Design Daily: Wardian Cases Are Having A Moment


The twee terrarium has had its day, so let’s shove that tired trend aside in favor of something with little more history—the Wardian Case. We first spotted them a couple of years ago, but it seems they’re enjoying a surge in popularity these days. For an invention that dates back to nearly two centuries, that’s saying something.  

These elegant cases were created in the early 1800s by an amateur botanist, Dr. Nathanial Ward, as a way to keep his delicate ferns alive in London’s smoggy, polluted air. As the precursor to modern day terrariums, these formal cases bear no resemblance to the played-out versions (in a lightbulb! Hanging from a rope!) that you’ll see at every craft fair in the country. By contrast, Wardian cases have defined architectural styles, from 1880s farmhouse wood-and-glass versions to full-on Victorian creations in wrought-iron and leaded glass.

Drawing of a Wardian Case, Eastlake Victorian.

San Francisco’s d. zelen can order antique English Wardian cases from Inner Gardens (top), which would be so beautiful filled with miniature ferns or frothy greens. For something a little darker, I’d send you to San Francisco’s Paxton Gate curiosity shop, where you can score a reproduction of a Wardian case that could pull off a Tim Burton-esque selection of dark succulents, orchids and maybe even a skull or two. 


Paxton Gate, $65.

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