A good day out was had by all last weekend at The Geffrye ‘museum of the home’, with rooms mocked up to show how they would have looked in the past.
It was part pleasure, part work – delving deeper into #houseplanthistory as we love to do here at The Graceful Custom. Here are some of the things I learnt:
1. If the plant choices are as meticulously made as the rest of the displays, there are some clear poster plants on show: orchids for the 1990s; ivy, spider plant and tradescantia for the 1950s and ’60s; and ferns, of course, for the Edwardian period.
2. The boom in greenhouses and conservatories in the mid to late 1800s was fuelled by cheaper glass and new constructions methods and heating equipment that made them more affordable.
3. At the same time, middle-class women were expected to direct the household servants more and do less themselves, leaving time for ‘genteel pursuits’ they were now expected to take up – including gardening.
4. Pot plants were being brought in from the garden as early as the 1700s as they became more common in London on balconies and window sills. Thomas Fairchild was an expert ‘nurseryman and florist’ in Hoxton who wrote The City Gardener in 1722.
5. A painting can speak volumes about the way we live with plants indoors and our favourites in times gone by:
Front Room, Islington High Street from 1968 shows the popular taste for rubber plants and philodendrons, as well as the persistence of cyclamens, daffodils and hyacinths as flowering choices (by Frank Straton).
Window Plants by John Nash in 1945 shows a lady snoozing at her window which is laden with an amaryllis, easter cactus, aloe, geraniums and a campanula. There is also the trusty aspidistra in a nifty bamboo stand by her side.
And in Interior with a Couple Playing Cards we see the Victorians love of ferns and palms, and a luscious black and gold ceramic pot (Nancy Adair Sabine Pasley, 1865–1903).