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Terrariums make a comeback

Columnist Sandy Erdman says these miniature greenhouses are taking off in popularity.

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Clear open glass bottles found at department stores can be filled with succulents, shells and more to create terrariums for your home.<br/>
Contributed / Sandy Erdman

How about adding some touches of green to the snowy white of winter with sweet and simple terrariums surrounded by glass?

Terrariums are a hot-house item and have taken off in recent years, and it's easy to see why. Essentially they are a miniature greenhouse in a glass container filled with florals, succulents and other greenery making a whimsical addition to any home. And they're pretty easy to care for.

A bit of history

David Fairchild was an American botanist and plant explorer responsible for the introduction of more than 200,000 exotic plants into this country back in the 1900s. Florida's botanical garden wouldn't be what it is today if it wasn't for Fairchild, .

Many of Fairchild’s discoveries were brought here by boat in a wooden box called a Wardian case, invented by Dr. Nathaniel Ward in 1829. This wooden case was like a mini greenhouse that protected the precious plant specimens collected in far-off lands so they would survive the long trips. The Wardian case gained popularity during the Victorian Era and eventually became known as a terrarium — land (terra) and aquarium (arium) that became quite popular in the 1970s.

Today, the terrarium is making a comeback in many different forms.


Different kinds of terrariums

The many types of terrariums that are back include hanging glass bubbles, cloches, large glass vases in different shapes and just about any clear container that allows sunlight. Bark, rocks, sand, shells, moss and tiny trinkets are popular objects for decorating terrariums, making them a collage of natural beauty for all to enjoy. 

“I have many kinds of terrariums some with the glass bubbles hanging at The Refinery Co., Winona,” said owner Jenna Marie Lubinski.

Repurposed old apothecary jars, cake stands and decanters can all make a terrarium as well as clear glass kitchen canisters with tight-fitting lids. The lids help capture the condensation the plants require to thrive.

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Search your attic, basement and cupboards for unique bottles. Whatever you find, make sure it's a smooth clear glass container since colored glass will block sunlight to the plants — and they need sunlight, unless you are using fake succulents and other fake plants. Airless plants also work well.

Laurie Rucker of Vintage Treasures and Home Decor in St. Charles said she sells a lot of nature-inspired small figurines such as deer, birds, mushrooms and even fossils, as well as large jars, glass dome lids and decorative lanterns.

But, "on a personal note, I prefer to hunt and gather my own nature finds like, rocks, shells, driftwood, birch bark and twigs," she said.

No matter what you use as your container, you'll want to start with a layer of gravel or rocks under the soil to allow for proper drainage and air as terrariums do not have holes like other planters.

Without layering you will end up with a swamp.


Examples uncovered terrariums found at The Cottage Cupboard at one of their spring sales in Winona.<br/>
Contributed / Sandy Erdman

Avoid over-watering which can lead to mold and root rot. With the exception of moss terrariums, pen up closed terrariums every now and then to help air out the container. And watch your kittens and cats who love to snoop and/or possibly try to do their business in your terrarium.

For folks without the time or space to build from scratch, there's a quick solution: a kit that comes with everything you need, including the container, soil and even the plants. They can be found at garden and hobby stores, larger retailers and home improvement stores.
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at .

Antiques & Collectibles — Sandy Erdman column sig

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