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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The terrarium trend

Terrarium, originally uploaded by I am Jacques Strappe.

By Christie Campbell

Combat drab winter weather and introduce some greenery into your home this time of year with a terrarium.

Terrariums were first popularized in Victorian England, and they make a comeback every so often. Remember those large, alien-looking plastic containers of the 1970s? Or the soda bottle varieties children make in grade school?

Perhaps owing to the growing confined spaces where people labor on computers, terrariums are becoming trendy again.

The ones in vogue today are planted in unusual recycled glass containers and involve some type of theme. Personally, I see real value to having plants around that don’t require much care to look fresh and green!

To make a terrarium, first find a unique container. Don’t limit yourself to what you will find in a garden store. Check out what’s available at thrift or secondhand stores or even peek inside a pet store where aquariums might include oversized brandy snifters.

You might have something at home right now that will be suitable: a large pickle jar, especially one that you’ve saved the lid to, a canning jar, angled cookie jar, cake stands and even old glass lamps. Wash the container well and use plenty of hot water to kill bacteria.

Once you know what your container will be, select a few appropriate plants. If you plan to put your container near a window, you will want something like jade, aloe, cacti, sedum, African violet or herbs. A container in a low-light area would be better with plants such as fern, baby’s tears, ivy or peperomia. If your container is large enough, you might want to have a couple of plants, mixing something with a slender stalk with a plant with rounded or variegated leaves.

Aim for something slow-growing.

Place about an inch of stones or sand in the bottom of the container for drainage. You can use pea gravel or aquarium gravel for a more attractive look. It’s not necessary to do so, but you can add a half-inch layer of activated charcoal or mix it directly into the soil to help filter the air and, on top of that, a layer of Spanish moss to prevent the soil from filtering down into the stones.

Add several inches of potting soil and into this soil, plant your plants. Some artists just use a layer of moss and smooth stones in their terrariums to resemble a lawn or grassy yard.

Add miniature figurines of people or animals to create the theme you want.

I had never thought of this, but terrariums can include a small pet: crickets, toads, hermit crabs, salamanders or gecko. If you create a wet terrarium, you can add toads, frogs, tadpoles or crayfish.

Just remember that you won’t be able to put fertilizer into any terrarium with a live creature, and you’ll want a cover for the top of the container.

Spray the terrarium’s interior with water and slide a cover in place. Check it for the next few days to see how moist it stays. If the soil is soggy, you will want to take the top off for a while and let some of the moisture evaporate. Too much moisture and fungi or mold can form on the plants. However, I wouldn’t put it in direct sun as that is likely to burn the plants.

It’s a bit of a trial basis to determine what works best. But overall the care is very minimal, and you will have a nice miniature garden to enjoy.

(This article first appeared in the November/December issue of Living Washington County magazine, a publication of the  Observer-Reporter newspaper.)


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