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The History of Terrariums & Pteridomania

Pteridomania; The Victorian craze for ferns or fern-fever that swept Britain during 1840-1890’s. Making somewhat of a comeback in our present day.

Most modern terrariums are inspired by the Victorian Wardian case.

How was the terrarium discovered?

In 1829 Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward invented the Wardian case. A case made of glass & wood to transport & keep exotic plants alive. However this invention came from an accidental discovery. Ward at the time was fascinated by ferns but hadn’t had much luck growing them himself.

In the summer of 1829 Ward was studying insects & had buried a chrysalis (the pupa) of a Sphinx moth in a contained glass bottle with some moist mould. After about a week of observing the bottle a fern had germinated, along with some grass.

Ward was able to observe day to day how the vessel retained adequate moisture and was excluded of any outdoor containiments. The ideal conditions to grow tropical plants & ferns.

The invention of the Wardian case meant that explorers were able to safely transport & travel with exotics plants from all over the world. This was a huge game changer for trading,  the tea industry & for the era.

As Ward was the first to publish his studies, he has become widely known as the inventor of the terrarium. However, a Scottish botanist A. A. Maconochie, had invented something similar almost a decade earlier but rarely receives any credit.

How do terrariums work?

Today’s terrariums come in all shapes, sizes & vessels. You can have them open (generally used for arid plants) or enclosed depending on your preference. Terrariums are supposed to give the plants the more optimum conditions for plants to grow. The glass intensifies the light but also provides shelter to any outside contaminants.

As Ward discovered what had happened in his bottle. He was able to observe on a daily basis, during the day’s heat moisture would collect on the inside of the glass & would slowly filter back down to the mulch before the cycle would happen again. Ward was able to observe how the glass bottle was able to keep the same degree of humidity continuously.

But it wasn’t only the humidity that played a part. Due to the bottle being enclosed the inside is exempt from any outdoor contaminants. Ferns that Ward was desperately trying to grow outdoors would fail time & time again, he could then grow easily within an enclosed container.

What else was going on during the Victorian era?

Since everyone was going crazy for ferns, it wasn’t a surprise that glasshouses were becoming more popular.

At a similar time of Ward’s finding, George Loddiges was inspired to build to world’s largest hothouse. And in the early 1830’s Loddiges had his Grand Palm House built. A structure that was 80 foot long, 60 foot wide & 40 feet high.

George was the son of Conrad Loddiges, who had founded their nursery business & arboretum in around 1816. They traded in, and introduced; exotic plants, trees, shrubs, ferns, palms & orchids to the European gardens.

The nursery was a popular attraction & to get more visitors to the hothouse Loddiges, spread the rumor that ferns were a sign of intelligence, improved virility & mental health. Which was later proved to be correct in Edward Newman’s; A History of British Ferns, published in 1844.


The Victorians, poor & rich, went crazy for ferns & started to cultivate rare specimens & print fern motifs on to everything they could including wallpapers. It even inspired the pattern design on the Custard Cream.

The craze also gave women the freedom to go to Fernery’s and explore the countryside looking and foraging for ferns. Women were even allowed to organise dayout excursions into woodlands without a chaperone, this was because it was considered a wholesome, healthy & moral activity.

Cultivating ferns isn’t easy and the craze became expensive with people trying to get their hands on the rarest fern they could find. Aristocrats would sponsor scientific exhibitions to gather ferns from the West Indies, Panama and Honduras. This also created a crime wave of people stealing the rare specimens and selling them on the black market. Something that still happens to this day.

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Plants For Dark Spaces

Living in a basement flat really limits the plants that are suitable for my flat. It’s dingy, damp and draughty. Pretty much inhabitable for plants. But there is hope, if I can make plant work in my flat so can you!

If you’re like me and live some where dark and dingy, here are my top plants for dark spaces. They’re also easy plants to care for, even if you don’t have the greenest of thumbs. Don’t worry we’ve all killed our fair share of plants.


Native to tropical America, this plant has beautiful heart shaped leaves and is great for low lit rooms. Growing high in the trees this epiphyte is a trailing vine or you can train it to climb. Another plus to owning a Philodendron is that it’s so easy to care for. Keep the soil moist in summer, but never waterlogged this can cause root rot.. Allow it to dry out in the winter. They like humidity, mist occasionally otherwise I like to take mine into the shower with me. It’s fast growing and easy to propagate. A must have in my eyes.

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash


Not one I have in my collection yet but snake plants are SO easy to care for. This plant is perfect if you’re looking to add green to your flat but not overly green fingered. Native to western tropical Africa, it’s very slow growing but is great to have in low lit bedrooms as they release oxygen during the night. Too lower light will dull the markings on the leaves, just move to a less shady spot. Allow to completely dry out between watering.


