Celebrating Spring Indoors: Mosses and Ferns

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Greeness re-emerges each March from February’s shades of brown and grey.  We notice exquisite shades of fresh green wherever there is new growth; even if only weeds emerging in the lawn, new grass, and buds breaking open on early shrubs.

Green is alive with possibility, giving us fresh energy and enthusiasm.  Green is the color by which energy from the sun is captured and transformed into the sort of chemical food energy that fuels us all.  Whether we access it directly from a kiwi or avocado, or allow the green to be munched first by a cow before it is transformed into milk or meat; we depend on green chlorophyll to produce every calorie of energy which fuels our lives.

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Green attracts like a powerful, life-affirming magnet, especially in the spring when we are ready to move on from winter’s rest.  And in these last chilly weeks of unpredictable weather, I enjoy making a green arrangement with ferns and mosses to enjoy indoors until spring is firmly established outside in the garden.

I have been experimenting with keeping moss inside for several years.  While all goes well for a while, the moss often ends up turning brown and sometimes disappearing entirely.  Moss is the simplest of plants, yet its nurture as a ‘houseplant’ proves fickle and complex.

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Moss pairs well with ferns, as their needs are nearly the same. Lichens may also be incorporated in the design.  2014

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For all of the vibrant green kokedama covered in moss I’ve seen in books and on other’s websites, I have not yet figured out how to reliably keep moss alive for long inside.  But I keep trying…..

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There is a bit of potting soil and sand beneath the moss to sustain the plants growing in the glass plate.  January 2015

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Japanese guides suggest taking one’s potted moss outside for some portion of each day to give it fresh air and bright light.  This sounds suspiciously like walking a pet dog to me, and I’m not yet prepared to treat my moss gardens like a barking or purring pet.

I’ve also learned that closing moss up into a terrarium can be the ‘kiss of death’ because it gets too wet in the high humidity, and doesn’t get the free exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen that it requires.

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February 2015

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Let’s recall that moss has no vascular system.  There are no water carrying tubes through ‘leaves’ or ‘stems’.  Moss is so simple, structurally, that every cell absorbs water.  That means that too much water for too long will kill the cell, because it isn’t going to move the excess water on, elsewhere.

We must find balance in tending moss: the balance between light and shade, moisture and dryness, heat and cold.

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January 2018

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That is why I have chosen a tall, clear vase for this arrangement, but one without a lid.  I’ve constructed this like a terrarium, but have not enclosed it.

And for the time it stays indoors I will do my best to faithfully mist it several times a week, but will resist the temptation to pour water into it.  And, if I notice the moss struggling, I’m prepared to remove it, ‘plant’ it back outside, and start again with some fresh moss.

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This is my favorite sort of moss, Thuidium delicatulum, which is called fern moss because it looks like fine, low growing fern fronds.  This perennial moss prefers a moist, acid soil, can stand a fair amount of light, and grows prolifically in several spots in our garden.

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This is fern moss, Thuidium delicatulum, which looks like it is made of tiny, low growing ferns.

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I’ve created a base in this vase with fine aquarium gravel mixed with some fine charcoal, recycled from a water filter.  I mixed a little more of the charcoal in with the coarse potting soil mix I used for the ferns.  This is soil I’ve used earlier this winter for starting tubers and bare root plants in the basement, and it was already perfectly moist when I scooped some into the pot.  Charcoal is often used in terrariums to help purify the soil and water, keeping the plants healthier.  Without any drainage, it helps prevent water in the soil from growing stagnant.

Moss doesn’t have roots, but needs firm, continuous contact with the soil.  After planting the two tiny ferns, I simply pressed sheets of moss, with its own soil from outside still attached, on top of the potting mix.

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The taller fern is a popular houseplant called a brake fern or ribbon fern, genus Pteris.  This one is tender, though it will grow very well outside from late April through November.  The shorter one is also a tender fern, probably one of the footed ferns.

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Then I misted it well, using the mister to also clean the inside of the glass.  The pot sits a few feet away from large windows and under a lamp.  It is a bright location, and I’ll hope that both ferns and mosses grow here happily.

