You won’t find many succulents in the terrariums in Tovah
Martin’s beautifully illustrated book The New Terrarium (Clarkson-Potter, with
photos by Kindra Clineff), but the fact that—even with non-recommended
plants—my terrarium is going strong after 14 months demonstrates that this may
be the ultimate low-maintenance garden. Because I now know from experience that
a terrarium requires almost zero care.
The basic guidelines Martin outlines include using smaller, (generally) shade-loving plants that can tolerate high humidity, supplying indirect light,
and combining soil, small pebbles, and activated charcoal in the medium. As for
containers, she includes a wide range of creative choices, including:
•Wardian cases and cloches: the mainstream terrarium venues
•Covered tureens: great for groundcovers
•Aquariums: they’re already watertight, and can be covered
with a pane of glass
•Any kind of mason jar, vase, or other glass vessel that
works for you
Watering is the big mystery with terrariums, because there
is no set rule, but I know that mine requires basically none. Once in a while,
you need to take a look, feel the soil, and monitor the health of the plants.
Fertilizing is rarely, if ever, needed. And a lot of this depends on whether you decide to have completely enclosed plants or an opening at the top, which still provides greater humidity.
There are pages of ideas here, as well as step-by-step
directions, all illustrated attractively and helpfully. Some of the terrariums
have minimal plants, acting instead as captured three-dimensional still
lifes that feature miniature cairns and other objects. Other ideas are fun for kids, including the use of carnivorous plants, which I know we’ve discussed as terrarium subjects before. And then there are the ideas for advanced users—i.e., orchid terrariums.
Martin also writes about the former role of the cloche as protection outdoors for early-blooming plants such as fritillarias, crocus, and
snowdrops; they are rarely used for this purpose now, but I was intrigued by
her idea of digging up some spring bulbs and transplanting them into a cloche
until they fade.
There is plenty of out-of-the-glass-box thinking here. It
may be too late this year, but The New Terrarium could provide some stunning
gift ideas for the next holiday season. I know that my terrarium, which I enjoy
in my office all year long, is one of the best gifts I have ever received. And now
I’m inspired to do my own terrariums, using the plants that are supposed to be
better suited for them.
A word on Tovah Martin: Martin is the author of several books, including Old Fashioned Garden, Tasha Tudor’s Garden, and View from a Sketchbook, but she is also highly regarded for her work chronicling the New York Botanical Garden’s Seasonal Walk.