Now, unlike my friend A, who used to moonlight at a florists during her school days, I am absolutely terrible at looking after all things green and growing. This is a job that I usually leave to The Husband, who used to work in a garden centre in his spare time.
However, I do love having plants in the household and I was intrigued by the idea of making a closed ecological system in a bottle which will flourish without too much interference on my part! I managed to convince the Aged Ps to babysit the two owlets whilst I traipsed down to International Plaza for a girly floral afternoon out!
We started out the workshop with Cindy showing us all the tools needed to make a terrarium. We were each given the following:
- A clean glass jar with a wide neck and a lid that gives a good seal
- A pair of chopsticks (to use for handling the seedlings)
- A plastic spoon (to use as a scoop)
- A plastic cocktail muddler
- Crushed pebbles or coarse sand
- Organic potting soil
- Pretty pebbles and tiny ornaments
- A selection of seedlings of the type that survive well in low light conditions
- A dry paintbrush
We started out by choosing crushed pebbles or coarse sand in contrasting colours. These crushed pebbles are placed at the bottom of the terrarium to provide adequate drainage for the plants and to prevent roots of the plant from sitting in pools of water.
Our terrariums were to have a fairytale, miniature garden theme, which is why we used brightly coloured pebbles, but if you prefer a more natural look, you can use crushed river stones or sand.
We started out by scooping in two layers of pebbles, packing each layer down with the plastic cocktail muddler. The difficult part was making sure that each layer was exactly even at the top.
Then, we added a layer of organic soil and packed that down as tightly as possible. The potting soil that we used had a nice, fresh scent and was very pleasant, with a nice crumbly texture. If your potting mix is the stinky kind, then you should probably add some charcoal in to absorb unpleasant smells.
The drainage and soil layers should each be around an inch thick, but a good rule of thumb to follow is make sure that the depth of the ground layers is about a third the height of the container that you are using.
Now with the groundwork completed, it is time to add the plants! Cindy, our long-suffering trainer, had already separated out all the little plantlets into groups of three, each carefully compressed together in a tight root ball for potting.
Using the plastic spoons and chopsticks, we each carefully scooped out a small hole in the centre of our garden and maneuvered our little plants into position with all the precision of a surgeon. When the plants were firmly plugged into place, we added more soil to cover up the root ball, packing it down firmly but carefully around the plant with the muddler, then used a dry paint brush to dust off any bits of soil clinging to the plant leaves.
My plants seemed to be sagging to one side, so Cindy advised me to use the blunt end of my chopsticks to push some large stones into the soil under the plant to prop it up whilst also anchoring the root ball in place.
With our little plants happily rooted, now it was time to decorate our bottle gardens with colourful crushed pebbles and embellishments. We used small smooth stones that had a nice even colour, as well as tiny ceramic, wood or plastic ornaments to embellish our terrariums.
I picked out a little blue moon rabbit, and a cheerful red toadstool on a bed of blue and yellow pebbles. These were neatly taped to either toothpicks or attached to floral wires and pushed firmly into the soil.
A few squirts of water down the sides of the jar, then the lids went on and we were done!
After this, we would only have to add more water every few weeks, and occasionally open the jar up for a few minutes to let the excess condensation evaporate and stop it from clouding the glass. As Cindy said, ‘What’s the point of making a garden that you can’t see?’
It’s been a month since we made the terrariums, and I’m pleased to say that as a result of Cindy’s advice and supervision at the start, all three of my little plants have survived and are growing very well! They seem to do best under flourescent light, as direct sunlight magnified by the curved glass of the bottle seems to burn them. I have even had to prune back one of my little plants because it was growing almost up to the top of the jar!
I am tempted to make a few more little terrariums with J and Little E – I think it would be fun for them and give them a good excuse to mess about with dirt and pebbles.