The Victorians adored filling their homes with greenery. Conditions were tough – with most houses suffering from poor light, ventilation and air quality caused by tobacco and pollution from oil, coal, and later in the period, gas lamps. Room temperatures were difficult to control too before the blessings of central heating as we know it. All of which made for a very inhospitable environment for house plants. Luckily, the Victorians discovered some real toughies of the plant world which could stand up to this gruelling regime – and these became darlings of the era. Perhaps the most iconic and indestructible of these was the Aspidistra – or, to give it its popular moniker, Cast Iron Plant.
Aspidistra (on the table in the image above) is a genus of plant native to eastern and south-eastern Asia, particularly China and Vietnam. It is shade tolerant in the wild and grows under trees and shrubs. As an ‘exotic’ it appealed to the empire-building middle classes of Victorian England and one cultivar, Aspidistra elatior https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/1715/Aspidistra-elatior/Details became the must have living ornament of every aspirational family home.
George Orwell’s famously entitled novel ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’, published in 1936, used the public perception of the, by then old fashioned, aspidistra pot plant to represent Victorian stuffiness and socially repressive mores.
But this Period Feature is having a Millennial Moment – houseplants in general are back in style after languishing in the fashion doldrums for a couple of decades. Why the change of heart? Our Millennials love them, especially the cheap, easy to manage and dramatic ones, because they give instant personality to any home, including a short term rental.
And if they happen to burst into bloom – well, the curious soil level bloom is a real curiosity and sure to be a crowd pleaser, so that’s a plus.
Would you give an aspidistra space in your Victorian home?