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Garden in a bowl

Plant aquariums are the new way to bring greenery home. Priyadarshini Paitandy tracks the terrarium trend in the city

October 12, 2015 03:48 pm | Updated 07:22 pm IST - chennai:

Not just a bit of greenery, terrariums are also interesting decor for homes.

Not just a bit of greenery, terrariums are also interesting decor for homes.

Spiny, green dinosaurs prowling with their mouths wide open in a field of moss — very Jurassic Park. Then there’s the enchanted forest with red toadstools, unicorns, green plants and goblins. Oh look, the Seven Wonders of the World are propped up there too… all in clear glass bottles along with a bunch of little plants. The world of terrariums is simply fascinating. It’s like an aquarium of plants. “These are plants in a closed or open glass container, depending on the kind of foliage. It’s an age-old concept that started in the Victorian era,” says Natasha Raj Varghese, who started Soul Bowls where she creates a variety of terrariums using cactus, succulents, spider plants, ferns and arrowheads among others.

An avid gardener, Natasha found it difficult to meet the demands of her job and take care of her garden everyday. On a lookout for something that involved plants and was less time consuming, she stumbled upon the concept of terrariums. She got down to making her first terrarium in January this year. Soon, friends started placing orders. “I have a full time job as a Digital Marketing Professional with Rage Communications. But on off-days it’s great to break away and do these things,” she says. The weekends are no longer about sleeping in late but about creating bottle gardens, visiting nurseries, glass blowers and sourcing garden accessories.

Terrariums date back to 1840s when an English botanist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward built a few. Called Wardian cases, they were used to transport plants from England to Australia and back. The initial ones resembled a doctor’s bag but with a glass body. Over the years the shapes changed and eventually terrariums went into oblivion. Gardening and green houses became a trend. What makes this over-a-century-old trend popular now? With diminishing open spaces in most cities, having a garden is a luxury that only few can afford. While terrace gardening is picking up, terrariums are a way of bringing the garden indoors. It’s also fuss free. Dr. Gohulabalan who runs Sorrel Gardens along with his wife Padmini, says, “These plants don’t need too much care. You don’t have to meticulously water them — once in two weeks is sufficient or a few drops every three to four days — nor do you have to place them under direct sunlight. ” The couple says that youngsters seem particularly excited about this concept and want different varieties of ornamental plants.

Not just a bit of greenery, terrariums are also interesting decor for homes. Clients often want theirs customised. “People ask me to do up their balconies with terrariums. I am working with terracotta and acrylic jars now,” says Natasha who also plans to experiment with Ayurvedic herbs.

Seeing the demand for fancy glass containers for bottle gardens, Nappa Dori that specialises in designer bags, trunks and accessories also produces glass containers. They offer five shapes and sizes with the teardrop terrarium being the most elaborate. “People have become conscious of the vibe emoted through the interiors of their living spaces. The whole concept is a small migration from the long existing play with bonsai gardens. This is a more self sustainable, indoor greenhouse approach to the same idea,” says Ishaan Bharat of Nappa Dori.

Terrariums are a huge trend in the U.S. and Australia as well. And there are also various DIY terrarium kits available online. For beginners, the Internet has numerous ideas to set up your bottle garden. Personalise with elements that catch your fancy. And for handbag lovers there’s the unique handbag terrarium. Quite an arm candy that one. It’s a fun gifting option, a tad hipster, that’s replacing bouquets. Edible chocolate terrariums are making their debut in the party circuit. The pebbles, stones, gravel are replaced with cocoa powder and brownie crumbs and plants by fondant and cookies. Wonder what’s next? Wearable terrarium fashion, perhaps?

How to make your own terrarium

- Take an empty bottle.

- Place stones or gravel at the bottom, followed by sand for good drainage as roots of succulents must not get too wet, since they are prone to rot. 

- The soil should be mist sprayed with water in summer every other day. Use a spray gun to mist succulents and air plants in your terrarium and avoid over watering. Follow watering instructions depending on the plant, mist if soil is dry to the touch.

- The actual soil is made of perlite, coconut fibre, sand and good compost — to allow for good drainage. Using ordinary soil is not good for draining.

- Consider how huge your plants will become, because you want something that will not quickly outgrow your terrarium — there are cacti, desert succulents, tropical succulents and ferns. 

- Cacti and desert succulents must be kept in open terrariums because they thrive best under low-humidity conditions.

- Succulents are hardy, they can survive for weeks without water but to over water is to kill them.

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