The Victorians were the first house plant enthusiasts but their plants had to be hardy and the range of species grown was small. This was due to the mainly unfavourable conditions found in the typical Victorian home.
Rooms were often dark and decorated in deep colours with heavy furnishings. Fumes from the gas lights, tobacco smoke, draughts, cool winter conditions and extreme changes of temperature in rooms which had only coal or wood fires, all combined to make an unsuitable environment for the plants we are able to grow today.
Nevertheless, the Victorians valued their house plants and they were often displayed in pride of place in a bay window, the centre of a table or on astand in a prominent . They took to plant containers with enthusiasm, too, and many ornate brass, china and glazed earthenware can still be seen in homes today.
Wardian cases and conservatories Plants were transported from the Far East and Australia to Britain in large sealed glass cases, lashed to the deck. Known as Wardian cases, they provided the humid conditions ideal for many plants, particularly ferns, and gave protection from draughts, cold and fumes. This contributed greatly to the Victorians’ craze for ferns.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 made glass houses very popular and people eagerly added conservatories to their homes. This considerably extended the range of plants and exotic fruits that could be grown so peaches, grapes, lemons and oranges appeared.
Creating a Victorian look
- A small table with a heavy linen and lace tablecloth thrown over it makes an ideal plant stand.
- Trace a design of a Tulip, or other typically Art Nouveau flower and stencil it on to a .
- An original Victorian fireplace, complete with ceramic tiles, provides an ideal backdrop for a Victorian plant , particularly if the tiles feature .
- Spindly, cane tables were popular for displaying plants and were introduced from the far-flung corners of the British Empire.
- An old cast-iron Victorian pub table can be used to an Aspidistra.
Copies of old Victorian china howls and jugs and planters are easily found. Choose colours to complement your living room or bedroom décor and useor Parlour Palm plants to add an authentic touch.
Jardinieres have become popular again and there are various reproductions available. Choose from ceramic flower and plant shapes, figures that hold the pot aloft or even fish that cradle a howl in their tail. Less expensive are plain or paint-effect plastic pots on columns which display ferns well.
Antique shops, junk shops and market stalls can still supply a vast range of Victorian items. Old brass jam kettles and pans make ideal plant containers and a collection of old biscuit tins can effectively display smaller ferns and young palms.
The Victorian home
The Victorian era was a period of great change. It saw the widespread introduction of factory-made items of furniture and accessories, and, with improved transport and more money, people were able to travel more. As a result, the Victorian home often became overstuffed with decorative items.
The Victorians were great collectors and nature studiers and plant lovers. Collections of fossils, insects, stuffed birds, exotic palms and ferns, and wax flowers and fruit crammed their homes.
At the end of the 19th century, the Art Nouveau style developed as a reaction to this opulence. But plants remained important, as interiors and furnishings used nature as a theme. Flowers, particularly, were a very popular motif. Tulips, Violets,, Waterlilies and the were often incorporated within fabric designs featuring birds, animals and insects.
William Morris used these elements in his typically late Victorian designs for wallpaper and fabrics, which are still available. These can be used with a selection of plants to create a Victorian look today.
Colours: Dark and rich, with much use of russet colours, green-blue shades, deep wine red tones and gold, burgundy and navy.
Fabrics: Heavy, opulent fabrics were popular, such as velvet, moire, velour and damask. Tapestry and beadwork were also very common.
Plants: Ferns, Palms,were displayed on stands. Palms were placed in large, decorative pots on the floor and Wardian cases of plants became popular. Gardeners of the rich grew exotic fruit, trees and .