A Terrarium Cure for Cabin Fever

By
From the February 2014 edition

Terrariums are a rare horticultural blend of almost goof-proof, low-maintenance and trendy.

Little wonder the current revival of this Victorian parlor favorite shows no signs of withering. While it’s a vintage idea, terrariums have evolved since the mid-1800s, when Englishman Nathaniel Ward developed glass-walled boxes (later called Wardian cases) for growing and transporting plants.

“I think people often look to the past to create something ‘new,’ ” says Kathy Steedman, retail operations manager at Franklin Park Conservatory’s Botanica gift shop. She says enthusiasm for terrariums most recently flourished in the 1970s and sprouted again about six years ago.

Driving forces include websites like Pinterest and Apartment Therapy and publications like Martha Stewart Living, Steedman says. “We see children, students, young professionals and seniors all showing interest in terrariums. Of course, they are plant lovers and appreciate small detail, too.”

The main draw? “People look at it and say, ‘I can do this.’ ”

You can, too, by following general guidelines from Steedman and other terrarium enthusiasts.

Start by selecting a clear glass, acrylic or plastic container. Wide-mouth containers are easiest to work with—save the dramatic garden-in-a-bottle project for later. If shelf and tabletop space are scarce, use a hanging container.

Opt for houseplants that need the same type of soil, moisture and light conditions (don’t pair a cactus with a fern) and choose a fluffy, light-weight potting soil. Some growers suggest adding a bit of sand to the soil to enhance drainage.

Before adding the potting soil and plants, place a layer of small stones or pebbles in the bottom of the case to collect excess water. Then, cover the stones with a thin layer of activated charcoal (sold in aquarium-supply stores) to reduce bacteria. Once it’s in place, use a misting bottle to moisten—not drench—the soil.

Use funnels, chopsticks, tongs and similar devices to maneuver soil, plants and accessories inside the container. Popular accessories include tiny figurines and small pebble “paths.”

To avoid cooking the plants, keep the container—even one containing cactus and succulents—out of direct sunlight. Placement near east- and west-facing windows is best.

Follow a general rule of watering lightly only when the soil is dry to the touch and, finally, prepare to be enchanted by your glass-walled world.