by Gill Rance

The Victorians had a great passion for ferns and this passion was expressed, among other ways, through the production of a wide range of ‘ferny’ decorative objects made in pottery, glass, metals, textiles, wood, printed paper, stone and other materials.

Pteridomania or, more simply, fern collecting became one of the most popular drawing-room crazes of the 1850s. Ferns were hardy and could be grown in the close, dark atmosphere of the average Victorian drawing room.

The plants were known to live for up to a year in a closed glass dome because although the moisture in the soil evaporated, the condensation on the glass dropped back on the soil to water the plants again. The case also gave protection against gas fumes and coal dust and enabled the plants to survive better.

The simplest case was a bell glass over a pot; more elaborate were cases with entire miniature gardens in them, with artificial rockeries built from pieces of coal.

Using those useful plastic domes obtainable from sweetshops, or more often in machines outside shops, I’ve created a fern case in miniature. It’s a simple but effective project and makes a lovely addition to your Victorian drawing room.


You will need: Plastic dome | Plasticine or similar  | Small pieces of coal | Dried grasses and tiny ferns | Dried tea leaves |  Brown paint

Step 1. Carefully take apart the plastic dome, and paint the base brown. You will need several coats to cover. Leave to dry between layers.

Step 2. Glue a piece of plasticine, or modelling clay onto the base and paint it brown. Cover it with PVA glue and dried tea leaves, then leave to set.

Step 3. Next, glue one or two pieces of coal into place, then making small holes in the plasticine with a cocktail stick, glue tiny pieces of ferns and grasses into a pleasing arrangement.

Step 4. Finally, glue the plastic dome back into place on the base and leave to dry. As a word of warning, be careful not to use Superglue as the fumes can turn some clear plastics cloudy.