Mini-garden in a Bottle: Or Recycling Is Beautiful


Have you ever seen one of those tall, skinny bottles with a plant growing in the bottom and wondered how it got in there? Have you noticed a ten-gallon watercooler jug boasting a miniature forest complete with plants, gnarled twigs, and small stones? If you have, then you have seen a terrarium.

A terrarium is an interesting kind of scientific phenomenon that was first discovered by an English botanist, Nathaniel B. Ward, in about 1805. On a walk in the woods he happened to kick a bottle, and he noticed a bit of forest fern growing in the scant soil that had spilled inside. Oblivious to inclement weather, the bit of green flourished within its glass home. His discovery led to the Wardian cases that became popular features in fashionable Victorian homes and were used to transport plants across oceans and continents.

A terrarium is actually a greenhouse in miniature and ought to suggest a bit of natural landscape. It is costly to buy, inexpensive to make, easy to care for, fascinating to watch, and, by following the instructions, you can have the great satisfaction of creating your own terrarium.

Lisa Christensen is the talented daughter of Norman Christensen, owner of the famed San Francisco Greenhouse. Lisa, an active MIA girl, was happy to share with the New Era her secrets for building a successful recycled-bottle garden.

1. Find a glass container, one that has its own lid or that has a narrow opening.

2. Place in the bottom a shallow layer of gravel for proper drainage.

3. Next add a shallow layer of crushed charcoal to keep the soil sweet.

4. Soil comes next—a special mixture, purchased at a nursery or hardware store, of leaf mold humus, and fertilizer.

5. The plants must be small types such as creeping nettle, maidenhair fern or miniature palm, philodendron, African violets, and baby tears that will flourish in the humid conditions of a terrarium. To insert a plant in a narrow-necked bottle, gently rinse the soil from the roots in tepid wafer, leaving the roots pressed close together. Insert the plant carefully into a hole in the soil made with a straightened wire hanger, a skewer, or a long chopstick. With the same tool, gently flip the soil back over the roots and tap it firmly about the stem of the plant.

6. Arrange a twig, rocks, or shells around the plants.

7. Now, add a drop or two of water to barely dampen the soil, and your ecological effort is completed. Place it out of direct sunlight. If the soil appears dry, cover the opening until moisture appears on the walls of the container. You should rarely need to add water.

[photos] Photos by Charles Kemper

[photo] Lisa Christensen, San Francisco, California, uses a wooden skewer to arrange plants in her terrarium.

[photo] Any size or shape of clear glass container can be recycled into a mini-garden container.