T here is a fascination today with creating things in miniature. Micro houses, micro cars, micro technology. Even dog breeds can fit in a ‘teacup’. This is also true in the world of growing plants under glass. Glass containers have sprouted like loveable weeds in any store that has a reason to carry them. From three-inch glass bromeliad balls, to elaborate greenhouses made small, you can find a suitable repository for your favorite little plant. And why not have a micro-environment within the larger space of your Tanglewood conservatory!
A Bit of History
In 1842, Doctor Nathanial Bagshaw Ward, who had a keen interest in botany and entomology, discovered that some plants and animals could be happily grown inside glass containers (the sphinx moth that he’d been observing, when he noticed a fern spore had germinated in the same vessel, was not credited). Ward went on to develop varying versions of the Wardian case—which we call terrariums today.
A terrariums defining feature is that moisture can be kept relatively constant, which is a bonus for more persnickety specimens. For instance, if you have low humidity in your conservatory, a terrarium is the way to go if you just have to have a few specimens needing moist air. From desert plants, to aquatics, you can create an environment within glass that will thrive for ages.
There is a wonderful word for this that mashes Greek and German: Microlandschaft. It’s quite popular today to create little landscapes—complete with miniature people, animals and things. My current favorite terrarium plant is a tiny, tussock-like philodendron variety called ‘Pincushion’. It is possibly the most perfect plant I’ve ever worked with, as it continuously looks fantastic and grows at a slow to moderate rate that stays in perfect proportion to the two-gallon covered glass urn it has called home for two years.
Other great plants are bromeliads (aka air plants), small cacti, cryptanthus (aka Earth Stars), various begonias and gesnariads, small ferns, mosses, a few orchids, and many more. One can even have an aquatic version with the oh-so- easy to grow Hygrophila difformis (aka Water Wisteria). I have one with a betta fish in a one-gallon urn with no filtration—both fish and plant are thriving with the occasional partial water change. Other variations on the terrarium theme are the paludarium (terrestrial and aquatic combined), vivarium (plants and animals combined) and aquarium.
Beauty in Small Places
What makes terrarium gardening so wonderful is that it is possible for anyone, weather you live in a tiny bedsit or a massive mansion. Occasional misting can be all that is required for long periods depending on what you grow. There are numerous books and online sources dedicated to terrariums, and no matter your tastes—from modern minimalism to exquisite Victorian finery, you can find the ‘Wardian’ case to fit. Your creativity is all that’s needed to add that microlandshaft that will become a fascinating conversation piece.
Enjoy! Share a picture of your new terrarium with us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
By Dea Schofield