I recently came across these photos of an Australian vernacular garden structure: the bush-house.
Bush-houses (also called shade-houses or ferneries) were built to protect tropical plants from the sun. By the late 1800s, many Australian gardeners were as enthusiastic about amassing and displaying these plants as Victorian hothouse collectors in Great Britain and North America.
The bush-house was modeled on the English glassed-in greenhouse or conservatory, but built with less costly, local materials.
In a 2003 article for Queensland Review, “Tropicalia: Gardens with Tropical Attitude,” Jeannie Sim wrote that, by the end of the 19th century, a number of international exhibitions in Australia were showing off “high-quality examples of tropicalian gardening” in bush-houses.
“The most extraordinary of these kinds of structures,” she wrote, “[was] arguably the one built in 1897 for the Queensland Colonial and Indian Exhibition in Brisbane. . . . Covering the walls and pillars of the bush-house were more than 3000 staghorn, bird’s nest and elkhorn ferns collected from the Blackall Range . . . . The exhibition guide [noted that] . . . Queenslanders ‘could gain a more vivid idea than ever before of the unequalled luxuriance of their scrubs.’ These horticultural displays marked both local pride and individuality, and promoted the use of native plants and bush-houses in gardens.”
According to Sim, many of the plants cared for and protected in the bush-houses were also displayed in popular verandah gardening. “The verandah was the public showcase for the gardener’s bush-house skills.”
Judging from these photos, bush-houses seem to have been frequently constructed of panels of wood or bamboo lath set at decorative angles.
It also appears that many bush- or shade-houses were used as cool(er) places to entertain and relax.
All of these photos are via the Commons Flickr photostream of the State Library of Queensland, Australia.
To scroll through larger versions of the pictures, click on ‘Continue reading’ below and then on any of the thumbnails in the gallery.
Bush- or shade-house at Toowoomba residence, Roslyn, ca. 1900.
Fernery at ‘The Hollow,’ Mackay, ca. 1877, by Edmund Rawson.
Florence Reid in a bamboo bush-house at Bainagowan Station, ca. 1900.
Gardening at the front of Aloe Villa, Toowoomba, ca. 1900. There is a bush-house on the right (and a massive agave on the left).
Shade-house in the garden at Merthyr House, Brisbane, ca. 1908.
Fern-filled conservatory at Bowen Park, Brisbane, ca. 1890, by P.C. Poulsen.
Fernery on Dulacca Station, Western Queensland, ca. 1900.
Bush-house at the Townsville Botanical Gardens, ca. 1900.
Milton residence, Holly Dean on River Road, Milton, ca. 1900. While it’s hard to see any plants, there is an interesting lath structure on the left side of the porch.
Bush-house at Greenmount Station, ca. 1927.
Fernery in the Clayfield residence, Elderslie, in the Brisbane suburb of Clayfield, ca. 1900.
Outdoor decorations under the shade-house roof, ca. 1905.
Garden of the old prison superintendent house, St. Helena, 1928. There is a small lath summer house in the center of the path and trellis around the perimeter of the home behind it — perhaps enclosing a verandah around interior rooms?
7 thoughts on “Vintage landscape: bush-houses in Australia”
I just love these photographs! I used to work at an arboretum where there was a shade house for the young rhododendrons, but it was nowhere as beautiful as these. I love ferns, too, and the obsession that the Victorians had with them. It would have been wonderful to spend a few hours in one of those ferneries.
Thanks so much for sharing these pieces of botanical past!
I particularly like the design of the building in the first photo — that roofline and the angles of the lath.
Yes! Geometrically delightful.
These are great. It’s interesting to see how complex the buildings become–I agree the first one is especially interesting in its design. susie
There’s something very current about their design and use of a simple material — wood lath.
mid thirties here today – I feel quite faint at the idea of wearing all those Edwardian clothes, even in a shade house. One tough lady!
[…] love the office setup on this very deep porch with an adjoining fernery or bush-house. There is also a sewing machine on the table between the two […]