Wardian cases revolutionized tropical plant collection and cultivation in the 19th century. After Dr. Nathaniel Ward discovered that ferns enclosed in glass cases could survive London’s coal-smoke-laden air, explorers and merchants adapted the enclosures to transport and profit from exotic new plants from Australia, New Zealand and other climates far from European shores. Wealthy Victorian patrons embraced the cases for parlor décor and terrace gardens, allowing them to participate in the heady riches of botanical discovery.
Miniature greenhouses and terrariums have lost none of their appeal in the 175 years since Ward’s discovery, but technology has improved them. I’m happy to see modern Wardian cases with bright, efficient lighting, for example. The slim, new T-5 fluorescent bulbs and fixtures are especially well-suited for growing plants in Wardian cases and terrariums. When I started using these bulbs a year or so ago, my African violets and orchids started to bloom more profusely.
Gardener’s Supply is offering a Wardian case outfitted with a T-5 fixture that I’ve had an opportunity to play with at work. I like that it stands on the floor on its own legs instead of taking up table space. The leak-proof tray is deep enough to plant in, too, and it’s well-ventilated so that the glass never fogs up. We’ve chosen to line ours with moss and set potted plants on it so that we can change plants easily. When an African violet goes out of bloom, I’ll replace it with another.
The case is suitable for nearly any plant that can fit inside, thanks to the bright light system. I can imagine a desert theme with succulents and cacti, or a rain forest of ferns, mini orchids and bromeliads. A bog garden complete with live sphagnum moss, pitcher plants, Venus fly traps, dwarf sedges, and sundew would be right at home in this Wardian case, too. It’s easy to see why these have remained popular for nearly two centuries.
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