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.
First, layering up the substrate.
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.
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.
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.
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!