Terrarium – the miniature landscaping scenery in the glass

Indoor landscaping such as interior design and vertical wall gardens has become more and more popular as the stay-inside lifestyle becomes mainstream during special times. However, they are relatively expensive and space-consuming for those with smaller units. Moreover, the maintenance of such indoor landscaping requires time, energy, and patience, so the cost is relatively high for those who live an urban hectic life or don’t have green fingers. Therefore, alternatively, people go for the scenery and miniature landscape in the glass, which is known as a terrarium.

The suffix -rium, denote a location, or receptacle especially a glass one. Terra means terrestrial land, a terrarium is the land scenery in a glass. For instance, an aquarium is a water (aquatic) scenery in a glass, the fish tank. The first terrarium was created unintentionally by the botanist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in 1842. Ward collected jars to observe the behavior of insects and he accidentally left one jar unattended. Lately, a fern germinated from fern spore and grew in the jar creating a special view of plants. Therefore, a terrarium is also known as the Wardian case, which spread quickly in the Victorian era amongst the English. Ward hired carpenters for the construction of Wardian cases which are widely utilized to export native British plants to Sydney and Australia. His experiments had proven that plants could be sealed in the container without ventilation and continuing to thrive.

A terrarium is similar to an aquarium, but it is for plants instead of fishes. The major components are substrates and plants. The substrates can be layered with artificial solids such as hydro stone, lightweight expanded clay aggregates (LECA), activated charcoal, soil mix, peat moss, and perlite as well as vermiculite. Some terrarium makers choose to add a layer of preserved sphagnum moss. The living materials can be different types of mosses and small plants. For bigger glass containers, small trimmed trees such as bonsais can be added too. The substrate choice depends on plant species. For example, substrates with a high ratio of perlite or vermiculite are ideal for plants that need porous soil. It is better to have a good proportion of soil mix with other substrates to ensure porosity and good drainage. Excessive water may cause the plant to die from root rot.

The process of making a terrarium is easy and satisfying. Before start, prepare tools such as glassware, forceps/ tweezers, long spatula, and other necessary materials. The substrates are added as the base of the container layer by layer, thus giving distinctive layers of substrates that made up of different colors. Hydrostone or LECA are often placed at the bottom to build the basement. These big solids provide aeration if the roots grow deep into the base layer. Hydrostone and LECA are good artificial solids as they have the ability to hold and retain moistures. On top of the basement, a layer of preserved and dried sphagnum moss can be pressed into a firm layer. This can balance and even the top of the hydro stone and LECA which are uneven surfaces. It also helps to filter out and preventing other substrates from draining into the base layer. Then, a layer of activated charcoal can be added in the form of granular or in powder form. Activated charcoal can absorb or bind toxic chemicals and waste substances in the terrarium. Ather that, the top layer could be a soil mix made up with peat moss, and perlite or vermiculite.

The plant materials that are popular for terrarium are Fittonia sp. and Polyscias sp. Other plants such as ferns, lycopods, and small rooted cuttings of trees are also great choices. To make it look greener and natural, cover the soil mix with green mosses as a cushion layer, which represents the carpet grass while the plants are representing the trees. In addition, decorative stones in different colors, shapes, and sizes can be added to balance and improve the overall scenery. Such as bean pebbles, jade bean pebbles, polished pebbles, river rocks, natural stones, and gravel as well as colored crystal quartz, and colored sands. Small pebbles can be arranged into a clear path, whereas big stones can be decorated as hills.

To make an exciting terrarium, the slope of the soil mix can be adjusted by adding or subtracting the substrates to create a three-dimensional effect. This type of terrarium raising with a naturalism concept whereby the scenery looks like a natural landscape. One of the principles is always to avoid having a symmetrical view. For instance, if one would like to add two rocks on the left and right, always choose a big and a small rock to make it looks natural. To create a path using color sands and pebbles, the path is suggested to be S-shaped or with some curves instead of a straight path. Since curved paths are naturally and left with imagination. The choice of the plants is also crucial, plants like Polyscias sp. represent a tree with canopy while plants with big and broad leaves like aroids are less favored because small plants with large leaves can barely blend in.

Miniature dolls such as figurines can be added to make the scene more interactive. There are two types of figurines, which are natural and fantasy. Natural-based figurines are found from nature or manmade natural figures such as cow, bird, sheep, couples, houses, bridge, lighthouse, and boat. On the other hand, fantasy-based figurines are the characters of cartoons such as Pokémon, Totoro, Doraemon, and Hello Kitty as well as characters from Disney. Figurines can be inserted into the substrates using a stand or stick. The choice of figurines and the position it placed creating a scene that looks like has a story to tell.

So, what are the benefits of having a creative terrarium? A terrarium is a self-sustaining system in which is watered moderately after layering and decorating and then could be sealed up. The terrarium can be sealed with capping tightly, which is a closed-system terrarium. The closed-system terrarium is a low maintenance modern green whereby it forms a mini-ecosystem inside the glass container. The water inside the closed-system undergoes a water cycle similar in the nature in which the water evaporates and condensate on the wall then drop back to the substrate. The evaporated form of water is also crucial for mosses since they need to obtain the moisture in the air. The initial volume of the water is the key element to determine the survivability and longevity of the ecosystem. Excessive moisture leads to root rots and stimulates fungus growth, while under watering may result to plant wilting due to dehydration.

