Wednesday, October 24, 2012

History of Terrariums

The bringing of the art of the terrarium is generally credited with a man called Dr.Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, a London surgeon and gardening enthusiast. This came about with the publishing of his book called "On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases" which he published in 1842.

He had the desire to watch an insect chrysalis transform into an insect so he placed it, along with some mold in a capped wide-mouthed glass bottle. He observed this bottle on a regular basis and noted how, because of the sun, moisture would be drawn to the top of the bottle during the day then circulate back down to the mold and soil in the evening. But his big surprise came when quite unexpectedly a seedling fern and a sprout of grass bloomed inside the bottle. He was very surprised by this because he had been unsuccessfully trying to grow these very things in his garden. He had surmised that pollution from local factories had been hostile to the plants and was killing them. This made him believe that the plants were doing well in his little bottle because they were sealed off from outside influences and protected from contaminants. He placed this bottle outside the window of his study and the plants inside continued to thrive for four years with no watering or outside intervention at all! From this he devised further experiments and thus his pursuit, and the science of the terrariums, was born. For a very long time these small glass enclosures were named Wardian Cases after him and even though the term is still in use today it is generally not well known and we just call them terrariums.

At the Great Exhibition of 1851, Ward displayed a bottle containing a fern and mosses that had not been watered for 18 years. The Wardian case unleashed a revolution in the mobility of commercially important plants. In Wardian cases, Robert Fortune shipped to British India, 20,000 tea plants smuggled out of Shanghai, China, to begin the tea plantations of Assam.Ward's terrariums also became popular for growing the plants, and it became, in various guises, almost a domestic necessity. The poor had to content themselves with inexpensive rudimentary versions, but there were no limits for the rich. Wardian cases grew into miniature Taj Mahals and Brighton Pavilions, perfect vehicles for the contemporary love of elaborate ornamentation as well as living plants. The Wardian case was fashionable in the United States in the early 1860s, and hardly a self-respecting Victorian household was without one. Even though history dates back terrariums to the 18th century, it is still a comparatively unknown art form in India. 


  1. it is a brilliant idea n im goin to try doin ths..grt way to sustain plants and form a beautiful small garden!!!
    its absolutely lovely..

    1. great, you like the idea. do make some beautiful pieces and share with us. Thank you.