While the Wardian Case was a practical invention that allowed city-dwellers to enjoy growing plants in their homes, the 1970s terrarium was a political statement. Several decades later, Hayes’s terrariums combine elements of both. They keep plants alive in apartments, sure, but they serve another purpose—that of allowing us to interact with, and control, the natural world. “It’s seductive,” she said. “It’s a perfect world you can hold in your hand.”
A combination of idealism and escapism is what elevated Hayes’s terrariums beyond those of the past, into the world of both fine art and contemporary design. After making her first terrarium out of geometric wood and glass, Hayes decided to experiment with other shapes. “I wanted to manifest what I experienced emotionally when I feel overcome with a positive charge,” she told Artsy. She settled on blown-glass containers because of the way they mimic the curve of the sky. “The container itself has this relationship to the dome of heaven—you can imagine yourself inside,” she said.
To say this form resonated is an understatement. By 2008, Hayes started seeing copycat versions popping up online. “I was surprised by the degree to which people were really studying and replicating my terrariums,” she told Artsy, “but I didn’t feel like it was in the spirit of what I do.” Rather than fixate on the appropriations, Hayes chose to see the spread of terrariums inspired by her own as a natural process—the organic growth of a seed planted in the fertile soil of millennials’ imaginations. “I’m more interested in contemplating my terrariums’ place in the zeitgeist than in taking credit for them,” she said.