspects of Victorian horticulture.

The course at Heligan allows you to acquire hands-on experience in Victorian horticultural practices. You'll get to learn about and practice Victorian methods of nurturing kitchen gardens, orchards, and greenhouses. You'll understand how the Victorians mastered the art of growing a wide range of fruits and vegetables, some of which were quite exotic and unusual for the time.

The course also touches upon the Victorian tradition of estate management, the role of the garden in Victorian society, and the impact of technological advancements on horticulture practices. The immersive experience culminates with the opportunity to plant and care for a small Victorian-styled plot within the gardens of Heligan.


Whether you're an enthusiastic amateur gardener or a horticulture professional, the UK's botanical gardens provide an abundance of opportunities to deepen your knowledge about Victorian horticulture. These in-depth courses offered by institutions such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Royal Horticultural Society, Wisley, the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden, the Chelsea Physic Garden and the Lost Gardens of Heligan, offer a comprehensive understanding of this influential era.

From exploring the Victorian fascination with ferns to understanding the architectural aesthetics of Victorian glasshouses, or delving into the peculiar obsession with medicinal plants, each course provides a unique lens through which to explore this fascinating period of horticultural history.

Judging by the range of courses on offer, it's clear that the Victorian influence on horticulture continues to resonate in the present day. The passion of the Victorians for discovering, cultivating and appreciating plants from around the globe, laid the groundwork for the diverse and thriving horticultural scene we enjoy in the UK today.