RHS Gardens

Design of the gardens

Plan of the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens, 1867

Plan of the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens, 1867
Copyright: Reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851

The Royal Horticultural Society Gardens occupied a very large site in South Kensington, as can be seen in this estate plan of 1867. The plan was made to highlight the location of the Central Hall of Arts and Science (later Royal Albert Hall); however, it is useful for its illustration of the layout of the gardens.

The gardens were maintained by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) from 1861 until c.1886. They contained a large conservatory designed by Francis Fowke; arcades of brick, tile and terracotta by Sydney Smirke; and various statuary, spiral shrubs, stone-edged canals, and coloured gravel.

Disputes between the designers

The canals and waterworks are believed to have been more Fowke's idea, rather than that of the landscape designer, W.A. Nesfield. Nesfield would have preferred more flowerbeds, however, Fowke's preference (which may have been due to his engineering background) won out.

Throughout the planning of the Italian-inspired gardens there were disagreements between the designers, Fowke, Smirke and Nesfield. Smirke's polychromatic walls and arcades were criticised by Fowke and Prince Albert for their stripy, streaky bacon effect.

The opening of the gardens

The garden was inaugurated, but not finished, on 5 June 1861. The Prince Consort then described it as:

'…a valuable attempt at least to reunite the science and art of gardening to the sister arts of architecture, sculpture and painting…..' and that it had a future as '…the inner court of a vast quadrangle of public buildings…..where science and art may find space for development, with that air and light which are elsewhere well nigh banished from this overgrown metropolis.' (1)


(1) Quoted in Survey of London, vol. xxxviii, p. 129