New Ideas For Bottle Gardens & Terrariums
Maybe it’s time for a revival? Bottle gardens and terrariums used to be as popular as ferns and ivies in macramé hangers. The big, green carboy was one of the most sought after décor features. It required some skill and patience to plant it, especially if you were working with a teaspoon taped onto a bamboo cane. So called bottle garden plants, a selection of foliage subjects sold in small 6cm (2.5”) pots were to be found in every florist and garden shop; garden centres as we know them today were few and far between. But then that was when houseplants were at their peak, since then interests have waned.
The bottle garden or terrarium did enjoy a bit of a revival during the air plant era. The small epiphytic bromeliads became quite a craze and were glued onto anything with a blob of bathroom sealant. They require some humidity and moisture in the air to remain healthy, so a semi-closed glass environment was considered a good idea. Their own little microclimate where they could be misted occasionally.
Closely related to their epiphytic cousins, cryptanthus, which are terrestrial bromeliads, make wonderful bottle garden plants. They are naturally small in stature and can be planted in the growing medium alongside broad leaved evergreens and ferns. They lend themselves to association with pieces of bark or twig.
So what’s the difference between a bottle garden and a terrarium?
A bottle garden is made in any glass container that has been, or could have been used for something else. You could use a goldfish bowl, a kilner jar, an old sweet jar or a laboratory flask. Fill it with a layer of gravel for drainage and a generous layer of growing medium, add a few small houseplants and you have a bottle garden.
The term terrarium is usually applied to a glass structure made from pieces of glass joined together with copper or lead strips. It’s really an evolution of the Wardian case – the mini glass greenhouse used to transport plants on long sea journeys in the 19th Century. It transformed plant hunting because specimens arrived alive rather than dead and desiccated.
Terrariums are really modern versions used to create the right growing environment for exotics in the home including ferns, orchids and bromeliads. The sealed or closed terrariums create their own water cycle and maintain a high degree of humidity. This means moisture loving subjects such as selaginella, the moss-like plant with flattened stems of thin, bright-green leaves. This will thrive in a terrarium which also avoids the need for daily watering.
Secrets of success with bottle gardens and terrariums
Whether your bottle garden is wide open to the atmosphere or partially closed there are a few rules to stick to ensure success.
1. Cleanliness is paramount. Fungal spores, bacteria and microorganisms take over in the closed, warm environment of a bottle garden. Clean the container and any accessories thoroughly before you start.
2. Always use a sterile growing medium that is formulated for houseplants. Never use old potting mix or garden soil, both will introduce problems.
3. Never overwater. Little watering will be required, but when you do it, do it lightly.
4. Add a little charcoal to the growing medium. This helps to keep it “sweet” and combats some of the effects of over- watering.
5. Avoid flowering plants, unless access is easy. Faded blooms quickly decay and introduce botrytis, a fungal disease that can spread to leaves and stems.
6. Remove any damaged or dying foliage and plants. These will again decay and cause problems for their neighbours.
7. Feed with a little controlled release fertiliser once a year and avoid overfeeding.
8. Position a bottle garden or terrarium away from direct sunlight. The glass can have a magnifying effect and scorch not only the contents, but fabrics and furniture close by.
9. Try succulents in open bottle-garden containers in sunny positions. They work well with stones and gravel to make a mini desert landscape.
10. Try ferns and ivies in bottle gardens for shaded situations – they look great in the bathroom.
So why not give it a try? Be innovative and experiment. If you can’t find a big glass container to plant, try planting a few smaller jars and group them together, or line them up on a shelf.