With changing employment patterns, the back garden of Victorian and Edwardian house began to have a less practical role, becoming instead a place of leisure. Some families still liked to grow a few vegetables.
In smaller gardens, there would normally be a lawn, perhaps with a round, central bed, with beds to the sides. The fence would be of a wooden picket type. There might also have been ceramic ornaments such as urns or statues.
Some houses had a conservatory; French windows would open from the drawing room into it.
The gardens of this period either followed the Italianate tradition with a terrace looking over areas of bedding plants separated by stone balustrades and gravel paths, or else a more picturesque look with with stylised curves, lawns and bedding plants. Gnomes had been introduced by 1850.
The two mid-Victorian styles spent several decades battling each other; there were attempts to make gardens look more natural, but whilst stone balustrades were often replaced with box hedging, the Italianate look persisted in other gardens. Some bedding was replaced by hardy perennials in both styles. In the 1880s, the idea of large beds with a structure of hardy herbaceous plants filled in with bulbs and annuals to give year-long interest was promoted by William Robinson (who started a magazine called 'The Garden' in 1871) and William Sutherland from Kew.
It was only in the last decade of the 19th century that the work of Gertrude Jekyll and Lutyens brought the two Queen Anne styles together. In 1898, Jekyll and H Selfe-Leonard contributed three planting designs to the Royal Horticultural Society. One gave colour from May to September, the second spring until early August, and the third for late summer and autumn. Jekyll balanced a more formal landscape with natural planting.
Rear gardens were laid out in a simple style. Normally there was a straight path of cinders or beaten earth that ran from the house to the end of the garden. The fences were often of vertical boards but some gardens had hedges to form the boundary. Many of these gardens had rustic or bamboo pergolas which formed an attractive feature over the pathway.
Plants such as sweet peas and carnations were very popular. The owners of these small gardens took ideas from much larger or grander gardens, as well as from magazines and newspapers, and implemented them in a more modest fashion.
Very few vegetables were grown in these gardens; where they were, the vegetable patch was usually separated from the ornamental garden by a fence or trellis.