The Victorian era lasted from 1837 until Queen Victoria's death in 1901. During that time, England enjoyed great prosperity. Gardening became a passion for many people in the Victorian era as exotic plants made their way to England and the middle-class enjoyed increased leisure time to pursue gardening. The Victorian zeal for plants included thousands of varieties, with certain types perennial favourites in most gardens.
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One of the most dramatic and visually interesting flowers commonly found in Victorian gardens is love-lies-bleeding, or Amaranthus caudatus. Native to Peru, where it is cultivated for its edible seeds, love-lies-bleeding was grown exclusively for its flowers during the Victorian era. The plant is a sun-loving annual that grows readily from seed, producing a 4-foot-tall bushy plant with numerous velvety, dark red draping flower tassels. It blooms from July until the first frost. Love-lies-bleeding is available in red and pale green varieties. Both were wildly popular with Victorian gardeners.
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Kiss me over the garden gate, Polygonum orientale, is a tall, showy annual that is a good addition to Victorian-style cottage gardens. Growing to heights of 5 feet, it produces an abundance of pendulous pink flowers and heart-shaped bronze-tinted leaves. It prefers full sun and average soil with moderate water, and is best grown with the support of a fence or trellis because of its height. It was a favourite plant of Thomas Jefferson's and was first grown in the United States in his garden at Monticello.
Nothing is more reminiscent of Victorian gardens than the damask rose. Sometimes called cabbage roses, they are distinguished from other roses by their tightly packed petals and pure fragrance. Considered one of the ancestors of most modern roses, this variety is the source of attar of roses, or rose oil. Best grown in hedges for dramatic impact, this variety is relatively hardy and free from most pests. It must be properly shaped to minimise rot. The most popular Victorian varieties of damask rose are Madame Hardy, York and Lancaster roses. Madame Hardy was first introduced in 1832 in France and has a pure white colouring. York and Lancaster were popular throughout Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria. They were grown for their striped pink petals and variegated foliage.
Cannas, often mistakenly called canna lilies, were a popular tropical perennial in Victorian gardens. Grown mostly for their dramatic flowers, they were often cultivated for their foliage, too, which is itself highly decorative and comes in many shades of green, gold, bronze and variegated colours. Cannas thrives in rich, moist soil with full sun, but partial shade is tolerable in hotter climates. They are not generally bothered by fungus, but caterpillars and grasshoppers do feed on them. Cannas, although tolerant of outdoor conditions, were generally grown in glasshouses by the Victorians.
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