Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

At Home Living: Terrariums: Creating an Indoor Garden

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

At Home Living: Terrariums: Creating an Indoor Garden

Article excerpt

Almost two hundred years ago, the accidental sprouting of a fern led to the terrarium idea. Dr. Nathaniel B. Ward, an English surgeon who was a natural history hobbyist, found that he was unable to grow the bog ferns he wanted in his London garden. He blamed this failure on quantities of factory smoke in the air.

While experimenting with a cocoon in a covered jar for observation Dr. Ward was astounded to find a tiny bog fern emerging from the bit of soil in the jar. The fern, unlike those in his garden, looked healthy. Dr. Ward concluded that plants could flourish in London if protected from the city's polluted air. He created miniature greenhouses and called them fern cases.

Following the publication of his findings, the popularity of covered glass gardens grew rapidly. Known as Wardian Cases, they were constructed in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. While the poor had to content themselves with inexpensive versions, the rich had cases resembling miniature Taj Mahals and Brighton Pavilions. Fashionable in the United States in the early 1860's, hardly a self- respecting Victorian household was without one.

The Wardian Case had a practical side as well. Plants that previously were unable to survive long ocean voyages could now be shipped to distant ports. When they were sealed in these cases, extreme temperature changes, wind, sea air, and lack of care did not affect even the most exotic and delicate plant.

New plant-based industries were created. The establishment of the entire tea industry in India succeeded because plants could now be shipped from Shanghai. Rubber Trees were successfully transported from Brazil to Ceylon. Botanical gardens were now able to receive exotic and rare plants from all over the world.

How to make a terrarium

Our present day adaptations of the Wardian Case we call terrariums. They are very common, easy to make and can be made of just about any clear glass or plastic container such as: cider jugs, gallon jars, wine bottles, tank aquariums, Plexiglas cubes, globes, etc. Translucent or colored glass or plastic will limit the quantity and quality of light and are therefore not recommended for use.

Soil and drainage

Soil used in terrariums should be a good soilless soil from a garden center. Regular garden soil does not provide adequate aeration or capillary movement of water. It may also contain weed seeds, insects, or diseases. To help keep plants small, fertilize only at 1/4 the recommended amount after about a year. Rocks, sand, charcoal, or broken pots are not recommended for drainage as once believed. When layers of such materials are used in terrariums, water drainage away from roots is actually hindered. (This goes for regular potted plants also.)


Because of limited space, choose plants that are naturally dwarf, slow-growing, tolerant of high humidity, and tolerant of the low to medium level of light where the terrarium is going to be placed. …

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