Itching to get your garden in the ground? You can create a whole miniature garden right now by planting in a terrarium.
Popular in the Victorian Age, when pollution in cities and cold temperatures in houses made gardening difficult outside and in, terrariums are enjoying a comeback. The first terrariums were enclosed glass cases known as “Wardian Cases,” after Dr. Nathaniel Ward, an English physician with an interest in plants, who is credited with developing the first terrariums.
While Wardian Cases were somewhat elaborate, you can make a terrarium out of almost any glass or even plastic container. Depending on the type of plants you would like to grow, your container can be enclosed, or have a small or large opening. Be creative and find new uses for things around the house, like empty bottles or unused brandy snifters.
Once you have selected your container, you can choose the right type of plants. A closed container will give you the most fuss-free gardening. Water inside the container will be taken in by the plants and released again through their leaves, collecting on the cover and returning to soil the again. A closed terrarium that has been assembled with proper drainage can go for months without any tending.
Be sure to choose plants that can withstand continually moist soil and water on their leaves for this type of terrarium. A jungle theme with tropical plants will work well; and the terrarium could give you more success for growing these types of plants if your home is cold in the winter.
A container with a small opening, such as a brandy snifter, fish bowl or cookie jar, will require some watering, but the edges of the terrarium will still return some water to the soil. These terrariums are good for most plants, except succulents, and are especially good for African violets, which do not like to get their leaves wet.
For succulents and cacti, opt for an open dish like a soup tureen. You will also need to modify your soil, adding a layer of potting sand or choosing a soil mixed for these plants.
To assemble your terrarium, you will first need a layer of small rocks for drainage. If you are building a closed terrarium, you may want to next add a layer of charcoal to keep down any odors that might develop from the moisture. A layer of sphagnum moss will help keep the soil from filtering down into the rocks. Then just add potting soil and your plants. Chopsticks or something similar can help you to place your plants if your container has a small opening.
Finally, add interest to the terrarium by creating a landscape with the soil or adding figurines, rocks or seashells. Or, you can add a small animal, such as a lizard, to a large terrarium to create a “vivarium.”
Your local garden store should have everything you need to make a successful terrarium.
Lori Eschholz owns and manages the Ohno! Cafe©, a restaurant in Portland, Maine, with her husband, Chris. Her previous careers included journalism and politics. She now moonlights for an antiques auction company and as a freelance writer.