Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Terraria Mania



I suppose its not really a mania if it's only two terrariums (and wouldn't it be a manium in the singular anyway)? But the title sounded fun so I'm going to leave it.

At any rate, I've been reading about making terrariums lately and I finally made two of them this past week. I had found an aquarium at Goodwill for $8 right before Christmas, and had entertained thoughts of trying to fashion it into a sort of Wardian Case, but trying to make an inexpensive glass roof for the tank was not as easy as I had hoped (I learned something about how to cut glass in the process, but not how to do it very well, let's just say).

So I decided to make a simplified version and just added a bit of embellishment to the aquarium (I glued ornamental metal ribbon around the top and base of it to dress it up a bit). Then after having read several very clever and amusing books on making terrariums (Tiny World Terrariums and Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass were two of the most inspiring and helpful titles), I thought about what would be fun versions of terrariums, and came up with a few ideas. I bought about ten tiny starter plants from a local nursery, and also, because I have been reading about moss gardening, during a thaw last weekend I gathered some moss that was growing in one of our windbreaks and included that in the larger terrarium.

I also looked around at my son's collections of rocks, fossils, toy dinosaurs and other small toys (the Smurfs were left over from my brother's and my own childhood collections, so they have a special -- and fairly silly -- place in my childhood memories). After picking up some large bags of gravel and some horticultural charcoal (which aerates and cleans the soil), I got to the fun part: playing with dirt, plants and toys.

For those of you who haven't made a terrarium before, it's pretty simple:

  1. Find a container, either one that is open at the top or with a lid (although it's best if the lid does not completely seal, because some air flow prevents mold from growing).
  2. Put a 1-2" layer of gravel at the bottom of the container for drainage.
  3. Place a piece of paper on top of the gravel to prevent soil from washing down into the gravel.
  4. Add a little horticultural charcoal on top of the paper.
  5. Top with a couple inches of soil.
  6. Plant a selection of tiny plants into the soil, adding more soil as needed.
  7. Add non-biodegradable decorative items for amusement.
  8. Mist the soil around the plants as needed with a spray bottle, and remove the lid if the glass becomes fogged up. 


It's a bit hard to see inside because of the multiple glass reflections, but here's the large terrarium I made: A forest scene populated by Smurfs going about their various leisure activities.



Here's an aerial view that's not affected by the reflections.



And a closer view... The plants, from left to right are (back row): Butterfly Syngonium, Begonia, Autumn Fern Dryopteris, (center): Baby tears Soleirolia and Polka Dot Plant Hypostes. The groundcover is one or more kinds of moss I found growing in my windbreak.

I thought this little guy was the funniest of all, intent on chopping down the Begonia. 

And Smurfette is hiding among the plants on the other side of the terrarium, which include a Pteris fern, Club Moss Selaginella, Heart Fern Hemionitis, and a miniature Phalaenopsis orchid (the tiny orchid is planted, pot and all, below the soil line). 

An overview of the terrarium with the partial lid on. I placed a humidity sensor inside for a while to see how humid it was in there, even with only the partial lid.


Since I had a few plants left over and I also had a lidded glass jar that I wasn't using for anything, I decided to make a second terrarium, with a dinosaur theme:


 Two toy dinosaurs and a fossil accompany the ancient ferns and other plants in this 
smaller terrarium. Again, it's hard to get a good photo through the glass.

A clearer photo from above. The plants in here include what I think is probably a miniature Alocasia, a Lemon Button Fern Nephrolepis and another Club Moss Selaginella.

This project was a lot of fun and just the sort of thing to occupy a northern gardener during the winter months. The process of making it and figuring out where to put the plants and toys was the best part, but I'm also looking forward to seeing how the plants grow (or fail to thrive and then die, as also happens sometimes) in the terrariums.

Before this winter, I knew almost nothing about indoor plants, but I've slowly been learning a bit over the past few months. Making and caring for a terrarium is yet another part of indoor gardening that I've enjoyed learning about.

I highly recommend making a terrarium -- it's fun to do and the plants require less care than other house plants, because they don't need to be watered as often due to the higher humidity, which also results in healthier plants than the dry, centrally-heated air in our homes does. And if you have children or grandchildren, they often find terrariums as fascinating as we do.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Saturday, January 30, 2016

My new white, plant-filled bathroom

I've named my friend on the left "Owl-fro" because that's what his crazy hair looks like.... (It's Selaginella kraussiana or Frosty Fern that I got at Aldi before Christmas).


I know this is a garden blog, but I mentioned in my last post that I had discovered the wonderful world of houseplants, but that I was limited by finding enough spots with good light in which to grow them in my house. I decided that since many plants prefer greater humidity than the average forced-air-heated house has in winter, I would like to put more plants in my upstairs bathroom -- however, that north-facing room was pretty dark and there was no place to put plants directly in front of the double window in there.

