William Robinson was an Irishman born into the Victorian garden age of colorful exotic bedding and mock Italianate gardens. In his early 20's, he was appointed head of the Natives Plants section at Regent's Park. Here his exposure to the native and 'wild' plants of the English countryside heavily influenced his opposition to the current Victorian garden aesthetics. He spent many years traveling around England and visiting the continent, inspiring him to advocate for a change in English garden style. He was a prolific writer, starting the magazine, The Garden, and writing the book, The Wild Garden. His writing promoted the ideas that natural gardening was less costly to maintain with less replanting of tender annuals. He also advocated more closely planted beds, less showy beauty, and the naturalization of exotic perennials and annuals planted in a manner in which they will thrive. He believed in the natural succession of plants to provide year round interest and beauty in the garden. He was more an advocate for the natural garden style than an actual garden designer. His work was not a restoration effort of native ecosystems, but rather the creation of something more than that, something picturesque which looked natural.
In 1884 Robinson purchased the Elizabethan manor of Gravetye. Here he was able to put his words into action. Gertrude Jekyll and he developed a lifelong friendship and provided each other with plants and ideas for the other's garden. She designed numerous English gardens, of which Robinson surely had some influence. At the Italianate garden, Shrubland, designed by Charles Barry, he made some modifications. Here it appears, he soothed the beds around the house in his naturalistic style with lush plantings. Throughout his life he continued to be a writer for this new 'style'.
How does Robinson fit into garden history? SInce his death, Robinson's influence is alive and evident in modern and contemporary gardens. Here are some examples from gardens that I have seen.
Hestercombe, designed by Gertrude Jekyll is a celebration of natural plantings. The ease of the plants in the garden, as if they may have just settled there. The plants there play off the hard geometric architecture of the Great Plat, the Dutch Garden and the Orangerie shown above.