As well as good food and exercise, here at Content HQ we believe our environment plays a large part in our overall wellbeing. By incorporating living plants into our homes and workspaces we benefit from their ability to purify the air and to reduce stress and sickness, but the weekly task of replacing fresh flowers can be time consuming, costly and due to the impact of short-lived flowers being transported across the globe, environmentally unsound.
With this in mind Hermetica London was born. First emerging in Victorian Britain as a method of transporting botanical specimens on long sea voyages – the Terrarium has long been used as both a practical and decorative way to conserve plant life. After working for more than a decade as a floral designer, Hermetica founder Ken --- became concerned with the environmental impact of traditional floristry and sought to find a long-lasting alternative that could nourish his love of plants and nature in a more sustainable way.
Describe Hermetica London’s ethical philosophy and enlighten us on why you switched from cut flowers to terrariums?
I arrived at the decision to leave the cut flower world for a number of reasons. The fact that flowers are dead the moment you cut them and flowering is usually in the last stages of a plant's life cycle, they seemed to symbolise endings and loss to me. Cut flowers displayed in hotels, restaurants and the like are short-lived and now so ubiquitous to the point of being invisible, which is a great shame considering the amount of resources and effort needed to grow them. I want to remind people where flowers come from. For me, there is something optimistic and joyous about seeing plants emerge from the soil.
Terrariums are low maintenance and have a smaller environmental impact than cut flowers. Just a few plants, if arranged artfully, can have as much visual impact as a bunch of short-lived blooms. With Hermetica London, I want to strike a balance and offer an alternative to just flowers, for my own peace of mind and happiness if nothing else.
More than just decorative, plants can enhance our wellbeing. Do you focus on this as part of your work?
I would say the scientifically proven benefits of having plants in our living environment, from the purification of the air and absorption of chemicals, not to mention the stress-reducing effect of greenery perfectly compliment my ethos. I wanted to work with living material after years of working with dying things, so it seemed like quite a logical step to work with plants. I've always been personally aware of the emotional and physiological benefits of plants because I've gardened all my life. It seemed perfectly natural to want to share such benefits.
Where do you draw your inspiration and influences?
I have been making terrariums for over 10 years, although they have been around since the Victorian era, when the ‘Wardian Case’ was used to transport plants on long sea voyages. What is fortunate about the current resurgence in interest is there are now lots of new examples, many of which have inspired my own designs. I have seen interesting terrariums with succulents and carnivorous plants combined, which would never grow together naturally, so such terrariums are really a long lasting flower arrangement and might lead to disappointment when they quickly expire. However I am inspired by the horticultural rule breaking and will try and push planting combinations as far as I can without sacrificing too much longevity.
I love botanical art and the Natural History Museum. The artist Katie Scott is a favourite of mine and in some ways I'm trying to create living illustrations, a sort of fantasy botanical art. The Natural History Museum exhibits of skeletons, etc. allow us to approach the subject of death with fascination instead of fear. I don’t find it morbid to see death as beautiful as birth because it is part of the grand cycle.
Describe your use of ‘found’ plants and objects within your work - what is it that draws you to these particular specimens?
A terrarium is a very restrictive space in which to work, both technically as well as aesthetically. In order for my work to be more than just plants in a glass jar, a process or experience first needs to unfold. It might mean a mudlarking trip to the Thames at low tide for broken pottery or bones, or windswept walks on a beach in Wales to find driftwood. While it is impossible to bottle contemplation as such, somehow the time taken for each piece is transferred to my terrariums in a way I don't fully understand.
When I use bones and animal skulls in my terrariums, I think I'm processing my relationship with death. I'm not trying to glamorise or be macabre, however by the same token I don't want to avoid the heart-piercing feeling of observing decay while something else grows: departure and arrival all being part of something much bigger and unified.
Describe your plant selection process - is it based purely on aesthetic or do you take into consideration particular properties or certain health benefits of the plants you choose to work with?
It can be a bit frustrating to source suitable terrarium plants as most suppliers’ stick to the same tried and tested best sellers. As a result, I've started using humble weeds I find in my garden combined with cultivated plants. It's an on-going process of experimentation to see what works.
The combined effect of cultivated plants with wild plants lends my terrariums an air of abandonment, of nature reclaiming everything, which I love. I’m sure we will discover at some point if it were not for the opportunistic plants that seek footholds in our cities they would be much more toxic places to live. Again there is less of an environmental impact if use of ‘found’ plants with other elements, including plants grown in industrial greenhouses.
I would hope my terrariums represent a window into future when humanity realises we don't need to keep processing the planet's resources at such a frenetic pace in order to function as a society. Maybe we will give some of our cities back to the earth and allow her to decorate them and create fascinating new habitats that would not otherwise come into being.
It's not unreasonable to think it could be possible because we have created incredibly beautiful environments like meadows and coppices in the past. They are the result of nature and agriculture working together; there is nothing quite as beautiful as nature and humanity working in balance.
From June 28th-July 19th an exclusive range of Hermetica London Terrariums will be available at Content.