In the Budcast released on 21st August, I read a few excerpts from the following interview with Beth Otway of pumpkinbeth.com If you check out Beth’s website, you’ll see she is a terrarium expert! Her blog features incredibly detailed information about her experiments with terrariums, accompanied by the most amazing photographs, so do check it out. Beth was the first person I thought of speaking to about terrariums and here she is with answers to some of the more commonly asked questions about growing in glass;
1). What is it about terrariums that interests you?
I have always found terrariums to be so interesting and exciting, just thinking about terrariums makes me smile! I love planting terrariums and bottle gardens, landscaping miniature worlds, and creating new growing environments. Terrariums can be very beautiful, they can really enhance your home, whatever your style or budget.
A terrarium offers me an opportunity to provide different growing conditions for my plants that I could not otherwise offer. With a terrarium I can create a more humid atmosphere, which will enable me to grow a whole range of plants that will only succeed in a humid environment. I find that opportunity very exciting!
2). Can you give me a brief overview of the types of containers you use for your terrariums?
I’ve made terrariums out of so many things, from: glass bottles, jam jars, carboys, old fish bowls and tanks, reptile houses, vases, glasses, pasta jars, bowls……. I am always on the lookout for opportunities, I look in charity shops, on eBay, everywhere!
I have all kinds of terrariums, from very simple glass terrariums and bottle gardens, to specialised, automated terrariums like the BiOrbAir. I even have terrariums that I have designed myself that automatically water the plants that are growing inside!
3). What are your top performing terrarium plants for beginners?
Fittonias are absolutely fantastic terrarium plants, whatever colour scheme or style you favour, there’s a Fittonia for you! Fittonias are commonly called ‘nerve plants’, after the coloured veining of their leaves. They’re very handsome plants, they have a luminescence and glow, which really lightens up the planting inside a terrarium. Fittonias are forgiving plants, they’re so easy to grow, providing you have the right conditions; they require high humidity and low light levels to flourish. These evergreen perennials are perfectly suited to growing inside a terrarium.
If you favour a white and green colour scheme, you may like to plant Fittonia albivenis ‘Mosaic White’ with its fresh green leaves with white veining, or perhaps if you’re creating a more vibrantly coloured terrarium, you might choose Fittonia albivenis ‘Skelton’, with its glowing red veined leaves. There are many different coloured Fittonias available, you’ll find plants with white, pink, red, and orange veining, I am sure that you’ll find a Fittonia to compliment both your indoor planting scheme and your décor.
4). What are some of the common mistakes that people make with their terrariums?
A terrarium trend which has been going on for ages now and doesn’t seem to be abating, is the fashion for planting cacti and other succulents in terrariums. Cacti and succulents tend to be plants that originate from dry, arid, bright and sunny environments, they like free draining soil and to be grown in a container that has drainage holes, so the water can run through the pot. These plants do not succeed in the very humid environments that a terrarium creates. Rather ironically, cacti and succulents grow best without a terrarium! Cacti and succulents make super house plants, if you’d like try growing these lovely plants, choose a container that has drainage holes, and use a gritty, sandy, open free draining, peat free compost. These types of plants tend to be great choices for container plants for a conservatory, a light, bright room, or a window sill.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people are still very keen to use a lightbulb to create a terrarium! It’s a novel idea, but lightbulbs do not make good terrariums - lightbulbs are small and fragile, so they are much more likely to break. The tiny size of the lightbulb creates problems for any plants you try to grow inside, with terrariums bigger is definitely better! Larger terrariums are longer lasting and easier to care for. The greater the size of your terrarium, the more options you have open to you for planting, which is always a good thing! You could create a small terrarium in a jam jar, but clear glass containers that measure 20cm (8 inches) in diameter, (or larger) work best.
5). If somebody is interested in mounting an orchid or other epiphyte on a piece of wood, can they use any old piece of wood? If not, what wood would you recommend and where might they buy some?
Cork bark works really well as a mount for most orchids and many other epiphytes. There are so many advantages of using cork – it’s a really environmentally friendly product. We use the cork that the cork oak trees produce in all manner of ways: for wine corks, cork tiles, and for mounting orchids on! The cork oak, which is also known by its botanical name of Quercus suber, can be harvested of its cork bark without being cut down, so the tree continues living – which is rather wonderful! After the cork bark is removed from the tree and harvested, the cork oak trees will continue growing, and following on from that harvest, in another seven to ten years’ time the same trees will produce another harvest of cork. For me this is another reminder of the wonder of nature!
Pressed cork tiles are widely available, you can cut these to size and mount your orchids onto them, or you can purchase cork bark, (which is what I use), in pet shops, florist shops, eBay, and online. Each time I have used cork inside a terrarium I have written about, I have listed the name of the shop that I made my purchase from.
6). You garden naturally and I’ve read that you don’t use chemical controls in your garden. If you have an outbreak of pests in your terrarium, how would you deal with them?
In my garden I don’t use any controls, I have no wish to kill any creatures, whatever they are. Although, this year I have used some nematodes to control the numbers of slugs and snails in my Trials Beds outside.
