Mine Own Terrarium

I’ve always loved Victorian botanical illustrations – all those beautifully painted ferns and orchids, and the terrariums that were so magical in their ability to contain a jungle in miniature form. Many of these ‘exotic’ species that were sought out and transported in Wardian cases were local to Malaysia, but being a suburbanite, sometimes these beautiful wild plants were as exotic to me as to the Victorian collectors, yet comfortingly familiar as well.

Having long admired terrariums, it never really occurred to me that I could make one of my own, until in the last couple of years they suddenly became very fashionable, along with easily available containers, tools, books, plants, ideas, etc., etc. And so it was time for me to take the plunge, and one thing I was sure of was that it had to be a closed, humid terrarium, with tropical plants (ideally ferns) and mosses.

I found a wee terrarium container on amazon, and got some books for inspiration and advice.
2018-04-28 Terrarium

Here we are, all ready to go. The opening of my container is fairly big (one side of the ‘roof’ lifts up), so I could just get in there with my hands or use household items.
2018-04-28 Terrarium

First, layering up the substrate.

2018-04-28 Terrarium

Gravel: from one of the fishtanks, to provide drainage so that the soil itself doesn’t get too soggy and rot the plant roots. I’ve read elsewhere that a closed/tropical terrarium shouldn’t need drainage since it is a sealed unit and there is nowhere for the water to drain into…I’m not sure either way, but most books and websites seem to advise a gravel layer so I went with it this time. And it looks interesting.

Java Moss: harvested from one of the fishtanks, where it grows profusely! This was my ‘barrier layer’ between the gravel and soil, so that the soil doesn’t just fall in between the gravel. My book also suggests other types of moss or a sheet of paper.

Activated Charcoal: from Gareth’s fishtank supplies. The charcoal absorbs microorganisms and smells in the sealed container, keeping things fresh. It might come in small pieces or ‘sprinkles’ – in my case I sprinkled a thin layer over the java moss.

Soil: Regular potting compost from our gardening supply, spooned in and spread with a tablespoon.

Planting time!

The dry soil got spritzed with water so it’s not so crumbly and can hold up the plants. I put in some Fittonia cuttings taken from our houseplant.
2018-04-28 Terrarium

I’d wanted to put in this tiny orchid, purchased for this very purpose, but it turns out the tiny orchid wasn’t so tiny…
2018-04-28 Terrarium

Next it’s time for moss, which came from the shady, wet corner of our garden. I dug up a few clumps and brought them in, and discovered some friends had come along for the ride. Only one worm was allowed to live in the terrarium.
2018-04-28 Terrarium
Wormy on the left was small and could stay, but wormy on the right was declared Too Big and One Worm Too Many.

I love this carpet of moss, but it was the most finicky bit – gently tearing clumps to keep the moss pieces intact but also to get the right shapes to fill all the gaps, and getting it to sit nicely under the fittonia leaves.
2018-04-28 Terrarium

The final touches – some pebbles (from the fishtank collection, of course) for interest, and to hide any uneven bits of moss, and lastly a good few spritzes of water.
2018-04-28 Terrarium

Here it is in situ. As it turns out, apart from the container itself, everything in the terrarium came from stuff we already had, either from the fishtanks or from the garden and houseplants.
2018-04-28 Terrarium

2018-04-28 Terrarium

With the lid shut it is a closed terrarium, but it isn’t quite a sealed unit, so I do need to keep an eye on the water level and give it a spritz every few days or so. Beyond that I can leave it to do its own thing and admire its loveliness. Next up, perhaps a fully sealed container, and definitely a fern and/or orchid!

4 thoughts on “Mine Own Terrarium

  1. Love this Sakthi! So beautiful and well done for being so resourceful! I presume little wormy will keep the environment well fertilised by munching away? Will it take much upkeep?

    • Thank you Cam! Yes that’s what I hope wormy will do, and I think if I don’t see her much that’s means she’s happy in the soil. Upkeep so far is just spraying some water once or twice a week. Also, because I used garden moss I had to pull out all the grass first but evidently some seeds remained, as I spotted a grass seedling, so I’m keeping an eye out and pulling them out. Might also need to trim dead leaves in the fittonia a few times a year, but easily done with the large roof opening. So, really quite low maintenance 😊

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