Tropical planting display in a Victorian bird cage
Benjamin William Pope creates a stylish display from an old Victorian bird cage. Photographs by Andrew Montgomery
As a gardener, I hold a special place in my heart for Victorian greenhouses, which are an invaluable warm refuge on a cold day. Spilling with foliage, this antique bird cage encapsulates the elegant engineering of those elaborate structures, and this plant-rich display harks back to the houseplant displays associated with a bygone era. An attractive and alternative way of growing a few houseplants together, while adding a little bit of Victorian grandeur to the home.
How to achieve the look
Container and composition
Bird cages, such as this, often come up for sale at antique and flea markets and there are many modern reproductions available, although they lack the patina that adds to this cage’s charm. Whether old or new, the best cages are those with elegant curves and detail in the metal work. The size of the cage will guide your plant choice but using bold foliage and compatible growing species will help ensure success. For this display the linear leaves of the aechmea and colourful begonia foliage occupy the centre of the arrangement, embellished by the asparagus fern and referenced by the stripy vriesea. The climbing fig gently trails around the base of the arrangement, softly filling any gaps while escaping through the bars.
Aechmea ‘Blue Rain’ Tender epiphyte with eye-catching flower spike. Prefers light shade. 90cm. RHS H1B.
Left: Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’ Evergreen, fern-like perennial. Best in a light shade. 50cm. RHS H1C.
Right: Ficus pumila ‘Variegata’ Evergreen climbing fig. Sun to light shade. 3m. AGM. RHS H1C.
Vriesea splendens Striking bromeliad with heavily banded leaves. Prefers light shade. 45cm. RHS H1B.
Begonia ‘Connee Boswell’ Rhizomatous begonia with a bushy habit and striking leaves. Prefers light shade. 60cm. RHS H1B.
Cultivation and care
Line the base of the cage with chicken wire and moss to create a deep planting tray that will allow more room for root growth. As with most containers, plant the main specimens first in a rich, peat-free compost that is moisture-retentive yet free-draining. Continue the arrangement adding the soft ferns and other foliage. The plants will grow quickly, so start with smaller specimens, allowing them to establish and grow through the bars, enhancing the look. Water regularly to prevent from drying out, using a dilute liquid feed in the summer months. Prune old flowers and excessive growth to maintain the look and replant annually at the start of the growing season.
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