For some of us, that title may have conjured up childhood memories of making ‘sand-saucer’ gardens for the local flower show or ‘pet and garden’ day at school. But I’ve actually something different in mind.
We have found quite a few 19th century ceramic vessels from around Christchurch featuring botanical motifs, either of specific flowers and plants, or of plant-heavy scenery. So today I’m going to tiptoe through the tulips of floral abandon, and track down some of the botanical wonders that 19th century Christchurch had on their sideboards.
This splendid platter is an example of idealised ‘Romantic’ scenery, featuring an assortment of pretty plants. I suspect horticultural accuracy was not top of the list of requirements for creating this type of pattern, so some educated guesswork is needed (especially without the help of flower colours) to identify some of these plants. Around the border, I see roses (both single and double flowered blooms with thorned stems), maybe zinnias (in 1858 the first double flowered types were bought to the UK from India), some small and rather stylized blooms that are possibly forget-me-nots (symbolic of remembrance and sometimes of freemasonry) or daisies. The central scene has a couple of elegant trees, a fern or two, some more roses, perhaps a chrysanthemum or marigold, and an assortment of flowering shrubbery. The tree on the left appears to have flowers and the one on the right fruit, with neither in proportion to the size of the tree or identifiable as a particular species so perhaps these are just ‘wish-list’ expressions of what ought to be in the ideal garden. Image: C. Watson.
We are going to see a few roses today. While roses have been grown as decorative plants for centuries, it was not until the late 1700s and early 1800s that the China Rose and the Tea Rose were introduced to Europe, which led to the development of the modern, repeat-flowering type of rose. There was an explosion of cultivars onto the market and roses became one of the most popular garden plants.
For something completely different, this plate features a fruit-laden grape vine. The grape is another plant not native to the UK (Wikipedia tells me that the Romans were the culprits here. The English climate was not ideal for this temperate to subtropical-origin vine, so the wider use of the heated glasshouse in the 19th century was a boon for those trying to produce grapes for eating or wine. The grape has a rich symbolic history, being associated with both the Greek god Dionysus (and the Roman Bacchus), and as a Christian symbol for Jesus Christ, from the scriptural quote “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). Was this design symbolic of something, or purely decorative in intent? Image: C. Watson.
This elegant design appears to feature lilies at first glance. The flower by itself looks very much like a Tigerlily or Daylily, but the leaves are clearly not those of a lily (lilies have narrow pointed strap-like leaves). They aren’t Hibiscus flowers either. There is some resemblance to Rhododendron occidentale (western azalea) from North America, (first described in the 19th century, with seed being sent to the UK in 1850) as pictured below ). What do you think? Do you recognise it as something else? Or is it an artistic concoction of the flowers of one species with the leaves of another? The other more instantly recognisable plant shown on this plate is the acanthus, common in classical decorative motifs, from Greek Corinthian capitals on pillars, to wrought iron work, to 1875 William Morris wallpaper patterns. Also known as Bears Breeches, the plant has many uses in herbal and traditional medicine, including treating asthma, arthritis, leprosy and snake bites! Image: C. Watson.
Rhododendron occidentale or western azalea flowers. Image: W. Gibbs.
This plate features the Asiatic Pheasants pattern. Frequently mentioned on the blog in previous posts, the history of the Asiatic Pheasant pattern is best summarised as following: “It is likely that the design originated with Ralph Hall of Swan Bank Pottery, Tunstall, Staffordshire, who was active from 1822 to 1849. Hall’s Pheasant appears to have been printed mainly and perhaps exclusively in black. Soon other potters began to produce Asiatic Pheasants, printed almost invariably in pale blue. Podmore Walker and Co. of Well Street, Tunstall, Staffordshire commenced business in 1834 and were early producers of Asiatic Pheasants and subsequently claimed to be the originators of Asiatic Pheasants. In 1853 they took over the Ralph Hall factory. By 1880 Asiatic Pheasants was the most popular pattern of all, toppling Willow pattern from the top spot” (Lovers of Blue and White). So, what about the plants? Roses are clearly featured here, both single and double-flowered forms with thorny stems. Around the rim, at the 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock positions is a flower with a prominent carpel in the centre, maybe a passionfruit flower or possibly hibiscus. The passionfruit was rather exotic in the 19th century and became popular during the Victorian era, with many hybrids created from the winged-stem passion flower (P. alata) and the blue passion flower (P. caerulea). The flower has been given a strong Christian symbolism, which may have made it a popular design feature. Image: C. Watson.
The base of this cup is decorated with an elegant flowering plant, likely some sort of bulbous plant (based on the leaf shape and growth), possibly a snowflake, snowdrop, lily of the valley, scilla or Spanish bluebell. Without the clues of colour or more detail, it’s difficult to say for sure, but it is still rather pretty. Image: C. Watson.
This pair of handsome transfer printed and clobbered plates looks to me like a celebration of autumn. The gold-painted and gold-veined leaves are falling loose around a couple of types of flowers. Both the flower and leaf shape of the smaller flowers look very much like chrysanthemum, though the larger flowers with prominent veining are less easily identifiable. They could be another form of chrysanthemum or daisy, but I’m going to say they are flowers of the Tree Dahlia, a quite spectacular autumn-flowering plant introduced to Europe in the 16th century. Image: C. Watson.
