Photos: The New Victorians
In this slide show, a companion to our New Victorians article, we visit some of the contemporary gardens and gardeners who take the Victorian ideals to heart.
Ken Selody in his dahlia allée backed by yew hedges at Atlock Farm in Somerset, New Jersey. The dark green structure of the yew sets off the colorful blooms beautifully.
The Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery at Philadelphia’s Morris Arboretum—the only remaining freestanding Victorian fernery in the U.S.—is a splendid monument to the 19th-century fern craze and the technology that made it possible.
Glass and Iron
Advances in the use of glass and iron in construction during the Victorian period led to a proliferation of glasshouses like this one, where collectors could house exotic specimens year-round in a controlled environment.
During the same period, another new technology—hot water heating, as in the system pictured here—was applied to the cultivation of ferns. In fact, the radiator was originally developed to warm plants, not humans.
The collection at the Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery includes some 75 varieties, ranging from giant New Zealand tree ferns to delicate maidenhair ferns, arrayed around a series of goldfish ponds and waterfalls.
At the heart of Peter Wooster’s garden in Roxbury, Connecticut, lies this spectacular Victorian Circle, a popular element in Victorian gardens, in keeping with a broader tendency toward geometric design. A circle like this one is a great way to showcase exotic plants and play with contrasts of color and texture; Wooster’s contemporary version employs a more muted palette than those typically found in Victorian gardens. He uses a mix of tender perennials and annuals, including the three described below.
Krantz aloe (Aloe arborescens) brings height and structure to the circle. Typically, a Victorian Circle will build upward from the plants at the perimeter to a taller central element like this.
Mexican cigar plant (Cuphea platycentra) is a long-blooming annual with an upright habit and delicate blossoms. It fills out the circle, and its pink flowers make a nice contrast to the blue-gray aloe at the center.
Variegated Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus ‘Variegatus’) has white-rimmed, fuzzy foliage and a spreading habit. It functions as an intermediate texture between the cuphea and the aloe.
In the 19th century, large-scale urbanization left in its wake an intense longing for connection to the land that’s still with us today. At Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn, New York, they’ve found a solution: bring the farm into the city.
Annie Novak, the 27-year-old farmer in charge of Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, provides her neighbors with fresh produce and the opportunity to pitch in themselves—an update on the market and kitchen gardens of the Victorian era.
The farm’s location, atop a warehouse building in the heart of the city, is possible thanks to 21st-century green-roof technology. Crops grow in a light, soilless growing medium and are watered with New York City tap water.
Selecting the right crops, ones that will thrive in this rooftop environment, is key. Vegetables that require more than six inches of soil are off limits. The operation is fully organic; marigolds (pictured here) are an effective natural pest deterrent.
This begonia-filled room in Peter Wooster’s Connecticut home recalls the Victorian rage for houseplants, made possible by advances in heating and window technology and an influx of new plant species from tropical climes.
Variegated clown fig (Ficus aspera) is a beautiful tree that will thrive as a houseplant, especially if placed in a sunny window. It’s prized for its foliage, with white and red variegation on leaves that measure four to six inches across.
Striped begonia (Begonia listada) is one of the varieties of “fancy leaf” begonia Wooster collects; they’re valued for their beautiful leaves more than their blossoms. With all begonias, care should be taken to avoid overwatering.
Iron cross begonia (Begonia masoniana) is another “fancy leaf,” named for the distinctive cross-shaped brown markings on its puckered apple-green leaves. It grows best in indirect sunlight and warm temperatures.
Rhizomatous begonia (Begonia ‘Marmaduke’) has gold-green leaves with burgundy speckles. A rapid grower, it sprouts white flowers in winter. Like all begonias, it makes a good match with ferns and thrives in similar conditions.
Visitors to Atlock Farm in New Jersey find inspiration in scenes like this—a staging area where owner Ken Selody experiments with different plants and ornaments with characteristic eclecticism and a collector’s eye for unusual foliage.
Curly kale (Borecole ‘Redbor’) is both ornamental and edible. Its ruffled, deep-purple leaves are gorgeous in a mixed border, and its cold hardiness means it will continue to provide color late in the season.
Antique garden ornaments like this recall the heavily ornamented gardens of the Victorians, which often included statuary and containers of cast iron, marble, and stone, in styles borrowed from different eras and traditions.
Lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus), also known as wild dagga, is a tender perennial shrub well suited to container plantings, with fuzzy orange tubular flowers. Many gardeners use it to attract birds, butterflies, and bees.
The Victorian urn is a style of container Selody loves for its adaptability. In the 19th century, cast iron began to be mass-produced, and it showed up in gardens in the form of urns as well as benches, fences, fountains, and more.
Terrariums, a Victorian-era invention, are in vogue again. Hazel Davies, manager of living exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History, created this forest in miniature using materials you can buy at any Home Depot.
Layers of hydroton (clay pebbles, for drainage), nylon mesh, and orchid bark (to build topography) lie under the soil, a sterilized mix that should not be very nutrient-rich, lest the plants grow too large.
Moss, laid in a sheet over the soil, provides an attractive green color and plush texture at ground level. It’s also easily manipulated to adhere to the small hillocks and ravines created with mounds of orchid bark.
Tropical plants such as maidenhair ferns, ficus, palms, bromeliads, and philodendron are the best choice for a terrarium like this one. The glass container holding them is an ordinary pet store aquarium.
The backdrop was painted by Stephen Quinn, who creates backdrops for the terrariums and dioramas at the museum. If you’re not using a grow light, eliminate the backdrop to let in plenty of natural light.