Introducing Hermetica and the terrarium trend
Friday, October 12, 2012
Autumn is well and truly making itself known in the UK this
week, and the windows of our London Great Marlborough Street office
are following suit. Filled with terrariums and drawing plenty of
passers by to peer through the glass, I caught up with curator and
creator Ken Marten of Hermetica to find out what inspired the
display (and what on earth a terrarium actually is..)
Tell me about Hermetica?
I started Hermetica London in March this year as I wanted to
make a change from floral design. I have been thinking about doing
terrariums for at least 7 years, as I could see the appeal of an
easy-to-look-after miniature garden for people who did not have
time or space for a full size garden. I have watched terrariums
trend in the states and Australia for the last couple of years and
thought to myself 'now or never!'
The name Hermetica refers firstly to the idea of a hermetically
sealed environment, becoming its own self sustaining eco-system,
which is essentially what a terrarium is. Hermetica is also a
reference to 'secret knowledge' invisible to people who don't know
or care to look at what is in right front of them.
To those of us who hadn't ever heard of a Terrarium until
now, what are they and where do they originate?
Terrariums evolved from Wardian Cases, devised in the early
1800s by enthusiastic botanist, Nathaniel Ward. A fern he grew in a
jar, sealed off from the polluted London air, flourished. So he
took his discovery (beneficial in the age of sea travel, by
allowing expeditions to bring home tropical plants from voyages
when fresh water was scarce) and created Wardian cases, which were
displayed at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, one holding a
fern that had not been watered in 18 years! Many a Victorian home
had a proud display of ferns and tropical plants in ornate Wardian
cases, which were a kind of indoor greenhouse, but sealed off from
London's sooty air, as it would have killed the plant collections
inside them. Terrariums saw a big revival in the 70s, and there are
still books found in charity shops showing you how to make them, as
well features on blogs and the latest edition of The
Plant Journal magazine.
Who and what inspires you?
At the moment, I am inspired by the trends of the 70s when hand
craft, and especially terrariums, were extremely popular. The
internet has allowed many new businesses to start selling handmade
items in a way that was not possible before, so we are currently
experiencing a revival of crafts not seen for a long time. My next
plan is to make that other 70s trend, macramé (essentially hand
knotted creations) cool again.
I also love the idea of a Wunderkammer, a 'cabinet of curiosities'
which a collector of fossils, crystals and other natural forms
would assemble to make a miniature version of the world as they see
it and represent their obsessions. I share the Victorian love of
ferns, which feature heavily in a lot of Victorian designs for
fabrics and furniture. Ironically, there was actually quite a big
Victorian revival in 70s also!
I really like the 80s black and white photography of Paul den
Hollander, who's style is being unknowingly imitated by many an
Instagrammer. The designer Lee Broom is a big favourite, as he
seems to be channelling a 70s spirit in his work and also I'm very
inspired by Miguel Nelson, who's a designer/inventor/art
How did you approach The Mill window?
I wanted my window display for The Mill to be large enough to be
be noticeable to people hurrying by, but detailed enough to hold
the attention of people wanting to take a longer look (have you
spotted the stick insect yet?). With the display being in place
during Halloween, it gave me licence to include a subtle Gothic
element, through the use of giant stems of dried Hemlock, more
carnivorous plants and animal skulls.
The end result is a narrative of my expedition to create the
display. The wooden display boxes are made by a set designer from
floorboards I scoured from the streets of Hackney. Jars and small
eclectic items came from trips to car boot sales and flea markets.
Stones and driftwood came from beaches in Wales and Southend. The
Mill window display is a diary of all the things I like, my own
Wunderkammer. I believe if you are enthusiastic and sincere, this
will show through in the final result and be appreciated by many
--Thanks Hermetica for this fascinating trip through the thought
and inspiration behind the window. If you're in London, be sure to
come and get your nose pressed to the pane and a take a good long
look at the treasures awaiting.