Wardian Cases for Displaying Ferns
In Victorian times a Mr N. B. Ward invented what is known as the ‘Wardian Case’. Mr Ward had been trying unsuccessfully to grow ferns in the open on a rockery and on walls, his garden being surrounded by factories which poured out their poisonous fumes and soot-laden smoke, killing all the ferns Mr Ward was so anxious to grow, and in despair he was giving up the unequal contest when he noticed a jar ofin which a chrysalis was developing, and which was covered by a lid, always kept moist; the moisture which escaped from the soil during the day condensed on the jar walls at night, running back into the soil and maintaining constant humidity.
To his amazement a self-sown fern appeared on the soil and grew away quickly, full of health, within the clean air imprisoned in the jar. This incident struck Mr Ward as a clear hint on how to grow his favourite plants, and gradually the ‘Wardian Case’ was born. Originally designed to enable him to grow his ferns insulated away from the polluted atmosphere, his cases were adapted to bring home from overseas living plants quite unharmed from the long sea voyages necessary in those days, plants which previously it had been impossible to get home alive.
The idea caught on, and towards the end of the Victorian era all kinds of elaborate Wardian Cases, resembling miniature palm houses and the like, were to be seen as the main ornament in fashionable homes.
Today renewed interest has been shown in the use of glass containers of all kinds for growing plants — battery jars, carboys, and the larger sweet bottles; and there is no doubt that here is the answer to the problem of growing plants successfully in the modern flat. Some 50 or so years ago, consternation was caused in the dairy industry through someone suggesting the retention of milk bottles in which to grow plants. Fortunately for the dairies, and for the plants, the idea was not generally adopted. Milk bottles really were too small to be much use and their shape was hardly one to recommend their use as house ornaments.
One of the great virtues of ferns in the house is that they create no mess with dropped petals and dead, and on this account they are invaluable in the ; once planted they are a joy — if not for ever, for a considerable time — needing no further attention for months. Then ferns have recently been rediscovered by enthusiastic people who vie with one another in competitive flower arrangement — ‘use of foliage permitted’. While admiring the exquisite artistry and skill employed in the arrangement of these floral masterpieces, I still deplore the fact that some flower arrangers regard all members of the vegetable world as fair game and not as objects to be tended for their beauty in the garden. So to those who wish to use ferns for cutting material, I suggest a special planting in a part of the garden set aside for that purpose; then there will be no raiding of those varieties planted for their enduring beauty. The removal of fronds, which are usually not renewed in the same year by the plant, destroys the symmetry of crown-forming ferns, and if persisted in the continual dismemberment may actually kill the plant, because it removes the organs by means of which the fern plant builds up its strength to face the following winter.
Yet with some of the stronger species, the Male and Buckler Ferns, there is little danger in the removal of one or two fronds from each crown. When one considers the really beautiful formation of fern fronds, gracefully arching feathery verdure so effective as foil to the more brilliant colouring of flowering plants, it is difficult to account for their relative neglect in the garden. The beauty of the countryside depends in no small measure on the prevalence of ferns in hedgerow and copse, their rich vivid green standing out against the duller hues of shrubs and trees at certain seasons.
I am including this section on ferns within my website in an effort to bring before the gardening public some idea of the many handsome ferns which can be grown in our gardens and to provide some understanding of their fascinating life history; I hope, too, that my advice on their cultivation will bring rewarding results.