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.
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.
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.