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March, 2018

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Plants indoors are good for us in many ways.  Plants filter the air and fill it with fresh oxygen.  Plants calm us, and bring tremendous beauty into our homes.  Plants inside in early spring also inspire us and keep that promise of spring alive, even when the weather turns cold and wintery once again.

March is a fickle month, but the overall trajectory is towards more daylight and milder weather.  As the sun returns, our garden responds with fresh growth.

But we respond, as well.  And bringing a bit of that spring time magic indoors helps us celebrate the change of seasons… in comfort.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

 

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Small Worlds

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“As Above, so Below,

as within, so without,

as the universe, so the soul…”

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Hermes Trismegistus

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“Small worlds….”  What a peaceful pleasure to construct them.  Terrariums, fairy gardens, dish gardens, bonsai or fern cases; all bring delight both to the creator and to the viewer.

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Building these little gardens has become a favorite winter project during the first months of the year.  I’ve had a few ideas percolating since mid-January, but just managed a trip to The Great Big Greenhouse, in Richmond on Saturday, to explore their stock of tiny plants.

TGBGH specializes, especially each winter, in the tiny plants, pots and accessories one needs to create little indoor gardens.   Last Saturday I found myself in company with a jolly crowd of gardeners soaking up the warm moist air and verdant green of their magical greenhouse complex.  Orchids, Philodendron, ferns,  little trees for bonsai, and garden plants forced early into bloom competed to tempt a gardener’s heart.

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The taller birds nest ferm could eventually fill this space. They enjoy a warm, moist environment.

The taller birds nest fern could eventually fill this space. They enjoy a warm, moist environment.

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I had only a tiny slice of time to take it all in, and so quickly found their selection of miniatures in 1″ pots offered for terrariums.  I came away with an intriguing mix of ferns and Begonias, all new to my collection, save for the Bird’s Nest ferns.

While tiny now, these plants will quickly grow into their potential.  This is a very economical and enjoyable way to experiment with new cultivars over winter, knowing they can be moved into larger pots and planting schemes by early summer.

The Birds Nest ferns, Asplenium nidus, grow as epiphytes in warm, moist tropical rain forests.  This makes them a great candidate for a terrarium or fern case.  Like many ferns, they will grow well without direct sunlight and grow happily indoors so long as humidity is provided.  Their long, beautiful leaves emerge from the center of the plant.  After several years of growth, they may grow to well over a 18″ tall.

My arrangement features a pair of Birds Nest ferns, one ‘above’ and the other below.  I will be interested to see which grows better and faster!

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Pleopeltis percussa creeps along the rocks in the foreground. This evergreen fern grows on bark or rocks in Central and South America.

Pleopeltis percussa creeps along the rocks in the foreground. This tropical epiphytic  fern grows on trees or rocks in Central and South American forests.

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I particularly like “footed” ferns; those with rhizomes which creep across the earth, sending up new leaves directly from their “furry” stem.  This little Pleopeltis percussa is a new fern I’ve not yet grown.  While its rhizomes will wander and branch, the individual leaves remain fairly small.  Roots grow from the rhizomes down into the moist soil below.  If growing on a tree branch, the roots would anchor in the tree’s bark and absorb water from the bark and moist air.  Any small piece of the rhizome which has both established roots and a leaf or two, may be cut away and potted up to grow on into a new plant.

These don’t look much like traditional ferns. Their rather thick, long lasting leaves don’t look like the more common lacy fern frond.   But they produce spores on the undersides of their leaves rather than seeds.  They will never produce flowers or fruits.  It is their way of reproducing from tiny spores which makes them a fern.

Besides the Pleopeltis and Birds Nest fern, you may notice two tiny divisions of Strawberry Begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, in this tiny garden.  These are divisions from a larger plant overwintering in our garage.  After they establish, each will send out a long stem with an embryonic clone of itself at the stem’s tip.  Where it touches moist soil, it will send down roots and begin to grow, quickly forming a dense colony of these lovely evergreen plants.

