Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Terrariums Part Two…

December 19th, 2009 § 16 comments § permalink

A tiny Phalaenopsis orchid , (‘The White Moth’) , displayed in an open terrarium lined with pea stone/charcoal mix, and filled with a bed of bark, sphagnum and sheet moss…

Last week in ‘Terrariums Part One‘, I went over basic instructions demonstrating how terrariums are constructed, and introducing terrarium-newcomers to the beautiful, fascinating world of miniature conservatories. Starting with a simple terrarium, such as the native plant design I featured last week, is a good idea if you have never experimented with terrariums before, or if you are working with young children. However if you have already had some success with basic terrariums and houseplants, and you want to experiment with more unusual tropical plants or something a bit more challenging, you may be ready to move on to some less-typical interpretations of this indoor display method. Whether you go with a classic or a more modern design, keep in mind that a homemade terrarium is both an economical and memorable gift, and there is still plenty of time to come up with something truly special before Christmas…

Open bowl-style terrarium and a blown-glass bulb amid pink polka dot plant, (Hypoestes phyllostachya), purple velvet plant, (Gynura aurantiaca), and golden hair grass (Deschampsia flexuosa ‘Tatra gold’) All plants featured here are from: The Old School House Plantery

Begin by letting your imagination run wild. There are as many kinds of terrariums as there are people creating them. Terrariums may be open or closed, short and wide or tall and narrow. They may be made of solid glass, acrylic or plastic, or they can be combined with other materials, such as wood or steel. Some tiny greenhouses are smaller than lemons; others take up entire rooms. I have seen absolutely stunning, miniature conservatories made from recycled or even antique glass containers, and I have been amazed by more modern, architectural terrariums constructed from sheets of clear acrylic. Some designers like to add tiny collectibles, such as doll furniture or figurines to their designs. Other creative adornments might include itty-bitty flower pots, toy cars, prisms or glass balls. It is endless. The plants contained within terrariums also vary wildly. Naturally, your choices are limited by a wide variety of situational conditions and circumstances; including plant availability, budget, design, mature specimen size in relation to container, as well as ease of maintenance. There are also cultural requirements to consider; a few of which include humidity preferences, drainage and soil structure and chemistry.

Many plants will thrive within a moist, humid terrarium environment. In fact some, including many of my favorite orchids, actually perform better in my dry, winter home when contained within glass. The tiny moth orchid, (Phalaeonopsis), pictured at the top of this post, ($9 at Home Depot), is happily growing in a mixture of bark and sphagnum moss. Drainage is provided by a mix of pea stone and charcoal at the bottom of the container. Phalaeonopsis thrive in warm, moist conditions. Elevated humidity is provided by a tall, wide glass vase, (found at Target for $12), which holds water and reduces evaporation.

On the other hand many plants, including most alpines, cacti, succulents and herbs, tend to wither and rot in low light and dampness. But given the right container and growing conditions, some of these plants may be grown in glass planters as well. Of course, more exacting personalities might argue that wide-mouthed, glass pedestal bowls do not technically qualify as a terrariums. I encourage you to expand on these old-fashioned definitions, and to explore the concept of the modern terrarium. Although succulents are not good candidates for closed conservatories, they do make fantastic additions to open glass bowls – particularly the urn-shaped vessels intended for candy and fruit display….

A modern interpretation of the classic terrarium: non-traditional, dramatic succulents contained within a delicate glass pedestal bowl. All featured plants : The Old School House Plantery

I created a lovely succulent bowl, similar to the one above, to give as a holiday gift this year. I liked it so much that I ended up making this one for myself. I selected a glass pedestal bowl intended for fruit display, ($9 at Target), and lined the bottom and sides with polished black stone, both for practical drainage and decorative drama. The center well was slowly filled with a good potting mix and plants. Designing a terrarium or glass planter is no different from any other garden design project. Color, texture, shape, structural density and form always come into play when designing with plants. I wanted to make this classic shaped bowl a bit modern. Many succulents have bold, geometric shapes, so they seemed like the perfect choice. I love the contrast of these thick-fleshed, colorful plants against the clear, delicate glass. For my vertical element I chose stately snake plant, (Sanseveria trifasiata ‘Laurentii’), and for the mounded, central feature, I chose one large and another small Mexian rose, (Echeveria ‘Pearl’). The trio of plants is softened by the trailing, delicate beauty of variegated elephant bush, (Portulacaria afra variegata). Perhaps stalwarts of terrarium design will brush this combination off as merely a conventional planting. But I think this modern terrarium-hybrid lies somewhere between, and defies hard-line definitions.

