G is for Gardens


The exterior of the  Rotunda at Ranelagh Gardens, the “Chinese House”, and part of the grounds; engraving by Thomas Bowles, 1754


The idea of making and taking tea in a garden is as old as tea itself.  In China and Japan, the tradition of enjoying tea in a garden setting has gone back thousands of years.  It is a practice steeped in history.

Tea Gardens in London…

During the 18th and 19th centuries, tea gardens in London flourished. In fact, it is documented that over 200 tea gardens “blossomed” in London from the 16th to the early 19th centuries. These gardens allowed people to stroll and take tea, which was a very fashionable thing to do.  The idea was based on the Dutch “tavern garden teas.”  The tea gardens were the first social environment that allowed for the mixed- company of both sexes and classes.  The gardens did however attract large numbers of working class people who lived in the city, since the gardens were often located in the more pleasant  London suburbs. They were a welcomed respite from the harsh lives that working-class people in those days often endured – the sights, smells and congestion of city life. In his essay on Tea Gardens, William Boulton wrote:

“It was the citizens of such a town, sober merchants and shopkeepers, apprentices, seamstresses, and artisans who worked continuously, but leisurely and without much stress, during the week and spread themselves over an area of many square miles on Sundays, who formed the chief patrons of the al fresco entertainment. The lawyers and military men who filled the chief of the few recognized professions of the last century, supplied their quota of course, and the aristocracy came to most of the alfresco entertainments at one time or another, but merely as incidental visitors.”

The Upper Classes…

The upper classes tended to visit less frequently, but when they did honor an establishment with their presence, they could create a stir.

In 1733, in the month of May, it occurred to the Princesses Caroline and Amelia to attend (Islington Spa) regularly and take its waters. These royal ladies were duly saluted with twenty-one guns, and all London flocked to the gardens to see a real princess.” – London’s Tea Gardens, An Essay by William B. Boulton


The gardens were usually open on Saturdays and Sundays. Their season was from April to September or October, depending on the weather. They provided flowered walkways and secluded shaded arbors.  There was also a variety of entertainments that visitors could partake in – music for dancing, skittle grounds and bowling greens. The gardens also provided a backdrop for concerts, were visitors could listen to the latest works from the popular composers of the day. The larger and more luxurious gardens, offered illuminated groves, balloon rides, musicals, and fireworks. At first there was no charge for admission, but visitors usually purchased small cakes and other decadent pastries to enjoy with their tea. The famous tea gardens of the time – the Vauxhall, Marylebone and Cuper’s – had a fixed admission charge of a shilling, in addition to the price of any refreshments that might be purchased.  At the Ranelagh (a famous garden located in Chelsea, then just outside London), an admission charge of half a crown included “the Elegant Regale of Tea, Coffee and Bread and Butter.”

tea garden



Tea gardens also gave rise to the practice of tipping.  There was often some distance between the kitchen and the tea tables of the patrons in the garden, giving the tea time to cool. To ensure prompt service and thereby keeping the tea hot, each table was equipped with a small wooden box bearing the letters “TIPS” (To Insure Prompt Service).


The romance and allure of these gardens is now just an enchanting and forgotten memory. Not one remains.

Next… Genmaicha

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