Over and under watering can be easily observed through the glass by the wetness of the substrate. For instance, if the water is found at the base layer, which is the layer of hydro stone and LECA, that indicates excessive watering. If the penetration of the water is shallow, which is shown by the darker intensity of the substrate layer, it means it is under-watering. A perfect watering is the substrate is moist, but water is not accumulating at the base layer. However, there are some tips to solve such problems. First, you may open the cap to release the excessive moisture if the system is facing overwatering. If part of the color intensity of the substrate is high at the upper part of the substrate and low at the lower part of the substrate, you may water the system slightly with the help of a dropper or squeeze bottle.

Since it is a closed system, it must be placed at the well-ventilated area with indirect sunlight or indoor artificial lighting at the temperature of about twenty-five degrees Celsius. This is because the glass acts as the magnifying lens that will cause the burn of the plants if the terrarium is exposed to sunlight directly, and the system will be heated up within a short period. Fluctuations of temperature may stimulate fungal growth and root rots. If hairy structures are observed on the plants or mosses, you must remove the plants immediately to avoid the spread of fungus and replaced them with new plants or mosses. Some plants may not be able to perform well in the system due to the damage to the roots in the planting process. Therefore, it is essential to observe the system for the first week before the system is stabilized. A stabilized closed-system terrarium can last long up to decades, depending on the size of the containers. Trimming of the leaves is necessary to keep the system neat and clean.

There are also open-system terrariums because not all the plants can be grown in a closed system. Since there is no drainage system so that excess water will be accumulated at the bottom of the container, which will lead to the death of the plants sensitive to high water content such as air plants and succulents. Therefore, succulents and air plants are commonly displayed in an open-system terrarium with different substrates as compared to a closed-system terrarium. For succulents open-system terrarium, the substrate consists of a higher ratio of perlite. Soil mix for succulents should avoid vermiculite as vermiculite will absorb and retain the water, whereas perlite is physically inert to the water. For air plants open-system terrarium, there is not necessary to prepare soil mix. The substrate can be replaced with pebbles, stones, rocks, or sands as air plants obtain the water through the moisture in the air. However, for an open-system terrarium, maintenance including water or spray the system frequently is required, about once a week depends on the plant species.

Some frequently asked questions such as Can we use other types of containers like plastic containers? Do we need to put fertilizers in?”. The type of container is optional but glass is the best for its transparency. Plastic containers are not recommended for the longterm since they tend to degrade over time, and tiny scratches are often visible thus affects the artistic view. It’s important to clean the surface of the location placing the glass terrarium. Because terrarium is relatively heavy, and if there is any shape object like sand, it will cause the glass to break due to the pressure and force exerted to it. Therefore, it is advised to place a cushioned mat under the terrarium. Since one of the advantages that come with the terrarium is its low maintenance, there is no need to add fertilizer into the system. The fertilizer will speed up the growth of the plants, making them too big to fit in, which is not the purpose of building a terrarium, and too much nitrogen may stimulate fungal growth including pathogens.

The size of the container varies from vial to room size. A small greenhouse can be built as a closed-system terrarium. There are several variants or upgrade versions based on different designs. The vivarium often decorated with different shapes of the driftwood and some jungle plant species to mimic the environment of a forest. Viva in Latin means “to live”, and vivarium is scenery with life in a glass. It’s popular to make vivarium for exotic pets such as frogs, vampire crabs, turtles, lizards, and snakes. According to the animal types, a vivarium can be an insectarium that the tank is specifically used to develop insects as well as other arthropods like spiders, beetles, cockroaches, ants, bees, millipedes, centipedes, crickets, grasshoppers, stick insects, scorpions, and mantids. An insectarium that uniquely built as an ant farm is referred to as formicarium in which formic means ants in Latin.

Variants version such as paludarium combines both aquarium and terrarium which is semi-aquatic. It can host a wide range of plants such as submerged, floating, or terrestrial plants that co-living with fishes, shrimps, newts, crabs, and even turtles. Paludarium is often decorated with a waterfall equipped with an ionizer that uses ultrasonic to vaporize the water, thus giving a vapor effect in the tank. Another landscape in glass that similar to that of paludarium is riparium. Riparium means “coastal, bank, or shore” that differs slightly from paludarium. The only difference is that riparium does not have the protruding shores. Besides, riparium has a piece of land in the corner that mimics the riverside.

All kinds of terrariums mentioned above are suitable for indoor with well-ventilated conditions at room temperature. Choose the type that fits the most, or create your own type since creativity has no limitation. As a hobby of feeding fish, raise the pets, trimming the plants, building a beautiful terrarium not just bring extra color to your life but also is a great way to relieve stress by connecting with nature in a unique way.