This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
MANY pleasant and suggestive papers have been written on the subject of house decoration, and the arts of design have been put to useful purpose in the cultivation of refined tastes. It is so simple a matter to make a dwelling bright and cheerful in all seasons, to fill a corner here and a niche there with objects upon which the eye gladly rests, to displace sharp angles by curves, to place upon the walls a bit of rich color, or to set a branch of ivy climbing, that it is a cause of wonder that so little is done in this direction. The busiest man or woman could spare an hour or two for the labor of making such inexpensive and beautiful decorations.
Annie S. Downes, of Andover - offers some timely and sensible hints concerning the uses of house plants in winter, showing what can be done with a few common flowers. The writer says:
If your window is sunny there is no limit to the flowers you may have from Christmas until the wild ones come again. With two maurandias, one white, the other purple, with a high colored dwarf nasturtium, or tropaeoleum, as it is properly an English ivy, and a vigorous plant of German ivy, or senecio scandens. you can make a screen for your window more beautiful than any Raphael or Da Tinci ever designed, for yours is the perfect original of their defective representation. The vines should be at the ends of the box, so as to be trained on the sides and over the top of the window frame. Then close to the glass, for, true to its name, it loves the sun, put a heliotrope or two, a trailing winter blooming fuchsia, a scarlet geranium, and for the sake of contrast, a white one, whose flowers have a bright eye in the centre. Do not be afraid of crowding the plants, but sow mignonette and sweet alyssum seed, as well as the tiny ones of Linaria Cym-balraria or Coliseum ivy. If not intending to have but one box, do not forget a plant or two of the neat, handsomely marked petunias, for they will give you a mass of flowers from the first week of blooming until put out in the garden in the Spring. Yellow myrtle, and the plants commonly called Wandering Jew, and ice plant, as well as a variety of saxifrage known as beefsteak geranium, may be made to droop over the front of your box, and their graceful sprays will reach even to the floor if you wish.
But you have no sunny window. Well, then, for a shady one. A box of the same kind must still be your resort. In one end insert a healthy tuber of madeira vine, and in the other a well started German ivy, for sun or shade it seems to like equally. Then, instead of the flowering plant I have enumerated, go out into the woods, and take up before the frosty nights have enfeebled them, clusters of fern roots, and put them in the centre. You will find so many varieties that you will be bewildered, but select over all others the lovely Dicksonia so common by walls; the tiny spleen wort, the enchanting maiden hair, and the piquant polypodiums or rock crosses.
Under the shadow of these ferns you may set rattlesnake plantain, both varieties of which are common in our woods, mitchella vine, the odd pitcher plant, and hepaticas. The leaves of the latter are pretty and interesting all winter, and very early in Spring its lovely blue flowers will gladden you. If you shower this box of wild plants once a week, and do not keep your room too hot or let them become too wet, they will form a never-ending source of interest to you and your whole household. The manner in which the young ferfronds push their way to light, the singular hairy furze that envelopes some, and the intricate folding of others, will afford food for thought and topics for conversation when new books are scarce and the weather too bad for friends to visit you. The delicate, wonderful beautiful ferns from the tropics, will, with the same care, do nearly as well; but they are of high cost, and I have sometimes thought when I have succeeded in domesticating these shy people of our woods and swamps, that they put me more immediately in sympathy with nature.
Besides these boxes, you may have one, two, or even three, hanging pots in every window, almost without reference to sun, for many plants, suitable for this situation, seem indifferent to his presence. The exquisite blue lobelia is very impatient of his beams. Smilax, too, popularly supposed to flourish only in hot-houses, does well in sunless situations, and is as valuable as beautiful; for no daintier adornment to a lady's dress can possibly be desired, than its shining leaves and graceful sprays. Be careful and keep off its deadly enemy, the red spider; for so certain as he touches those perfect leaves, their beauty is gone. Remember that eternal vigilance is the price of handsome smilax, as well as liberty, and shower early and late, whenever you can find the time. The freely flowering pink oxalis cannot be praised too highly for a hanging pot. I never knew the bonny, cheerful, little creature to harbor insects; and its way of falling asleep at night, and waking in the morning, is irresistibly attractive. Its first cousin, the "oxalis flava," is very handsome and should be cultivated at all costs; but it is chary of its flowers, and demands far more care of its possessor.
The less common varieties of oxalis, sold by florists, are many of them very desirable, both in size and color; but they are comparatively delicate, and perhaps in unskilled hands might fail.
The use of English ivies for the purpose of decorating living rooms, is more extensive every year, and cannot be too highly commended. Being very strong they will live through almost any treatment; but study their peculiarities, and manifest a willingness to gratify them and they will grow without stint. Most houses are too hot for them, as indeed they are for their owners. Neither plants nor people should have the average temperature over sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Take care and not enfeeble your ivies by undue heat or excessive watering, and you will find that they will not seem to mind whether the sun shines on them or not, or in what position or direction you train them. Indeed, so much will they do of themselves to render a room charming, that I would rather have an unlimited number of them to draw upon, than anything else in nature or art. Do you wish the ugly plain doors that shut off your tiny entry from your parlor to be arched or curved, like those in the drawing rooms of your richer neighbor ? Buy a couple of brackets, such as lamps for the burning of kerosene are sometimes placed in, and screw them on the sides of the door. Put in each a plant of English ivy, the longer the better, then train the plants over the top, against the sides, indeed, any way your fancy dictates.
You need not buy the beautiful but costly pots the flower dealer will advise; common glazed ones will answer every purpose, for by placing in each two or three sprays of Coliseum ivy, in a month's time no vestige of the pot itself can be discerned through their thick screen.