Saturday, 23 February 2013

Where & How

Dawn, in a world that I created.
I often get asked where and how I make my terrariums. I would love to say that I have  a little greenhouse or planting room in my house, but alas, I have neither; I am merely a twenty-something living in Vancouver, and such luxuries are far outside my price range. Instead, my creative space is either the kitchen floor or counter, or sometimes my roommate's desk whilst he is away (sorry Tyler!). Such humble circumstances are favourable to my process, however, as they yield such genuine and happy results. There is something so wonderful about sitting in the midst of a bunch of lush tropical plants, picking and choosing which best compliment each other and their future owner--it all reminds me of playing in the sandbox when I was a kid. You really are creating your own little world! I guess I'm developing a serious God complex.

A dynamic mix for a dynamic customer.
There is a lot of time and thought put into each terrarium I do up: shopping for the glass; picking up rocks, soil, and moss; plant selection (the hardest part!); and finally, constructing the terrarium. The actual construction process may take me a few days. When making an order for a customer, I typically will gather all the plants I think I want to use together and arrange them next to their future vessel. I then experiment with arrangements, adding and subtracting until I think I've reached a decision. Then I take a break and let the idea rest in my head, and when I feel settled, I plant it all up. The basic recipe: rocks for drainage, charcoal for sweetness, soil for survival, plants for substance, moss for moisture (or sand and rock if I'm making a xeriscape), rocks and sticks for aesthetic. The actual planting process can be tricky. Tropical plants are generally easy to plant--they just want soil and space. Succulents can break fairly easy (but the broken bit can usually be planted themselves), and they look best when crowded together, so it is kind of like making a puzzle. And cacti? Well if you get cacti in your terrarium, know that I must like you because it takes DAYS to get all those little hairs and thorns out of your fingers, even if you're wearing gloves! But I love cacti, so it's totally worth it! 

Lush tropical greens for my own terrarium
I always try to keep my customer in mind, and I do my best to interpret part of their personality in the terrarium. Take for instance the Calzone (pictured in my previous post): it was made for my boss at JJ Bean. She is a feisty  eccentric young lady with a tough side, but so full of love and definitely worth knowing. Translated into plants, I instantly thought of succulents, cacti, and sanseveria. She also claims to kill plants, and that group of plants happily takes care of itself. As another example, I'm working on a terrarium now for a woman who is probably one of the most positive people I've ever met, so I'm using yellows and pinks. 

The whole process, from order to completion, takes a couple of days depending on the size of the order. I strive to be timely in my production, but I also don't want to rush myself to create a terrarium that has no heart. It is my sincerest hope that my customers enjoy my creations as much as I do!

A lush Moroccan-themed terrarium.
A stately and brilliant terrarium for a law office.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Imagination & Inspiration Part I: A Gallery

I love making each and every terrarium that leaves my house. What began as a bit of a hobby has somehow turned into a bit of a side-business that keeps me fairly busy and out of trouble. I thought I'd put a few pictures up of some of the arrangements I've done so far, along with a bit of an description of the plants themselves. As much as I'd love the opportunity to make a terrarium for everyone, I also want to encourage people to try their hand it. I want to encourage creativity and imagination; I want to inspire others to get the same thrill out of gardening as I do.

The Bean

The Bean 

Oh the Bean, the terrarium that started it all. I made this terrarium for the coffee shop I work at (JJ Bean, best coffee in VanCity!). Our condiment stand was looking a little forlorn  so I thought I'd liven it up with a terrarium. It turned out great and has been great advertising for me; everyone loves it! It's a simple arrangement of tropicals, succulents, and tillandsias, but it has this fantastic island-like feel to it. Maybe it is the mix of palms and diefenbachia, or maybe it is the way the succulents and tillandsias add a dreamy aquatic feel to the vessel... Either way, it turned out great. This style of terrarium requires little watering as it is semi-enclosed; you don't want to keep it too moist or you'll have rotting succulents and mould. It likes a bright home, though it's worth the risk in a place of average brightness. The only risk is that succulents might suffer, but it is always worth experimenting with light tolerances of succulents: sometimes they can be similarly happy in moderate brightness as they are in the greenhouse. The probably won't flower, but even if they do die, the do so gracefully over a long period of time. 