I had been thinking of giving the room a face-lift anyway, as there were some things about the bathroom that could be improved. We had re-done the bathroom back in 2008 when we bought this house, and it was a GREAT improvement over the 1970s-era look that was there when we bought it:

Back in 2008, when we were first looking at this house:
1970s-style barn board paneling and pale blue fixtures,
plus a plastic shower surround that was discolored by years
of rust stains from our well water. (Robbie is 10 now --
he was only two when this photo was taken! My how
time moves on...)

More powder blue and rustic 1970s style....


Back in 2008, we re-did the shower with white subway tiles, replaced the toilet and sink with retro-1920s-style fixtures and replaced the barnboard with white beadboard. I painted the walls a medium brown because I thought it would look nice with the dark brown floor, windows and door. Fast forward to a few weeks ago:

My upstairs bathroom a few weeks ago: brown walls and dark brown floors. The floor had been
 water-damaged near the shower from the old shower door that swung out across the floor,
dripping water on the floor. We re-stained it, but otherwise just tried to ignore the damage. 

No room to put plants right next to the windows in this room, and note the water damage
on the window sill as well. (Plus, I had never been really happy with the corner cabinets,
which were cheap stock cabinets that I had my handyman install when we bought the
house in 2008. Adding faux-beadboard wallpaper to the panel fronts has improved their
 looks, in my opinion -- I was halfway through that project when I took this photo, and
afterward I painted several coats of paint on the cabinets.)

The bathroom was not bad as it was, but it still had the water-damaged floor near the shower, some water damage on the window sills and the brown walls often made the north-facing room seem dark.

It occurred to me that painting the room a lighter color might increase the reflected light in the room, making it bright enough for plants that prefer indirect light. And I started noticing on sites like Houzz and Pinterest that many bathrooms looked great in an all-white color scheme, especially all-white bathrooms with green plants as the only decorations. The plants became dramatic focal points in the all-white rooms, while preventing the rooms from feeling sterile and lifeless.

I deliberated on the idea of painting everything white for several weeks before deciding to take the plunge -- I don't take lightly the idea of painting over 1920s Arts & Crafts woodwork, but the wood was not in great shape, and I believe that if this room had originally been a bathroom when the house was built (it was an upstairs sewing room), the wood trim would originally have been painted white, as that was very common in kitchens and bathrooms during the 1920s and 1930s. And, as the 1990s decorating guru Christopher Lowell used to chant: "Just because it's wood, doesn't mean it's good."

It took me nearly two whole weeks of painting every day: primer + 3-4 coats each on walls, windows, door, beadboard and floor to finish the project. (I still need to re-caulk the shower, but I'm taking a little break this weekend....) Anyway, here is the end result:

Ta-da! White on white on white. Plus green plants and botanical prints. Note my new
metal art "Birds in a Tree" above the shower; I always wondered what to put up there -- it
needed to be something large in scale and damp-proof -- and after eight years of living in
the house, there is finally something to look at on that wall. 

I found the three glass shelves on sale at Aldi (my new favorite store).

The plant display and one of the botanical prints. Top shelf: Pilea 'Moon Valley and a 'Mahogany' fern; middle shelf: 'Fluffy Ruffles' fern and Fittonia; bottom shelf: Selaginella, cyclamen and Prayer Plant (Maranta), with a Phalaenopsis orchid at bottom.


I love my new, cottage-decor, spa-like, plant-filled, all-white bathroom! It's so much brighter and cleaner in there now.

As for every housekeeper's big question: Yes, I have noticed that the white floors do need to be Swiffer-vac-ed every few days (as I anticipated) and there are a disconcerting number of mystery splotches on the floor every day -- but those things were on the floor before, and it makes me feel quite queasy to think of how much filth must have been on my bathroom floor all the time before. I'm one of those people who doesn't clean something unless I notice that it looks dirty (or unless people are coming over to visit), so I feel better knowing that my bathroom will be much cleaner going forward, even if I have to do the cleaning more often.

No more water-damaged floor in front of the shower any more (I filled the damaged spots
with caulk before priming and painting several coats of paint over them). And I love my
big, healthy-looking new ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas Zamifolia) on the floor. It really adds
shiny green life to the room. I might buy a new, white-colored space heater if I run across one.


I'm very happy with the results, and I'm also happy that I was able to transform this room for very little money: Altogether I spent just under $220:
  • $30 on floor paint
  • $30 on trim paint
  • $20 on the faux-beadboard wallpaper at Lowes
  • $30 on the three glass shelves that I found just when I needed them at Aldi (I love Aldi!)
  • $18 on white pots (mostly at thrift stores, closeouts at Lowes and the cute owl pot half off at Hobby Lobby)
  • $40 on the large white planter and ZZ Plant from Lowes
  • $36 for a new white bath rug and garbage can at Target
  • $12 for the large "birds in a tree" metal art above the shower (half off at Hobby Lobby)
  • $3 on color copies of botanical prints found online

I already had the wall paint, the picture frames which I spray-painted white, the curtains and most of the plants, which had been in my upstairs hallway in the east window (I think they will like the humidity in here better, especially the ferns, which were starting to curl up and turn brown at the tips).