Small colonies of these evergreen perennials continue to grow through the winter in pots left outside in the garden.  They will send up long stalks of tiny white or pink flowers in mid-spring.  It is unlikely these little plants will have enough light to bloom indoors, but could produce flowers  if I move them out to a shaded spot in late spring.

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A tiny offset of Strawberry Begonia, saxifraga stolonifera, nestles into its new home beside the Birds Nest fern.

A tiny offset of Strawberry Begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, nestles into its new home beside the Birds Nest fern.  Notice the new leaf emerging in the center of the fern.

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I’ve made these little gardens from re-purposed vases found in our basement.  Both held ivy, red berries  and floating candles at the holidays.  I was pleased to see that the wider dish balances easily on the glass cylinder, enclosing it into its own little space.  Terrariums can go on sustaining themselves indefinitely if they receive enough light for the plants to grow, because the moisture which evaporates from leaves and soil remains in the atmosphere.  It may condense on the glass and run back into the soil, but the soil remains moist and the plants remain hydrated.

This is something like our own little world we call Earth:  our atmosphere catches evaporating moisture into clouds, and it settles as dew or falls as rain.  Our outer atmosphere and magnetic fields hold our precious water close to the surface so it may be used again and again by all  living things.  The water I brewed into coffee this morning has probably been around for millions of years….

It is only when there is imbalance or disruption that this process runs amuck, resulting in drought or floods.

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If you know me personally, you may be wondering why on Earth I’m sitting at home puttering around with sacks of soil and stone and these little plants rather than getting involved in the wider issues of the day.  You may wonder if I’m insensible to the sweep of historical change touching each one of our lives.

You know I remain passionate about the very questions of human rights, environmental preservation, Constitutional government, and non-discrimination which the new administration appears to be daily shredding;  and the rule of law which has been dramatically called into question.

And yes, I’ve been spending large chunks of my time following the events of the day.  Often I’m too wrapped up in what is happening to stop and garden or write or work with photos.

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“Close your eyes and let the mind expand.

Let no fear of death or darkness arrest its course.

Allow the mind to merge with Mind.

Let it flow out upon the great curve of consciousness.

Let it soar on the wings of the great bird

of duration, up to the very Circle of Eternity.”


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Hermes Trismegistus

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Each of us has a part to play in the unfolding of life here on our Earth.  But we each do what we can, when we can, where we can.    From small beginnings, large movements grow.  And from our daily thoughts, prayers and actions, the fabric of our lives emerge.

What each one of us does, personally, has an impact on the whole.  We must be the changes we seek.  We must envision and live the reality we intend to manifest.  This is a basic principle that all of the great wisdom teachers , throughout all of our recorded history, demonstrate.

The love we bring to our own environment resonates with the whole.  The peace we maintain in our own minds and hearts resonates in the larger community.   We plant our intentions, tucking them into the fertile soil of our hopeful imaginations, and watch them grow.

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And that is why I believe that we must guard our thoughts and speak our truth.

Without fear or spite, we continue to create beauty and harmony in whatever way we can, knowing it is magnified and reflected in unimagined ways to affect the greater whole.

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“Everything flows out and in; everything has its tides;
all things rise and fall; the pendulum-swing manifests
in everything; the measure of the swing to the right,
is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm
compensates…

“Everything happens according to Law;

that nothing ever “merely happens”;

that there is no such thing as Chance;

that while there are various planes

of Cause and Effect, the higher dominating

the lower planes, still

nothing ever entirely escapes the Law.”

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The Kybalion

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Woodland Gnome 2017

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Repurpose

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“If thou but settest foot on this path,

thou shalt see it everywhere.”

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Hermes Trismegistus

 

Building A Terrarium

Tiny Gardens

A Re-do and a Potential Success

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After constructing several terrariums this winter, I wanted to experiment with an “aqua-terrarium.”  I wanted to try a terrarium of plants growing in a watery environment.

Petco offered a selection of plants sold specifically for use in aquariums, from which I chose two small ferns.  Both ferns were new to me, and so I did a little internet research between buying them and planting them.  Which proved very helpful.

