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Indoor Gardeners Rediscover Terrariums

Mini landscapes for indoors

Everything that is old is new, and the resurgence in the popularity of terrariums is proof. The rage in the the 1970's, time-stretched indoor plant lovers have begun to bring the terrarium back into home decor. Glass enclosed containers feature miniature plants and accents. Easy to take care of and perfect for the absent-minded homeowner, terrariums are a cinch to create and maintain. Here are some handy hints.

What is A Terrarium?

A terrarium is a tightly closed, clear glass or plastic container filled with small plants. It also has come to mean an open, transparent container for growing and displaying plants. Terrariums are most useful for small plants that do not adapt well to normal home atmospheres. When properly planted and located, they provide a novel way to grow many plants with minimal care.

A simple and elegant terrarium is a great way for you to start out. You can keep it simple, choose a nice container and a few plants ... and end up with something beautiful.

Brief history

The use of transparent containers for growing plants dates back at least 2,500 years in Greece. In the United States, terrarium culture is believed to have originated in New England, where housewives placed squawberry (partridge berry) plants in hand-blown glass bowls.

The invention of the terrarium as we know it is credited to Dr. N.B. Ward, a 19th-century London physician. A plant enthusiast, Ward was interested in growing many types of ferns in his backyard but had not been successful. While studying a sphinx moth emerging from a chrysalis he had buried in moist earth in a closed bottle, he was amazed to see a seedling fern and some grass growing inside. He watched them grow for four years, during which time not one drop of water was added nor was the cover removed.

Ward continued his observations with other plants in containers and, in 1842, published a book called On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases. This led to development of "Wardian cases," which were large, enclosed containers for growing delicate plants in the home or transporting precious plants over long distances. The terrariums most often used today are small ornamental versions of the Wardian case.

Ideas to get you started

  • Pick a visual theme and stick with it. Think of the terrarium as a pint-sized landscape. Don't mix accents from different themes such as mushrooms with driftwood.
  • Remember to put a layer of small pebbles or stones on the bottom and a layer of small charcoal over. Most plants don't like to stand in water or have "wet feet".
  • Water sparingly, especially if covered. Take the top off every so often so to allow fresh air to get into the terrarium.
  • Buy small plants when first establishing your terrarium. Over time these plants might need to be moved out or pruned as they overtake other plants. Editing is the key to successful small container gardening.
  • Most any glass container will do for your terrarium. Tall cylinders work best, and I prefer topless terrariums. Also consider that old aquarium in the attic. Look at yard and garage sales. They are an excellent source for containers.
  • Desert scenes with cacti and succulents, add sand and some rough rocks as an easy first attempt at terrarium gardening.
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