Vaucluse House Plant Stand

wire work plant stand located on the Vaucluse house verandah

The wire work plant stand on the Vaucluse House verandah is filled with Victorian-era house plants in hand-thrown pots. Photo Steven Halliday © Sydney Living Museums

In a sheltered corner of the verandah at Vaucluse House, a selection of choice Victorian-era house plants are displayed on this splendid four-tiered woven-wire étagère or plant stand.

Thought to date from about 1850, the plant stand was made in England and reflects the increasing range of consumer goods becoming available as a result of industrialisation. The plant stand features elaborate decoration, with pointed arches, scrolls and fans all made from wire applied to a wrought-iron frame.

These popular plant stands allowed tender plants that might not be able to be grown in the open garden to be cultivated and displayed close to the house. In Sydney with its warm humid climate, favourite subjects included achimenes, begonias, various bromeliads (such as the Vriesia philips-coburghii in the photo), fuchsias, succulents and orchids. If water was scarce these plants might be cared for more lovingly with additional water splashed around to keep them looking at their best.

Close up of the detailed wire work and clay pots

Wire work detail and clay pot with saucer. Photo © Sydney Living Museums

For authenticity we use old-fashioned clay pots of a type known as ‘Long Toms’ that were made in England from at least the middle of the 18th century onwards. Their main drawback is that they dry out very quickly and draw moisture out of the potting mixture, so you have to pay attention to regular watering, otherwise the plants can become water-stressed very quickly. Clay pots filled with soil are also much heavier than modern plastic pots.

As well as allowing a visually pleasing display of foliage and flowers, the open wire plant stand allows plenty of light to reach all parts to promote strong plant growth and also ensures good air circulation that prevents mildew and fungal diseases.

Man lying in hammock on verandah

Jack in the hammock, Taree c1890-1900. Photographer R Conroy. Pictures Collection, Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection

A man sits on the verandah surrounded by potted plants

Dr Charles Louis Gabriel on the verandah in Gundagai, Gundagai photograph collection, 1887-1927, National Library of Australia, nla.obj-139665856.

three people stand on the verandah surrounded bu lush plants displayed on timber plant stands
Side verandah of the Bank of Australasia bank manager's residence, Melton Hill, Townsville, around 1895 Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection © Sydney Living Museums

A shady verandah has long been a favourite spot to grow and display fancy foliage plants, as you can see in these three late 19th-century photographs of homes in Gundagai, Taree and Townsville. Wirework plant stands of a simpler form than the Vaucluse House example can be seen at the Gundagai and Taree houses; while at the bank manager’s house in Melton Hill, Townsville, tropical foliage plants like Caladiums, Dieffenbachia, Hoyas and Blechnum ferns are arranged on stout timber staging out of the heat and bright sun of the tropics.

About the author

Ian Innes

Director Heritage & Collections

Having worked on the conservation and sustainable management of historic gardens and parks in the UK, Europe and Australia – including long stints at Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands – Ian has now taken on the challenge of helping chart the future direction of Sydney Living Museums at a pivotal moment in its history.