Terrariums with Heart

You said it with flowers (and they wilted the next week).

You said it with chocolates (and all she did was gain weight).

Now it’s time to find a more lasting way to express the fires of your passion for that special someone. How about expressing all that he/she means to you in a terrarium?

Romantic mementoes for a terrarium

That’s right, collect all your happiest memories –

  • the ticket stubs to the concert where you met
  • a few pine cones from the hike you took together
  • the ribbons from the gift she gave you
  • a golf ball from the time you tried to teach her to swing
  • a page of sheet music with your favorite song

and all the other bits and pieces that make up your romance.

You might even have a snapshot or two from a picnic or prom. Or the jewelry box that the engagement ring came in.

Maybe you could tuck in a pair of binoculars from the whale-watching cruise (the one when she didn’t get seasick) or the paperback she read when you went camping (and it rained nonstop).

And how about all the belated greeting cards you’ve laid by the kitchen table the morning after her birthday. Take those components and arrange them under glass.

A terrarium portrait of romance

Make a mini scene dedicated to the two of you. Access your inner artist, combine shapes, textures, and colors. Let them work off one another.

Lay them in a bed of sheet moss. Let them tell the story. You could even present them as a progression starting with a memento from your first date and moving up to the wine glass from your wedding.

Now that’s the sort of gift that is going to make his/her eyes mist over. Guaranteed.

But that’s not the end for your terrarium tableau.

Baby makes three in a terrarium

Assuming your little crystal love castle worked its magic better than you ever hoped or dreamed, now you’ve got Junior.

And those baby years slip away in a blink, so collect the little toddler shoes your mother knitted and the pacifier that brought you a few hours of blessed sleep.

Put in the blue ribbon from the 4-H exhibit and the gold star from the first correctly spelled homework assignment.

Carpet it with sheet moss to make it look like a baseball diamond, spread gravel to mark the bases and bingo – you’ve captured a snippet from Junior’s first years.

Sentimental journey with a group of terrariums

And don’t stop at one terrarium. The beauty of glass is it displays particularly well in groupings. So you could do the story of your life in several chapters all displayed in a cluster of different shapes.

Let it summarize your family, including the pets. Even framed (or unframed) portraits add another layer of meaning under glass. These can be like shadow boxes with more dimension – sort of surround-sound versions of a scrapbook.

The point is, terrariums are not just about housing plants. They can hold a snapshot from your life. They can be mementoes from a lifetime.

Plus, your dusting duties are vastly diminished.

Nasturtium Combinations For a Trellis and a Planter — Edible Flowers

Nasturtium Display on Your Trellis

All plant photos courtesy of Renee’s Garden

Beautiful when bare, this trellis and copper planter will be your own dazzling garden statement when you add your favorite climbing and trailing plants.

Place this trellis and planter near the dining table on your patio or deck. Then choose edible plants, and all through the warm days ahead you and your guests can pick edible flowers to add to salads.

The nasturtium is a popular edible flower (and the leaves can jump in the salad too). A nasturtium seed offers you the fast track to masses of edible flowers on your trellis. These easy-to-grow plants will cover your garden trellises with warm colors.

Hummingbirds love them!

I’m planning to mix three nasturtium varieties for a multi-colored fountain of blooms. Are you attracted by the Soft or the Bright combination?

Soft Nasturtium Combination

Tint of yellow  ’Moonlight’ can climb six to eight feet. Give the first tendrils a hand by twining them around the metal trellis.

Nasturtium ‘Moonlight’

To fill out the planter add the one-foot mounds of ‘Vanilla Berry’.

Nasturtium ‘Vanilla Berry’

Pretty ‘Creamsicle’ forms one-foot mounds, and trails a bit from garden planters.

Nasturtium ‘Creamsicle’

Bright Nasturtium Combination

Send the adventurous ‘Amazon Jewel’ climbing four to six feet up your trellis. Enjoy the variegated leaves and the range of flower colors.

Nasturtium ‘Amazon Jewel’

Make a regal statement with a one-foot mound at the base of the trellis.  Blue-green leaves are a striking feature of the heirloom ‘Empress of India’.

Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’

For the big finish, add this hot number. It grows in one-foot mounds and will drape itself around. What better for a copper planter than semi-double-flowered ‘Copper Sunset’?

Nasturtium ‘Copper Sunset’

Seeds for these nasturtium varieties are available from Renee’s Garden.

