November 14, 2010

Terrariums are back – and it's beautiful, man

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Sketch a design. Because terrariums are typically viewed from one side, the growing medium should be sloped for viewing from the side and arranged so that taller plants are toward the back.

Prepare the container. Wash it with hot, soapy water and thoroughly rinse. Make sure the inside of the container is dry before planting. If a commercial glass cleaner is used, allow the open container to air for several days before planting.

Add drainage material. Use a spoon to place charcoal and gravel. About one quarter of the terrarium's volume should be filled by the growing medium and drainage material combined. The charcoal helps eliminate odors and is especially important in closed terrariums, which prevent the natural escape of chemicals.

Add sphagnum moss. This prevents the growing medium from sifting into the drainage area.

Add a peat mix or potting soil. For most containers, a minimum depth of 11/2 inches is necessary to provide sufficient volume.

Add plants. Select healthy, disease-free plants. Ferns, begonias, some vines and ivies and jade plants thrive in terrariums.

Add your personal landscape. Use rocks, sand, wood and other natural materials to create cliffs, rock ledges, dry streambeds or lush tropical forests.

SOURCE: University of Missouri Extension


Yes, they make stylish miniature sets of gardening tools -- including tiny rakes -- just for terrariums. But you might find just what you need in your kitchen drawer.

Baster: Besides making your turkey tender and moist, they are the water hoses of your terrarium. Bonus: if you accidentally overwater (the main culprit of killing terrarium plants), just suck up the extra liquid with the baster. Closed terrariums can go long periods without watering, but danger of disease buildup is greater because of the higher humidity. Condensation forms on the glass; the moisture is recycled, replicating the natural rain cycle and making the terrarium self-sufficient. Open terrariums need more watering. A weekly misting might do.

Scissors: Terrarium plants need pruning to fit in their small glass houses.

Spoon: Great for shoveling so you can move plants around and make way for new ones.


Modern terrariums are miniature versions of Wardian cases by Nathaniel Ward, a 19th-century London physician and plant enthusiast. You see them in the shapes of fruit, funnels, raindrops and wine glasses. You can use old aquariums, Mason jars and even gumball machines to make them. Esque Studio of Portland, Ore., designed the head ($900) and sphere ($800) terrariums, available though Velocity Art and Design.

Tillandsia: These bromeliad air plants at the Shop at Studio Dan Meiners thrive in terrariums because of their easy maintenance. All they need is light and water. Ferns also do well, though broad-leaf tropical plants do not.

Wine decanter: Talk about a conversation piece for a dinner party. This two-part terrarium from the Shop at Studio Dan Meiners features plants underneath and a decanter on top. The decanter also could be used as a vase for a floral arrangement. Terrarium set, $97.50, excluding plants.

Personalizing terrariums: For some, the charcoal, dirt, rocks and plants aren't enough. Tiny "statues" can be added in the form of figurines; maybe a favorite stone from a vacation. Katy Maslow and Michelle Inciarrano of Twig Terrariums in Brooklyn add miniature people to theirs: fishermen, sunbathers, golfers and yoga practitioners.


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