Curating luxury for the discerning traveller

The Art of Preservation: From the Victorian Terrarium to today’s Leafage


Elizabeth Finney meets Kay Suppamas, founder of Leafage, a start-up that offers terrarium workshops, to unearth their history, uses and potential

The world’s first official terrarium was called the Wardian case. Unlike the modern version, which is mostly used as home décor, the Wardian case revolutionised horticulture, making it possible to transport plants around the world by boat, giving botanists access to extraordinary, exotic and often extremely useful flora. 

“It was invented by a medical doctor called Nathanial Bagshaw Ward, who loved anything to do with botany,” Kay Suppamas tells me. “In 1829, he accidentally discovered a tiny fern growing alongside some moss and a moth chrysalis he’d placed in a sealed glass jar for three months.” Ward went on to detail his discovery in a book, On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases, which was published in 1842, noting that due to the horrible pollution and smoke in London, his attempts at cultivating a home garden up until the discovery had failed.

Photography courtesy of Sophie Carefull Arthur Miller Radnall

Sep 12th 2018
Elizabeth Finney

“He did an experimental shipping from London to Australia, and when the plants arrived they were thriving,” adds Suppamas. “He began working closely with William Jackson Hooker, the first official director at Kew Gardens, and Hooker’s son Joseph, and they started shipping and importing plants from all around the world.” 



Many years later, in 2016, Suppamas, a London-based graphic designer, received a telephone call as she was getting ready for work. “My dad had had a heart attack and passed away. I didn’t think it was true,” she says. “It’s shaped the way I see things. My dad was a really big inspiration for me; he was a successful businessman, so alive and so kind. A lesson I’ve learnt from him is that if there’s something I want to do, I’m not going to wait, I’m going to do it.”


She decided that she wanted to find a way to connect people in the city, giving them respite and relief from the busy nature of modern life. Alongside her day job, she launched her passion project – Leafage. “The first time I saw a terrarium was four years ago in a market in Bangkok, and I fell in love with it. I always had it in the back of my mind,” she says. “I was fascinated by its history and simplicity and I just wanted to share it with other people.” Within the space of a month, Suppamas had launched her business and held her first terrarium workshop at a café in Putney, complete with an array of ferns, Fittonias, mosses, succulents and Prosecco. Many months and terrariums later, she’s already planning ways to grow her fledgling business, to train and reach more people around the city. With a sense of bringing her experiences over the past two years full circle, she’s begun experimenting with orchids because her father used to manage an orchid farm in Thailand – keep an eye out for this particularly poignant project, which is set to drop next year.


From 1839 to 1962, the Wardian case was used to protect plants coming in to Kew Gardens from the likes of Fiji, New Zealand, Peru and South America, ensuring the distribution of rubber and quinine (from cinchona plants). They shaped the modern world we know. Nowadays, there are far more efficient ways of moving foliage around the world, but horticulture is still a massive part of current society. Proven to decrease depressive and anxious symptoms, it’s been noted in numerous studies that a lack of interaction with the natural world can be of detriment to mental health. With many people not having access to their own outdoor space, terrariums have grown in popularity with London residents. “It’s a good thing to do in the city. Most people in London don’t have a garden, so having a terrarium is like building one,” Suppamas adds. “The main thing is that, no matter where people are from, they just want to be connected. The workshops are such an easy way to connect with people.” Getting your hands dirty means there’s no way of getting your phone out to check Instagram, leaving you to focus on your task, which is essentially finding a way to keep something else alive.


Suppamas is achieving a number of simple things with Leafage that go far beyond just making something pretty for the home, though that is a bonus. She’s bringing people together, educating them and showing them that, while some things may seem unachievable, anything is possible, especially through the power of community. “In every workshop, before I start, I always share the reason why I started this project, my dad’s story,” she explains. “I really want to give people that perspective in life, that something bad can happen to you but you can flip it and find a way to work with what you’ve got.” 

Kay will be hosting workshops at The Exhibit in Balham October 7th and November 11th. Head to the website for details.


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