How to Grow Nasturtium Combinations in a Planter

Wait to plant outdoors until all danger of frost has passed. If you are uncertain about that date, contact your local Master Gardeners.

Place your container in full sun or part shade and fill it with packaged potting soil. Choose soil that drains well but does not have many added fertilizers. A nasturtium that gets too much nitrogen fertilizer will be all leaves and few flowers.

Nick each seed with a pair of nail clippers and plant the seeds one-inch deep, covering them with soil. Follow seed packet directions on spacing.

Water well with a fine spray after planting and keep the soil moist until the seeds have germinated. Once the plants are mature, water only when the top two inches of the soil are dry.

Thin the young plants as needed. Don’t feed the nasturtiums.

Through the Seasons

Prolong the blooming season by replanting nasturtiums in late summer. The nasturtium is a tender annual and won’t last through frosty winters.

Holiday Terrariums: A Video of Decorated Wardian Cases

Sugar Plum Terrariums

Seven talented gardeners, who happen to be well-known garden writers, created holiday terrariums this year using H. Potter Wardian cases.

Enjoy their creativity in this video of the holiday terrariums!

Terrariums Designed by Garden Writers

Presenting our wonderful terrarium gardeners, in order of appearance on the video:

Patty Craft is Publisher & Editorial Director at Horticulture magazine.

Kylee Baumle writes from Our Little Acre.

Chris McLaughlin is A Suburban Farmer.

Aimee Gertsch gardens and cooks at Aimee’s Blog.

Helen Yoest is always Gardening With Confidence.

Michaela lives in The Gardener’s Eden.

Genevieve Schmidt is an expert on North Coast Gardening.

Tiny Garden Decor for Terrariums

Patty’s verdant terrarium shelters an iridescent angel that was beaded for her by a family member.

Kylee’s lighted Christmas tree reflects on lots of fun details tucked all around her woodsy scene.

Aimee’s Wardian case plays holiday host for two stout penguins.

In Helen’s terrarium look for the cardinal perched among her seasonal greenery and berries.

Michaela’s Wardian case is a Nutcracker dream of toys around the tree, under a crescent moon.

Holiday Plants in the Terrariums

Chris mixed variegated polka-dot plants with holly berries, topping it all off with a string of Christmas ornaments.

Gen brought in colorful cyclamen for a fresh and seasonal look — and got some attention from curious roommates.

More Posts on Holiday Terrariums

Most of the garden writers are posting about their terrariums too! Read their own stories about the decorated Wardian cases at these links:

Chris at A Suburban Farmer

Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Genevieve at North Coast Gardening

Aimee at Salt Lake Gardening Examiner

Aimee at Aimee’s Blog

And watch a new video about a favorite H. Potter Wardian case.

Happy Holidays to Our Talented Garden Writers and Their Terrariums!

Planting a Cloche

All terrariums exude a sense of charm, it’s true.

But there’s something about a cloche (also known as a bell jar) that’s particularly compelling.

As with all terrariums, the venue need not be confined to plants – you could display just about anything within a cloche. But there’s something whimsical, wonderful, romantic and mysterious about a living, growing plant clapped under a glass lid.

Cloches were originally employed agriculturally to protect tender plants from chills in the beginning (or end) of the growing season. Nowadays, there are all sorts of less expensive (and less poetic) plastic devices to use outdoors for that purpose.

Instead, curvaceous cloches have taken on a more artistic job profile and they’re used as evocative focal points in interior décor.

A beautifully planted cloche is a head-turner as well as a creative outlet to display your little work of art that you’ve designed inside. Nothing says “nature contained” like a cloche.

Make a proper planting bed

Planting a cloche varies slightly from tackling a conventional terrarium with sides and a lid due primarily to the depth of the planting bed.

Because cloches are merely a glass lid, the challenge lies in finding a base to plant in.

For indoor gardening purposes, you’ll need a plate, pan or saucer for your cloche to cap. And you’ll need to build up the soil so it provides sufficient depth to nurture plants.

Cheese dishes often come with a base that has a small lip – and that makes your job easier. A two-inch lip will give you a sufficient base to bury very small plants with limited root systems.

But in most cases, the planting surface will be flat or nearly flat and you will need to build up the base to create a planting bed. The most effective plan of attack is to build up a donut-shaped crater, firm the soil into the volcano-like shape and plant within the center.

How to plant a cloche

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3/8 inch pebbles
  • Charcoal
  • Potting soil

Line the bottom of your plate, saucer, or pan with a thin layer of pebbles. Add a teaspoon of charcoal or slightly more, depending on the size of the base. Mix them together.

