Earlier I mentioned the invention of the Wardian Case and its great popularity in Victorian times. There is every reason why such containers should become equally popular today. They could be made to harmonize with the modern décor, and if fitted with hidden lighting they could be used in any part of a room as a very interesting focus of attention. The artificially lit aquarium for tropical has been with us for some years now, and always causes much interest and amusement, and there is no doubt that a Wardian Case for ferns could be just as decorative, with the added attraction of needing little or no attention once the plants were planted correctly. In fact, a Wardian Case might he regarded as an ‘aquarium’ for plants, except, of course, that it will be filled with air, not water.
It would be perfectly simple to make such a case from an old Aquarium by having the bottom drilled with a fewholes, and placing it in a pebble tray to catch the excess water. A glass lid would then make it ready for use as a Wardian Case.
Essentially the Wardian Case consists of a more or less airtight glazed cover to a shallow container in which moist is held, in which plants can grow for months without any attention, as there is no water loss: all the moisture which evaporates from the soil and plants during the warmth of the day, condenses at night and runs back into the soil.
Generally the case was made with a zinc or galvanized iron box, two or three feet long by eighteen to twenty-four inches wide, six inches deep, watertight, but provided with a tap at the lowest point to draw off any excess water. To prevent any corrosion the box should be painted with a rust-resistant paint, not harmful to plant life. In this age of plastics, such a container might well be made in reinforced plastics, and this would do away with any worry about corrosion of metal.
It was customary to enclose the metal tank in a teak or other hardwood box, for appearance sake, and this could be made as attractive as needed by discreet panelling.
A glazed rectangular-sided cover, often with a semi-cylindrical glass top, was fitted over the tank case; the side panels usually were made to slide open, or the end panels were hinged to allow the case to be opened for attending to the plants, but closing tightly to prevent loss of moisture. In the bottom of the metal tank an inch depth or so of broken stone, crocks or other hard drainage material was spread, and this was covered with a layer of sphagnum moss or coarse fibrous peat to prevent fine soil working down into the drainage.
Above this an open, rather gritty fern compost was heaped up above the metal tank and worked into undulating mounds and valleys, perhaps with a few well-shaped stones to form a miniature rockery, and in this a selection of suitable ferns was planted.
After giving the planted case a thorough watering, and draining away the excess water, the case was closed, when the ferns could grow away without any attention for months. Then the case was placed where it would receive ample light without direct sunlight — as in a north window.
Such a case could be made any convenient size and could be adapted to fit on shelving anywhere if it was provided with some lighting.