With our green thumbs itching for just a little more creativity, we discovered the world of terrariums. Similar to an aquarium’s portable water-environment, a terrarium is a sealed glass container for growing plants. The inspiration for creating our own terrarium came from reading the book Tiny World Terrariums by the creators of Twig Terrariums in Brooklyn, NY, Michelle Inciarrano and Katy Maslow.
Terrariums demonstrate the science of the greenhouse effect where plant life independently exists by recycling its own moisture. After spritzing the moss with water and closing the lid, heat pours through the glass and causes the water in the soil to evaporate. Condensation forms on the glass walls until the droplets become too large and fall to re-water the plants and repeat the cycle.
Enclosed glass containers are the perfect canvas to create scenes of tiny figures and moss-covered landscapes. Bringing nature into our apartment reminded us of our passion for hiking and exploring the unknown when we first ventured into the Porcupine Mountains for our honeymoon in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan just one year ago.
While terrariums can exist in relatively dry conditions with succulent plants, we wanted to create an enclosed moisture-loving environment similar to the foggy, rainy weather we experienced on our trip.
(Below Left: Open Terrarium in a dry environment; Right: Closed Terrarium in a damp environment)
The first step to our terrarium was the search for our glass container in local antique shops and second-hand stores. I finally found a vase-like glass jar with a cork lid for only $5.00 from a Goodwill store. With the terrarium’s shape confirmed, I designed a plan detailing the materials needed to portray the feeling of hiking the wilderness together.
The rocky bottom layer provides drainage for the soil so that water doesn’t sit in the roots and mold. I used beach glass and colorful stones that I had collected as a kid from road trips to New England for the first layer. Potting soil was built up on a slant to create the illusion of a mountainous terrain. Lastly, I would need a variety of moss species to design the hilly forest scene.
While the book on terrariums mentioned finding your own moss outside, they also suggested requesting permission to remove the moss if in a park or public place. There are also specific species of moss that are not allowed to be removed and others that could be infested. Not wanting to chance it on digging up my own moss, I visited and called gardening stores in the area to buy from a local shop.
Unfortunately, I could not find live moss from the gardening stores in our area so I continued the search online until I found a business called Appalachian Emporium. They are a family-owned company in the Appalachian Mountains that harvests moss from their private land directly in the forest. I was able to choose a beautiful variety of moss including Reindeer moss, Pixie cups, British solider lichen, Cushion moss, and Sheet moss for only $10.00 which arrived in just over a week in ziploc bags. This provided a diverse mixture of elements to play with as I arranged the tiny pixie cups and red-flowered British soldiers with sections of soft, fresh moss.
The finishing touches to our honeymoon terrarium included adding tiny people representing us hiking in the woods. I could have bought manufactured hiking figurines online or from Hobby Lobby but they came at a premium and wouldn’t look anything like us. The miniature people would be much more meaningful if I created them myself. I found that polymer clay is water-resistant and sturdy enough to maintain its form when baked. I also added a couple of twigs for the path along the hillside. I used colored polymer clay so that I wouldn’t need to experiment with buying different types of paint that could melt or contaminate the plant life in the warm container.
After assembling the terrarium, I had enough live moss leftover to build one final creation for our cat, Charlie. This smaller glass does not have a lid so it gets watered more frequently.
Building a terrarium is a fascinating process that can add a bit of life to the home with minimal maintenance for even the most novice of gardeners. Now that I’ve created a terrarium, I seem to always be on the lookout for moss when running the trails at OxBow Park.