The AK2

The AK2

This was my first experiment with an orchid. Normally orchids intimidate me, but not so in this case. I think one of my favorite things about this arrangement is the way the foliage of the orchid plays coy, almost like it is bashfully covering itself. The palm adds more of a lush tropical feel, and the variegated foliage of the other tropicals just adds so much colour to the vase. And of course, the little rubra on a lichen and moss covered stick to compliment the colours of the phaleanopsis. I added some blooming acacia sticks and curly willow for structure; these are purely aesthetic as they eventually dry out and can be removed,but the planting can be enjoyed for much longer. This style of terrarium average watering (don't let the orchid dry out, but don't keep it too wet either) requires a bright home. 

The Calzone

The Calzone

I L.O.V.E. this xericscape-style terrarium. It looks like a reef, which is ironic because none of these plants like water very much. A little cacti, sansevieria, haworthia, tillandsia medusae, kalanchoe, echevaria, and various other succulents make up this arrangement. This style of planting takes so little care (maybe a 1/4 of water every two weeks, depending on how dry the environment is) that it is perfect for the office, or people who kill plants.This style of terrarium requires a bright home.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Air & Water: Simple Tillandsia Care

Tillandsias, commonly known as "air plants," are probably my most favorite of all plants. They are in the bromeliad family (as are pineapples!), and are epiphytes, which means in their native environment they grow on other plants and without soil. In fact, tillandsias take all they need to survive from the air around them! A tillandsia will survive sitting on a counter top or bookshelf or in a terrarium. All they need is bright indirect light and a wee bit of humidity, and they're good to go.
My wall art: a collection of tillandsias.

Air plants originate from the warmer climes reaching from Florida to Chile. There are thousands of varieties, ranging in size and shape from a mere centimeter in diameter to over a foot. Spanish moss, that beautiful stuff that drapes from nearly every in Florida swamps, is a variety of tillandsia that is measured in feet! In Canada, even in Vancouver, tillandsias are easy to keep alive and enjoy, but they sometimes do take a little bit of attention. From my own experience, tillandsias do best in terrariums as such environments provide them with the tropical humidity and warmth they are accustomed to. When kept outside a terrarium, it takes a little more effort to keep your tillandsia fresh. Generally, a healthy tillandsia should be flexible and feel a bit like grass, soft to the touch. Why it dries out it gets very stiff and turns brown.They require regular spritzing, a couple of times a week, maybe a bit more if you keep your house on the dryer side. Once a month or so, it is good practice to fully submerge your tillandsias, get them nice and soaked, and let them fully dry before spraying them again. If you're putting them in moss, make sure that they air plant and moss are fully dry before respraying. It's a sad story, but I have seen the end of a few in my collection because they have rotted out from the bottom or inside. What happens is water collects at the base of the foliage and never gets to dry, which ultimately leads to a dead tillandsia. About once a month I add a tiny bit of fertilizer to my spray bottle, jut to give my tillandsias a bit of a boost. During the summer, tillandsias can be very content outside, provided they are in bright, not direct, sunlight. If you're lucky, you may even get them to flower! But as a general rule, I encourage people to purchase them for their shape and appeal, and if they flower, well that is just a pleasant surprise (especially in Canada)!

Presently I have a collection of a dozen or so tillandsias, but I am always adding to it. Southlands Nursery in Vancouver consistently has the best selection of air plants, and being that I work there, it is rare that I don't bring a new one home with me ever week. My problem now is that my managers have picked up on my addiction to tillandsias, so when we get a fresh shipment in they let me price everything and cherry pick my the very best ones. My favorite purchase is probably the xerographica; it's size is a statement in and of itself, but its structure is what I love most. The little rubras are a fun splash of colour, and I love how they look like little pineapples. The butzii has this amazing flecked pattern on it, and the structure to it make me think of the ocean. I put a little tillandsia in almost every terrarium I do up not only as a kind of signature, but because their shapes and colours add the other-worldly feel in such a unique way. I hope this little tillandsia tutorial has inspired you and has answered any questions you have about taking care of one!
Brachycaulos v. multiflora

Ionantha v. Rubra cluster