Small Plant Worlds: The History of Terrariums

I have this idea that in the future I will have time for another creative activity – making terrariums.  Terariums have been on the rise lately, with glass bubble containers, the use of upcycled/thrifted objects, and sweet small worlds of plants being seen in flower shops and garden stores.  Often the plants are succulents, cacti, and other plants that do not require much water.

Where did terrariums start?  The history goes back to Victorian times when people were really into ferns.   Women had extra time on their hand so they had hobbies that included making crafts, sewing, and collecting ferns. Fern collecting was seen as a serious pastime, and both men women would participate.

In 1827, Dr. Nathaniel Ward, a doctor in London was studying moths and caterpillars.  He found that some plants, including a fern,  had grown in the bottom of the jar.  This fern was healthier than the ferns in his backyard that grew in the polluted air from the local factories.

Ward discovered that plants could grow in London if they could be protected from the outside air. He created  miniature greenhouses, which he named fern cases. Today they are known as Wardian cases or terrariums.

The cases led to new plants being to be grown, including tropical and more exotic plants.   It also led to fancier cases.  In the 1860s, most Victorian houses had at least one terrarium.

Today terrariums function as fun, decorative containers that have plants that usually thrive without much care.  Some interesting studios that make interesting terrariums include  Twig Terrariums and Sprout Home.

Right now I am more in a fixing up the house/ cleaning things up mode – but I have big plans to make some small plant worlds myself in the future.

Image Source:


Video – How to Make a Terrarium – by Sproutm

Art Plants

Paula Hayes: Living Works of Art

Paula Hayes is an artist and designer who makes creative work with terrariums and other organic materials.  She currently has work on view at the Wexner Center for the Arts until December 30, 2011 of recent sculpture as well as some new commissioned work. Her work combines modern contemporary design with plants and natural materials – the end result which is a futuristic terrariums with quirky plants and crystals that resemble slugs, eggs, and other organic forms.

Balancing the role of gardener and sculptor, Hayes works with industrial materials such as hand-blown glass, silicone, and cast acrylic and makes organic shapes that she fills with plants, minerals, and crystals.   The pieces are sometimes mounted on pedestals or arranged as necklaces or constellations of “micro-terrariums.”

“It’s only very partially an object. It’s mostly a verb,” Hayes says about her work.  Her work brings the outdoors inside and is a contemporary approach to terrariums and does not include fake plants, small bamboo plants, or natural twine (like planters and terrariums of the 1970’s.)

Hayes also created the  Wexner Center Roof Garden near the Wexner Center’s entrance, which will feature hearty sedum plants, perennial plantings, grasses, and sculptural planters. The garden is a permanent addition and will change, grow, and be visually interesting in all 4 seasons.

A gardener, landscape designer and artist, she has been commissioned to design and execute gardens for multiple public and private spaces, including Hauser & Wirth Gallery in New York, W Hotel Landscape in Miami, and Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany.



Paula Hayes’s website and blog

Paula Hayes at Moma – Video

Behind the Scenes: Paula Hayes, Nocturne of the Limax maximus

Wexner Center Exhibition Preview

Paula Hayes Wexner Rooftop Garden Installation