Winter still has a few weeks to go, and the planting season doesn’t begin in earnest until early May. Why not breathe some fresh air into your home or office with a terrarium?
Terrariums are hot! Garden centers, hobby shops and floral-design studios are stocking all things terrarium. Terrain (914 Baltimore Pike, Glen Mills, just east of Longwood Gardens), one of the most-talked-about home-and-garden destinations in the region, is a terrarium-lover’s paradise. Classes sell out instantly, and the on-site restaurant is even located in a greenhouse.
The terrarium phenomenon is not new. As far back as 500 B.C., glass containers were being used to grow and nurture plants. But, it was during the Victorian era that the practice came into its own. Men and women of that time period were fond of plants, especially ferns. In England, collecting ferns became a national obsession. Dr. Nathaniel Ward was an avid collector. Unfortunately, London’s poor air quality was detrimental to the health of his ferns. So, he would place the poorest-looking specimens in jars that he used to study the life cycles of insects and caterpillars. To his surprise, the ferns survived and even came to thrive in what equated to miniature greenhouses. Ward went on to design stylish terrariums – Wardian Cases – that became all the rage in London in the late 1820s. By the 1860s, no respectable American home was without a Wardian Case.
The plant craze resurfaced in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Terrariums were a facet of this popular hobby, only this time, sand art (in psychedelic colors) and cacti figured into the design. A mania for ferns also reemerged, giving rise to the fern bar phenomenon that took root in California and swept across the country. Watering holes all across America came to resemble tropical forests!
This time around, California again figures into the relaunch of the terrarium craze. Now, succulents and air plants are the preferred medium. Jill Hoffines-Erb, owner of Floral Designs of Mount Joy, experienced the mania last fall during a working vacation that took her to the Golden State. “The succulents out there are unbelievable!” she says. “They range from tiny to dinner plate in size.” She also notes that Californians use succulents as ground cover, which is not only beautiful but also economical in the drought-stressed state.
Jill reports that Holland, the epicenter of the floral industry, is also jumping on the bandwagon. “Some really unique succulents are coming from Holland,” she says, adding, “I love succulents. They make me want to explore their many uses.” As a result of their growing popularity, Floral Designs of Mount Joy sells terrariums of all sizes and makes supplies available to DIYers.
Jill speculates that the popularity of terrariums is related to our busy lifestyles. “It’s indoor gardening without the fuss and care houseplants can require,” she says. “They‘re fun DIY projects and make great gifts. And, they’re oxygen boosters, which is important at this time of the year. They’re also a perfect solution for people who have allergies but want the look of living plants in their homes. I suppose you could say terrariums are good for the mind, body and soul.”
Terrariums are also evolving. Seasonal terrariums are on the rise. Innovative lighting that involves the tiniest bulbs imaginable is bringing a new dimension to terrariums. Hanging spheres that host the most miniature of environments are in demand. According to Jill, air plants are a trend that is “coming on strong. All you need to do is submerge them in water once a month and they’re good.” She notes that an interest in mosses is also growing.
Terrariums are also a popular choice for weddings. “It’s a look that perfectly complements shabby chic styling,” she says, referencing the texture and subtle colors they bring to a table.
Floral Designs of Mount Joy/floraldesignsofmountjoy.com.