During winter when its rather bleak outside, my bottle garden/terrariums bring me so much joy. They are sealed self-sufficient micro eco-systems, and if you get the conditions inside correct with the right plants they will thrive. And, just like the outdoors they alter during the change of seasons. In the summer mine are brimming with life, but in the winter due to our house being cooler and lower light levels they die down a bit. We have a tiny Buddha inside our 15 year old bottle garden, and I love being able to see him each winter.
David Latimer planted this bottle garden on Easter Sunday, 1960. He opened it to water it once in 1972 but with that one exception it has remained sealed, and is a perfect example of a thriving terrarium.
I have experimented with different plants, and sometimes if the conditions are not right for them they will rot. My preferred methods are usually taking tiny plants along with their roots which are growing out of walls or in nooks and crannies in our garden. Small varieties of plants work best so that they don’t outgrow the terrarium. I particular love using little Ferns, moss and little flowering ground cover plants.
Our large green glass container was given to me by a lady that I worked for years ago, and has memories behind it, always good to have a personal story along with your plants. The other glass containers I pick up from charity shops and junk yards. Cork as a lid works best so that the terrarium can breathe, however, I have one terrarium dedicated just to moss, and this is fine with an ill fitting glass lid that doesn’t seal completely and allows air to flow in and out.
Choose a glass jar with a wide neck to make creation a bit easier. I have experimented with narrow necks and implements such as tongs and wire in the past and it is so tricky, and to be honest a bit of a pain.
To make a bottle garden, first make sure that it is clean and disease-free. You don’t want to transfer anything to your new plants. Next fill a layer of horticultural gravel. The level depends on the size of your bottle garden, but a couple of inches is good. Then add a layer of horticultural charcoal. This helps with filtering and purification of moisture and air.
Now it’s time to add a layer of compost. I add it so that the height varies in places – think of yourself as a mini Capability Brown, landscaping the surface! I then like to add some stones/pebbles/shells that the plants can grow over and around. Slightly push them into the compost if you can. Maybe make a mini Stone Henge out of stones or add small sculptural points of interest. Get creative.
Then add your chosen plants. Less is more in my opinion. They need space to grow without too much competition from too many other plants. Now mist the bottle garden using a water spray. Use filtered or rain water if possible. Or you can boil water, leave it to cool and then use this. You don’t want to soak the bottle garden, remember that the plants don’t want to sit in water. It needs to be watered just enough to get the eco-system going.
Place on the lid and position somewhere in your home with a decent amount of light, but not on a windowsill in direct sunlight. The only maintenance we do on our bottle gardens are making sure that the outside of the glass is clean so that enough light can penetrate.
An open terrarium with air plants
Terrariums can either be open dry eco-systems for succulents, cacti and air plants, or closed for moisture lovers. The plants you choose will determine the bottle garden that you make. Terrariums are such beautiful things. Creating them is great fun, and watching them grow and change over the years is even better!