I learned that the Crested Java Fern, Microsorium pteropus, ‘Windelov,’ should be anchored to something and not planted directly into soil, sand or gravel.  And I learned that the (so called) Aqua Fern, Trichomanes javanicum, does not grow well completely submerged.  The success rate of growing this fern in an aquarium long term is slim to none…

I pressed on, allowing the upper leaves of the Aqua Fern to remain above water, and nestled its roots into a pocket of potting mix covered in small stones.

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Less than a week into the experiment it was clear that this was not a healthy planting.  The water quickly grew murky.  The Aqua Fern never perked up.

I decided to cut my losses and save the Crested Java Fern by moving it into a new, soil-less  “aqua-terrarium.’  I used pure spring water in the construction, and placed the newly built container where it would get bright but indirect light for most of the day.

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And the fern has responded with new growth.  There is not only evidence of new shoots from the base, but what appear to be roots have begun to grow from the tips of some of the fronds!

Native to Southeast Asia, this fern may be found growing along areas that flood and in shallow bodies of fresh or brackish water.  It will grow in anything from moist soil to a completely underwater environment.  And it spreads itself, with those growths on its leaves which take hold to most any surface, to cover wide areas.  I enjoy the beautiful shape of its fronds floating in the water.

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I clean the surface of the water every week or so with a paper towel before topping off the water level.  I don’t know what the “sheen” which forms on the water’s surface may be, but I remove it and wipe residue from the neck of the vase to keep it looking fresh.

Thus far, I rate this experiment as a potential success, and would recommend it to others who want to try growing an ornamental plant underwater indoors.  Now, I’m considering whether to add a small aquatic snail to help feed the fern and balance the planting….

After cleaning the murky water from the original ‘aqua terrarium’ planting, adding a bit more gravel, and allowing the Aqua fern several weeks to show new growth; I decided a “re-do” was in order.

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Who knows; this poor fern may have been on the decline when I purchased it.  An unfamiliar species, I don’t know how it should have looked to begin with, but it didn’t look particularly appealing from the beginning.

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Back to Petco to find a replacement plant, I was amazed to find several containers of my favorite Peacock Spikemoss on the aquarium plant display!  Really?  I know they appreciate moist soil, but have never heard of growing them completely submerged!

But I decided that while I wouldn’t try to grow it underwater, spikemoss would certainly look better in my vase than the dead fern!  And I just happened to have some clumps already growing well at home…  Remember the Amaryllis planting?  Well, the strawberry begonia plants and spikemoss are still growing strong.

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The re-do was a simple bit of “chuck and pluck.”  I very unceremoniously chucked the dead fern where all such things land, and plucked a healthy bit of spikemoss and strawberry begonia out of the Amaryllis garden where they were growing.

A bit of re-arranging of stones and cleaning up of the original vase made it ready to accept the new plants.  I added some clumps of moss, an Apophyllite cluster for sparkle, and watered it all in with a bit of pure spring water.

Although not an ‘aqua-terrarium,’ it is still  a pleasing ‘terrarium.’  We will enjoy it until the plants grow too large for the vase.

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Although the original ‘aqua terrarium’ experiment didn’t work out as I had planned, it has finally worked out OK.  All I lost was a single plant, while gaining some useful experience.

Lessons learned:  Regular potting compost doesn’t work out well in an aqua-terrarium.  Maybe I needed a thicker layer of sand and gravel to contain it, but I still think it was the factor in making the water murky and unpleasant.

Don’t depend on the pet store to recommend appropriate plants for growing underwater.  I should have browsed and noted the names of the plants first;  then done the internet research before making a purchase.  Just because a plant is sold for use in an aquarium doesn’t mean it will grow successfully underwater.

Given the right plant, like the Crested Java Fern,  this approach to an aqua-terrarium works and makes an interesting and unusual display.  I would definitely construct ‘aqua-terrariums’ in future, using the Java fern, with an eye to an interesting container and beautiful stones.

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This fern is known to grow rapidly and divide easily.  It is a good gift for someone who claims they have no green thumb, but would like to have a plant in their home or office.  There is no worry about over-watering!

Gardening experiments give us ample opportunities to fix our mistakes and try again.  It is better to try something new and learn something, even if we have a ‘re-do’ or three along the way.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

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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