Peace lilies are another super easy plant to look after and great for those darker rooms. These evergreen plants are native to tropical regions of America and southeastern Asia. This flowering plant produces lush white flowers but in the right conditions. Check the soil before watering, if it’s damp don’t water, if dry it’s safe to water. Another way of checking to see if your Spathiphyllum needs watering is that the leave start to droop, once watered you’ll see them bounce back. I adopted a couple of Spathiphyllums off my parents which I’ll need to repot this spring and also have an extremely root bound one that my partner sort of neglected which I’ll be trying to bring it to its full potential.


There’s many different species you can have. I particularly like the Bird’s nest fern. It’s big beautiful green leaves and the way the fronds unravel from the centre captivate me. Ferns are great for low leveled light but do require a little more care and attention then some of the above. Never place a Asplenium in direct sunlight as this will cause damage to the leaves, keep the soil moist and allow the top layer to dry out in between watering and they love being misted. Again I like to take mine in to the shower to really get the humidity right.


This guy goes by many names Devil’s ivy, Golden pothos are just to name a couple. Attractive for the markings on the leaves they can easily be confused as a variegated Philodendron, however the leaves shape and size are different. It’s a climbing plant that you can either train or allow it trail over the pot. Again this is pretty easy to care for and can tolerate low light. This can stunt the growth but if you have a slightly less shady area it’ll be much happier. Never allow the soil to be soggy and let it dry out a little in between watering and they love humidity. This is also another plant that can easily be propagated by taking a small cutting.

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London’s Top Plant Shops

The main reason for going to London was to carry out some market research and checking out how the top places in London are doing it. In my last blog post I wrote about Palm Vaults, (it’s awesome check it out) but we also visited lots of collaborative stores that incorporate plants into their interior or ethos.

Conservatory Archives

This place is picturesque and I could have spent a lot more time photographing the inside. Before you even get through the door there’s an entourage of tall palms outside, once inside everywhere you look there’s a plant! Filled to the brim with a large variety of houseplants, cacti, succulents, tillandsias, that’s just a fraction of it all!  

The Conservatory Achieves isn’t just a shop to buy plants, it’s a showroom. It showcases the impact plants can have on people. If you take a look through their Instagram you can see they’re much more than that, installing large pieces of plants displays into businesses.


Prick is London’s first ever cacti specialist shop. And from the outside the large cacti in the window draw you right in. Owner, Gynelle knows a lot about this subject and has just written a book. As well as a variety of cacti and succulents to purchase, there’s a supply of beautifully crafted planters. It’s where I found out about Chloe, the beauty behind Make & Matter.

The store is extremely light making you feel relaxed and helps you envision how they’d look in your home. Don’t be scared away from the pricing of the larger species, some of them are hundreds of years old, making them much more of a collector’s item or if you’re looking for that statement piece.


Cuemars is a collaborative space that fuses a passion for plants, interior and fashion. It’s full of quirky and interesting products with a main focus towards botanical themed home decor.

Working alongside their friends, you have terrariums next to handmade leather purses, practical clothing and other beautiful items. There’s artwork to browse through with foliage dotted around the shop. It’s lovely, it’s got everything to brighten up your interior.


Botany is a little hidden away gem. With plants outside it’s not hard to miss. Another collaborative space that is a blend of plants and skin care, home decor and even some stationary.

There was a Scandinavian feel to the store with it’s big blankets and rustic pots you could easily fill your home with. They truly want to create a space that is beautiful and as relaxing as possible.

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London: Palm Vaults

Palm Vaults is the coffee shop of my dreams. The food was so beautifully prepared and presented. With rainbow coffees and an interior that takes you away from a bustling city.

I’ve been following Palm Vaults on Insta for a little while. I was drawn to the hanging plants from the ceiling, the pale pink tones and the decor gives you a feeling of being in LA in the 80’s. I was intrigued by the lattes I saw and the colourful display of cakes and breakfast goodies. When I was planning this trip to London I had to make time to visit. Boy am I glad we went there.

Palm Vaults is mainly a vegetarian cafe, with a lot of the food being vegan and free from options too. Perfect if you’re like me and you have a shit ton of intolerances. It meant I could fully relax and not have to worry about if the food I’m eating might get contaminated or they didn’t hear my order correctly.

Firstly we had to get coffee down ourselves. (It was 10am and the caffeine headaches were already starting). Palm Vaults have a large range of speciality coffees, but with a twist. Not only did they only serve their coffees with a wide range of non-dairy alternatives, they had a whole menu of colourful and tonic lattes. I had to get one, I went for the Red Velvet. This consisted of espresso, fresh beet juice, cacao, agave, vanilla & steamed coconut milk. It was beautifully sweet and well balanced. There’s subtle hints of all the flavours coming through without any being to overbearing. The biggest down fall? The presentation, I was hoping that the latte would have been more rich in colour but looked a little muddy. Coming from a barista background I like to see well texturised milk to create latte art, but we can’t have everything can we?

Next the food. I’m a massive fan of banana bread, especially if it’s vegan. With a couple of topping to choose from the one that made my mouth water was the almond caramel & cacao nibs. I was expecting it to be super sweet and sickly but it was so incredibly more-ish. The sweetness of the almond caramel was balanced out with the bitterness of the cacao nibs.

