Saturday, June 5, 2010

Terrariums Make a Comeback

(photo: Robert Wright NYT)

Straight to the Source
By Emily Weinstein
June 2, 2010

> I LOVE the sensation I get when I experience synchronicity. It's been happening a lot lately. :) I was thinking about these terrariums I saw and thought it would be fun to make my own. There are a few local artists I can buy from or perhaps I will pop over to Sprout Home and get supplies to make my own. Tidbits of the article below. Make sure you check out the slide show- gorgeous!

These terrariums marry the current rage for Victoriana with the growing interest in handmade crafts and all things do-it-yourself. Add to that a touch of locavore fervor, as more urbanites take to terraces and fire escapes to grow flowers and herbs in pots.

Part of the appeal of building a basic terrarium is that it does not require a great deal of gardening know-how. While regular house plants can demand considerable attention, terrariums offer a bit of nature — and the sense of calm it can confer — in a contained, easy-to-care-for way. And once a closed terrarium reaches a state of equilibrium, in which there is neither too much moisture in the container nor too little, it can more or less sustain itself.

“Having these in my home has changed the way I feel about my home,” Ms. Inciarrano said. “It feels more peaceful and in order.”

Describing them as “primordial,” she theorized that terrariums appeal to the human desire to nurture living things. “It’s this beautiful little world you can care for in your apartment...” said Ms. Hayes, who lives in Brooklyn.

THE precursor to the terrarium, the Wardian Case, was devised in 1829 by Nathaniel Ward, a physician by trade and an enthusiastic botanist, who noticed that a fern he was growing in a jar was flourishing, sealed off from the polluted London air. So innovative was his discovery — and so useful in the age of sea travel, for it allowed for Europeans to bring tropical plants home with them on voyages in which fresh water was scarce — that it was displayed at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, holding a fern that had not been watered in 18 years.

Nowhere is it more apparent that Dr. Ward’s scientific instrument has become something primarily aesthetic — and a fixture on the design scene — than at the downtown creative studio and storefront Partners & Spade. The terrarium on display there, a collaboration between the landscape designer Lindsey Taylor and the Brooklyn firm Atlas Industries, is a large glass cube on a metal stand, a prehistoric landscape contained in the most modern of forms that sells for $9,500.

Ms. Macdonald has her ovoid glass containers hand-blown in Oakland, Calif., and builds her terrariums in her plant-filled studio apartment in the Mission District. Her sleek creations, filled with the architectural, slightly alien shapes of her succulents, would not be out of place in a room furnished with midcentury modern pieces.

She described making a terrarium as a sort of science experiment, albeit one conducted with color, texture and visual composition in mind.

“They fit with the current infatuation with all things old and scientific,” she said, “and this Victorian idea of science as beauty and something you want to display in your home.”

Ms. Macdonald initially made some terrariums to sell at a craft fair at work, figuring that her colleagues, who are “obsessed with aesthetics,” she said, “would be fascinated with having beautiful arrangements in their home that they can look at and not have to do much to.”

That is one of the main draws of terrariums, she said: they are good for people who love plants but do not actually enjoy gardening.

“There are those people who go to Marin and hike on the weekends, but I think people live in cities because they are city people,” she said.

“I tried to start a garden on a city farm for a while, but I realized that I am not really an outdoorsy nature person,” she added. “Terrariums are a way to be connected to that while staying indoors.”

Making Your Own Ecosystem

Assembling a terrarium requires little more than a glass container, gravel, soil and plants. Noel Rose, the owner of Anchor Aquarium Service in Brooklyn, a company that builds large terrariums and aquariums, provided some basic instructions.

Spread gravel, preferably a natural kind like pea gravel, an inch or two thick in a glass container. Mr. Rose recommends using a 10-gallon fish tank, which is inexpensive and has a large opening that makes it easier to work in, but smaller containers like fishbowls will also work as long as they are transparent. Whatever size you use, it helps if your hand can fit through the opening.

Putting a layer of sphagnum moss or burlap over the gravel is optional, but it will keep the dirt that goes on top from seeping into the gravel. Next, spread about a quarter-inch layer of charcoal over the gravel to absorb odors. Then add at least two inches of potting soil, or more depending on the types and sizes of your plants.

Finally, place your plants inside the terrarium. Smaller containers will hold two or three, and some might hold only one. Mr. Rose suggests using very small, relatively hardy plants that do well in medium-moisture environments, like pathos, ferns, moss, ivy and bromeliads.

Water or mist the terrarium sparingly, but keep it moist. If you’re using a container with a cover, monitor the terrarium for a month or two to make sure it does not get too moist (condensation will form on the glass, and mold and fungus might appear on the plants and in the soil). Adjust the lid, or remove it, to temper the amount of moisture; eventually it should stabilize, and the terrarium won’t need as much care. Terrariums without lids require more water and care, as moisture is lost to evaporation.

Either way, “It’s an ongoing experiment,” Mr. Rose said. “You’re trying to create a microclimate — that’s what separates a terrarium from a flowerpot.”

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