Each era has had its excesses, and during the Victorian one, horticultural decoration topped the list.
Jennifer Davies, in her book “The Victorian Kitchen Garden,” describes the art of “dressing” a formal dining table, as practiced by an estate’s head gardener. No effort was spared to bring the outdoors in. Ripe dessert fruits were offered up in grottoes of palm and fern. A grape-laden vine might ascend from the center of the table, trained to grow through a hole from a pot hidden beneath. And those efforts were modest compared with an 1873 New York table, set with not only banks of moss and roses, but also “a tank full of water, over which was an aviary of songbirds. In the midst of the water, two live swans swam about, the whole being adorned with superb flowers, water lilies and ferns.” Given the table manners of swans, one hopes that they were small.