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The History of Terrariums

The bringing of the art of the terrarium is generally credited with a man called Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward. This came about with the publishing of his book called "On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases" which he published in 1842. The second edition of this book was published in 1852 and is readily available in the public domain. Google books has it available here


In the preface to his first edition he cites an earlier reference where he wrote a letter that was published in the "Companion to the Botanical Magazine" which was published in the May 1836 issue. He also gives credit to an author named Mr. Ellis who published an article about growing plants in closed cases in an article in "Gardeners Magazine" in September of 1839. The publication of the "On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases" is considered to be the first substantial work that outlines the theory and keeping of terrariums.

The story of how he first discovered the terrarium is rather interesting and Ward tells it in his book.

A Wardian Case or Terrarium

He had the desire to watch an insect chrysalis transform into an insect so he placed it, along with some mould 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 mould 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 suprised 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.

Terrariums Grew In Popularity

During the Victorian Era and predominantly in England terrariums or "Wardian Cases" became very popular and many people kept them in their homes. But over the course of decades the practice fell in decline and in todays world they have made a bit of a comeback but have never reached the every day popularity that they had achieved in the days of Ward.

The Style of the Wardian Case still remains today

victorian style modern terrarium

This style of case which was created by Ward and was very popular in Victorian England was a series of sheets of glass framed together with metal. The picture at the top of this page gives you a good idea of this. And this Victorian style case has made quite a comeback over the past decade or so. Several companies now manufacture and sell them.


I have plenty of tutorials on this website that will show you exactly how to make all kinds of terrariums from bottle, to plastic bottle to dish and even big ones in an aquarium! Have some fun with terrariums. If you are particularly interested in Wardian Cases I have a nice selection of them you can buy here


A fern in a bottle

Fern in a bottle - the accidental terrarium
Terrariums got their start when a Dr. Ward discovered a fern growing inside a bottle over 150 years ago. I just received an email with pics from someone who found a fern in a bottle. Its a wonderful re occurrence. Read about the fern in the bottle and see more pics of this one: The Fern in the bottle and the Wardian Case


materials for making a terrarium

The fool proof Guide to making a beautiful terrarium in 1 hour

The Fool proof guide to making a beautiful terrarium in one hour! And that includes a trip to the local nursery or Home Improvement Store