Image: detail of West Hall Gardens

This display explores the history of Woking’s gardens and how the locality was once an epicentre of international plant trade.

Woking’s soil is part of the Bagshot Sands. This means they are not very fertile, but that they can be well-drained and are workable. Whilst this makes the area unsuitable for large-scale agriculture, it is ideal for plant nurseries and gardens.

In the 18th century, Woking supplied London markets with plants and flowers. By 1850, the locality was an international centre for growing exotic plants, such as rhododendrons, azaleas and clematis. The large houses of Woking, such as Byfleet Manor, West Hall and Sutton Place, all had notable gardens which featured these exotic flowers.

After 1890, land in Woking was needed for building and some of the smaller nurseries closed. By the 1980s, the price of land had risen to such an extent that even the largest nursery had closed due to the development of Goldsworth Park. 

More people and more space being used for housing led to a demand for allotments. Currently, there are nine allotment sites in Woking. To this day, an interest in gardens continues, with the Horsell Garden Safari and the National Gardens Scheme both attracting many visitors.

Acknowledgements to Neil Burnett, Byfleet Heritage Society, Cobbold Family History Trust, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Derry’s Field Allotment Association, Hazel Gilmore, Helen Gristwood, Guildford Museum, Ken Halls, Ann Harington, The Iris Society, Robin Lack, Richard Langtree, Jenny Mukerji, National Fruit Collection, Martin Staniforth, and Surrey County Archaeological Unit (part of Surrey County Council).

Learn more in this free heritage display outside Woking's Story, our local history museum.