On top of that foundation, build up a firm donut of potting soil shaped like a volcano – then add some loose soil in the center of the volcano and add the plants into the soil, planting just as you would plant in a planter.

Be sure to firm the soil around the newly inserted plants and water immediately after planting. Clamp the lid on your terrarium and it’s good to go!

Lift the lid on one side to water when necessary and let the water soak in.

Admire your artwork and display it as a focal point in your décor.

The Most Beautiful Tomato Cage in the World

I love having a tomato plant growing in a garden container on the deck.

Every summer morning when we eat breakfast outside we check the tomato plant’s progress. If you’re living up-close-and-personal with a tomato plant you don’t want to look at a shaky, rusty and boring tomato cage.

H. Potter to the rescue! For an edible garden with style, you came to the right place. What a hit the Hoop Skirt Lawn Ornament and Pedestal Planter make.

You see why I call it “the most beautiful tomato cage in the world”?

Form and function too: six feet of solid-iron trellis with an all-weather, powder-coated finish. Perfect for small-space gardens where every item has to earn its keep, or use it on a large patio or deck as a unique accent. The heirloom-quality copper planter gives it that extra design oomph.

Most of us grow indeterminate tomatoes (the kind that ramble around and produce for many weeks)–and we need a tomato cage to support each plant.

Tomatoes grow best, resisting pests and diseases, when they have the extra air and light that comes with a cage or flat trellis.

How to choose which tomatoes to plant

Your local growing conditions are the most important factors in selecting tomato varieties.

The short-season classics that work well in most areas are ‘Early Girl’,  ‘Better Boy’ and the cherry tomato ‘Sweet Million’.

For the real skinny on what’s best in your garden, consult the academics and Master Gardeners in your region. Here are some links to put you in touch with your local experts:

Will Summer and Tomatoes Ever Come?

The tomatoes in the garden are only 20 inches high. It’s been a long, cold spring. Will summer ever come?

I can have summer in my mind—dreaming of my favorite dinner —for one of those August evenings when nothing sounds better than a little pasta and a glass of red wine.

Fettuccine with Roasted Tomatoes is simple enough for a hot night when I’m not the least bit ambitious about dinner menus, and special enough to share with company. It’s also perfect for garlic lovers! The basil deepens the flavor and vinegar adds a splash of pizzazz!!

Tomatoes have a whole new taste dimension when roasted. Most people don’t want to fire up the grill to just roast tomatoes, so perhaps do this task after cooking something the night before, or add tomatoes to the edges of the grill when other foods are cooking.

Yellow varieties are great, if available. When roasted they become almost jam-like in texture. They are actually less acidic for those of us with tender stomachs.

You could also make this dish with any variety of Roma-type tomatoes. The beefsteak varieties don’t work as well on the grill as they are a little too watery. A better choice might be an ‘Early Girl’ or ‘Celebrity’.

If your local delicatessen offers fresh pasta, that’s great too!!!

Fettuccine with Roasted Tomatoes and Basil

Twelve ounces of fettuccine or other thin noodle

Six medium-sized whole tomatoes

One quarter cup best quality olive oil

Two to eight cloves garlic, minced (according to your passion for garlic)

One-quarter cup finely diced fresh basil (more to taste)

One tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Salt and fresh ground pepper

Fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Boil noodles in salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Pre-heat a gas grill or build a fire in a kettle grill. You could also throw a sprig or two of rosemary or oregano onto the coals. Add whole tomatoes to the edges of the grill (where it’s not quite as hot). Turn gently with tongs so that they char evenly trying not to break the skin.  Remove and set aside to cool.

In a small saucepan sauté garlic in olive oil and add the basil.

When tomatoes are cool enough to touch, slip the skins off. Add tomatoes to the pan and mash with a potato masher.

Add the balsamic vinegar, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Simmer a few minutes to blend flavors.

Serve with fresh-grated Parmesan cheese. Makes 2 to 3 servings.

Keeping your Small World Perking Happily Along = Long-term Care

Your interaction with a terrarium shouldn’t end when you’ve tucked in the last plant and closed the lid. Terrariums are low-maintenance, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean they should be forgotten.

Hopefully, you’ll be so riveted by your crystal kingdom that you’ll be inspired to invest plenty of time admiring the small masterpiece you’ve created.

And while you’re at it, you might want to do a little upkeep simultaneously. Terrariums benefit from occasional maintenance.

