Historic Houseplants for Trendy Indoor Gardens

Victorian-era houseplants are back and better than ever.

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April 20, 2018

Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Sakata

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Getty Images/DeAgostini

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: White Flower Farm

Photo By: White Flower Farm

Abutilon 'Yellow Finch' (Flowering Maple)

Once the rage in Victorian homes, flowering maples are back in style. They're lovely in hanging baskets or other containers that show off their dangling, bell-shaped flowers. Most gardeners keep their plants outside in warm weather and overwinter them indoors. They need a bright exposure in your home and should be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings. Prune lightly to keep them compact, but don’t remove too many stems, or the plants won’t set buds. ‘Yellow Finch’ has crinkly, yellow flowers and prefers full shade.

Majesty Palm

This is it: the palm used to decorate Victorian parlors. Majesty palms are still valued as relatively slow-growing, easy-care houseplants. They thrive in medium to bright light and can vacation outside in warm weather, as long as they're not in the hot sun. Early gardeners admired this palm for its exotic look, and it still adds a tropical feel to most rooms. Keep its potting soil moist, but not soggy.

Primula (Primrose)

Most gardeners buy primroses in bloom and toss them after the flowers fade. The Victorians grew primroses in greenhouses and conservatories to provide the humidity and slightly moist soil the plants require. For best results, grow your primroses in a cool room. It's hard to coax them back into bloom, but if you want to try, move your plant outside when the weather is reliably warm. Bring it back in before frost, let it go dormant for a month and cross your fingers--or just buy new plants to enjoy. ‘Sweet 16’ is a large-flowered variety with white and pink flowers.

Maidenhair Fern

Delicate-looking maidenhair ferns, like so many plants from the Victorian era, love high humidity, so early gardeners grew them in Wardian cases, terrarium-like structures made of glass. To keep your fern happy, mist it daily, keep it in a room with high humidity (such as a bathroom or kitchen) or run a small humidifier nearby. These feathery beauties need moist, well-draining soil and indirect sun. Don’t let them dry out or stand in drafts.


Streptocarpuses like the same basic growing conditions as their relatives, African violets. We’re luckier than early British gardeners, who first grew them after a collector introduced them from South Africa. Modern varieties bloom more abundantly and in a wider range of colors. "Streps" like an eastern-facing exposure when grown indoors. Let them dry slightly between waterings and keep them in a room that stays around 70 degrees F. during the day, with a 10-degree drop at night. This variety is 'Galaxy Blue'.

Kimberly Queen Fern

Also called sword ferns, Kimberly queen ferns make elegant specimen plants, thanks to their straight, upright fronds. These nearly-carefree natives of Australia are happy indoors if they’re kept in medium light. Gardeners love these houseplants because they help purify the air, but you can also enjoy them outdoors in warm weather months. They're hardy in USDA Zones 9-11.

Cast Iron Plant

Cast-iron plants (Aspidistra elatior) have gone in and out of fashion since Victorian times, but these leafy beauties--which are almost as tough as their names--are trending again because they're so undemanding. They can take the low humidity in most homes, and they're forgiving if you let the top inch or two of soil dry out before you remember to water. They tolerate almost any kind of light except complete darkness or direct sun.

Lemon Button Fern on Bookshelf

Crush the leaves of a lemon button fern to release their citrusy scent. These are the smallest of the Boston ferns and fun to grow as houseplants or in terrariums. Give them filtered shade; they can’t take direct, hot sun. If your home is dry, mist your fern regularly or group it with other houseplants to raise the humidity in the area.

Clivia Houseplant

Clivias aren't as widely grown as they were in Victorian times (19th and 20th-century gardeners in England and Belgium loved them), but they should be. Buy your plant in bloom, if possible; otherwise, it can take two to five years to form its first flowers, which typically appear in February or March. To get your clivia to rebloom, let it rest in a cool spot for about a month, in a room with temperatures that range from 40-60 degrees F. during the day, and no lower than 35 degrees F. at night. Don’t water during this time. Then gradually resume watering, and start fertilizing, as you slowly increase the temperature in the room. This will encourage buds to set. Once, only wealthy gardeners grew clivias. Some are still expensive.

Meyer Lemon Tree

Imagine growing a lemon tree by the biggest, brightest window in your Victorian home, and harvesting the fruits to make lemonade for your guests. Once again, Meyer lemons are the choice of many indoor gardeners. Pretty in pots, the trees like full sun, potting soil that drains easily, and regular feedings with a citrus tree fertilizer. Keep them pruned to control their size. Once the nighttime temperatures stay above 50 degrees F., you can take your tree outdoors for the summer. Enjoy the fragrant blooms, but keep some bottled lemonade on hand for a while. The lemons, which are sweeter than most varieties, can take up to a year to ripen.

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