March 4, 2011


Several months ago CBS Sunday Morning featured the work of artist Paula Hayes. A glass blower and terrarium builder. (See her incredible creations at this link.) I fell in love with the beauty of her glass encased gardens. (See her 15-ft terrarium at MoMA.)

Then, our local library held a used book sale, and I picked up a copy of Terrariums & Miniature Gardens by the editors of Sunset Books and Sunset Magazine (copyright 1973, retail price: $1.95). I recalled the idea of terrariums, for I don't think I've ever seen one other than in photographs... it seemed like a good extension of my interest in house plants, glass, and miniatures. It also seemed like the answer to my yearning to work with plants, but my limitations to being outside due to severe insect allergies and knees that don't like kneeling.

I put the book aside until the time seemed right...

Meanwhile, I emailed Melissa Kline (writer and crafter) and asked her if she'd be interested in making a terrarium; then we could each blog about it. Melissa said yes and showed me a cool photo of a small terrarium already in her home. We were all set then to gather our materials and compare notes. (Melissa has described the step-by-step process in detail with photos on her blog, Reflections on Writing.)

One day, I was in Columbus (OH) and stopped at a really nice (though poorly signed) Heritage Square Antique Mall on Brice Road in Reynoldsburg, just north of I-70, east of Columbus. Well organized and brightly lit, this 53,000-square-foot store was filled with good quality, clean items. Including a wonderful apothecary jar, I purchased for $28.

My jar sat for a few weeks, and then I took a look at the Sunset book and decided to gather the inside materials for my first terrarium: small rocks, charcoal, dirt, sphagnum moss (all from Lowes), a plant or two, a tiny figurine. I placed a piece of vinyl (a shower curtain liner, so useful for things other than showers) on the kitchen table and started creating my little glass world (see above).

I liked my first results, but what I found challenging was locating the best plant(s). Lowe's did not have a good enough selection. And it's winter. So, for my next terrarium, I will order plants online. Melissa made good progress with her terrarium project and blogged about it here. I think it is interesting to see how different people approach the same creative project.

I found two fishbowl-type containers (about $3 each) and brought those home for a future project, as well as another trip to the antique mall where I found a $10 glass decanter (oh, that narrow opening will be a challenge!) as well as another book Gardens in Glass Containers by Robert C. Baur, copyright 1970 by Hearthside Press, NY.

Here are some interesting tidbits from Baur's book:

In 1832, Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, surgeon by profession, natural historian by avocation, needed to send ferns and grasses from America to Sydney, Australia, a journey of eight months. He secured the plants in two sealed glass cases and...

"When the plants arrived, they were thriving, even though no water whatsoever had been added to the cases lashed to the deck. the globe-trotting greenhouses had weathered extreme changes of temperature ranging from freezing cold to intense heat, and were none the worse for weather or wear.

"Dr. Ward's Australian colleagues promptly refilled the cases, and sent them around the Cape of Good Hope, with equal success. Ward, convinced, published his findings in 1842 in an article entitled 'On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases.'

"By mid-century, Wardian Cases, as the portable greenhouses had come to be known, were traveling the seven seas. In this way some 20,000 tea plants were shipped from Shanghai to the Himalayas, giving birth to the entire Indian tea industry—and this when previous attempts at shipping su ch plants had failed."

Baur went on to write that many garden plants from Europe and America were exchanged via the "Wardian Cases" and "it's said that Kew, the Royal Botanical Garden, imported more plants in the scant fifteen years than in the entire preceding century!" You can see images of Wardian Cases here.

So, as you can see, terrariums have served more of a purpose than simply giving plant enthusiasts a hobby, a way to enjoy plants in the home, office or apartment.

Speaking of where you might see terrariums, yesterday, my son and I were at Easton Town Center in Columbus at the C.O. Bigelow store. Hanging on thin thread over a table were three small terrariums in glass eggshapped containers about ten inches tall. I looked around and found more terrariums among their products, glass containers of all sizes and shapes. "May I take a photo of the terrarium?" I asked, pointing to the main display. "No, we have a store policy and do not allow photographs." (I guess a middle-aged woman with a cell phone is a threat to the entire financial security of Bigelow's, hence I will not add a link. Take that!)

When we left, we noticed a side window, and my son took this photo for me. I wanted to show Melissa how hip we are to be making terrariums!

Here are some of the glass containers you can use for a terrarium. Once you start, you'll be on the lookout for interesting glass containers of all shapes and sizes.
glass teapot, Easter egg, covered salt dish, liquor bottle, old medicine
bottle, a Mason jar, a nursing bottle, a wine or water bottle, apothecary jars, glass aquarium, open globe, fishbowl, cracker jar with metal lid,
cider jug, 5-gallon water bottle...
Additional Resources:
You do not have to live near Portland to appreciate the beautiful terrariums profiled on this site.
Here's another cool source for new jars.
And here is The Jar Store!
Here's a foolproof guide to making a terrarium in one hour.
Here is a gallery of terrarium photos by one creator.
Are you a visual learner? Here are instructional videos by Wes Major.
Mid-size rainforest terrariums (for commercial/public spaces).
More terarriums on a blog.

No time to visit these links now? Then just CLICK HERE and bookmark the category "terrariums" that I've saved for you on My Delicious.
And don't forget to visit Melissa Kline's Reflections: The Terrarium Project blog post.

All the best,
Janice Phelps Williams

March 2, 2011

Old Photos Found in Secondhand Stores

A visual post today... Here are a few old photographs that I have collected over the years. I do not know any of these wonderful people, but I think it is fun to imagine what they, and their lives, might have been like.