Sunday, March 24, 2013

Grow glass plant terrariums

Glass plant terrarium

Growing plants in a too-small container or glass plant terrariums may sound eccentric, but the results are captivating

plant terrarium kits, glass plant terrariums
plant terrarium kits, glass plant terrariums

LIKE AFROS AND DENIM FLARES,GLASS PLANT TERRARIUMS were big in the seventies. But who today under the age of 40 remembers the giant wine bottles with impossibly narrow necks that fanatical Terrarium People filled with plants and fashioned into table lamps with orange hessian shades? Or the brandy
snifters displaying an African violet? History records that gardeners soon abandoned glass plant terrariums demanding cult and turned back to hand-size tools and human-size plots. But legend has it that some of the most loyal Terrarium People held onto their tiny forks and tiny spoons lashed to chopsticks and went on their way, into oblivion. Until now.

plant terrarium kits, glass plant terrariums
plant terrarium kits, glass plant terrariums
In March 2005, as a first-time visitor to the Philadelphia Flower Show, I was surprised to see a gathering of terrariums.They had shed their lamp shades but were present in strength, some sporting single plants and others, whole ecosystems of small, humidity-loving plants like moss, ivy, ferns, miniature sinningias, pitcher plants (sarracenia) and flame violets (episcia).

Although all sorts of plants can make a glass plant terrariums miniature world—for example an open terrarium of cacti and succulents makes a Lilliputian desert—the terrarium is traditionally an enclosed environment. Victorian doctor Nathaniel Ward was the first to devise one—to transport specimens by sea from plant-collecting expeditions. He discovered that a sealed glass case could form a self-sustaining environment for plants, since the water the plants transpired condensed inside the case and was reused.

Today, in homes where air-conditioning and heating systems can mean slow death for plants, the idea of glass plant terrariums is still timely. Charlene Marietti of Medford, New Jersey, and Martha Miller of Newark, Delaware, are both experienced terrarium gardeners. Marietti grows sinningias—a relative of African violets,with delicate nodding flowers and rosettes of leaves that tend to die back in too-dry environments. Miller has found that carnivorous pitcher plants are a perfect subject for terrariums (and give rise to such irresistible names as Little Bog of Horrors and the Terrarium of Terror). She recommends compact varieties such as ‘Dixie Lace’ and‘Mardi Gras’.

Bad puns aside, the appeal of one perfect plant or a lush tropical landscape encapsulated in a bubble of glass is timeless and has sparked a popular resurgence for the terrarium, with hybrid forms appearing in art galleries and florists’ shops.Wrestling with ship-in-a-bottle tools is not a requirement— in fact, most terrariums at the show had wide mouths for easy access—but the challenge is to find a good container.

Goldfish bowls and large pickle jars work well for glass plant terrariums. Florists’ suppliers sometimes offer large apothecary-style jars, and Smith & Hawken has Victorian-style terrariums on its Web site. Search for some plant terrarium kits. Marietti also recommends browsing flea markets, and if you’re a beginner the seventies brandy snifter is not to be sneezed at.—JOANNA FORTNAM

plant terrarium kits, glass plant terrariums
plant terrarium kits, glass plant terrariums

t o p  t e rr a r i u m  t i p s

  • Almost any clear container can be made into a terrarium, but it must be waterproof. To create a humid environment, the container should have either a small mouth or a cover to regulate the humidity.
  • To encourage bushy plants, snip their growing tips but do not fertilize.
  • If plants look undernourished use a liquid houseplant fertilizer at onefourth strength.
  • Never place a closed terrarium in full sun or risk cooking the plants.
  • Don’t allow leaves to rest up against the glass, and remove decayed leaves immediately.
  • If algae forms on the glass, clean it with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.
  • If the glass mists over or you see large water droplets forming, leave the lid off for a day. It should be possible to leave a terrarium unwatered for a month or longer.
  • When the terrarium looks dry, lightly mist the plants to freshen them up. Never allow more than 1⁄4 inch of water to collect.
  • For advice by Bonnie Monte on plants and terrarium care, see
  • features/archives/2003/cs_under_glass/cs_under_glass1.jhtml.

Garden designer Paula Hayes stirred interest in Manhattan fine-art circles with her duodenum-like glass vessels (handblown by Jeff Zimmerman).“ I was attracted to the idea of taking care of a tiny world, like a dreamscape,” she explains.“A glass plant terrarium is art combined with science.” Biospheres plant terrarium kits cost $2,400 to $10,000, depending on size.
From Salon 94 (646-672- 9212,
or R 20th Century (212-343- 7979,

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