Anyway, I'm really glad to be done with this project (as is my family, who were certainly getting tired of the hallway outside being filled with ladders, paint cans, tools, etc. and having to shower with the bathroom door open for the past two weeks so the day's paint would dry properly!). Time to take it easy for a while.

I hope you are making progress on your own projects, whether they are home improvement or other kinds of endeavors, and that your winter is going well (December and January down, February and March to go...). Thanks so much for reading! -Beth

Friday, January 15, 2016

January Update

Not too much going on outside these days, so I thought I'd share this little painting of a flowery front porch that I recently found at a consignment store.  It's such a cheery little canvas, so I have it propped up on my desk against several piles of books. It makes me feel oddly happy to look at it.

Hello everyone! Just checking in with a mid-January update, so you don't think I've totally disappeared. Now that the holidays are over and cold weather has finally caught up with us (after our strangely warm December), it's a good time to for me to hole up inside with a warm cat on my lap and a big pile of books.

Mostly I've been reading about sunrooms and conservatories, and about the plants that are commonly grown in them, as well as house plants in general. I'm still hoping to enclose my front porch into a sunroom this year, and I've been researching this and planning the layout and materials of the project, as well as thinking about the plants I'd like to grow in the sunroom. My collection of books on the subjects of conservatories, sunrooms, greenhouses and house plants has grown to nearly forty titles, and has provided me with many hours of research and dreaming.

This is a particularly inspiring book, filled with portraits
of drool-worthy plant-filled conservatories, garden rooms and
indoor oases, all in the US (not in England -- most books
about conservatories are published there).


Additionally, I've been adding to my house plant collection -- I honestly thought that the season for buying plants wouldn't start until April, but I discovered the world of house plants this fall. Yes, I've had a few indoor plants before, but I've been on somewhat of a binge for the past two months. It's amazing how many beautiful and interesting plants can be found at Lowe's, Walmart, Aldi and one of the local nurseries, and for incredibly reasonable prices. My husband is beginning to look askance each time I bring home a few more, and it's true that I do sometimes wonder where I will put them -- but I guess that's not so different than buying outdoor plants (except that I have five acres to plant in outside, and only a limited number of windows in my house...). 

Here are a few shots of my growing indoor gardens:

My latest acquisitions, from Wednesday's trip to town, which I haven't had a chance to repot yet. I found the beautiful Calathea on the left at Lowe's, the potted hyacinth and bulb vase at Aldi, and both the strangely textured Pilea 'Moon Valley' and alien-looking Hoya carnosa Hindu Rope at Walmart -- all at extremely reasonable prices.

I wanted to grow some plants on my kitchen windowsill, but it's less than three inches deep. So I bought a drawer organizer 15" long by 3" wide, and put mini plants in 2" pots that are intended for terrariums in it. About twice a week I put the pots in a flat-bottomed bowl and fill the bottom of it with warm water to water the plants. Eventually I will probably have to repot these and buy new mini plants, but it should tide me over for some time, giving me a little "mini garden" to look at when nothing is green or growing outside my window. 

My upstairs east window is becoming filled with several kinds of ferns (including an unusual Blue Star fern or Phlebodium aureum mandaianum at left), an Arabica coffee plant, an Artemisia and a little Ficus 'Curly Fig'.

OK, my husband may be somewhat justified in his concern. It should be obvious that I need a sunroom so
that our bedroom, with its south facing double window, can be freed from the plant takeover.

But isn't it beautiful? A closeup of the plant table, with Phalaenopsis orchids, the lovely pink and green Aglaonema and the
fascinating "ZZ plant" or Zamioculcas zamiifolia at right with its shiny architectural leaves.

I think being able to focus on indoor plants has made this winter easier for me so far. I know we've had an unusually warm and easy winter (until the bitterly cold recent temperatures), but compared to last year, when I was thoroughly ready for spring on December 26th, I feel much less desperate for spring's green growth and flowers.

Now I just need to find a few more spots for some plants.... I am getting ready to repaint our upstairs bathroom in an all-white scheme in order to maximize the north light in that room. The ferns would love the higher humidity in there. I'll post photos of the before-and-after when I've finished the project. 

And I'm thinking of making a terrarium or two, and trying to figure out how to transform a fish tank that I found at Goodwill into a Victorian-style Wardian Case like the one in the photo below:

This lovely Wardian Case was sold by
Lee Valley and Veritas (although it seems not to be
available any longer). But I want to make one for
around $20, not the $200-$400 that they sell for online.
I'll share my results if I succeed.


Anyway, that's what I've been up to recently. I hope you are enjoying some winter projects as well, and keeping warm too! (Sunday is forecast to stay below o°F all day here, and get down to -11°F [-24°C] at night.... Brrr.)

Thanks for reading! -Beth