Of course, before you begin assembling your glass container plantings, there are a few things to keep in mind. Knowing something about your plant’s natural environment and cultural preference is the key to horticultural success under any circumstances. You can find this information by looking the plant up online or in an encyclopedia, (see library page for good reference books). If you provide a plant with what it wants and needs, odds are much better that it will reward you with lasting beauty and long life. But remember that half the fun of gardening, inside or out, is experimentation. This is an art as well as a science, so have fun and be creative. If your plantings start to look a bit lack-luster, you can always re-configure your arrangements and/or swap containers. I move plants around all the time!

I will be back with more terrarium resources, tips and ideas, as well as other indoor gardening projects soon. In the meantime, some great ideas for terrariums and indoor-plants may be found in Tova Martin’s fabulous new book The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature, and/or Diana Yakeley’s beautifully photographed title, Indoor Gardening. Together with a gift certificate from a local greenhouse, either of these books would make an unexpected, much appreciated gift for novice and expert gardeners alike.

All plants pictured are from : The Old School House Plantery

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Article and photographs ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

Find a Beautiful Terrarium, Container and/or Supplies at Viva Terra or Terrain…

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Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Terrariums Part One…

December 11th, 2009 § 12 comments § permalink

A seasonal terrarium filled with North American forest plants…

I am very fortunate to live and work surrounded by gardens. Even in winter, nature is part of my everyday life. But not everyone is so lucky. Some of us have friends and family members working in city high rises, crowded into sterile offices or lifeless cubicles. As gardeners, I’d like to think that we can alter this situation, especially around the holidays, by bringing a little bit of nature into these people’s lives. A few years back a friend of mine gave a magical, mist-covered terrarium as a birthday gift to a mutual acquaintance. This gorgeous garden-behind-glass, filled with ferns and moss, inspired me to create one for a nature-lover I know; one sadly trapped inside a concrete jungle.

I have loved building mini-greenhouses ever since grade school, when they were a big fad with my friends. Although terrariums disappeared for awhile, I am happy to report that this indoor gardening trend has returned – and with a vengeance ! Terrariums are all the rage right now. The popular craft and decorating blog Design * Sponge has been running spots on glass covered terrarium ornaments and even haunted ‘terror-ariums’ for months, and suddenly it seems that tiny greenhouses are turning up everywhere from trendy restaurants and hotel lobbies to libraries and classrooms. With the surge in terrarium popularity, you might think that keeping plants beneath glass is a new idea. But small-scale, glass covered gardens have gone in and out of fashion for centuries. The Victorians were particularly elaborate, designing exquisite table-top greenhouses and free-standing conservatories in miniature, (usually fashioned from plate glass and forged iron). These days, we are seeing everything from itty-bitty, hanging glass-globe-gardens to enormous, sculptural terrariums; masterful works of art and horticultural science.

Creating a basic terrarium is very simple, and it’s a fun project for kids and adults alike. All you need to begin is a glass jar with a lid, a bag of pea gravel, sphagnum moss, potting soil, a spray-bottle filled with water, and a selection of rocks, bark, sticks and plants. Holiday conservatories, filled with birch bark, native moss, ferns and partridge berry look particularly lovely centered on a dining table or grouped together on a mantel. Terrarium design is limited only by your own imagination! For inspiration, I love Tovah Martin’s book, The New Terrarium, pictured below…

Tovah Martin BookThe New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature

To build a simple terrarium like the one I made, (pictured at the top of this article), begin by locating a clear glass container with a lid. The smaller one pictured here is an Anchor Hocking 3 quart, glass kitchen canister. You can find these at most department and craft store, or order them through the various links below. If you are planting your first terrarium, or if you are working with school-aged children, I recommend starting with simple containers or jars. If you are making a holiday gift, or feeling more adventurous, then by all means get more creative with antique apothecary jars, glass cake domes, or specialty terrarium containers.

