With many of you set to gift or receive a terrarium in the next couple of weeks, we thought a quick blog-post on the subject might be timely.
Terrariums are hugely popular right now, (search Instagram and you'll find 272,000 hashtags dedicated to 'Terrariums') but did you know that the first terrarium was accidentally created in 1842 by an amateur botanist named Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward? In the process of studying a hawk moth chrysalis enclosed in a bottle, he'd unexpectedly grown a seedling fern. His modified enclosed glass structures were named Wardian Cases and are the origins of modern terrariums. Middle class Victorians developed a craze for ferns and orchids (which benefitted from the stable warmth and humidity these cases provided) and soon a Wardian Case was a much sought-after desirable object for every fashionable drawing room.
Terrariums work by creating a small scale water cycle within their glass walls, where constant humidity is maintained through an endless process of evaporation, transpiration and condensation. These are self sustaining environments, which make them the perfect gift for those still developing their plant care skills. They might need a little spray of water from time to time, but if you see condensation beading on the glass, all is well. There is even a record of a terrarium planted in 1960 that has only been watered once in 59 years!
Remember that these are environments best suited to medium and lower light positions, so avoid placing on too bright a windowsill and certainly never sit them in direct sun. Light refracted through a double layer of glass will have a magnifying effect upon your plants that they will not thank you for. But given correct placement, these miniature worlds should give you pleasure for years to come.
(Terrarium pictured built by Botanical Boys, photo by The Plant Den.)