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Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania [Hardcover]

Sarah Whittingham
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Feb 2012

'Of all the many passions and crazes in nineteenth-century gardening and natural history, none was as long lasting or as wide reaching as fern fever, or Pteridomania as it became known.  The obsession with ferns was not confined to a few professional botanists but it affected men, women and children from all classes through the British Isles, the Empire and America.

Books and articles encouraged thousands to set out on fern forays.  Their overwhelming desire to ‘capture’ a rare specimen led them to wade through streams, scale rock faces, descend gorges and lean over fast-flowing rivers.  Accidents were common, sometimes fatal, and over-collecting and even fern stealing were rife.

Sarah Whittingham has explored verdant ferneries and Pulhamite grottoes throughout the land, read hundreds of Victorian works on ferns, and examined ferny items from Coalbrookdale benches to Royal Worcester pottery to reveal the incredible extent of the craze.  She introduces the key players – John Lindsay, Nathaniel Ward, George Loddiges, Edward Newman, Thomas Moore - together with many others.

It was possible to live a life in ferns from the cradle to the grave:  if you were to go to the seaside, visit the theatre, view an exhibition, decorate your house, read novels, play music and even spend time in hospital, you would come upon ferns and ferneries.

Fern Fever encompasses garden history, social history, and the decorative arts, illustrated with over 150 beautiful images from around the world. It includes a list of places to visit where you can experience the Victorian fern craze first hand today.

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Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania + The Victorian Fern Craze (Shire Library) + Gardening with Ferns
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Frances Lincoln (2 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0711230706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0711230705
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 23.3 x 28.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 368,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Dr Sarah Whittingham is an historian who specialises in the social history, architecture and gardens of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Sarah is the expert on the Victorian fern craze. As well as lecturing on the subject (including at literary festivals), she has appeared on BBC radio and television programmes talking about Pteridomania, and has written articles on it for a number of publications, including the Victorian Society's Journal, the National Trust magazine, Country Life, The English Garden and Heritage.

Her book, The Victorian Fern Craze, was published in 2009. The first edition sold out, and it has been reprinted. In February 2012 Frances Lincoln published her major illustrated book, Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania, which has received great reviews in the New York Times, Saturday Telegraph, Scotsman magazine, Sunday Times in Ireland, Daily Mail, House & Garden, The English Garden, BBC Gardens Illustrated, The Lady, Cumbria Life, Oxford Times, The World of Interiors, and Country Life, among other publications.

Sarah's other books include Wills Memorial Building (2003), The University of Bristol: A History (2009) and Sir George Oatley: Architect of Bristol (2011), which has been shortlisted for the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion for the best architectural history book in 2012.

She has lectured widely on architectural history for the University of Bristol, the Victorian Society and the Twentieth Century Society, among others. In 2009 she curated the exhibition 'The University of Bristol's Buildings: Past, Present and Future' at the Architecture Centre, Bristol.


Product Description


Whittingham charts this charming horticultural craze in a delightfully illustrated book.


You don't have to love ferns to enjoy this book, but I guarantee you'll see them in a whole new light after reading it.

(English Garden)

This must be the definitive work on Pteridomania… Make room in your bookcase for it now!

(British Pteridological Society)

There is much to learn from this book, not only about ferns but about a period in British history that continues to influence a nation's culture to this day. It is written with great clarity, is beautifully illustrated and skilfully edited.

(BBC Gardens Illustrated)

Victorians would give their eye teeth for it; the 21st-century plant enthusiast can just turn the pages in wonder.


In this authoritative book, illustrated with superb paintings, drawings and photographs, Sarah Whittingham examines this passion for ferns in absorbing detail.

(Cumbria Life)

A joy to read. It's packed with information yet it romps along.

(Oxford Times)

This is a comprehensive study of the subject, richly illustrated throughout.

(Western Daily Press)

Dr Whittingham has done her work well. She leads the reader along the fern gully wioth a discerning eye, and organises her material with skill and wit. The whole book is enriched with excellent, well-placed and well-captioned illustrations, so it is a pleasure for the eye as well as the mind. It deserves to become the standard work on the subject.

