Maybe it is COVID, maybe it is winter, maybe it is a combination or something else entirely; but this year I have increased the number of plants in my house tenfold. Some houseplants, some culinary herbs, some succulents, some attempts to overwinter garden plants, but the house is full. However, my indoor cats were very excited to have green growth and it quickly became apparent that I needed some innovative solutions to cat-proof the plants. Enter terrariums.
Growing up, my grandmother had a room full of terrariums… huge ones, at least to an 8-year-old. I remember wondering how she got the plants into them, and so some of them must have been the large glass carboys and jugs with small openings at the top. The sides were almost always steamed up, the condensation from plant exhalations and conversations between species. In order to see more than the leaves pressed against the sides, I would have to peek under the lids, and it gave this impression of a secret world. Absolutely magical to children.
I value my carboys too much for homemade wine, so those weren’t an option for me. Being a naturalist, though, I did have some spare aquariums lying about in an array of sizes. Add some wire on the top so the cats can’t get to them and voila! a miniature world that grows and moves and changes.
I don’t have a great window in my house for terrariums, between maple trees and covered porches. So I do have a grow light on mine (not necessary for most). The inadvertent result of that is that now as the days grow shorter, in my living room I have this glowing, verdant world. It is restful and relaxing and strangely comforting. Being alive, that’s not surprising, as living things are inherent companions. But being plants, and fairly… immobile, it did surprise me how much I just wanted to “watch” it.
And then an epiphany… it was my imagination that engaged and connected with the green beings behind the glass. What would it be like to live among the fern-like leaves? Which plant would be the best to nap under? If the plants were scaled like trees, where would the hammock be? And this gave rise to the idea of fairy gardens. And then I stumbled across these adorable ceramic mushrooms at a garage sale and then a sapphire glass orb and then… well, you get the idea.
A few years ago, Audubon hosted a fairy terrarium workshop and I still have mine on my windowsill at work. It might be a little more… feral than it was when I first put it together. But it is still mostly green, changes with the seasons, and smells of damp earth in the springtime. Better yet, it smells like my grandmother’s living room when I would take the top off one of the terrarium jars to look inside. Rich and musty, damp with a hint of soil and fungi, it truly is a scent that sparks fantastical thoughts.
Back in March, just before the pandemic changed the world, Audubon held a make-n-take terrarium workshop. It was highly successful and so much fun! Since most of the plants were succulents, we collected any leaves that broke off. We planted those in flats and nurtured them until they took root. Since the first workshop was so enjoyable, we planned to do another. For months, they lived on the windowsills in the office at Audubon, but once they needed to be transplanted, you guessed it, I took them home where there was more space. Aha! Maybe that’s what started my indoor plant craze.
In any case, Audubon now has an office full of succulents and a few workshops planned on November 4 and 7 so others can enjoy this miniature emerald universe. Most of the terrariums will be open ones, less steamy than closed ones, but a great gateway into the hobby. Audubon
will have all the supplies to create the living part of the terrariums. If you’ve got some treasures to add (like ceramic mushrooms, a fairy bench, or a favorite rock), feel free to bring them along!
As we enter into the darkening days leading up to winter’s long nights, a little bit of living green might make all the difference in your daily life. Studies have proven that houseplants help reduce stress and lower anxiety, which I feel isn’t a bad thing for anyone at this particular moment in time. You can make your own terrarium out of any clear container, with or without a lid, with a wide variety of plants. Check with your local greenhouses, many of them have houseplants that will thrive in containers, and the businesses will welcome the support.
A living companion, a bright spot on a dark day, a calm presence in a crazy world, a grateful business owner, a new hobby, and the opportunity to share with friends… terrariums might be one of the most beneficial additions to everyone’s homes right now! And if a terrarium isn’t right for you, a walk in nature provides many of the same benefits and the trails, your neighborhood, and the local wild areas are waiting for you.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is partially open, including restrooms, the Blue Heron Gift Shop, and some exhibits. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.
Sarah Hatfield is Education Coordinator at ACNC.