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  • Writer's pictureKirsty McGilley - BFS

Terrarium Gardens & Their History

Our Terrarium workshop is always popular with the house plant lovers and a regular class held at the Bedfordshire Flower School, so I thought I'd give you a bit of history and how its developed from a science tool to a decorative home décor item as we know it today.

We can trace the history of the terrarium back to another Victorian obsession — ferns. The newfound prosperity in Victorian Britain resulted in a lot of women who didn’t work as a nod to status and had a lot of time on their hands.

The Victorian era was also all about self-improvement, so these women made things. They cut out paper, made shell crafts, sewed and collected ferns.

Collecting ferns was a relatively inexpensive hobby — you just had to go out and hunt. The fact that ferns lacked any flamboyantly coloured flowers made them seem more serious. Fern collecting was one of the few egalitarian hobbies; it was appropriate for both men and women and for people from all social backgrounds.

Ferns were the chosen motif for everything from coffeepots and fish knives to printed textiles and jet jewellery.

Not only was Dr. Ward’s discovery a boon for London plant lovers, but it also made the British tea obsession possible. Prior to the invention of the Wardian Case, it had been nearly impossible to grow Chinese tea plants outside China. Finally in the 1840s and ’50s, a botanist named Robert Fortune was able to use the Wardian Cases to successfully transport Chinese tea plants to India, and the Indian tea industry took off. By the mid-19th century, the price of tea had dropped so much that it became the most popular drink for all classes in Britain.

The first terrarium was developed by botanist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in 1842.

Ward had an interest in observing insect behaviour and accidentally left one of the jars unattended. A fern spore in the jar grew, germinated into a plant, and this jar resulted in the first terrarium. The trend quickly spread in the Victorian Era amongst the English. Instead of the terrarium, it was known as the Wardian case. Like many plant-obsessed Victorians, Nathaniel Ward was a London doctor by profession who had an intense enthusiasm for botany. But Dr. Ward’s plants, particularly his ferns, were having difficulty surviving the polluted air of 1820s London. It was intensely frustrating for a passionate plant collector to not be able to keep the plant of the moment alive. While puzzling over the problem with his ferns, Dr. Ward noticed that the plants placed in his covered insect jars (for studying moths and caterpillars) were actually taking root in the soil. It was a light-bulb moment — Dr. Ward realized that his miniature greenhouse could actually protect the plants enough so that they would thrive.

With house plants being a huge trend in the interior world for their air purifying properties and health benefits our Terrarium class is always popular.

During the class we discuss how to design, create and care for your Terrarium using mostly Cacti and Succulents to fill our beautiful glass containers to take home and enjoy.

Terrariums can host a range of plants, these can be chosen to suit the environment you are hoping to display your arrangement.

More info and tickets available online

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