Before the 19th century, the average person had little interest in having flowers and plants inside the house. There was a little time to devote to nonproductive pastimes.
But in Victorian times, with more time and money to spare, homeowners took an avid interest in indoor gardening. In fact, a home was not thought to be a pleasant place unless it contained plants. Flowers were especially appreciated for their color and decorative possibilities.
The most popular plant in those days was the geranium. It was the favorite indoors and out, and was used in window boxes in the city, often accompanied by a low plant like the petunia. Close behind in popularity was the fuschia. Its scaret and purple flower delighted the Victorians. Bays and oriel windows were especially suited to the plants. It was not uncommon to have two window gardens, one in a sunny location planted with begonia, ivy, geraniums, lantana; and another in a shaded spot planted with ferns, rubber plants, white petunias.
Shelves were built in the window and the floor underneath was generally covered with zinc to protect it from moisture. Sometimes a curtain was hung below the sill to hide the watering can and other indoor gardening tools.
Hanging baskets were as popular then as they are today. Ready-made baskets were constructed from wire and painted black or green and fancy terra cotta pots were used. Just as often they were homemade and decorated with pine cones and acorns, which were glued on in elaborate designs. Wooden bowls and coconut halves were fashioned into pots. Hanging baskets were not confined to windows, but hung anywhere around the house where light would permit plant growth.
Ferns and ivy were the staple plants for indoors, particularly in the winter months. Ferns were used in conservatories, Wardian cases (terrariums), jardinieres and on mantels.
German people were particulary fond of ivy and introduced the art of training it into some of the most fanciful of Victorian plant decoration. It was used to outline archways over doors, to form actual walls of ivy and to climb around picture frames, mirrors, etc. Victorians grew great tubs of ivy and were able to have an abundance of greenery because of the lower temperatures of houses in the 19th century.
Many homeowners today who have lowered their thermostats to conserve energy are finding that healthier houseplants are one of the unexpected rewards.