Down in the country’s capital, David was making his way through an uncharacteristically early fog to the . He watched as familiar landmarks he was used to being guided by were shrouded in thick smoke. He did not know if it was a phenomenon of the cooler Autumnal weather or the result of the many factories that constantly spewed their fumes into the atmosphere day and night. He was glad that he spent most of his life in the country where the air was clear from such choking clouds.
Staying at his father’s Gentleman’s Club he had not been short of entertaining company. He’s caught up on the latest news from the Royal Society and sitting in the ancient leather armchairs after dinner each evening, nursing a brandy, had heard the latest political scandals and gossip from the many old stalwarts of the club. They asked after his father and remarked on his likeness to him. “He was very much like you when he was a young buck around town!” they declared more than once. They seemed to approve of him taking over some of his duties and asked David if he ever intended on standing for parliament.
He didn’t want to disappoint them and tried to remain non-committal. In truth it did not interest him in the slightest. He would rather spend his time studying and capturing his wonderful plant life.
He had spent a few days in the City and at the Bank of England, sorting out some of his father’s financial dealings and was now free to enjoy himself. This is what he had really come for – the lecture by Nathaniel Ward on his new invention – the Terrarium.
He had met up with a group of like-minded enthusiasts and they took an hour to look round this famous apothecaries’ garden.
“I was here last month” explained Matthew a young botanist from “for the lecture on medicinal plants. It was most interesting. I am writing a treatise myself, on the use of native plants with pain-relieving properties.”
He went into a little more detail as they looked at the plants in question. They all fell quiet though when they came upon the wonderful rock garden and ponds. This was magnificent. The rocks had been transported from all over the globe and even included some Icelandic lava.
The garden occupied a sheltered spot close to the edge of the River Thames, which ensured that, not only was it perfect for transporting plants and rocks, but it had a more temperate climate than the rest of . There was even a splendid olive tree that regularly bore plentiful fruit.
At the appointed hour they entered the lecture hall, where there was an excited hubbub as they speculated on what it was that they were about to learn.
As they took their places in the crowded hall David reflected on his last voyage. He had tried putting his specimens under glass before, but with little success. They got too hot and wilted or shrivelled up in the cold. He was intrigued to hear how Dr Ward had met with such success. There were rumours about his experiments but he wanted to hear it all from the man himself.
He was a small unassuming man but a hypnotic speaker and David listened with rapt attention as he described his journeys to . His invention, like so many great ones before, had come about by accident. He was looking at how he could provide a moth’s pupa with a natural environment in which to live and grow. He had kept it in a sealed jar, where over time he noticed that grasses and ferns had begun to grow in the earth in the bottom. He tried a further series of experiments to see how long plants would survive in a completely sealed receptacle. The results had astounded him.
He got a joiner to construct sturdy cases out of hard wood, so that they would resist the moisture at sea and condensation on the inside where the plants would grow in the protective atmosphere. . He had them fitted tightly with thick glass panels, to withstand the rough seas and even rougher handling by the deckhands. He then attempted to transport ferns and other plants to , a journey of over six months. This was completely successful. The plants thrived and arrived at their destination in perfect health.
Having cleansed the cases thoroughly he filled them with native Australian species that no one had ever managed to transport alive before. Despite the journey being plagued by violent storms and taking over eight months, the plants arrived in good health and survived. His invention was hailed a breakthrough and he was assured a place in the botany hall of fame for posterity.
David paid particular attention to the diagrams that illustrated the talk, took many notes and at the end had chance to talk to the man himself. Dr. Ward was interested in David’s voyages and his plans for The Grange’s extensive gardens. David extended an invitation for him to come and visit when his busy medical practice would allow him the time.
He bought a copy of his leaflet “The growth of Plants without Open Exposure to the Air” so that he could start to construct some terrariums of his own.
“I can’t wait to show Violet” he thought as he took the carriage back to his club. He remembered with irritation his promise to visit George who would by now be in the with his sailing crowd. He longed to get back to The Grange so that he could get started on this wonderful new invention. His head was full of plans for another voyage, if he could persuade his father to let him have the funds.