(Country Life)

Sarah Whittingham is a tremendous writer; she manages to convey the fervour of the fern madness that gripped the Victorians, not just here in England but around the world, and simultaneously imparts history, botany, human eccentricity and passion in  grippingly readable form. 

(House & Garden)

Editor's Choice: This lavishly illustrated survey will delight all interested in social history, garden history and the decorative arts.

(Good Book Guide)

A superb new book.

(Independent - Anna Pavord)

Deserves to become the standard reference on the subject.


It is scholarly in context in that it has recorded a period of our history in depth but in a readable and delightful manner. The beautiful illustrations form an important part and cover an exhaustive range of fern memorabilia

(Welsh Historic Gardens Trust)

You don't need to be a pteridomaniac to appreciate this book, but you may well become one if you read it all

(Garden Design Journal)

'This lavishly illustrated survey is a delight.'

(Good Book Guide)

'an often amusing range of objects decorated with ferns . . . the serious content lies in the account of the ferneries that have been restored and returned to their original use.''



(Historic Gardens Review)

'easily read, well-written'

(The Professional Gardener)

About the Author

Dr Sarah Whittingham is an historian who specialises in the social history, architecture and gardens of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She has lectured on fern fever for many years, and appeared on radio and television talking about the subject. She is also the author of The Victorian Fern Craze (2009) and has written a number of articles on the subject for various magazines. She is the author of a number of books and articles on Victorian and Edwardian architects and architecture, and has lectured widely on architectural history.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fern Fever 24 Feb 2012
A thoroughly-researched, witty and fascinating wander around Victorian England, through the medium of ferns. Sarah Whittingham's book is wonderfully illustrated, comprehensive in its scope, and her enthusiasm for her subject animates every page. The collectors, the cultivators and the place of ferns in the imagination and culture of the late Victorians all spring vividly to life. A brilliant present for yourself or another.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Fern Fever! 30 Mar 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sarah Whittingham cleverly and creatively weaves the story of the Victorian's obsession with ferns. Fern Fever is full of surprises. The length the Victorians went to collect ferns, often putting their lives in harm's way, equals the author's impeccable research and ability to ferret out the most entertaining stories, which are fascinating in the spirit of social history.

Beautiful photos depict how ferns were used in decorating everything from glassware to Custard Cream Biscuits. Illustrations and the wealth of gorgeous book covers from the period make this a book to relish.

From tree ferns growing through dining room tables, a fashionable decoration used for entertaining, to my personal favorite, phantom bouquets, the author has left no stone unturned. Many fern hunters across the British Isles even thought they might find the "little folk" in fairy land. Perhaps they did, but the fact is that Fern Fever is quite magical.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Help...I've caught fern fever! 27 Mar 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is one to read, and read again. To dip in and savour. A complete joy but I fear I am now afflicted with the terrible disease of pteridomania. That's right, I've gone fern crazy. I'm off to the garden centre this weekend to stock up on these delights and add them to my already overcrowded garden. The Victorians were nuts about ferns and would risk life and limb to acquire the rarer species, according to the author, Sarah Whittingham. And I can see why. I relished all the author's fabulous detail in this book, her painstaking research and quirky tales of human and fern endeavours. A jammed packed read AND a glossy, beautiful coffee table book - what's not to love?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fern enthusiast treasure trove 6 Nov 2013
By Laura - Published on Amazon.com
Gorgeous photos of fern decorative arts, fern gardens and grottoes, fern cases. Plus a wonderful collection of anecdotes that illuminate the factors that contributed to the unusual instance of mass fern fever among Victorians. I thoroughly enjoy the book and it is one I could pick up over and over again just to review all the photos.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very British circa Queen Victoria 24 Aug 2013
By Ben Folcik - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An OK recounting of gardening habits in 19th century England. I don't recommend for anyone who does not like Brits.
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