Posts Tagged terrariums

A terrarium interlude

My friend, Johanna, has the terrarium fever – and she’s got it bad!  Any glass vessels in her vicinity will suddenly be filled with strange flora and figurine fauna.  She has even taken to the thievery of moss – something I certainly can’t judge after pilfering mulch and leaves from Central Park.  After I saw a few of her creations, I asked her if she would send me some photos to share and she obliged. They remind me of the tiny and strange worlds that were on display at MAD this summer – bucolic, yet bizarre.  I think my favorite is the one with the ponies. Or the gorillas. I can’t decide.

She has also put together a curriculum for teaching kindergarteners to build their own terrariums. It incorporates history (when did people start putting plants in jars, anyway?), biology (did you know that there are over 12000 types of moss?), organization (learning about the different elements in a terrarium and how they are layered), and creativity.  Each child will go home with their own funky living environment to keep alive. Or not.  I’m hoping to borrow the idea to use in my own daughter’s kindergarten class this spring.

All this mossy-ness has me yearning for spring – a dangerous thing to do on January 19th.  I think the reason why I am so drawn to terrariums (besides their obvious qualities) is because they are a beautiful way to bring the outdoors in. Especially if you live on the 9th floor of a building in Midtown.  Some days you just need a little moss.

You can also see some fascinating terrariums at Little Orphan Girl.



Terrarium Love

The mania for terrariums began in our house last summer after I took the girls to the Museum of Art and Design to see  Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities.  Celebrating the tiny and the strange, the exhibition was divided into four themes: Apocalpytic Archeology, Dreams and Memories, Voyeurs/Provacateurs, and Unnatural Nature.  For a show that featured a large number of snow globes and dioramas, it was not exactly aimed for an audience of  small children, a point I felt acutely when trying to explain a snow-globe scene that appeared to be two people disposing of a body in a rolled-up carpet.  But generally, it was fascinating in the way that tiny things can be and has a virtual afterlife in the website, Small Realities, where you can peruse photos from the exhibition and even submit your own miniature creations.

MAD has an open studio program where they invite working artists to use their space to demonstrate their process – usually related to the exhibitions.  The day we were there, the artists in residence happened to be from Twig Terrarium.  I had long admired their work from afar and was excited to see them in action – as were the girls who couldn’t get enough of the moss.  Inspired, I paid a visit to Sprout Home  where I picked up some supplies.  Aided by Hurricane Irene which kept us indoors, we gathered up jars and rocks, hunkered down,  and set to work.

Arranging plants in small glass enclosures is a decidedly Victorian pursuit that can be traced back to Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward (1791-1868).  A London doctor by profession, Ward had a keen interest in botany and the cultivation of ferns but found that most of his plants were not thriving in the polluted, urban environment that was London in the 1820’s.  Like all good 19th-century polymaths, he also liked to cultivate butterflies and moths and kept them in glass jars.  Quite by accident he noticed that the small bits of grass he kept in the jar with the cocoons had taken root and actually bloomed.  This discovery lead him to design the  Wardian Case, a sealed glass container that was subsequently used to ship plants back and forth between England and the colonies.   In 1842, he published On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases and soon after, every respectable Victorian home had its own Wardian case used to cultivate ferns and later, orchids.

Our approach to the terrarium is much less scientific and more about arranging things in glass containers.  We started with  rocks, acorns, and other random items of a vaguely botanical nature that we had on hand.  We collected sand and shells at the beach and – when we went upstate in the fall – we spent a glorious morning “mossing” on the hillside next to our friend’s house:

Not only did we find moss, but some amazing mushrooms, too (that we left in situ).

Our apartment is now filled with various containers of collected moss, rocks, sand, and a few plants we are hoping will take root in our little ecosystems.  Most of our terrariums are in the form of hanging globes in the windows which my youngest daughter uses as a place to arrange her various Lego people, creating tableaux that change on a daily basis and remind me of the Little Prince visiting his asteroids.

If you’re also compelled to arrange plants in jars, I recommend looking at The Fern and Mossery, a great resource for all things terrarium.


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