Indoors…where plants go to die

Remember terrariums?  Circa 1972, closed glass environments crammed with tropical plants were a badge of one’s wish to go “back to the earth.”  At least these fusty, somewhat dank, indoor “swamp-thangs” were easier to keep alive than Boston ferns in macramé hangers and multiple pots of moldering sprouts on the windowsill all of which required elaborate misting routines that almost guaranteed ruin to furniture and upholstery alike.

True confession?  Child of the 70’s that I am I am completely houseplant impaired.  I cannot keep plants alive indoors; nor do I really see the point of trying.

I know houseplants are supposed to “cleanse the air” and add “life” to interiors.  But there’s little life – or cleansing – coming from one of my few struggling, dried out, indoor specimens.  Basically, the only plants I bring indoors are those I’m trying to keep alive until the next growing season in an effort to save the expense of purchasing yet another Meyer lemon, or fancy succulent.

Sure, I have several pots of forced bulbs that keep me entertained over the holidays, horticulturally speaking, but I simply discard the faded foliage once the floral show is over.

My approach to cultivating houseplants is more akin to a bomb shelter than a decorating motif; providing temporary refuge from outside danger without concern for long term comfort.  As soon as the last frost in spring sounds the all clear, all indoor plants are unceremoniously sent back outdoors where they properly belong.

But in the gardening world, perhaps more so than anywhere else, everything old is brand new again. The New Terrarium, by Tovah Martin with gorgeous photographs by Kindra Clineff (Clarkson Potter, 2009) and little peacock spikemoss (Selaginella unciniata) made me take a second look at gardening under glass…indoors.

indoor terrarium

Happy & healthy a year later

Peacock spikemoss is a delicate groundcover with metallic turquoise blue (!!!) fern-like fronds.  It is neither a true moss or a fern, although technically a distant cousin to the both.  Hardy in USDA zones 6-10, peacock spikemoss thrives in moist shade and gets along just fine in my garden where it creeps along beneath hydrangeas, hostas and winter daphne, surviving routine ravaging by slugs and occasional foot traffic.  However, with even the slightest exposure to sunlight, the gorgeous foliage turns rusty brown rendering it almost invisible against the soil; which maybe is a good thing given the slug damage.

I love brown plants, but I really love metallic turquoise blue foliage.  So I went about finding a way to have my hit of this unusual color more often found in bird feathers than the garden.  Thank you Ms. Martin for showing me the way.

selaginella unciniata

Gorgeous peacock plumage

My humble battery jar terrarium, home to a very striking selaginella, accessorized with a frosty green Japanese fishing weight and a fragment of a seashell is nearly a year old now.  It sits by my reading chair in the living room where it receives dim light at best and flaunts its gorgeous plumage.  Its moisture needs are met by a light semi-monthly dribble of water that keeps the closed environment at the correct humidity.  Really – I don’t think I’ve watered it more than 3 or 4 times in the past 10 months.  That’s MY kind of houseplant!!!

Finished terrarium

Beautiful - but a beast to wrap!

I was so pleased with my hands-free indoor garden I decided to assemble a larger, slightly more elegant version in a beautiful footed vase for my parents for Christmas.  Here’s a brief tutorial on how I went about it.

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2 Responses to “Indoors…where plants go to die”

  1. Kate (daisygirl_io) January 30, 2011 at 7:20 am #

    Your terrarium is beautiful! I have the book The New Terrarium too and it has inspired me to create several indoor beauties. I have a few with just one plant and others filled with moss. Some open and some closed. I think they are so fun and so pretty – especially during the dark, cold winter! I particularly like the one with the air plant. I hadn’t thought to put one of those in…I might have to re-work some of mine now! ;)

  2. Lorene January 30, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Hi Kate… I love, love, love my little enclosed world. Not only to I have my beautiful turquoise moss – more mineral than botanical – but I can finally say I have a houseplant… a live one!