I have always loved terrariums! The whole concept of an ecology system in a jar on my bench really appeals to me!
There was a workshop at Capalaba Nurseries on making Terrariums for Christmas and so I went along to see how it was done. It was a fabulous hands on workshop with a great instructor called Emma who is unflappable and full of hints and tips as well as really knowing her stuff.
After I attended this workshop I tried making my own at home for Christmas gifts and was really really pleased with the results... Here's what I did...
Starting with a largish jar (the Moccona on the right is about a 2 litre capacity) I gave them a good wash and clean to make sure I wasn't locking any nasty moulds or bacteria in with my plants.
Next comes a decent handful of rough rocks and gravel for drainage. Since these are going to be seen, its good to make sure they fit with your overall colour and/or theme. When I went to buy gravel for this project, they guy handed me a gravel menu!!! It turns out there is blue, pink and green gravel along with brown and grey - as for the sizes - A Chinese meal menu would have had a smaller selection of choices! There is a lot of gravel choice out there people!
The next layer is a sand layer. Both the gravel and sand are for drainage so your plants don't drown. While there isn't as much variety in the sand department, there is still a fair bit of choice. If you know what your finished product wants/needs to look like then you'll know if you are after rough coarse brown sand or silky smooth white sand. To add some interest we made our sand layer a bit uneven, just like in the real world, rather than have it all in perfectly straight layers.
An important part of the terrariums structure is the big spoonfuls of activated carbon that goes in at this point. It soaks up the impurities and keeps the terrarium smelling good. We put a couple of decent tablespoons on top of the sand layer.
Next is a layer of good quality potting mix with a bit of fine compost in it. This is the layer that your plants will be getting all their nutrients from so it needs to be full of goodies for the plant rather than fillers for the manufacturer to make $ from...
At this point make just a thin layer as once you have the plants in, its easier to fill up a bit more then than to dig holes now. I was aiming for a jar that was 1/3 soil/gravel and 2/3 plants and air as I thought those were good proportions. Step back from the jar occasionally and check to see how much of the jar you are filling. Remember, you are trying to make a terrarium not a pot plant!
If you haven't already, now is the time to select your plants. The smaller the better! I've always loved the "wet" look in the terrarium, some people love the succulent desert thing, some love the beach theme and some love the fairy garden, so I chose a fern as my main plant.
I put him in a bit off centre so I could put a contrasting plant in next to him. At this point I pushed the plant into the soil but not too much as I don't want the roots down in the drainage area.
For my second plant I chose this little red veined Fittonia to sit next to the bold green fern. I thought it was a nice contrast. The Fitonia will out grow the jar - but as long as you are happy to cut it back or replace it sometime its not a problem. Once you have got the plants where you want them, add some more potting mix and tamp it town with your fingers or a stick so that the potting mix is firm around the plants.
To get the potting mix where you want it, try using a piece of card as a funnel and direct it where you want it. The less mess you make the easier it is to clean up later. Once the potting mix is more or less in place, use a stick or your hand to tamp it down around the plants firmly.
The next layer is a small decorative gravel (like what you often find in a fish tank) that is used as a mulch to help the surface stay moister longer. Its easer to put it in using a piece of card as a funnel than to try and spoon it in or use your hands to scoop it in.
I made a slope in my jar to add a bit more interest. I used each layer to exaggerate it all a little more. Its a bit more interesting than straight lines!
I also really like being able to see some of the gravel at the bottom of the jar. It also allows you to see how much water you have in the terrarium and if you need to leave the lid off for a day or two to dry out a bit or if you need to add some water.
We used the squirty bottles you can see in the background to dampen each layer to make it sit well and to wash down the sides of the jar when we flicked dirt or gravel onto it.
Next you get to play with the non-living decorative elements like rocks, wood, trinkets and anything else your heart desires! I decided on a rock and a piece of old wood with a bit of moss on it.
To get the water off the sides of the jar, I used a bit of loo paper to wipe the water off with. For the bits you cant quite reach...
roll a bit of loo paper around an old gardening fork and push that down the inside of the jar to dry up all the water that's been squirted around.
For my second terrarium, I used contrasting plants and went for the "wet" look again. I used a few more rocks and made a "pile" rather than having just a single specimen and used the wood more like a log this time.
I really enjoyed this project!
I ended up making a few for Christmas presents for my friends as I found a spice shop shutting down and selling 2.5 litre jars with lids for a dollar each! The gravel, sand and potting mix can be had at any soil supplier or even a good nursery. The activated carbon is the same as the stuff used in fish tank filters and the decorative gravel can be found in nurseries, cheapy shops or in pet shops in the fish section.
Make sure you get really small but healthy plants as the stress of putting them in to your terrarium might be too much for a plant that's not so happy to start with. I was continually surprised at how big a small plant really is!
If you aren't sure what type of terrarium you want to make, there are a few really good websites around to help you with ideas for your terrarium. Click on the images or links to go to the websites!
There are a at least a million and one, and probably more, ideas for terrariums out there! If you have one you'd like to share, pop the link in the comments section and let us all see it and be inspired!
Green-ness: 5/5 for repurposing jars and for using things you already have!
Frugal-ness: ?/5depends wether you have a lot of the bits needed and if you can resist buying all the wee knickknacks to go in a terrarium or not...
Time cost: Once you know what you are doing (after the first one that is) you can make them in about 15 minutes from go to whoa if you have all the bits to hand.
Skill level: Basic gardening knowledge!
Fun-ness: So much fun to be able to create a world to sit on your desk!