Building a Terrarium

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Do you like miniature gardens and “little worlds”?  I downloaded samples of several books about miniature gardens, fairy gardens, and terrariums on Saturday looking for inspiration and fresh ideas.

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Terrariums and fairy gardens first caught my imagination in childhood.  I love that terrariums are largely closed ecological systems, mimicking the water cycle of our planet where water evaporates, condenses, and then returns to the soil.  Once constructed, a balanced terrarium can live indefinitely; or at least until the plants outgrow their vessel.

These are great little gardens for those with little space, or for those who want to bring a bit of nature into their professional environment.  There isn’t any anxiety over keeping them properly watered or making a mess, with a little garden in a bottle.

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Divisions used in this little garden include a golden creeping Sedum and a division of peacock spikemoss.

Divisions used in this little garden include a golden creeping Sedum and a division of peacock spikemoss.  I broke these off of pots I’m overwintering in the garage.

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My point in building this little terrarium, beyond the fun and beauty of it, is to demonstrate a few of the “tips and tricks” which make it an easy project.  Yes, so easy that you can pull it together in an afternoon, and then spend the evening admiring it with friends over a glass of wine

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An olive oil bottle from Trader Joes. Needs a bit more scrubbing to get the rest of that glue off!

This  olive oil bottle came from Trader Joe’s.   It needs a bit more scrubbing to get the rest of that glue off!

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My bottle came full of olive oil from Trader Joes.  The olive oil was delicious, by the way, and I just saved the bottle in the pantry because it was too pretty to throw away.

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Agates from Oregon beaches have a new home now in the terrarium. They're prettiest when wet, anyway. The scarf is one I just finished for a friend.

Agates from Oregon beaches have a new home now in the terrarium. They’re prettiest when wet, anyway.  The scarf is one I just finished for a friend.

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The stones are mostly agates picked up off beaches in Oregon.  There is a layer of reindeer moss from the craft store, left over from my moss-covered wreathes, and then another layer of glass shards from a bag of assorted glass purchased at the crafts store for other projects.

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New potting soil and bits of plant materials from the garden complete the project.  My only new investment here was a bit of time on Sunday afternoon.

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All terrariums need an inch or so of loose stones as their base layer.  Not only are they pretty and interesting to view from the glass, but they form the drainage system of the environment.  Any water you add to the terrarium, which isn’t absorbed, drains down into the stones so the soil isn’t waterlogged.

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Many builders add a little bit of aquarium charcoal to this layer of stones to help filter the water and keep it “sweet.”

The layer of moss between the stones and the soil serves as a barrier to the soil to keep it from running down into the stones.  It is purely aesthetic.  I added bits of “beach glass” around this moss layer to add to that barrier, as well as for the color.

Now, there are easier ways to do most anything.  Hold the bottle at an angle when adding the stones and glass, to direct where they fall.  I added a few stones to the center of my pile to take up space, allowing more of the agates to be visible against the glass.  Tilt the bottle when dropping in bits of beach glass to direct where you want the glass to land, then nudge it into place with a long, narrow tool.

Use whatever you have on hand to work inside the terrarium.  Many builders suggest chopsticks.  The cheap ones which come with your meal are the best.  I also like bamboo food skewers, and always have a pack lying around.  Even a pencil works just fine to nudge things into place through the narrow opening of the jar.

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The depth of soil needed depends entirely on plant choice.  Ferns and sedums need a little soil.  Moss needs very little.  I’ve used just over an inch of soil.  The roots will also grow down through the reindeer moss and into the stones below to reach the water there, eventually.

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A piece of paper, rolled into a funnel, is all you need to get soil or sand into your terrarium neatly.  Just spoon it through the opening, and nudge it into place with your long skinny tool.

Plants can be dropped through the opening, or gently rolled up into a piece of paper and then slid through the opening, before being nudged into place.

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These tiny plants have tiny roots.  It is fairly easy to work soil around the roots , pushing everything into place with your chopstick or pencil.

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I finished off by covering the soil with bits of garden moss.  Everything was frozen solid here on Saturday.  These bits were actually pried out of a pot on the deck, where I’ve been holding them since November.

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The secret to making an interesting miniature garden lies in beginning with tiny starts of things, and then allowing time for them to grow.

For example, you might plant a seed or a bulb, so long as the plant itself will fit in the space the terrarium allows.  Can you see a tiny crocus growing inside this bottle, from a bulb planted in the fall?  It would be a very temporary display, but very cool.

I’ve used another tiny division of peacock spikemoss, Selaginella uncinata, which can grow quite large, on one side of the bottle; and a tiny baby strawberry begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, still attached to its umbilical stem, right in the middle.  My strawberry begonia plants, growing inside this winter, are making new baby plants every week!  I simply lowered this one, by its stem, into place where I want it to grow.  Its roots will take hold now in the soil, and quickly anchor it into place.

Once planted, add little stones, crystals, shells, marbles, bits of glass, or other ornaments to suit your vision.  Add tiny furniture for a fairy garden.  Lay stone paths or patios.  Add a statue if you wish.  This is your garden and you can do as you please!

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The final step of construction is watering.  I prefer to use bottled spring water so no chemicals are introduced, which might affect the growth of the plants.  And one must water very sparingly.  Little drops at a time are used to rinse away any specks of soil on the glass and to settle the roots into their new soil.

I left this bottle open for the first 36 hours to allow for some evaporation.  An opening this small could be left open all of the time.  But by replacing the stopper, this little garden won’t need additional water for months.  If the glass fogs up, I can remove the stopper for a few hours to allow the water to clear.  If the soil begins to look dry, a few drops of added water will solve the problem.