This scene is of a couple of men hard at work in a garden. It could represent gardeners at ‘home’, planting out the exotic plants bought back from some far-flung locale by explorers or plant hunters. It could equally be viewed as settlers in a new land, freshly off one of the ships in the background, busily clearing land in order to plant out the cherished plants (seen in the pots to the right) they bought with them from ‘home’. There is a spade and watering can visible in the foreground and the figure on the left is carrying a bare-rooted tree or shrub (more clearly seen in the original print). The pattern refers to one of Dr Benjamin Franklin’s maxims, specifically his maxim “industry needs not wish, and he that lives upon hope will die fasting, there are no gains without pains, then help hands for I have no lands” (Riley 1991:275). The illustration was taken from 24 scenes of town and country life illustrating Franklin’s Lessons for the young and the old, on industry, temperance, frugality &c by Robert Drighton, published by Bowles and Carver, London in 1795 (Riley 1991: 270). Image: C. Watson.
The 19th century in the UK was a golden era of gardening, and in particular of hothouse and exotic flower cultivation. Plant hunters were romping around the globe, many sponsored by wealthy patrons, finding, recording and returning with specimens of plants previously unknown to the western world. Add to that the development from 1847 of methods to create larger pieces of plate glass, and better glazing and construction methods, and the Victorian-era glasshouse and conservatory was born. Here wealthy families grew the rare and exotic, or at least their gardening staff did, and showed them off to their friends (in a sort of botanical keeping up with the Jones’s). At the same time the middle classes had increasing leisure time and some spare cash, and those aspiring to a bit of societal climbing looked to grow some of the exotic offerings now available. Anything that survived in lower light levels, smoky rooms and cooler temperatures but still looked exotic became especially popular .Aspidistra, Hoya and the Parlour Palm were all introduced to the UK in early/mid 1800s. At the same time, deliberate selective breeding of ‘decorative’ plants became more widespread.
The citizens of Christchurch were equally keen on their gardens. The Christchurch Horticultural Society was established in 1861, and by 1863 were holding flower shows open to the public. (Press 01/12/1863: 2).In 1866 the Society took formal possession of the ground that would become the Botanic Gardens (Press 11/09/1866: 2). By 1866 H. G. Burnell, Seed Merchant of Cashel St, was advertising 1000 varieties of flower seeds for sale (Press 31/08/1866:1) . In the same year, there was an auction of “60 large specimen plants in full bloom, being fuchsias, petunias etc”, on the day after the flower show. (Press 01/03/1866).
There were at least three commercial plant nurseries advertising in the Press during the 1860s. Grove Nursery, which sold, amongst other plants, a “choice collection of green-house plants, always on sale from England” (Press 17/05/1862: 7). Woodburn Nursey (W. Hislop) who at various times advertised “upwards of one million hedge plants” (Press 01/06/1861: 7), carrot, turnip and parsnip seeds (Press 12/10/1861: 7) and an auction of “about 300 very choice Greenhouse Plants (including fuchsias, camellias, amaryllis, mimosa, cuphea, farfugium &…. other plants adapted for Greenhouse and window culture)” (Press 25/02/1863: 3). And lastly, Christchurch Nursery, (W. Wilson) which sold a large variety of plants and seeds including “Cerrus (sic) Deodara seed recently collected to order in the Himalaya Mountains” (Press 04/01/1862:8), over a dozen different types of fruit trees (including mulberries and figs), rhubarb, asparagus, and many species of ornamental trees, shrubs and hedging plants (including including privet, gorse and broom!) (Press 14/06/1862: 8). It’s clear that gardening was a popular activity in Christchurch. There were even gardens open to the public for picnicking and other activities, such as Taylor’s (later Kohler’s) pleasure gardens and maze (in the area of the current Hagley High School). Formally opened to the public on 2 February 1862, it was described at the time as being “well laid out in grass plats (sic), flower borders, shrubberies, and an extensive maze, the first of its kind in the colony” (Lyttelton Times 28/12/1861: 5).
At the same time greenhouses were being constructed locally. Frederick Jenkins of City Steam Saw Mills, Planing, Joinery and Moulding Works advertised that he was “prepared to supply the trade with first-class goods……greenhouses, hothouses and conservatories, on the most improved principles” (Press 26/03/1863: 6). When larger houses and estates were advertised for sale, greenhouses were regularly listed as part of the equipment. In 1864 Albourne Lodge a “large and beautifully situated house” had a greenhouse listed as one of the out-buildings (Press 13/12/1864:3). When the Ilam homestead was advertised for let in 1862 a “greenhouse, well heated and stocked with vines” was listed as one of the assets (Press 05/07/1862:5).
But what if you couldn’t manage to keep any of these fancy or exotic plants, or to visit the locales from whence they came? Well, why not have them on your crockery instead!
Lyttelton Times [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers
Press [online]. Available: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers
Riley, N. 1991. Gifts For Good Children: The History of Children’s China, Part 1, 1790-1890. Somerset: Richard Dennis.