Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Terrariums Part Two…

December 19th, 2009 § 16 comments

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

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