As you might have gathered from some of my previous posts, I love plants. The only problem is I’m not actually very good at caring for them, and my low success rate when it comes to keeping greenery alive has put me off trying anything new. So, when I was invited to join a group of lifestyle and design bloggers at a terrarium-building workshop with TV botanist and author James Wong, I jumped at the chance.
The event was organised by Fiskars, one of the world’s oldest companies, which was founded in Finland all the way back in 1649. It’s perhaps best known for its iconic orange-handled scissors, first designed in 1967, but it also makes a huge range of gardening tools.
The aim of the afternoon was to show just how easy it is to have a go at gardening, and counter the myth that growing plants is restricted to those with huge plots of land and lots of spare time. The setting, London’s Sky Garden, was certainly appropriate: perched 37 storeys above the city at the top of the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ skyscraper and filled with towering palms, it’s living proof that greenery can thrive in almost any setting.
Over lunch, James and the team at Fiskars chatted to us about their passion for making the benefits of gardening accessible to everyone, even if you only have a window sill for a couple of herb boxes. In fact, it turns out we’re all biologically programmed to be drawn to plants: our ancestors’ need to gather food means the human eye can pick out more shades of green than any other colour, and our attraction to flowers is the result of the fact that they often mark the location of growing fruit. What’s more, humans’ natural habitat is forest margins, which provide an open landscape where we can search for food and shelter to retreat to afterwards. Many garden designers subconsciously recreate this kind of environment, and over time we have come to associate plants with safety and security.
James also talked about the health benefits of plants, explaining how they clean the air, regulate humidity, reduce stress levels and aid concentration. And he dismissed the idea that gardening is about following complicated rules and pruning schedules, stating that there are no gardening mistakes, only gardening experiments – something which certainly made me feel a little better about the number of plants I’ve destroyed over the years!
To prove just how easy it is to get started, we then unleashed our own green fingers by creating our terrariums.
There’s a huge trend for terrariums at the moment, but they have a long history. Their forerunner, the ‘Wardian Case’, was devised in 1829 by botanist Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward to solve the problem of how to ship plant specimens around the world. After observing a fern growing inside a sealed jar, he designed a miniature greenhouse-like box which formed its own microclimate, supporting plants on their journeys. It was an invention that played a huge role in global development, and without it we wouldn’t have rubber plantations in Malaysia or tea estates in India.
The principle behind the ‘Wardian Case’ was soon seized upon by wealthy Victorians, who made elaborate terrariums to display plants indoors, and they briefly became popular again in the 1970s. They’re now having another major resurgence, but James explained how most of the terrariums he sees on Pinterest and Instagram are doomed to fail as they use the wrong plants. To create one which will survive for years to come, here’s what you need to do:
- Come up with a theme for your terrarium to help guide your planting and styling. Inspired by southern Spain and North Africa, I decided on ‘desert minimalism’; others in the group chose the likes of ‘mossy forest floor’ or ‘Californian garden’.
- Select your container. James explained that it needs to be at least 30cm wide and can be almost any shape (bowl, cube, bottle) – just don’t choose a pyramid as this will stunt the plants’ growth.
- Cover the base with a 3cm layer of clay granules to improve drainage, then add a thick layer of compost. James recommended a depth of around 5cm.
- Create a miniature landscape with height and interest. We used rocks and branches, but you could let your imagination run wild and play around with all sorts of things.
- Add your plants, choosing ferns and other species which prefer a humid environment. James suggested using a variety of heights and clustering the plants in odd-numbered groups, which tend to look more appealing to the eye. He also recommended leaving at least a third of the soil unplanted.
- Cover the remaining soil with gravel, moss or creeping plants.
- Water the soil moderately, and then mist the plants with a spray bottle.
- Stand the terrarium in a bright spot, away from direct sunlight. It will need little care other than a light misting every couple of weeks or so.
If you want to have a go at planting your own terrarium, Fiskars has plenty of handy products to help, including trowels and miniature pruning sheers. And, for more easy gardening tips, follow James Wong on Instagram and Twitter at @botanygeek.
This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Fiskars, but as ever all words and opinions are my own.
All photography by Abi Dare