The decor was one of the main reasons for the visit. They have a variety of hanging plants dangling from the ceiling, the pastel pink tones reflected well with the exposed brick wall and the mirrors really opened up the space. I really loved the interior, the plants could of done with a little more TLC but being a cafe they may not have the time to care for them as much as they should.

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Benmore Botanic Garden: The Fernery

When we visited Benmore Botanical Garden, within the grounds they had a beautiful Fernery. A Fernery is similar to conservatories, just specifically designed to house ferns and mosses. Ferns became extremely popular during the Victorian era, and are now making a comeback. Benmore has a collection of 142 different species of ferns from all over the world.

Outside the Fernery, 35mm scanned photograph.
Moss and fern wall inside. Digital image, Google Pixel

I find ferns fascinating, the way the fronds unravel and the detail of the leaves are intriguing. The images below are a mixture of 35mm scanned photographs and digital photographs taken on a Google Pixel. All photographs are unedited as I prefer to keep them untouched, unless I feel like they need it.

Polypodium giycyrrhiza frond unravelling, 35mm scanned photograph.
Lophosonia quadripinnata frond coiled, 35mm scanned photograph.

Commissioned to be build by James Duncan at the height of the Victorian fern craze (or pteridomania), the fernery has been standing since the early 1870. The Fernery has changed a lot since it was first built. In the early 20th Century the Fernery fell into disrepair and was left to rot.

Inside the Fernery. Digital image, Google Pixel.
Towering Ferns, 35mm scanned photograph.

Today the Fernery stands in the cliff-side, blending into the beautiful scenery surrounding it. A Century after it was left to decay, it was resurrected by the curators and members of the Young Benmore Trust.

35mm scanned photograph.
Digital image, Google Pixel.

Due to lack of detail on the original plans, they decided to add some modern twists to the building. All the stone used to build the Fernery stayed untouched with the curators adding the beautiful glass roof to provide natural light and to keep the warmth and humidity in.

Fernery Glass Roof. Digital image, Google Pixel.

The Fernery is built of three levels including a grotto with a pool and an elevated viewing platform. And I think you’ll agree with how stunning the interior is.

Digital image, Google Pixel.
35mm scanned photograph.


If you’d like to see more of Robi’s photographs, why not follow her Instagram @robiclm!

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Bell Jars and Bones

It’s October and the nights are drawing in and it’s starting to get spooky out with Halloween looming around the corner. Saying that I’ve been working on a new project involving bones. Bones are cool right, people like dead things? I know I do. I’ve been toying with this idea around in my mind for a while and here’s what I’ve been up to.

I find skulls and bones slightly fascinating. These things are inside of us but we never really get to see them. I find real beauty in the way the light bounces off and creates a contrast between the shadow and the bone.

I’ve touched on using skulls/death in previous projects. In college one of my art projects was primarily based around a ram’s skull and a photography project recreating crime scenes. You might think these things are repulsive and wonder why anyone would want to work with skulls. But I like that juxtaposition between death and beauty. 

The inspiration for this project comes from my interest in taxidermy. I have roe deer skulls mounted on to my wall and have framed butterflies and a moth. I find deers to be beautiful creatures and stag horns represent such strength. Moths and butterflies can have such wonderful colouring on their wings that we don’t always see. I don’t think we realise the beauty in this world until it’s either too late or, we’re just not paying any attention to our surroundings. As a species I think that we are selfish, we don’t care or maintain this world like we should, but decided to destroy it instead (but that’s completely off topic). 

I’m also obsessed with nature and trying to capture this everlasting moment to display in your home.

The concept for this project is to design something that you wouldn’t find in the high streets, a product that is completely original and bespoke. I also want to create something that is preserved and isn’t disposable. With my obsession to capture miniature worlds and the juxtaposition of using materials that were once alive to then, in a sense, now dead.

I want to be able to merge them together, something everlasting. As soon as I thought of this, my memory jumped back to my childhood. I immediately thought of Bristol Museum’s crumbling Victorian taxidermy display and glass containers with taxidermy birds of prey in mid flight arranged to look like it was alive. Why not that, but just the bones? And, instead of being in a glass box, surrounded by nothing or by something that has faded. Why not capture the bones in a more natural habitat. This is where the preserved moss comes in.

Preserved moss is, you guessed it, moss that is brought back to life. Well, actually it’s grown, harvested, then dehydrated (or a bio chemical is used), and then dyed. So pretty much everything that is in this project was once alive and is now… dead. 








I’m now in the process of gathering materials to make more prototypes, I’ve created a couple already (as pictured above) but it’s definitely a work in progress. But I hope that I will be able to release a couple of pieces for Halloween. Keep your eyes peeled to our Instagram @loofterrariums, for progress and when they will be available. I’d also love to hear your feedback, leave a message in the comments below. I’ll be posting to my blog regularly and updating any projects on social media, this way to Facebook.