A Victorian Visit: Morris Arboretum Fernery

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Just a short drive from our home base in Philadelphia, a rare, old-fashioned fernery provides a window into Victorian history. Tucked among the gardens of the Morris Arboretum, the Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery was built in 1899, at the height of a Victorian fern craze known as "pteridomania." Garden enthusiast John T. Morris ordered a collection of over 500 plants to fill the fernery, an elegant creation of glass and steel with a graceful, curved roof. To create an optimal environment for his humidity-loving specimens, Morris turned to the latest technologies in steam heating, glass cutting, and architecture.

Sadly, the structure fell into disrepair as enthusiasm for ferns faded during subsequent decades. In 1994, the fernery was restored to its original beauty; the curved roof was refurbished, the heating system updated, and the rocky outcroppings where ferns grow rebuilt. Today, it's the only freestanding Victorian fernery remaining in North America. Though just 53 feet long, the building holds countless tableaux, with ferns flourishing among stony pathways, gentle fountains, and hidden grottos. After more than a century, we can still see why these tropical escapes were so beloved by Victorian gardeners. 

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