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Winter Doldrums Part 3: Terrariums

Bringing the Garden Indoors

Terrariums–the art of tiny gardening

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I love gardening.  I absolutely adore gardening. I love planning out where everything will go—who companions well, who does not. I love planting and staking and trellising. And of course, I love the reward—taking me basket out to my little garden and harvesting whatever it has for me each day.  I love having cherry tomato bushes that allow to me snack while I’m out in the garden.  However, because we are gone so much during the summer months, my garden has dramatically fallen to the wayside.  

This is a weird time of year for us.  Between Christmas and my birthday in late February, we find ourselves struggling to get back into the schedule of school, and the weather is usually cold, damp, and gray.  The rain doesn’t even come with the satisfying smell of dirt and plants!  It’s not long after school starts back up that I am looking at the calendar, counting down the days until spring break. 

As much as I do, in fact, love winter and the coziness that comes with it, this is typically the time of year when I long to get my hands dirty, with actual dirt, and plant something and watch it grow.  While I do keep white a few indoor plants, this winter, I have turned my attention to the delightful—and tiny—world of terrariums

A small closed terrarium of ferns and mosses tucked away within the kids Science Station gives another layer of nature to the display. Because the terrarium won’t dry out, one ice cube should be sufficient for a few weeks.

I’ve had a terrarium for a while now, and have used it for other forms of decoration, but this week, while battling a cold, I decided it was time to make it the home of something more permanent. Something living. I think terrariums are an ideal indoor gardening solution because they can fit practically anywhere, in any dwelling, in any climate. All it takes is a little patience and understanding.

Kyle is allergic to many flowering plants, and I always take this into consideration, so things like narcissus (also commonly known as “paperwhites”) are out.  Likewise, I am allergic to lavender, which is a bummer. 

So, when he and I were out running errands the other day and saw a large display of succulents, I took notice when he remarked that he really likes them. 

So, this is one way I find balance.

Creating and maintaining these miniature gardens cheers up the dreariness of seemingly endless gray days, and satisfies my need to plant and nurture something (besides my no-longer-quite-so-tiny humans).  

If you are interested in creating your own little indoor garden (bonus: no snakes!), here are some simple instructions:

What you’ll need:

  • a terrarium–This could be anything from an actual terrarium to a jar, large or small
  • sand (optional)
  • large and small rocks–Something like river rocks will work fine
  • gardening charcoal–this is essential as terrariums do not have holes in the bottom and the charcoal absorbs the excess moisture away from the plants roots
  • moss–I prefer spangham peat moss
  • soil

You should layer all these in the following order: sand, rocks, charcoal, moss, and soil. Mixing the large and small rocks together is fine, but you should rinse them throughly before carefully placing them in your terrarium.

Choosing the correct container for the plant (or plants) you have in mind is not only best for the plants health, but will make these tiny gardens easy to maintain. I have both open and closed terrariums, and love them equally. An open terrarium is ideal for plants such as succulents and cacti; plants that are accustomed to a drier environment. While direct sunlight isn’t exactly necessary, they will also need to be placed in a sunny location. A closed terrarium is more preferred by plants such as ferns and moss.

Just think of it this way:  where do you normally find these plants in nature?  You normally find moss, ferns, and ivy in warm, humid climates, and growing out of direct sunlight.  These are the types of plants that do well in closed terrariums. Knowing and understanding what makes your plants thrive will take the frustration out of keeping them alive.

If you’re interested in air plants, I wouldn’t recommend them for terrariums—even the cute hanging globes—because they get their moisture from circulating air.  Instead, I would try hanging them, solo or bound together, in a bathroom or even directly in the shower.  Further, their roots are for stabilizing purposes, not for water retention, so you don’t need to water the roots, but the leaves (which is how they pull the moisture out of the air) are what need to be watered. 

So, don’t let winter get you “blue!” It actually is easy being green with a little effort and a well-placed terrarium. Do you have a terrarium? What do you grow in it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

Happy in its new home.

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