Gardening Under Glass: Inside the Cosmos of Terrariums

Gardening Under Glass: Inside the Cosmos of Terrariums

If you’ve ever visited our shop or followed us on Instagram, you may have noticed that we make a special place... for greenery. We love the contrast of nature within man-made environments, as an essential element - not designed but expressed according to its own rules.

The relentless determination of nature can be seen in full force at abandoned sites where it has taken over - bursting in green and creating a whole new environment within the remnants of a forgotten past. Blom & Blom actually grew out of our fascination with these abandoned sites holding a history of their own and the instant curiosity they inspired - to dig deeper. Here’s a picture of one of those sites that tells ‘our story’. 

Besides the freestyle of nature untamed, we are also intrigued by the art of gardening under glass within a contained environment capable of generating an entire self-sustaining ecosystem of its own - the cosmos of the terrarium. Terra means earth and arium is a suffix denoting a place. 

An abandoned factory taking over by nature.

Two Types of Terrariums - Closed & Open

A closed terrarium gives place to a miniature landscape within a glass orb where plants and minerals can interact and produce an environment that supports their natural ecosystems while being protected from outside elements. These miniature and ‘self-serving’ ecosystems are a great alternative when you live in an urban environment where space is limited. And if you simply don’t have green fingers, you can let nature take over because a closed terrarium gives way to a cosmos of its own! 

A closed terrarium protects plants from outside elements such as dust and pollution, and is able to regulate its own temperature and maintain a constant humidity. Wow! Plants continue to perform photosynthesis because glass allows light in. With the heat and the oxygen produced during this process, condensation builds up on the inside of the glass, producing small water droplets which in turn water the plants as well as maintaining a densely humid environment. A closed terrarium prevents any of the humidity created by the plants from escaping and allows the plants to flourish. Tropical plants are most suited to life within closed terrariums.

A unique terrarium in the Blom & Blom shop.

In an open terrarium that is not sealed, a self-sustaining ecosystem is not possible, as with a closed terrarium. With an open terrarium, you will need to water the plants. Most often you see cactuses and succulents in an open terrarium as they need very little water and thrive in a dry and arid climate similar to our home environments. 

The Story Behind the Story

The very first terrarium actually ‘happened’ by chance in 1829 when entomologist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward was monitoring the evolution of a moth he had put in a sealed glass jar on a bed of compost. He noticed after a few weeks that a small fern was growing from out of the compost in the jar. Ward had unknowingly transplanted a small fern seed inside the jar along with the moth he was observing. He was amazed and delighted by this as he had been trying to grow and cultivate ferns both outside and inside his home. And then suddenly, without doing anything, here was this miniature fern that had sprouted on its own - and it was thriving!

That is when Ward started to recreate a few of his sealed glass experiments. Ward added a little bit of charcoal to remove any toxins that might develop within the contained atmosphere. These early terrariums became known as ‘a Wardian Case’, and could be found in ‘trendy’ homes in the mid-1800’s. The principles of the sealed and protected environment of the Wardian case were adopted in transporting plants aboard ships and revolutionized the mobility of the commercial plant trade, allowing the plants to survive their voyage. It turns out, the Wardian case also protected plants from the heavily polluted air at that time, containing coal smoke and sulphuric acid.

Image of the very first terrarium. Image from Christopher Roosen

TLC for Your Closed Terrarium

If you are using a sealed terrarium, do not water your plants. Your terrarium creates its own watering-system and as long as you see a small amount of condensation on the inside of the glass, you do not need to water your terrarium. Even if you haven't watered your terrarium for months, as long as there is condensation you are fine. If you think your terrarium is starting to look a bit dry, wait until the next day and if it is still looking dry - you can give it a little bit of water. When you do this please be careful not to over-water your terrarium and create a small swamp within. To avoid this, it is best to use a spray bottle or mister to add moisture. 

The plants that are used in these sealed terrariums all thrive in low light. Keep your terrariums away from any direct sunlight, such as a south facing window, or leaving it in a car on a hot day (...learned that from experience!). The sun will very quickly 'cook' the plants causing them to wilt and die. This also applies to warmer spots such as terrariums placed next to radiators or on heated floors.

Is your terrarium looking too humid? Don’t worry about it. Occasionally you may look at your terrarium and it might look as if there is too much condensation on the inside. Your terrarium is either too warm or too cold, and it is respiring too much. The best thing to do is to change the position of the terrarium, and then simply take the lid off for a few hours until the excess condensation has evaporated.

A closed terrarium with condensation on the inside of the glass.

Organics in Motion

A closed terrarium is a constantly changing environment in tune with the interactive dynamics of its own inner cosmos, and each is unique. Sometimes you'll see more condensation than other times. Sometimes a plant dies or mushrooms suddenly sprout up, or a plant will change color. A terrarium is an organic world of its own with all the amazing possibilities it brings to life. Discover nature in motion! 

In case you are interested in having a terrarium of your own, we have a few available in our shop, from small to large. They are not available for shipping, but can be purchased at our Amsterdam store. Just drop us an email if you would like further information.