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A Fernery Sometimes Appeared in Victorian Gardens

A fernery sometimes appeared in Victorian gardens.

There was something special about collecting ferns in the nineteenth century.

According to Walter Punch’s wonderful book Keeping Eden, the English surgeon Nathaniel Ward, who gave us the Wardian case in 1833, the miniature greenhouse, hunted for ferns in the woodlands around London.

His case was a prelude to the conservatories and greenhouses that were to follow. The Chatsworth Head Gardener and architect Joseph Paxton gave the world the Crystal Palace. And, of course, Kew in London had its famous glass structure for plants called the Palm House.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s illustrated Monthly in  July of 1879, “With the increase of wealth comes a demand for glass structures of some kind, in which the operations of gardening, in its lighter and ornamental branches, can be prosecuted at all seasons of the year – regardless of winter’s blasts and storms and summer’s fiercer rays and droughts.”

The English landscape gardener Henry Ernest Milner (1845-1906) wrote in 1890 in his book The Art and Practice of Landscape Gardening, “Two descriptions of glass-houses are commonly used; one being for the display of plants, the other for their growth. The usual name for the first is the conservatory, while those in the second category are denoted by names signifying the particular use for which each house is designated.”

Thus, the fernery was born. It became a glass house for a collection of ferns.

In Philadelphia at the Morris Arboretum the orignal owners of the garden John and Lydia Morris, brother and sister, built a fernery for their collection of ferns in 1899. [below]

Morris Arboretum Fernery 1899
Morris Arboretum Fernery, built in 1899

In Victorian nineteenth century when gardeners everywhere collected plants, especially from exotic areas around the world, ferns also became a collector’s item.

Just as in England, nineteenth century American gardeners too treasured their ferns, sometimes in glass houses.


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