Looking back at 2015, the biggest plant related trend has clearly been planting cute little plants into terrariums. Fairy gardens, cacti and succulent terrariums, and hanging tillandsia containers rapidly started to appear not only in the hobbyist circles and on gardening websites, but also in interior designers repertoire and even in my local garden center.
Through the Victorian looking glass
Plant terrariums are not a new trend – they became insanely popular in the Victorian era, after it was developed by botanist Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in 1842. Originally, they were purposed to overcome one of the biggest issues in gardening – plants not being able to adapt to their non-natural habitat, and eventually, dying in captivity. Read more about these issues in my previous blog post.
Ward was a botany enthusiast surgeon, born in London. After visiting Jamaica when he was 13, he developed an interest in tropical foliage. His fascination carried through his adult years, but keeping ferns in his British garden was never really successful. As often in science, he discovered the effect of enclosed manmade ecosystems on plants by accident. He was raising a moth pupa in a sealed glass jar, and he noticed the moss and ferns growing from the soil at the bottom of the jar. His curiosity for how long the ferns could survive in this sheltered environment led to one of the most important botanic/economic discoveries of the Victorian age, the Wardian Case.
The story tells about Ward hiring carpenters to build his cases to export native British plants to Australia, and vice versa. The experiment was successful; after months of travel, all plants arrived well and thriving to their new location. His experiment indicated that plants can be sealed in glass without ventilation and continue thriving.
After performing more experiments with sealed plant cases and summarizing his discoveries in a short paper called ‘The growth of Plants without open exposure to the Air’, followed by a book ‘On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases’ in 1842.
Dr. Ward`s discovery and wardian case allowed the Victorian botany enthusiasts to keep and observe plants that were not able to thrive in the British climate. The wardian cases quickly became popular and spread among the botanist in Britain and Europe. This not only opened the gates for international botany, but also allowed scientist and hobbyists to better understand different ecosystems and to observe plants and smaller animals in an environment closest to their natural ones, which was not possible without months of travelling before.
From the Wardian case to geometric glass plant terrariums
When the succulent and cacti trend met the geometric interior design trend in 2015, their lovechild, the geometric plant terrarium was born. Far away in function from Dr. Ward`s case, these terrariums cater to the needs of the eye more than the plant. In practice, most of these terrariums act just as ordinary pots or containers do, but they give you that eccentric plant terrarium vibe with a kick of modern design.
As for glass displays and hanging glass orbs go, with the right plant chosen, can turn your plants into decorative elements of your home, showing a little respect to the Father of the plant terrarium, Dr. Ward.