All I can think about is the tiny enclosed world of terrariums. It is my editor’s fault. I was just a happy-with-houseplants kind of girl until she mentioned it. But the idea grew, partly because I found Storm The Castle, a delightfully geeky website that features them. I learned that within an hour I could make a small world in a glass bottle, full of plants, miniature people and castles.
Before I knew it, I’d bought an empty vodka bottle in the shape of a skull and coloured aquarium stones on eBay. I rescued a much-prodded Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) from beside the till of my local DIY shed and created a kitsch world, where Venus’ traps flutter like eyelashes in the skull’s sockets. Perhaps winter is getting to me, but nothing has pleased me more.
To make a terrarium you need a large old bottle, an apothecary jar or a huge round glass carboy. You will also need pebbles, compost, plants and tweezers or chopsticks to manoeuvre the plant into position. Place moss between the pebbles and compost to keep the compost moist and slow down its filtering into the pebbles. Lawn moss is perfect. I used peat-free coir-based compost, but houseplant compost is fine.
Buy small plants in 3cm pots online. For larger terrariums, try the missionary plant (Pilea peperomioides), golden pothos vine (Epipremnum pinnatum) or spiderworts (tradescantia species) – none mind low light levels and humid environments. For small terrariums such as apothecary jars, plant a peperomia (eBay is the best bet), or for a sunny windowsill try carnivorous plants. Or raid the garden for moss, lichen or ivy.
Fill the bottom with a couple of centimetres of pebbles and add at least 5cm of compost (with a little moss in between). If the neck of the terrarium is small, knock off as much compost as necessary and negotiate the plant into place with long tweezers.
The pebbles should always be wet to keep the compost damp and provide humid conditions. Use rainwater for carnivorous plants. As the Venus flytrap likes flies, I didn’t replace the bottle stopper.
The plant will provide enough oxygen, carbon dioxide and moisture to keep itself alive in the sealed terrarium. They can live for decades with you doing zilch. That’s a little too passive for my liking, hence the flytrap. The glass provides a moist environment to keep it happy and if a fly should confuse the skull as a place to explore, well, I’m not responsible.