  • Most often, keeping a terrarium content is merely a matter of turning the terrarium occasionally. If the light source that’s illuminating the plants inside comes only from one direction, rotate your terrarium every week or so. And make sure that the sun hasn’t shifted seasonally. You don’t want your terrarium to be sitting in a very bright or too shady of a situation.
  • Every two or three weeks, it’s wise to ventilate a closed terrarium for a few hours. After you’ve aired it out, close the lid again and wait to see if condensation builds up on the glass. If so, then it’s good to go for a while. If not, then open it and give it a small drink of water.
  • Fertilizing a terrarium is not necessary – after all, you want to keep the players in your mini world from growing into Jolly Green Giants.
  • When you’ve got the terrarium open for ventilation, examine the inside for dead branches, flowers that have faded, and anything that could lead to problems. Whisk the dead stuff away.
  • At the same time, make certain that no mold or fungus is threatening your miniature peaceable kingdom. The instant you see a problem, escort it off the premises. With mold or similar problems, contain the crime scene by putting a tissue over the area. Then scoop it away in a manner least likely to release spores. Monitor the terrarium carefully for future outbreaks.
  • Although it’s desirable and delightful when a terrarium begins to fill in and the plants happily coexist and thrive, you don’t want the residents competing for real estate.
  • When the plants inside a terrarium start encroaching on each other’s turf, divide off a section of the plant (for a clean break, you might need to cut the part to be removed with a knife) or, if it’s more feasible, lift the whole plant, diminish it, and replant a portion. When replanting, take care to bury all the roots and firm them into the soil. That’s critical. And always water a newly transplanted plant immediately after the transition.
  • When plants begin to press against the glass, they need to be pruned or moved to a larger vessel. Mosses can expand like sponges. Simply take scissors and give them a haircut to diminish their girth.
  • While you’re at it, clean the glass. Avoid using cleaning fluids of any sort, simply moisten a paper towel and wipe any schmutz away. Cleaning the glass should be done on an “as needed” basis. But address the chore fairly regularly. A few strategic swipes with a cleaning cloth will keep the plants inside healthy and give you a clear window on your small world.

Great Greens

Great Greens!

Just saying the word “greens” still brings back memories of my mother’s tinny tasting canned spinach.

In her defense, recipes in her day read something like “boil until soggy and cover with cream sauce”. That mushy texture and bland flavor was etched deeply in my taste bud memory bank, and finding the delete key required much experimenting and inspiration from other cooks.

These days I find myself bringing greens home from the market two or three times a week. “Eat more greens” is an often-repeated prescription from dietitians and for good reason.

Greens are so rich in the vitamins and minerals most of us just don’t get enough of. They are an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamins–E and C as well as beta carotene, a form of vitamin A. These antioxidants play a role in reducing cancer and heart disease. Best of all, greens are an excellent sources for those of us trying to be mindful of our calcium intake.

There is such a diversity of greens to choose from. I like combining a couple of different ones in a recipe to balance out their flavors as greens vary in intensity.

Watercress, chard, and dandelion greens are probably the mildest in flavor. Arugula, escarole, spinach and curly endive are medium-spicy with mustard and turnip greens being the most spicy–or bittersweet. Collards and kale are not really peppery at all; they have a somewhat earthy, neutral flavor.

Greens are all very similar to cook. They will steam or sauté in three to seven minutes and should be added to soups the last 15 minutes of cooking. Kale probably takes the most amount of time to soften.

This one-pot meal has become a staple at our house. Remembering to cook a few extra potatoes the night before is the real trick to speeding up the process. It makes a nutrient dense, ready-in-minutes meal. My mother would have loved it.

Ragout of Greens & Sausage

Two tablespoons olive oil
One medium onion, chopped
Three – four cloves garlic, minced
One half red pepper, chopped
Two turkey, beef or chicken sausages, sliced lengthwise and cut into bite-size pieces
One bunch kale, chard or a combination of greens
Three medium potatoes, pre-cooked
Three quarters cup vegetable or chicken broth or the juice from a 14-ounce can of whole tomatoes

Salt and fresh ground pepper

Fresh grated Parmesan cheese, sour cream or yogurt to garnish (optional)

Sauté onion and sausage in a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Add the garlic and red pepper the last few minutes.

Cut potatoes into bite-size pieces. Add potatoes, washed greens, broth, salt and pepper. Cover, and simmer until greens are softened but not mushy. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream, yogurt or parmesan cheese.