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Garden Solutions - February 2011

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Local Blogs - Hillermann Nursery & Florist
Friday, 04 February 2011
You would think that we gardeners would spend the winter months curled up by the fire, perusing seed and bulb catalogs and daydreaming about our gardens in the warmer months ahead. That is well and good from about Christmas mid-January and then we start to get the itch - you know the one - our fingernails are just too clean and it's time to get our hands in the soil. A great way to satisfy your green thumb during the winter is to tackle two classic indoor gardening projects: terrariums and, topiaries.

Terrariums
Picture of a planted terrariumAs temperatures cool, I turn my attention to the many ways I can enjoy the garden indoors. Houseplants are a popular option, but if you are like me, my woeful neglect of the plants often leads to their quick demise. I suppose that is why I am so excited about terrariums. These houseplant arrangements are simple to assemble and the best news is that they will pretty much take care of themselves.

I have a terrarium that has thrived for months with low light and no additional water. It's not so much a miracle as it is the science of nature. The plants inside the terrarium create their own miniclimate, transpiring water vapor that condenses on the glass and then flows back into the soil. Science aside, I find a terrarium fascinating to look at, like a miniature landscape in a jar.

Don't be intimidated by the process of building a terrarium. With all the supplies in hand, you can put one together in a few hours.

Materials:

  • Wide-mouth glass container
  • Something to cover the jar top such as clear plastic wrap, a pane of glass or Plexiglas
  • Potting soil
  • Small plants
  • Pea gravel
  • charcoal
  • Watering can or spray bottle

Directions:
Select a container for the terrarium. For easy access, choose one that has a wide mouth. A fishbowl or aquarium is a good choice. Or an apothecary jar with a glass top is a great choice. If your container does not have a lid, you can cover it with clear plastic wrap, a piece of clear Plexiglas or a sheet of glass.

To avoid insect and disease problems, wash the gravel with hot water and use top-quality, sterile potting soil.

Fill the bottom of the container with about 1 inch of gravel. If your container is especially deep, you may want to use 2 inches. Next add about ½" to ¾'of charcoal, this helps keep the soil sweet and not sour to cause disease.  Top the gravel with 3 inches of soil.

Now comes the fun part: planting the landscape. When you choose plants, select varieties that all have the same growing needs when it comes to light, water and humidity. Slow growers with small leaves are best suited for the confines of a terrarium.

Remove the plants from their pots and plant them in the terrarium just like you would in the garden. Place the taller plants in the back, mid-size plants in the middle and low-growing things like moss toward the front. If possible, keep the foliage away from the sides of the container. Once you have the plants in place, moisten the soil lightly and put the lid in place.

How often you will need to water your terrarium depends on how tightly the lid fits. A loose-fitting lid lets moisture escape. A good indication of when to water is the condensation on the glass. If there is no condensation, water the soil very lightly. If there is heavy condensation, remove the lid to allow the terrarium to air out.

The neat thing about terrariums is that you are only limited by your imagination. Add large rocks to represent craggy mountains or small mirrors for ponds. You can even create a desert landscape with succulents and cacti. Good terrarium plants include:

  • Acorus                                                    African violets
  • Creeping fig                                          Moss
  • Maidenhair FERN                             Needlepoint ivy
  • Oxalis                                                      Peperomia
  • Prayer plant                                         Peacock moss OR Irish moss

Topiary
Topiary can be described as the art of clipping shrubs into ornamental forms to create living sculptures. The word comes from the Latin word topiarus, meaning landscape gardener. This artful form of gardening can be traced to 1st century A.D. Roman gardeners. I like topiary because, in spite of its rigid appearance, it is quite flexible in application. A standard topiary is an excellent choice for punctuating an entry or, when used in a series, to create a sense of rhythm. And of course, the fantastic forms one can create are a natural for bringing your garden a touch of whimsy.

I always enjoy discovering new and interesting plants. Wire vine is a vigorous climber ideal for training into topiaries. Usually plants that look this delicate can be fussy, but don't let its appearance fool you. This little guy is tough and is a rapid grower. Wire vine is native to the Mediterranean region so it's accustomed to hot, dry conditions. I think that's why it's so ideally suited to our homes because, particularly in the winter, the air can become hot and dry. It can also withstand the caretaker who forgets to water it from time to time. Other plants that make good indoor topiaries include ivy, rosemary, thyme and lavender.

So try your luck at indoor gardening this month!  It will make every day feel like spring.

Till next month,

Sandi Hillermann McDonald

http://www.hillermann.com 

 

 
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