Garden History Collections

Find out more about Garden History Collections in the IHR Wohl Library. We collect historical sources and guides to finding and using sources, both about gardens, designers and landowners, and also the broader context.


The library collections focus on historical sources and guides aimed at finding and using sources. We have a range of material covering garden history, sometimes found in unexpected places. These are sources not just explicitly about gardens, but also broader material which enables the historian to glean information about garden history, for example from letters, diaries and travel accounts, estate accounts, trade records, and parliamentary sources. The collections complement specialist archives and libraries elsewhere. Listed below are a few examples from our holdings.

The library collections are mostly arranged geographically, with a few topical collections such as Religious History. Material on garden history can therefore be found throughout the library. Although we focus on Western Europe and its colonial history, descriptions of gardens can be found for other parts of the world. We also have a set of core books for the IHR's MA in Garden and Landscape History available outside the Library Enquiry Office. 

Highlights from the Collections: Primary Sources

Gardening Guides, Advice, and Writings of Landscape Gardeners

We hold a range of editions and facsimile editions of garden writing, including:

Letters and Diaries

We hold a wide collection of edited correspondence and diaries which contain descriptions of gardens, an insight into the way gardens were used and the role of landscape architects and gardeners. Coverage includes people who are famous in the field of garden history but also incidental descriptions of gardens found in a range of other writings. Many editions include extensive indexes. 

Writings of estate owners, garden practitioners, writers and commentators:

Editions giving an insight into the life of a gardener:

Travel Writing and Tourist Guides

Descriptions of British Gardens can be found in travel accounts such as Defoe's Tours and Walpole's Journals of visits to country seats in Walpole Society XVI and Descriptions of Lord Cobham's gardens at Stowe in the Buckinghamshire Record Society series.

The collections also contain guides to localities such as Colbran's New Guide for Tunbridge Wells with descriptions of gardens and parks.

We hold a range of travel writing covering European locations, for example A Hand-book for Travellers in Spain (1845) and Travels on the Continent (1820).

Further afield, there are descriptions of Trinidad Botanical Gardens in The Pocket Guide to the West Indies and Chinese gardens in Barrow's Travels in China. William Strickland's Journal of a tour in the United States of America, 1794-1795 includes a visit to a nursery garden, a description of seed procurement and commentary on the available varieties (p.55).

The further information see our Travel writing collection guide.

Estate, Monastic, Royal Household, Parliamentary and Local Government Sources

The Religious history collection includes sources covering monastic life such as the descriptions of the gardens at Clairvaux in the Patrologia Latina.

The Plan of St. Gall : a study of the architecture & economy of & life in a paradigmatic Carolingian monastery contains detail about accommodation for gardeners, layout of the gardens and vegetable planting schemes alongside rich illustration from related sources.

Parliamentary sources such as editions of Parliamentary Debates, voting records and Acts of Parliament give insight into issues such as land boundaries and legislation around public parks. We also hold some editions of local administrative records, for example the Liverpool Town books contain documents to do with gardens and boundaries and the Extracts from the records.. relating to the transfer to and possession of Richmond Park.

The library contains many editions of estate papers and account books. Furthermore, details of the gardens at Royal castles and palaces can be found in the History of the King's works. There are also some descriptions of gardens and how they were used in the Progresses of Queen Elizabeth.

Newspapers and Magazines

Newspapers are a good source of information on contemporary views about gardens and parks, and also advertisements for gardeners, plants and equipment.

There is an account in Times about the opening of the "beautiful roof gardens at Derry and Toms, Kensington High Street.. The gardens occupy more than an acre.. There is a wild garden- a pleasant place with a stream and waterfall and a rustic bridge: then Tudor arches lead into a Spanish garden with courtyards and beds glowing with flowers. All kinds of unexpected floral beauties are to be found, and the rhododendrons are so well advanced that they might have been growing for many years" (The Times, Monday, May 09, 1938; pg. 16; Issue 47989; col E, from The Times Online)

Online newspaper collections (onsite only) - both fully searchable:

Nineteenth century periodicals:

Directories and Catalogues

Directories and catalogues offer a rich source of information about the gardening trade, containing details about market gardens and supply chains, tools, equipment and employment.

We hold many Trade Directories from London, English counties and the British regions, and a small number from other parts of the world.

We also hold a compilation of advertisements and news items from New York City newspapers, indexed to include entries on garden tools and the gardening business: The arts and crafts in New York, 1726-1776 and 1777-1799  (New York historical society)

The collections also include some Exhibition catalogues from the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the 1862 International Exhibition. Both contain illustrations and descriptions of innovative tools, horticultural equipment and machinery.

Maps and Topographical Views

Our collections of maps and topographical drawings are strongest for London and the surrounding counties, due to the holdings of the London Topographical Society publications, but we also hold material for other areas.

These can be useful for showing the layout of parks and estates, and some include more detailed contemporary drawings of parks and gardens.

For more information see our map collection guide.

County Histories

The Victoria County History volumes contain detailed accounts of the history of estates, parks and gardens. Many are available on British History Online.

We also hold a large collection of older County Histories which describe the histories of estates and give contemporary accounts of the locality.

Editions for particular counties can be traced in A guide to English county histories.

Highlights from the Collections: Reference and Secondary Works

Biographical Works

Our collections contain general biographical reference works including the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and Burke's Peerage which would help to trace practitioners and landowners. There are also subject specific works such as:

Biographical works covering related professions such as architecture, surveying and cartography can also be found.

The sources can be found either in the quick reference section or in a dedicated 'biography' section within each collection.

County Histories

The Victoria County History volumes contain detailed accounts of the history of estates, parks and gardens. Many are available on British History Online.

We also hold a large collection of older County Histories which describe the histories of estates and give contemporary accounts of the locality.

Editions for particular counties can be traced in A guide to English county histories.


We hold a wide variety of history periodicals, the current issues are on open access in the library, back copies are available electronically or in the store. Some examples which have covered garden history in recent issues are:

The more specialist Garden History : the journal of the Garden History Society is also available (all except for 3 most recent years available electronically through Jstor).

The Bibliography of British and Irish History and equivalent national bibliographies for other countries form good starting point for browsing periodical literature. Access to Jstor and other electronic databases is available within the library.

Further Help

Contact us if you would like help on finding or using our collections, or if you have any comments or suggestions about the content of this guide. We are happy to help.

You can also book a tour or training session.