The 70s were responsible for many things that the world would rather forget. If I were to begin listing some of these things I might never stop. However, the era also brought popularity to a whole bunch of cool home-made crafts, before, just as quickly, sucking them back into anti-coolness. But if you sift through the debris you can actually find some fads worthy of resurrection.
I believe terrariums are one of these things.
Terrariums, for those too young to remember or for those who’ve chosen to forget, are little glass (or plastic) plant-filled ecosystems, created to be lovingly viewed and nurtured, and sometimes even to house wildlife.
They stir in me childlike fantasies of fairy worlds, providing a miniature happy place I can escape to for a brief moment of peace. They also add greenery to a desk or living space in a way that arid succulents or limp indoor plants can only dream of. Sometimes they can even BE the desk as in the case of my parents who owned a glass table terrarium when I was young.
Wanting to make a terrarium of my own, I turned to the Internet and found that they are still flourishing on many craft and garden blogs and places like etsy.com, where I discovered some great moss terrarium ideas like the mini Stonehenge care of http://www.etsy.com/shop/dewgardencrafts. I was also reminded of an artist’s website I stumbled across a little while ago and instantly fell in love with. http://www.thomasdoyle.net/disfr_set.html <- He doesn’t make terrariums but creates the most amazing “little universes” I’ve ever seen.
Using the multitude of ‘how-to’ websites on offer I started hunting and gathering supplies from around the house. Mum, being the glorious hoarder she is, had a number of glass bottles to choose from to house my mini world. I collected some rocks from the back garden and found some leftover pebbles from my fish tank to line the base with. To give my terrarium an extra dimension I went rummaging through my toy collection and found this little guy and thought it would be hilarious to make a zombie terrarium but decided I’d save that one for another time. Instead, I visited a couple of toy / hobby shops to find more suitable plastic figurines.
I was still missing some crucial pieces so I grabbed Mum and we went trawling through the local nurseries where we picked up some sphagnum moss and a few small plants. Unfortunately I can’t name plants on sight like those perplexing types of people who inexplicably collect plant names like Simpson quotes, so I can’t tell you what plants they are. But generally any small indoor plants you can find will be suitable, as long as they have the same water / light requirements.
Although it’s not necessary to add green moss to a terrarium, I really like how it looks, probably for the same reason that people lay down grass in their yard instead of leaving only soil. But try as we might, we couldn’t find any for sale. The Internet, a well-known liar, had given me the impression you could buy it in bags, but this turned out not to be the case. No one was particularly helpful in suggesting where I could find any either – with advice such as “try an aquarium” (why?), “if you grow some bonsai, moss will eventually form on the bottom” (seems a little extreme) and “have a look on the Internet” (which we already know is a liar).
As I had already given the damper areas of our garden a once over and asked every nursery in the near vicinity if they stocked moss, I now had visions of traipsing through the local bush, ferreting at the bottom of trees, looking like a pig on a truffle mission. Thankfully, on a much more thorough scope of the garden I found moss growing practically everywhere I hadn’t already looked.
The rest was easy. I gave my chosen container a scrub and then lined it with rocks surrounded by small pebbles to allow for good water drainage. On top of that I sprinkled some activated carbon, purchased from an aquarium, which filters the air and keeps your terrarium from developing nasty smells. Next I put down a layer of sphagnum moss which stops your potting mix from falling down into the pebble / water collection area. Then I put in enough potting mix to allow room for the plant’s roots.
In giving a theme to my terrarium I was inspired by the recent birth of a baby elephant at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, which was a complete surprise to everyone as he was originally thought to have died in the womb. Australia has since fallen in love with “Mister Shuffles”, who even has his own Twitter and Facebook accounts which are written from the calf’s point of view as he gets to know the world. Recently “he” commented about his desires to roam free through the rainforest he’d been dreaming about until he sadly learned that he’d have to stay in the zoo forever. This tugged on my heart strings so I decided to devote my first terrarium to Mister Shuffles to give him a taste of the freedom he longed for. I planted three tropical plants, added a plastic baby elephant and built a hill-like look-out for his meerkat friends. I also popped in some plastic frogs and the shell of a long-dead snail.
And voila! My first terrarium was complete! Getting a little carried away I also made a second, smaller, terrarium featuring a deer and toadstool combo. These seem to be pretty standard features in today’s terrarium but as a fan of deers and toadstools, I wanted to have my own version.
All up the whole venture cost about $50, which mostly went towards the plastic figurines. But once you’ve got the basics you can make terrariums to your heart’s content, even using a soft-drink bottle or pasta jar as the container. It’s a surprisingly cheap hobby which just keeps on giving.
Long live the terrarium!