Wardian Cases and Accessories

As well as providing a home for tiny plants, Wardian cases, terrariums and other containers should be attractive, long lasting, safe and easy to look after. There is a wide range of containers for sale at garden centres, or you might want to ‘convert’ an unusual container yourself.

Glass or plasticWardian Cases

Plastic is generally much cheaper than glass, and weighs less – important if you are considering a hanging display or very large container. However, plastic scratches easily, and can become cloudy or discoloured with exposure to light. Water runs off glass quicker than off plastic, so condensation is less of a problem in a glass container than a plastic one. When buying a Victorian reproduction plant display case, make sure that the ‘leading’ has been treated for rust. Some inexpensive glass designs are made of thin glass with unfinished edges – a point to watch if you have young children or precious furniture!

Most people prefer the more solid appearance of glass to plastic. Whichever you choose, it should be clear or slightly tinted green, as light cannot get through strongly coloured glass and plastic. Narrow decorative panels of coloured glass are harmless, as are coloured or opaque panels at the base of the container, concealing drainage material and potting mixture.

Fully closed or partially open?

This depends on your taste and choice of plants. A fully closed container has no access to the outside air, so you can keep the humidity evenly and constantly high: ideal for tropical plants and those, such as maidenhair fern, with thin leaves. If you want to create a miniature desert, with cacti and succulents, the drier the air and the more circulation the better, and an open aquarium or wideWardian Cases2-necked container is best.

Some purpose-built terrariums have adjustable air vents, and any sliding or hinged lid or side panel can be opened to allow varying amounts of air in. However, the more open, the less it acts like a Wardian case, and regular watering is necessary. Some glass and plastic planters are available in both closed and open designs, the latter with perforated sides for displaying hanging or trailing house plants. In these, the humidity is much the same as in the atmosphere in the surrounding room.

There is a wide range of cases and terrariums available, for hanging or standing. Clear or light green tinted glass will let in plenty of light, and many current designs include air vents.

Built-in lighting

Fluorescent lighting benefits house plants, especially if they are in a dark corner or sunless room. The lighting also makes the plants more of a decorative focal point. Many aquariums have, as optional extras, fitted metal lids with built-in fluorescent tubing.

Some Victorian-style hanging garden `lanterns’ have built-in fittings for electric bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs are better, but if you use an incandescent one, select low wattage, as heat can damage the plants.

Optional extras

Miniature gardens can be as fascinating to tend as full size ones. Having the right type of container and tools makes the job easier, and the end result pleasing to the eye.


  • Specialist shops may have tools for miniature gardens, but it is fun, easy and economical to make your own.
  • Tape a kitchen spoon to the end of a small garden cane or piece of stiff wire, to make a mini-spade.
  • Tape a kitchen fork to the end of a small garden cane or piece of stiff wire, to make a mini-fork.
  • Twist the end of a strong piece of wire into a loop, for lowering plants through the narrow neck of a bottle garden, or for hooking plants out.
  • Wedge a cork or empty cotton reel onto a cane, for firming the potting mixture round plants.
  • Fix a razor blade onto the end of a cane, for pruning, and for cutting off dead leaves and flowers.
  • Attach a nail to a cane to make a spike for removing debris.
  • Make a cardboard or rolled newspaper tube to funnel gravel and potting mixture.
  • Attach a tiny piece of sponge to a wire for a window cleaner to remove condensation and potting mixture from the glass.
  • Split a bamboo cane at one end, to form ‘tweezers’, for inserting small plants.
  • Use a single bamboo cane, chopstick style, to help manoeuvre plants into position in a bottle garden.
  • A selection of home-made tools particularly useful for a narrow-necked bottle garden, but handy for all types of glass display cases for plants.

Size and shape

You can grow a fern in a perfume bottle, but it won’t make much visual impact. At the other extreme, there are purpose-built glass cases that fit into a window and extend outwards, like a mini-conservatory. A miniature landscape looks better if it is 30cm (12 inches) or more across. There are square, rectangular, round, hexagonal, octagonal and pentagonal cases, with straight or flared sides, like a lantern, and flat or roof-like lids. (Many have ‘window’ and ‘door’ openings.) Triangular cases are for corner displays, and flat-backed ones are for hanging on walls.

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