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Roses, jasmine, fuchsia, chrysanthemums, and rhododendrons bloom in gardens across the world, and yet many of the most common varieties have root in Asia. How is this global flowering possible? In 1829, surgeon and amateur naturalist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward placed soil, dried leaves, and the pupa of a sphinx moth into a sealed glass bottle, intending to observe the moth hatch. But when a fern and meadow grass sprouted from the soil, he accidentally discovered that plants enclosed in glass containers could survive for long periods without watering. After four years of experimentation in his London home, Ward created traveling glazed cases that would be able to transport plants around the world. Following a test run from London to Sydney, Ward was proven correct: the Wardian case was born, and the botanical makeup of the world's flora was forever changed.
In our technologically advanced and globalized contemporary world, it is easy to forget that not long ago it was extremely difficult to transfer plants from place to place, as they often died from mishandling, cold weather, and ocean salt spray. In this first book on the Wardian case, Luke Keogh leads us across centuries and seas to show that Ward's invention spurred a revolution in the movement of plants – and that many of the repercussions of that revolution are still with us, from new industries to invasive plant species. From the early days of rubber, banana, tea, and cinchona cultivation – the last used in the production of the malaria drug quinine – to the collecting of beautiful and exotic flora like orchids in the first great greenhouses of the United States Botanical Garden in Washington, DC, and England's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Wardian case transformed the world's plant communities, fueled the commercial nursery trade and late nineteenth-century imperialism, and forever altered the global environment.
Part 1. Possibilities
1. Experiments with Plants
2. A Brief History of the Plant Box
3. Global Gardens
4. Science at Sea
5. On the Move
6. House of Ward
Part 2. Panoramas
7. Logistics of Beauty
8. Kew’s Case
9. Case of Colonialism
10. Burning Questions
11. Wardian Cages
Conclusion: Case Closed?
Luke Keogh is a curator and historian interested in the global movement of plants in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Among his many awards and prizes is the Sargent Award from the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Currently he is senior curator at the National Wool Museum in Geelong, Australia, and an honorary research fellow at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. In 2020, he is fellow of the 4A Lab, Berlin, an innovative humanities research lab supported by the Max Planck Institute for Art History, Florence and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.
"Environmental historian Keogh charts the history of the Wardian case, a traveling greenhouse, in his fascinating debut [...] Any gardener fascinated by history will find this well-told story fruitful."
– Publishers Weekly
"Explores how a humble box made of wood and glass changed the course of world history [...] [A] well-balanced, thoughtful account [...] Keogh carefully teases out the connections between this innovation and its multiple consequences [...] An in-depth study that will suit detail-oriented gardeners and natural history buffs."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Gutenberg's printing press, Bell's telephone, and the Wrights' flying machine transformed the world. So did Nathaniel Ward's revolutionary plant box. The Wardian Case is brilliantly researched and fairly presents dual legacies of botanical introduction and unintended consequence."
– Michael Dosmann, keeper of the Living Collections, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University
"The Wardian Case gives us profuse examples of how the case made possible some of the important botanical introductions into Europe and other countries, and how it was used (successfully and less so) in practice. We learn how the case evolved and changed after Ward died in 1868. Then there are the problems caused by transporting plants and their soil around the world, leading to invasive plants and animals. Along the way we hear about various botanical journeys and expeditions and some of the movements of important crop plants, such as rubber, bananas, tea, and cinchona. Fresh, fascinating, and largely untold, the story of nineteenth-century surgeon and naturalist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, his 'big' invention, and its impact on the world then and now deserves the kind of scholarship Keogh provides."
– Tim Entwisle, director and chief executive, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (Australia)
"The Wardian Case explores how a seemingly mundane piece of Victorian technology has transformed global environments, in large ways and small, by facilitating the global exchange of living plants. Detailed and nuanced, it is not just the history of an object, but also of a national and then global network of people interested in long-distance plant transfers. It shows how the Wardian case helped create new kinds of social, biological, and ecological connections between distant parts of the world, from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Keogh's writing is vivid and lively, and the book sparkles when he describes Ward's houses and his broader world. Elsewhere it is filled with rich images – of children in India struggling to carry heavy Wardian cases, of Japanese carpenters trying to figure out how to build a Wardian case, of new species of worms from Southeast Asia appearing in Kew, and of the author's own encounter with the ecological legacy of the Wardian case, with his sons on a beach in Australia. Engaging and accessible, this is a significant contribution."
– Stuart McCook, University of Guelph, author of Coffee Is Not Forever: A Global History of the Coffee Leaf Rust