The bottle garden
The idea of the bottle garden goes back to Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, an English doctor and natural history expert of the first half ofthe 19th century. He discovered in one of his collecting vessels for a moth cocoon a fern that had accidently sprouted.
Unlike the free-living ferns in his London garden suffering from the heavy air pollution of the early industrial era, this fern seemed to him to be fresh, healthy and strangely long-lived. From a botanical and economic point of view, this observation led to something ground-breaking: the Ward‘s box.
The Ward‘s box was then to become an important instrument for botanists and adventurers of the time. Exotic plants were much sought after in Europe back in the day. For most imported plants, however, a week-long journey on board a sailing ship, under the influence of strong sunlight and salt water, meant certain death.
Needless to say, Sailors are not gardeners. With the Ward‘s box this changed. Not even the precious fresh water had to be used to keep the plants alive.
Plants endured in their hermetically sealed boxes and were supplied by the water that they themselves had previously evaporated. In Victorian times, the culture of exotic plants under glass became fashion object for the rising educated middle classes.
The containers were used for representative purposes and took on enormous dimensions. From an economic-historical point of view, Ward’s box was a starting point for decisive innovations.
It is directly responsible for the collapse of the rubber boom in Brazil. Young rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) were smuggled out of the country and shipped to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). This broke Brazil‘s rubber monopoly. Likewise, about 20,000 tea plants were shipped in Ward‘s boxes from Shanghai to the Assam region of India, where the world‘s best tea varieties still originate today. The Ward‘s box is the precursor to all greenhouses, terrariums, aquariums, but also of bottle gardens and last but not least of the hemetosphere.