Garden under glass: the history of the terrarium

Prime real estate meets portable property.

Humans have long had the idea of growing plants in a climate-controlled environment, using a variety of techniques over the centuries to protect their plants from winter cold and harsh weather. Though this originally served to grow vegetables out of season, the development of the greenhouse allowed for a much wider range of possibilities. Soon people were growing decorative flowers, stands of fruit trees and tropical plants.

Oddly enough, the greenhouse’s smaller cousin, the terrarium, would not be invented until quite some time later. The first terraria were the brainchild of a Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward after a serendipitous accident. When a fern began to grow inside a specimen jar he had neglected, Ward did not immediately realise the implications. After several years of the fern surviving without care or intervention, though, he knew he had struck upon something special.

He commissioned what would become known as a ‘Wardian case’, a box of wood and glass that would seal the plants away from the outside air but give them access to the light and heat they required. These first terraria allowed him to keep his ferns safe from London’s pollution but they also made it possible to ship British plants to the distant colony in Australia and vice versa. Thanks to the Wardian case, plants could easily survive the long sea journey.

Terraria share many similarities with greenhouses in that they allow light and heat to pass through to nourish the plant, but are otherwise mostly or entirely sealed to create a controlled environment. The main difference is the size – a terrarium is much more modest. Our own terrarium, Jar, is an airtight sealed variety that holds a single plant, for example. Since it is hermetically sealed, it also highlights one of the other features a terrarium can display: a miniature water cycle. The water inside the jar evaporates, condenses, and is reused. This is ideal for keeping plants healthy.

In modern times, the terrarium serves a mostly decorative function but its characteristics still make it ideal for keeping plants that would struggle in a different climate, as well as keeping the plants safe from pests and (sometimes) pets. Their limited maintenance requirements makes terraria ideal for people who travel frequently or work long hours who still want to enjoy healthy plants around their home. An airtight terrarium requires no maintenance and show off plants’ remarkable ability to recycle the resources they have available.

Unlike Dr. Ward, you don’t need to build your own miniature greenhouse to enjoy the benefits and beauty of exotic plants in a terrarium. Pikaplant Jar comes fully assembled and the plant inside is carefully treated to combat fungus and disease, which is why we confidently offer a three-month warranty. Long enough to survive a boat trip to Australia at the very least!

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