The Victorian Fern Craze
By Sarah Whittingham
(Shire, Paperback, 9780747807469, 64pp.)
Publication Date: January 19, 2010
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Fern Fever (or Pteridomania, to give it its official name), hit Britain between 1837 and 1914 and peaked between 1840 and 1890. Although in previous centuries ferns played an important role in customs and folklore, it was only in this period that they were coveted for aesthetic reasons and that man's passion for them reached its zenith.
The craze for collecting ferns reached such epidemic proportions that it affected the very existence of some species. The fern craze started to gather momentum in the 1840s; books and magazines maintained that fern growing was a hobby that anyone could enjoy as ferns would grow in the glazed fernery, garden, shady yard, window box or even indoors in Wardian Cases. The mania also spread from the living plant to depicting it in architecture and the decorative arts. Even roads, villas and terraced houses were named after the fern.
This book, the first to deal exclusively with the subject for nearly forty years, looks at the how the craze developed, the ways in which ferns were incorporated into garden and home, and the spread of the fern through Victorian material and visual culture.
Dr Sarah Whittingham is an architectural historian who lives in Bristol. She specializes in the architecture, interiors and gardens of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In 2008 she was elected President of the Council for the Preservation of Ancient Bristol.
"Searching out the story of a far-reaching plant hobby that began in Britain during the early nineteenth century, British architectural historian Sarah Whittingham has brought to light a fad that went across all segments of society. Discovering, cultivating, and displaying ferns was aided and abetted by amateur naturalists, botanists, nurserymen, and street vendors who urged society to grow these tender plantings in specially designed glass cases, conservatories, and glass houses. The rage for this greenery even reached into nineteenth century fashion, from jewelry, glass, and chinaware to building ornamentation. Although this craze slowly dissipated, the author draws attention to some contemporary examples of “pteridomania.”" -Marilyn K. Alaimo, Chicago Botanic Garden Journal of Current Books on Gardening and Botany (March 2010)
"Sarah Whittingham's book is a fascinating, lavishly illustrated look at this fern craze, examining social factors such as the rise of the amateur, middle-class urban gardener, the wealth of botany books and periodicals that sprang up in the mid-Victorian period (many specifically devoted to ferns) and to the fern as a popular motif in decorative art - pottery, greeting cards and even designs on buildings." - Lidian, The Virtual Dime Museum / www.thevirtualdimemuseum.blogspot.com (April 2010)