That is really all you need to know to now build your own terrarium. 

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Place your finished terrarium in bright light, but not right against a window. This one sits opposite the doors to our deck.

Place your finished terrarium in bright light, but not right against a window. This one sits opposite the doors to our deck.

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When choosing plants, select those which enjoy high humidity and which can grow without overwhelming the interior space of your garden.

Terrariums can be built to accommodate succulents.  These need openings for air circulation, and should be started off with even less water.  Air plants, which don’t require soil, make excellent terrarium specimens.  But these should be placed on wood or gravel, since contact with potting soil may lead them to rot.  The possibilities are limited mainly by your imagination and the depth of your purse!

Following are the books I reviewed this weekend.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

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Trades

Hosta "Lemon Lime" divisions, sent by Michael Laico, newly potted up and ready to grow.

Hosta “Lemon Lime” divisions, sent by Michael Laico, newly potted up and ready to grow.

Blogging friend Michael Laico offered a plant exchange on his site right after the Fourth of July.

He grows and hybridizes Hosta, and hoped to trade some divisions of Hosta for other plants he wants for his garden.

Michael offered up a miniature Hosta, called “Lemon Lime” which grows to about 8″ high.  It sounded perfect for growing in pots on the deck.

This Hosta offers beautiful golden green leaves and scapes covered in purple flowers, much enjoyed by hummingbirds.

Reblooming German Iris, "Stairway to Heaven."

Reblooming German Iris, “Stairway to Heaven.”

I offered a re-blooming German Iris, “Stairway to Heaven” in exchange; and the deal was done.

It has taken us about a week and a half to dig, prepare, and post our plants.

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Michael received my package of Iris and some rooted Begonia cuttings on Wednesday, and I received his package of Hosta and Japanese Iris today.

What fun to get a package of new plants in the mail!  And how satisfying to exchange plants with friends.

Sometimes it is good to have a little faith that a friend’s gifted plant will be something you’ll also enjoy growing.

The plants as they appeared when I opened the box this morning.  They look healthy and ready to grow!

The plants as they appeared when I opened the box this morning. They look healthy and ready to grow!

Although I don’t grow many Hosta, since they are basically deer candy in our garden; I love Hosta foliage and flowers.

They are dependable shade perennials whose foliage can stand alone or provide an interesting backdrop for other plants.

I would have a garden full of them were it practical.  The six we planted our first season here survive- barely- even through nibbling after nibbling when deer finagle their way through the fences and into the garden.

Our Hostas were badly grazed early in the season.  This one blooms bravely, despite its chewed and mangled foliage.  yes, I do know about all of the deer repellant sprays on the market, and I use them every few weeks...

Our Hostas were badly grazed early in the season. This one blooms bravely, despite its chewed and mangled foliage. yes, I do know about all of the deer repellant sprays on the market, and I use them every few weeks…

So I will enjoy this H. “Lemon Lime” as a potted perennial, grown well out of reach of hungry deer!

I haven’t made up my mind yet whether to pot the Iris or plant them directly into the garden.

Since they love moisture, I’m leaning towards a pot whose moisture I can control; rather than taking a chance on drought or voles devouring these iris before I get to enjoy their blooms next spring.  Photos to follow….

Michael's Hosta divisions, ready to pot up.

Michael’s Hosta divisions, in good, rich soil, ready to pot up.

So thank you, Michael, for offering this exchange. 

Not only is it fun to trade plants, it is a very economical way to expand one’s garden.

These divisions are potted up with a rooted Cane Begonia cutting, which will have white flowers.

These divisions are potted up with a rooted Cane Begonia cutting, which will have white flowers.

I shipped USPS Priority Zone  Mail, and paid a little less than $7.00 for postage, which included tracking and $50 in insurance.

Here is the Begonia before I planted it tonight.  See the new stem growing from a node?  The rooted cuttings I sent to Michael already had miniature plants growing from the node, ready to grow into a new plant quickly.  These Begonia canes have been rooting in water for several weeks.

Here is the Begonia before I planted it tonight.   See the new stem growing from a node? The rooted cuttings I sent to Michael already had miniature plants growing from the node, ready to grow into a new plant quickly. These Begonia canes have been rooting in water for several weeks.

The plants traveled from Virginia to South Carolina in a day and a half.

Michael shipped Fed Ex.  It took about the same time, and his well packaged plants arrived in great condition.

These newly planted Hosta divisions looks a little droopy, right after planting, but will adjust quickly to their new home.  Hostas need shade and moisture to thrive.  These got a drink of Neptune's Harvest fish and seaweed emulsion immediately.  The roots are strong, and new leaves will appear with a week or so.

These newly planted Hosta divisions looks a little droopy, right after planting, but will adjust quickly to their new home. Hostas need shade and moisture to thrive. These got a drink of Neptune’s Harvest  fish and seaweed emulsion immediately after planting. Their  roots are strong, and new leaves will appear with a week or so.

We both poked holes in the boxes for ventilation, and packed the roots of our plants in damp medium and Ziplock bags.

So if you’d like to grow H. Lemon Lime for yourself, and have something interesting to trade, please hop over to Michael’s site and leave him a message.

He has great photos of the mature Hosta in bloom on this page, should you want to take a look at the beautiful flowers it produces each summer.

I promise you it is well worth the effort.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Garden Snippings

After a thunderstorm and heavy rain last night, I went looking early this morning for blossoms to snip for an arrangement for a friend. This small arrangement is made from three different varieties of Basil, Pineapple Mint, Lime Queen Zinnias, and a few rose blossoms the deer overlooked in their latest munching.  Since Basil is … Continue reading

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