Saturday, March 12, 2016
My Terrarium Project
The terrarium (originally Wardian Case) was invented in 1842 by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward. His work on the subject is called On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases and can be read online here. It was an excellent way of transporting fragile plants long distances. Now the terrarium makes a delightful miniature garden.
I've made a vivarium or two (or three) in the past for various pets (anoles, hermit crabs, snakes, etc.) but I can't remember ever making a terrarium just for plants. I decided to try one to see how it would turn out. I used a 2 1/2 gallon glass aquarium, figuring I could easily see how the substrate layering process went in a rectangular container.
I bought small aquarium gravel for the bottom drainage layer. On top of an inch of that, I put a layer of coffee filters and 1/2 inch of activated charcoal. I wet down some spaghnum moss and pressed that on top of the charcoal. I put potting soil on top.
I picked up a couple of plants at the pet store labeled "semi-aquatic" (peacock fern -Selaginella willdenowii- and umbrella plant -Spathiphyllum wallisii) and planted them with an asparagus fern and a coral reef sedum.
I researched the plants after I bought them. Yeah, I know, but I figured I could do something with them even if they were unsuitable for the task at hand. The "peacock fern" ought to have been fine in the terrarium, but it quickly wilted and never recovered. The sedum didn't do well, either, and I moved it outside to a dryer location. It did well there for a while but died during the winter. The "umbrella plant" turned out to be nothing but a common peace lily, which soon outgrew the terrarium. I put it in a pot, and it has its first bloom. The asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus "Sprengeri") also got too big, and I've moved it to a pot.
Seeing that I would have to be intentional about finding tiny plants, I was on the lookout and saw a little 2-inch pot at Home Depot that had an unlabeled plant that looked like a fern. I think it's a Maidenhair Fern, and it's doing fine:
I lifted some little wild violets out of the back patio to see how they would do in this space; but oddly, they seemed to get spindly and lean towards the light. I thought they were shade-lovers, so I'm not sure what was going on with them, but I moved them back outside into the flowerbed.
I added a little piece of moss that was between the patio stones. I think the moss might prefer more air movement that it'll ever get here, and some of the moss has died.
At this point I decided that perhaps a little professional advice would be a good thing, so I signed up for a Terrarium Workshop. For $45 I got supplies and help for making one small terrarium with one plant. Moss cost $8 extra, so I skipped the moss. She seemed surprised I'd been able to kill a peacock fern, so I put one of hers in this new jar. It's dying. She did layers just like I had, using gravel, then charcoal, then sphagnum moss , then dirt. She seemed to think I hadn't added enough water to my original planting, and she was generous with the water in this one. I look forward to seeing if it rallies.
I'd like to get a larger tank -much larger- so I could put in larger plants and do some actual arranging.