Nasturtiums Grew in My Wardian Case

Last week while I visited the Chicago Botanic Garden, I had lunch and then stopped in at the Gift Shop. Often I find treasures surface in a such a Shop when least expected.

And so it happened.

Small greenhouse on sale at the Chicago Botanic Garden Gift Shop last week.

The Shop had for sale a small glass case for plants.  It resembled the Wardian case from early nineteenth century England.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century English gardeners, fascinated with botany and plant collecting, coveted plants from Asia and America.  Plants however had a difficult time surviving for a long distance on a ship.  London physician Dr Nathaniel Ward (1791-1868) discovered that a covered glass container for the plants would provide air and moisture for a considerable period of time.

According to Sarah Rose’s book For All the Tea in China British plant collector Robert Fortune (1812-1880) used the Wardian case to send back the tea seeds he found in China.  It worked in keeping the seeds and subsequent plants alive on the sea voyage.

Earlier in the summer while reading Rose’s book I experimented with some nasturtium seeds in a jar. I filled the jar about half full with a layer each of stones, peat most, and the potting soil in which I planted a couple of seeds. I sprinkled a bit of water on top, covered it, and put it in the corner of the garden for a couple of weeks.

My recent Wardian case experiment with nasturtium seeds worked.

When I checked after several days, I saw the green stems and leaves of the nasturtium. I opened the bottle to give the plant some air.

The Chicago Botanic Garden had a fancier version, but the principles were the same with my jar.

After the Wardian case appeared on the scene, plant collecting for the English garden was never the same.  America too profited because the plants collected for the English garden, like the Weigela shrub from China,  later traveled across the sea to our gardens.

Seed and nursery catalogs then advertised them as the newest, must-have plant.  Made available by the Wardian case.

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