‘It is said that table decoration is, comparatively speaking, a modern art; that fifty years ago it was rare, and a decade earlier practically unknown.’ TW Sanders, 1910
A leaf through The Graceful Custom library shows what, instinctively, we probably already knew: that over the last 100 years, once table decoration did take off, plants have taken second place behind cut flowers.
But, that doesn’t mean plants have been forgotten entirely.
In 1910 we were told that ‘a fern or small plant set in the centre bowl is often a simple solution of all decorative problems.’ All decorative problems! However, to avoid monotony, as he put it, Mr Sanders advocated slipping cut flowers in ‘to surround and to mingle’ with the fern. For Christmas, his table would have featured poinsettia, a small palm, or even a winter cherry capsicum, surrounded by holly and mistletoe.
In 1937 Walter Wright said that ‘a table decorated with a mixture of Crotons and Cyclamens alone is highly ornamental’ but it was undoubtedly flowers first again in his most ‘charming’ of table decorations:
It was in the 1950s that we finally saw plants truly trumping flowers, with an inspired design that integrated a planter into the table itself.
In the year following the Festival of Britain – a celebration of post-war creativity and artistic expression – this fabulous combined table and plant-stand was featured in Jones and Clark’s Indoor Plants and Gardens.
Later, in the 1970s, George Seddon showed off Dracaena, Maranta and Begona in a rather stunning centrepiece, and those ’70s classics ivy and african violets in another. We were reminded to cleverly colour coordinate with the room.
This flourish for foliage was not to last and by the mid-1980s we were very much back to flowers again. However, a quick mosey over to Urban Jungle Bloggers shows that leafy greenness is once again back on the menu. There’s certainly a lot to enjoy on our breakfast, lunch and dinner tables.