This year I have started using SB Plant Invigorator on my orchids. SB Plant Invigorator is a soap-based product that controls aphids, red spider mite, mealy bug, and white fly, SB can help with some fungal problems too. I use SB Plant Invigorator regularly on my orchids, but I don’t use this product outside, as I have no wish to kill the aphids, or any other pests in my garden. I think gardening is all about balance, without aphids there wouldn’t be any ladybirds. I enjoy keeping a natural garden, I love to see caterpillars, insects, and every kind of creature in my garden.
You can also use Biological Controls in your terrarium to control pests. A Biological Control is the natural predator of a pest, so for example, ladybirds are a natural predator of aphids. As you might already be imagining, biological controls aren’t always the answer for terrariums, especially for small, open terrariums – if you introduced a pack of ladybirds to your open terrarium, it’s likely that the ladybirds would escape and be climbing up, (or out) of your window within a few moments of their introduction!
You can order Biological Controls for spider mite, mealy bugs, and other pests online. The control for spider mite is called Phytoseiulus persimilis, which sounds a bit of a mouthful. This is another mite, but unlike spider mites, which feed on a plant’s sap, these predatory mites feed on spider mites. I have used Biological Controls successfully, with great results inside many of my closed terrariums.
7). You’ve been trialling BiOrbAir products, this is a serious bit of kit for someone looking to take their terrarium growing to the next level. What does the BiOrbAir allow you to do that you can’t in a normal terrarium?
I love my BiOrbAir terrariums! If you’ve not heard of it, the BiOrbAir is a specialised, automated terrarium, it has been specially designed to grow plants rather beautifully indoors. The BiOrbAir has many great features, including an ultrasonic misting unit that maintains a constant humidity level automatically (and on demand – there’s a button you can press to operate the misting unit!) sending out a fine swirl of mist over your plants if the humidity level drops. The BiOrbAir’s LED lights are set to the same colour temperature as daylight, they bring a lovely ambiance and warm light to a room, and the BiOrbAir has a carbon filter and fan for air circulation. Everything you need for your BiOrbAir comes as part of the package, the only thing that you’re left to provide yourself are the plants.
If you plant up a BiOrbAir terrarium with Fittonias, ferns, and other terrarium plants that are planted directly into the compost inside the BiOrbAir, you then fill up the BiOrbAir’s base reservoir with water, and its ultrasonic misting unit with Humidimist (a specially formulated, remineralised water with low conductivity produced for use inside the BiOrbAir), you can leave your plants and go on holiday without having to worry about any plant care or watering until you get home, even if you were away for three weeks, your plants would be fine.
It’s not quite as easy for orchids however - for epiphytic orchids – orchids that are growing upon cork bark, rather than being planted in the BiOrbAir’s compost, these orchids would require additional hand misting every few days.
So, the easiest option, with much less maintenance, is to grow terrarium plants and plant these directly into the BiOrbAir’s compost and the more labour-intensive method is to grow epiphytic plants that are mounted onto cork. Of course, you can also mix the two, and grow epiphytic plants alongside regular terrarium plants, but there are lots of options, whatever your plant preferences.
The BiOrbAir makes terrarium gardening easier. I really appreciate my BiOrbAir terrariums, I love the light that they provide and I love planting up this specialised terrarium, the BiOrbAir enhances my indoor gardening.
I don’t have a preferred seller, none of the links on my website www.pumpkinbeth.com are affiliate links. I don’t make any money from recommending products. I don’t have any connection with these sellers, I don’t think I have purchased any products from these sellers personally, but here are some links of where you can buy the BiOrbAir:
8). Apart from cacti and succulents, have you noticed any other trends in terrariums? Can you see any particular plants or growing styles becoming popular in future?
Trends aren’t always a good thing, I’ve seen a few horrendous, ghastly sprayed plants lately! I saw some plants sprayed with gold or silver paint, and then this week, I saw another terrarium, this time planted with plants and mosses that were sprayed with very vibrant, bright coloured paints. Thankfully, I have only seen a few of these sprayed plants, actually planted in terrariums, but it’s a few too many! Sadly, I have seen other houseplants that have been sprayed in the same manner, I spotted sprayed gold and silver houseplants a couple of years ago; I watched in horror, as the numbers of these sprayed plants increased, especially in the run up to Christmas. I saw these sprayed plants and it makes me feel so sorry – it’s such an awfully unkind way to treat a plant. I hope that this trend doesn’t catch on. Sadly, it’s likely that many of these sprayed plants will die, as the plant’s leaves are effectively blocked from accessing the sunlight they need for photosynthesis by the paint they’re covered in.
I hope to encourage the growing of strong and healthy terrarium plants, by showing my readers how to choose the right plants for their terrarium and by providing plenty of advice on how to care for terrarium plants.
If you’re reading this, don’t be daunted, there are so many super terrarium plants that you can grow. I have a planting list that features all manner of terrarium plants and lots more information at www.pumpkinbeth.com
A huge thank you to Beth for answering my terrarium questions and I hope you find her advice helpful. Do please visit her website for more detailed, expert information and comment below if you have any other terrarium questions you’d like answered.