Bottle Gardens and Hanging Glass Terrariums
Making a Bottle Garden
Whether it's spring in Alberta and there's still two feet of snow covering my garden, or Fall and you have to bring the green into the house before winter hits, you have this unique option. When I get the garden fever or need some green in my life I have to make a bottle garden. Why? One word... CATS.
When Cola (my cat) came into our house, I had lovely house plants all over. I had a grape ivy I grew from a cutting into a three-foot ball of hanging wonder. It cost me 13 cents for this scraggly poor excuse of a plant that just called out to me as a challenge. At that time I was going through college for greenhouse technology so I was into plants. It took me 3 years to grow that ivy but Cola ate it down to nubs in a matter of a few days.
Funny she never touched the other plants just the grape ivy. She must have thought it tasted good or she just knew it was one of my favorites. After that she just ignored the other plants so I let it slide.
A year later we welcomed another cat to our household. It was about the same time I needed to re-pot my ten foot corn plant. It had reached the ceiling (again) and started to bend over. I had this plant for well over 12 years. Every time it reached a size too big to handle I would cut the top off and re-pot the top. It would just start growing again.
Our newest cat Java... decided that the fresh leaves at the top of the corn plant were just the best tasting thing ever. So ended the life of my corn plant and the gradual reduction of all plants in my house. Nowhere was safe.
Until I discovered bottled gardens.
- Why I Started Growing Bottle Gardens
Making a table top terrarium is a fun project. Once established it literally takes care of itself. There are a few different approaches. I take the simple approach with just plants and natural materials. Others I have seen put in miniatures or figurines. Some make entire miniature dioramas inside the glass walls of the chosen container.
My first terrariums were more for the animals and insects I kept and plants second. I never kept the wild creatures for long, I remember having frogs and toads, turtles and salamanders. I kept insects to feed them like beetles and meal worms. And crickets. I love the sound of crickets when I was out camping so I had a cricket terrarium that kept that sound close by.
That reminds me of a funny story. I was twelve at the time, out of the house beyond the curfew, collecting my second favorite night-time creature, fireflies. I was out at a special spot collecting a whole mason jar full of these little flashers before sneaking back into the house. There's more to the story but it doesn't pertain to this. I had a jar full of these flies and I moved them into what I thought was a wonderful home for them. It was a large fifty gallon aquarium that I was growing mosses and small ferns and ivies in. I had just released the toads I had in there for a month and wanted a change.
The problem arose the next day when my brother took the lid off to look for the toads and not finding them absently left the lid off. When I got home and found that out I was a bit ticked off at my brother and got the chance later to hunt fireflies all over as that night they were flashing all over the unfinished basement where my dad had made our bedroom. Now I had twinkling stars as well as crickets in my room.
So started my days of growing plants for the plants sake and ended my career at collecting insects, thanks to my brother. Let me show you how.
Mini ferns are the best plants for a bottle garden. Club mosses and slow growing perennials are good as well. Another direction is arid plants like cacti or air plants but make sure your don't have a totally enclosed terrarium and you water very little at a time.
Start with a lidded wide mouth jar for your first bottle garden It is easier. Once you have the knack of putting together a bottle garden then the challenge comes in the many different varieties of containers. I've even seen them in old light bulbs, and light fixtures. Try an old hurricane lamp. That's where the fun comes in. Use your imagination.
Bottle gardens allow you to regulate the environment that the plants within require.
Time to Complete Project
Prep Time: 1 hour
Pros: Lasts longer and easier to maintain than regular house plants not container within a glass container.
Cons: Trying to find that perfect match of growing container and plants to go in that container.
- Glass Container
- Porous Material (ie: round beach stones or beach glass)
- Plastic window screen or weed barrier fabric
- Activated charcoal
- Potting soil
- Photo by a2gemma
- Choosing the right bottle is part of the fun. I have seen bottle gardens in mason jars and gallon jugs and even a small teardrop pendant sold as a cellphone charm. They all have one thing in common and that is they are a medium to display plants. I like the gallon cider jugs and the bigger five gallon carboys. They are relatively tall in respect to width and the sides are relatively straight so the view is not distorted too much.
- I would suggest a wide mouth container as your first bottle garden as it is easier to plant and maintain. Once you have a few down, you can try the odd shaped containers or the small mouth jugs.
- If you know anything about potted plants you know that plants need good drainage. Most potted plants have drain holes in the bottom just for that purpose. Because a glass bottle doesn't have the drain holes we need to start with a good thick layer of porous material. As it will be seen outside it better look good. Nice beach rounded stones is a good choice or beach glass, broken glass pieces rounded in the surf. A good few inches is good.
- Next is a piece of window screen or weed barrier material, to prevent the soil from filtering down into the rock layer.
- On top of the screen is a thin layer of activated charcoal. This prevents the terrarium from going sour. You can get the charcoal anywhere you can find aquarium supplies.
- Next a layer of soil that you can plant your specimens in. Roll a piece of newspaper into a funnel to prevent the soil from splashing up on sides of the glass. This reduces the time you have to clean the inside of the glass container after you are done. Making sure the soil is not too wet that it is splashy and noit too dry that it dusty is also a time saver.
- Make sure you balance the space inside the bottle or jar leaving enough room for the plants. One the the beginner mistakes for bottle gardeners is putting in too much soil. Like bonsai, reducing the soil requirements restricts the root growth and thereby slowing down the growth of the plants in the bottle.
- There are many choices for plants. You can have a whole bottle garden with just different mosses. You can have one miniature rose inside a gallon jug safely contained. You could even trim and train plants like bonsai within your bottle garden. That is a challenge. Check you local nursery for plants and plants tips. There are miniature varieties of many common house plants that would work well together.
You'll need these. Many other tools you can make like using a set of chop sticks r a bent coat hanger wire. Making your own tools is a given but having quality tools also reduces the frustration sometimes.
My Favorite Bottle Garden
My favorite bottle garden was an old gallon cider jug that I planted with moss and a single grape ivy. I laid the jug on its side like a ship in a bottle. And put a big cork in the top. On rainy days it looked like it rained in the bottle as well. It was a cool garden but it grew too fast.
Some of the most interesting stuff is found in the comments. Keep reading I have a challenge after.
Now It's Your Turn - Send Me A Photo Of Your Bottle Garden
"Spring is the time of plans and projects."
- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina