The Violet Barn   

Terrarium landscaping

In the fall of 2008, Olive was asked to give a presentation on container gardens--dish gardens, terrariums, and natural plantings.  We also planned to attend a number (four) of shows just after her presentation.  Because all of these were scheduled over only a couple of month's time, we could use whatever Olive created during the presentation for the shows--either entered in the show and/or displayed as a means to sell plants from our sales table

Outline of landscape.

A 10 gallon, rectangular, aquarium is being used as the container.  When finished, we will have created a miniature landscape, with a rock cliff, creek, and pond.  The growing material will be a large variety of miniature plants suitable for a terrarium (and all of which we sell, since one of the goals is to promote sales from our table at the shows).  The soil is the same as what we use for most of our plants.  It has been pressed and formed to the general outline of our intended landscape.  You can already imagine the likely placement of the rock cliff, creek, and pond.

Since this terrarium could become quite heavy once planted, Olive has tried to save weight by not filling large spaces with rock or soil when not necessary.  The two large blocks placed in the back corner of the tank, for example, are actually pieces of Styrofoam, painted black.  These will provide the desired height to the landscape without the weight of rocks, or soil (which would become heavy once watered).  The Styrofoam as other advantages as well.  Since it is solid, unlike our potting soil, it won't collapse, or shift, if (when) the tank is moved or tipped, and we can secure other materials (like our rock wall) to it.  This would be important, since it would be traveling a few thousand miles with us to shows.

The Materials.

Shown at left are some of the materials that will be used for our landscape.  On top, from left to right, is a sheet of plastic (cut from a trash bag), some wood (collected from our yard and cleaned), part of a cosmetics squeeze tube and wire, and a bottle cap (painted black on the inside).  At bottom, left to right, are small rocks/shale (collected on our property), more rocks (painted black), small grade orchid bark, and woodland moss (again collected on our property and cleaned).  For more information on how to clean and use wood, rocks, and moss collected from the outdoors, see our lesson on "container gardens made easy" elsewhere on this site.

Assembling the rock wall.

Our rock wall is assembled using silicone sealer to hold the pieces of shale together.  The silicone is waterproof and easy to use.  The finished wall is shown at far right, ready to be placed, as one piece, into the terrarium landscape. 

This is certainly much easier than piecing the wall together inside the terrarium, and because it is now one solid piece, it won't fall apart if the tank is jostled or tilted when moved.





Installing the rock wall.

The rock wall is placed in the back corner of the terrarium, against the Styrofoam blocks.  At near left, you can see Olive using "U" pins to secure the wall to the Styrofoam blocks.  Because there are spaces between the rocks, and the foam behind the rocks is soft, the wall can be "pinned" to the foam. 

Once the space above and around the rocks and foam is filled with soil, the landscape will be very secure, and won't be easily disturbed.  A small piece of wood was placed at the top edge of the rock wall, and is also secured with U-pins.  In the near photo, you can also see the beginning of the planted landscape around and above the rock wall.  At right is a closer view of the rock wall and the beginning of the surface landscape above and below the wall.  The plant material you see are Ficus  pumila quercifolia atop the wall, and Ficus pumila 'Curly' below the top edge beneath the wood.

Preparing the pond and creek.

Smaller pieces of shale, painted black, are glued to the inside and edges of the bottle cap using silicone.  This will give the "pond" a natural look--so it doesn't look like the inside of a plastic bottle cap!  At near right, you can see the plastic squeeze tube, cut lengthwise, in half, and painted black on the inside.  Small pieces of black shale are also glued to the inside of this using silicone.  This will represent our "creek" bed.  Again, the silicone is waterproof, so the shale will stay in place once these are filled with water.

Installation of the pond and creek.

In the photo at right, you can see our landscape beginning to take shape.  Olive has installed the "creek" in the lower center of the landscape (seen in approximately the middle of the tank), and this empties into the "pond" just below it in the front-center of the tank.  She has also added a couple more pieces of wood, one to the right of the creek bed, and another at the left of the creek, at the bottom of the rock face.  This makes the landscape more interesting by adding different textures and keeping the landscape and planting surfaces from being all one height--there are many different levels to the planting.

Preparing the wooded path.

We want to cover part of the landscape surface with small pieces of bark, but need to do this in a way so that the loose bark doesn't move when the tank is moved or jostled.  To solve this problem, Olive applies a thin layer of silicone to a black plastic sheet (cut from a trash bag), then presses a layer of fine orchid bark onto the plastic.  Once dry, the sheet can be cut to size.  The bark is no longer loose and won't move, and both the plastic and silicone are waterproof!

Finishing the creek and installing the bark sheets.

At near right, Olive is placing larger pieces of shale along the top edge of our "creek" (the tube), using long-handled tweezers.  Again, these are secured with silicone.  The sheets of fine bark have also been installed in our landscape.  The bark isn't necessary, but again, it will add interest and a different texture to the planting.

You might also notice the addition of more plants into and around the rock wall.  Most of these are woodland mosses that were collected from the woods on our property. 

A close-up view of the nearly-finished creek and rock wall.

A closer view of the planted rock wall and creek.  Notice how the moss has actually been planted into the rock wall.  This moss can be pulled apart into smaller pieces and pressed into the rock crevices using tweezers.  Using the moss this way softens the look of the rock wall and makes it more natural-looking.  

 Additional plant material is being added, using different colors and textures.  The variegated plant material at upper right edge of the wall is a miniature variety of ivy, Hedera helix 'Mini Easter'.







Adding plant material.

At near right, Olive is seen adding a plant of Oxalis hedysaroides 'Rubra' to the right rear of the terrarium.  Up to now, most of the material used has been fairly low-growing plant material or ground-covers.  Using a plant like the oxalis will add some height as well as some color.  You'll also notice the addition of other plants, like the miniature ferns, Nephrolepis exalta 'Fluffy Ruffles', variegated Columnea 'Broget Stavenger', seen at left of rock wall,  and golden colored Selaginella kraussiana aurea, which adds color along the bottom of the wall.







The nearly finished terrarium landscape.

These views show the terrarium when virtually all the planting is complete.  Notice that the soil is no longer visible--a flat piece of shale has even been placed against the glass at the front of the planting hide the soil behind it. To water, a small squirt-bottle (the type used for hair-coloring works great) is used, since getting in and around the small plants can be difficult.  Those planted within or atop rocks, which are very shallow-rooted, need to be watered more frequently, since there is little soil to hold water.  Those planted at the bottom of the tank, where there is more soil, can be watered less.

The finished terrarium.

As it appeared at the 2008 New York State AVS Convention show, about 3 weeks after first constructed (the photos above).  It was also exhibited a few weeks later at the Mid-Atlantic AVS Convention show, at which it won 2nd Best in Design as well as Best Terrarium.

The miniature violet that appears here is 'Rob's Chilly Willy'.