Now, just follow the simple steps below…

terrariums, gathered woodland materials

Step one: Purchase pea gravel or aquarium stone, sphagnum moss, (for native plants I also recommend peat moss), and good, dry potting soil, (you can get all of these things at a local home store like Home Depot). Collect decorative materials such as stones, bark, twigs, and pine cones from nature or purchase these types of items from a craft store. Select and buy small plants from a local greenhouse/florist or through online resources. Cover the table top with newspaper before you begin – this is a messy project !

terrarium stage one base

Step two: Fill the bottom of the glass container with about an inch of pea stone gravel. This is important for drainage, but you really only need a bit to cover the bottom. You can get more creative, as you gain experience…

terrariums stage 2 sphagnum sheet moss

Step Three: Add a layer of sphagnum moss, (sometimes called sheet moss), to hold in the soil and retain moisture. This is optional, but I find it helps the terrarium remain neat. You can also add horticultural charcoal to keep the jar fresh, but it isn’t necessary, (I skipped this for my holiday terrariums)…

terrarium stage 3

Step Four: Add potting soil,(and peat moss if you are planting acid-loving natives like ferns and moss). Make a mound so that the plants in the center will be visible from all sides…

terrarium stage 4

Step Five: Add bark bits here and there, and wet down the contents of the jar thoroughly with a water-filled spray mister, like the one shown above. Let the contents settle for a few minutes and then add your plants. For my native terrarium, I added club moss,(Lycopodium), partridge berry, (Mitchella), and a forest moss called Dicranella. I also scattered tiny pine cones and birch bark in the jar to make the woodsy scene more realistic. Mist your terrarium thoroughly after planting and cover with the glass lid. Check your plants over the next few days and water with your mister if they seem dry.

You are finished ! Terrariums need very little maintenance. They are the perfect project for new indoor-gardeners. All you need to do is check on them once a month or so, and add water if necessary. Once terrariums are established, they can go months without any attention at all. Humidity and condensation inside the jar will generally keep things alive and well.

Below I have pasted some jar photos to give you some container ideas. But if you have the time, let your creative mind be your guide. Once you begin, you may find yourself catching terrarium-mania. I know I have. In fact, I am headed to my local greenhouse tomorrow for some tropical inspiration. Next week I will share what I find for my larger table-top terrarium. You can go wild with all kinds of plants from African violets and orchids to exotic ferns and moss. I will be back with more terrarium plants, containers and ideas soon…

Container ideas and links…

Glass Cake Cover with Dome

This glass cake cover with a dome lid, ($39.99 from Target),  makes a beautiful terrarium…

Luigi Bormioli Michelangelo Cake Plate with Dome

Glass Cake Dome

This one from Anchor Hocking at Amazon has a more open lip, and the price is a bit lower, ($24.99, free shipping). A Low ceiling like this means you will be limited to tiny plants, such as moss and miniature ferns…

Anchor Hocking Presence Cake Dome Set

1 gallon terrariumSet of 4, 1 Gallon Terrarium Jars from Anchor Hocking at Amazon, $39.96

Anchor Hocking 1-Gallon Terrarium, Pack of 4

Glass Apothocary JarApothecary jars make lovely terrariums. They are available in many sizes. You can seek them out in antique shops or buy them new. I found these sets from Anchor Hocking company at Amazon.com. I also spotted lots of cool, inexpensive jars at Target and the local grocery store.

Small sized set of six $23.94 with free shipping…

Anchor Hocking 95596 12-Ounce Clear-Glass Apothecary Jars with Lids, Set of 6

Or larger sized set of four $27.96 with free shipping…

Anchor Hocking 40-Ounce Apothecary Jar with Glass Cover, Pack of 4

Anchor Hocking 3 Quart Apothocary Jar w:lid

A 3-Quart clear jar will make a nice sized terrarium. The top lid makes for easy maintenance…

Anchor Hocking 3-Quart Heritage Hill Jar with Glass Lid.

There is a huge selection of glass jars with lids available at Amazon.com, linked here.

Find more sophisticated and advanced terrarium ideas on the Indoor Eden page at left. Or, visit retailers linked below – all known for fine garden products and terrariums…

Shop Now! HPotter.com

VivaTerra - Eco Living With Style

shopterrain.com

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Article and Photographs (excepting product links) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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