Hanging Flower Baskets and Garden Pots and Planters

Flowers and Plants for Everyone

Garden Pots and Planters

Container gardening is a delightful pastime. No-one will ever starve if we don’t grow runner beans in our hanging basket, or weep because we chose scarlet zinnias instead of gold calceolarias for the window box. This is something of our own that we do for ourselves, in which we can simply please ourselves, take intense pleasure and interest, show off and enjoy.

hanging flower baskets

Easy on time and on the eye, its only aim in life is to be charming and give a lift to the day. Seeing our summer hanging flower baskets cascading flowers on a dull rainy day, passers-by may share our delight and perhaps resolve to have a go at something similar themselves. And so we spread the joy.

It is really rather amazing, but the moment we take the most ordinary plant and display it in a window box, a hanging flower basket, a tub, or an urn, it becomes a plant of some importance, an eye-catcher.

Who first thought of growing plants in containers to display them is unrecorded, although most certainly it goes back several thousand years to when the ancient Chinese grew shrubs and other plants in earthenware containers. A queen of Egypt who reigned some 1,500 years B.C. grew plants in pots and sent explorers out to find new subjects, and a carved frieze of small trees in pots now adorns her tomb. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Wonders of the ancient world, depended largely on plants in porous troughs. Solomon, King of Israel, reputedly a brilliant gardener, was said to have a garden room decorated with many potted plants.

In early times the plants grown in containers were often newly discovered exotic subjects brought by explorers and traders from distant lands, and planted in pots so that they could be brought indoors when protection from bad weather was needed. The Romans grew roses in containers to keep them in flower during the winter for use in various festivities, and the Greeks grew things in baskets and other containers as offerings to the gods in the temples.

Royalty and Hanging Flower Baskets

A very early example of flowers growing in stone troughs in a garden occurs in a painting by an unknown Rhineland artist dating from the early 15th Century and now in a museum at Frankfurtam-Main ; it depicts the Virgin Mary in a walled garden. A famous picture of King Charles II (‘The Pineapple Picture’, by Henry Danckerts) shows the king in a formal garden which contains large standing pots full of shrubs. Other Royal pictures also feature beautiful plants in large pots and urns as backgrounds; the National Portrait Gallery, for example, has a painting of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766) as a child with his sister. In the background a large terracotta urn supports an orange tree in full blossom — with a parrot sitting prettily on the lower branches.

Incidentally, the word ‘greenhouse’ is said to come from around the time of the Reformation when it was the thing for the owners of great houses to grow ‘tender greens’ such as lemons and oranges outdoors in wooden cases or handsome lead or terracotta pots which could be taken inside glasshouses — or ‘green houses’ — in winter.

Exotic items such as camellias were not thought to be hardy when first introduced to this country, so they were planted in garden pots and planters such as boxes, and special houses were built for their protection. Even tomatoes and runner beans, as newly-introduced novelties, were grown for decoration rather than for food. And at the Palace of Versailles, it is recorded, there were once hundreds of orange trees growing in silver tubs.

Not only the rich, it seems, were attracted to flowers and plants. In Georgian times ragmen in the cities gave potted plants in exchange for old clothes, and a 17th century writer recorded that ‘there is scarce an ingenious citizen that by his confinement to a shop, being denied the privilege of having a real garden, but hath his boxes, pots, or other receptacles for flowers, plants, etc.’

An 18th century site on auriculas suggests that the fashion of the day was painting flower pots green, and recommends square pots rather than round. Enthusiasts displayed their potted auriculas on ‘stages’ in small roofed outdoor ‘theatres’ or ‘buffets’ made of wood, the ‘backcloth’ of the ‘stage’ being painted black to show off the colours of the flowers.

Still surviving in some gardens of stately homes are such things as vases, boxes, urns, and lead cisterns, mostly dating from the 17th and 18th centuries and all collectors’ items, if any ever come up for sale. In the 19th century the Victorians loved cast iron gardenware which included all kinds of urns and vases etc. The more expensive wrought iron, fashioned by smiths, was also used to make vases which were like large standing baskets ; these were lined with moss, just as hanging baskets are today, before being planted up.

Wirework was popular for vases and baskets; the great 19th century landscape gardener Humphry Repton was fond of wire flower baskets, even using them on lawns.

Mrs. Loudon, the celebrated Victorian writer on gardening, recommends flower baskets in ‘The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower Garden’, written in 1842. Iron baskets, she says, can be on pedestals or else ‘appear as if set on the ground’, and raised wires can be extended across to support climbing plants. She advises :

‘Other receptacles for flowers may be wicker baskets, with the interstices stuffed with moss; or the jars in which grapes have been sent over, but when these last are used, or any other kind of vessel which is very deep in proportion to its breadth, the lower part should be filled with brickbats, pieces of freestone, and other similar materials … in all cases where flowers are grown in baskets and boxes they should stand on a lawn; and the most luxuriant growing kinds should be chosen, to hang down the sides of the vessel.’

She goes on to mention a Captain Mangles, ‘whose taste in ornamental gardening is well known’, and who suspended hanging flower baskets from the roof of his greenhouse:

‘with pots of earthenware or china inside. These baskets are alike suitable for the creeping Cereus, Moneywort, and other common plants which produce their flowers on hanging stems, as for Epiphytes and orchideous plants.’

Mrs. Loudon also suggests the use of wire stands, made up of several tiers, in the conservatory or on the verandah, to hold plants in pots. Her husband, a leading landscape gardener and writer, liked baskets and ‘cages’ hanging from trees.

Victorian and Edwardian days were perhaps the zenith of container gardening until the present revival of interest, with smart villas and town houses competing with each other in the richness and variety of their hanging baskets, balcony flowers, window boxes, and bulging conservatories. Country people copied and simplified the fashions and so the rustic porch with its hanging basket and the windows full of pot plants came to epitomise the period. There were also many lovely and novel objects around for those who could afford them; for example, special hanging planters which had false bottoms complete with tiny taps to collect and dispose of excess water. Some window boxes had trellis or wire-work arrangements for climbers, and often a hanging basket would be suspended in the centre, all of which must have practically obscured the window!

The Victorians loved doing things in stylish excess; some even went to the trouble of glazing in both sides and front of a windox box to form a plant case which sometimes even included a window box aquarium as well as one or more hanging baskets, and which could be heated by a spirit lamp or gas jets and must have looked remarkably attractive at night. Mosses and ferns were grown similarly in ‘fernery cases’ in sunless windows and houses sometimes had hollow ‘fern bricks’ built outside a window to hold a fern or other plant.

But with the end of the Edwardian era fashions changed, enthusiasm waned, and window boxes and hanging flower baskets became ‘old hat’, while garden pots and planters such as urns, as well as the conservatories which once held them, were often left neglected and empty.

30. August 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Gardening Ideas, Hanging Baskets | Tags: | Comments Off on Hanging Flower Baskets and Garden Pots and Planters


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