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Terraria – create your own miniature gardens

by Drucilla James

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If your garden is water-logged or if you have no outdoor gardening space then now would be a good time to get into indoor gardening.

The terrarium, beloved by the Victorians, is making a come-back and presents the ideal opportunity to create the garden of your dreams and tend it without having to put on your wellies and polar outfit to withstand the winter chill outdoors.

And what is more, a terrarium, once created, is almost maintenance-free; it only requires the minimum of attention and is therefore great for people with busy lives who still want to experience the joys of nature.

The world’s your oyster

In a terrarium –an enclosed glass container for growing and displaying plants – you can plant any kind of garden or mimic any landscape be it woodland dell, fairy kingdom or tropical jungle.

So first of all you need to decide on the plants you want to grow- succulents, for example, need very different conditions to those which suit ferns and mosses – and the sort of scene you want to create. Your choice will decide location and planting medium.

We decided to make a classical fern terrarium as seen in many Victorian and Edwardian houses. Most of the plants best suited to this form of gardening, thrive in semi-shade, so the terrarium is located in an area which provides that kind of environment- bearing in mind that the glass of the terrarium will magnify any light rays. 

Things you’ll need

  • A wooden or metal-framed terrarium or clear glass container of your choice – this can range from a prize vase, a large sweet jar, or something found at a car boot sale. Size and design are down to you and where the container is designed to go in your home. One consideration has to be the size of the opening, as you will need to be able to get your hand inside to put in planting medium and decorative pieces and to place the plants.
  • Gravel or other drainage material such as decorative pebbles
  • Sand or horticultural grit
  • Planting medium with good drainage qualities – for the ferns we used a peat-substitute-based compost
  • Accessories – pieces of drift wood, pebbles or whatever decorative features you think will enhance the look of your container or fit in with the theme of your planting.
  • Plants 

Plants we used:

 We used a range of ferns:

Pellaea and sellaginella 3

Pellaea rotundifolia, Adiantum and Sellaginella martensii

  • Pellaea rotundifolia (Button fern)
  • Sellaginella martensii
  • Sellaginella ‘Variegata’
  • Adiantum var (maidenhair fern)
  • Pteris var. (silver and green forms)
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Pteris var and Sellaginella ‘Variegata’

You could also use:

  • Polypodium var. (both silver and green forms)
  • Asplenium scolopendrium (hart’s tongue fern)
  • Didymochlaena

Step by step

  1. Prepare your container. We used a replica of an Edwardian terrarium; the frame was wooden so we lined the base with polythene to reduce water absorption and reduce the risk of rotting.
  2. Put in drainage material. We put a thin layer of gravel in the base to help reduce the risk of the roots sitting in water. In a glass container, where the material will be seen, pebbles of varying sizes would look more attractive. These can then be covered with a layer of sphagnum moss (the material used to line hanging baskets) to stop the planting medium running into the pebbles.
  3. Add the growing medium with some grit or horticultural sand added to improve drainage. Avoid getting this layer too deep as some headroom needs to be available.
  4. Place larger decorative accessories such as drift wood, rocks or large pebbles in position.
  5. Water the plants before using them. Place the plants, in their pots, inside the container to determine the most pleasing planting arrangement.
  6. Plant up the container as decoratively as possible avoiding overcrowding as the plants will increase in size.
  7. Any smaller decorative objects can now be added- such as smaller pebbles or gravel.
  8. Mist spray the plants with water, avoiding over-watering. Mist spraying once a week or every two weeks is all that will be needed.
  9. As the plants grow and your terrarium develops you can add or thin out plants to retain or develop the garden you desire.

process with box

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