On treacherous ground

Jenkins and Van Pelt Wilson 1944 2

Browsing the latest addition to the Library got me thinking about the topic of decorating with house plants.

George Seddon in 1976 said: ‘Only you can decide whether or not to include such objects as shells, china gnomes, rocks or objets d’art among plants.  It is treacherous ground and many people cannot keep themselves away from it, even if they fall flat on their faces.’

I can only recall encountering this topic once before and surprisingly, that was in a positive light.  I say surprisingly because – if you think anything like me – plants are generally considered striking enough on their own not to be interfered with.

In 1944, two American women, Dorothy Jenkins and Helen Van Pelt Wilson, wrote Enjoy Your House Plants that flat-out advocated the selective use of ornaments in indoor plant displays.

Over a single page, their ideas ranged from a collection of china kittens (good for Valentine’s Day), carved wooden horses (‘appropriate somehow to October’), copper coffee pots and black sugar bowls, red goblets, ‘tall brass or squat pewter’ candlesticks, Stiegel glass or Waterford crystal, and a china Virgin ‘placed with the poinsettias for the holiday season.’

And remember, we’re not talking about the tacky novelty planters that Juliana Crow couldn’t stand, but the ornaments and antiques of some quality or sentimental value that we all acquire in one way or another.

They said: ‘We try to achieve a calculated and unified design, with each beautiful plant and every item of china or glass an important contributing element to a satisfying whole.’  Here’s what they meant:

Jenkins and Van Pelt Wilson 1944

Yes, it’s treacherous ground, but as it turns out, I am not immune to these charms.

Without a conscious thought, little ornaments from my nan have found their way next to my Zebrina.  Thanks to the influence of Dorothy and Helen, it’s become one of my favourite little combinations.