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Catalog Data

Cast iron, paint
14 × 17 in. (35.6 × 43.2 cm)
Planters (Ferneries)
ca. 1850-1920
Victorian (1837-1901)
Cast-iron planter with foliate motifs. The circular container has a stylized evolute-spiral band around the top and alternating stylized leaves and sheaves around the bottom. It sits low to the ground on eight squared feet. This design combines historicism with Naturalism, which is typical of Victorian tastes. The major characteristics of the art, architecture, and decorative arts produced in nineteenth century are historicism, eclecticism, and mixing multiple styles together. Romanticism and interest in the past led to revivals of the styles, ornamentation, and motifs of the past, and throughout the Victorian era there was a rapid succession of confused style revivals competing at the same time. Interest in the unique and novel, rather than accuracy and perfection, led to mixtures from Classical, Baroque, Rococo, Renaissance, and Gothic in eclectic combinations. Rather than copy specific objects, motifs and forms were adapted to suggest the impressions and associations of an idealized version of the past. The Revival styles are not reflective of their times and are inconsistently applied, often resulting in styles attributed by the majority or primary elements.
Label Text:
Since ancient Egyptian times, containers for plants, flowers, herbs, and edible plants have evolved according to the needs, fashions, and technology of the time. Through the centuries, these vessels have influenced the horticultural and aesthetic role of plants, and allowed for their cultivation, transportation, and display. The Industrial Revolution in the 1800s brought mechanization and mass production techniques that allowed a variety of eclectic plant containers to be produced cheaply and efficiently. Cast-iron, china, terra cotta, and wooden plant containers were readily available in variety of styles and sizes. These containers were placed both indoors and in the garden. With a long historical tradition of designs and styles of containers to draw on in the nineteenth century, Victorians grew their plants in a diverse collection of containers depending on the family’s income and taste.
Planters, sometimes called flower boxes or ferneries, are a type of container usually placed outdoors and used for growing and displaying live plants, flowers, herbs, or edible plants. They came in a wide range of dimensions and materials and could be highly decorative or plain and unpretentious. Like urns, planters were used in the Victorian garden to define spaces and direct the eye. They were placed to mark perimeters and frame vistas in large gardens, or when placed in small gardens, helped to better make use of the limited space. Depending on their size, design, and placement planters acted as simple accessories or principal features. These qualities appealed to the moderate budget of the middle class, who wanted to ornament their gardens but could not afford large, heavy sculptures of marble and lead.
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Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection.
Accession number:
1984.105.a, b, c
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
See more items in:
Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens