Thursday, July 30, 2015

Q and A: Can I Collect Moss in the Summer?

Whew, the heat is on here in Texas.  It is this type of heat that makes me want to dream of moss blanketing a cool forest floor. My question for today comes from reader Isabella:

Question: Can I collect the mosses in summer time from the forest?

Answer: I respond with a question again, does the moss you want to harvest look to be in peak health? If the moss in your area looks dry or dormant in the summer, you may want to skip collection until cooler months. You'll want to collect moss that is healthy, green, and thriving. In my experience, it can be challenging enough to transplant healthy moss harvested from the wild into a terrarium environment.  The moss receives a transplant shock from getting uprooted, it might dry out before you plant it, and it might be full of bugs or mold that might infest your terrarium (wash your moss!).  You may set yourself up for failure if you collect dry or dormant moss in summer months.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Scavenged Terrarium Makes Cover of International Art Magazine

Image courtesy of Pipeline

A terrarium by artist Wawi Navarroza graced the cover of international art magazine Pipeline this month.  The terrarium is part of a larger collaborative art project, wherein Wawi invited people to collect terrarium materials from in and around Manila.  Wawi compiled the disparate results into elegant yet ephemeral terrarium arrangements that highlight the transitory nature of the scavenged plants and materials.  Randz Manucom of Preen reports:
Hunt & Gather, Terraria is a collaboration where Metro Manila urban dwellers were invited by Wawi to search for soil, plants, and ephemera from meaningful locations in the city. These are then arranged inside glass terrariums by Wawi herself and photographed as still-lifes.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How to Make a Terrarium Last

I want to be honest with you about how long you can expect your terrarium to last and thrive.  Many blogs show fast and easy terrarium crafts in tiny glass vessels and bubbles, but they rarely show you what a tiny terrarium will look like after three months.  Probably dried out or moldy.  Tiny terrariums are cute if you think of them as a cut flower arrangement.  But part of the thrill of building terrariums is chasing the lasting terrarium, which sometimes means restarting, trying new combinations of plants, soil, and containers - until the ecosystem clicks and then plants thrive.  My longest-lasting terrarium was built in a wine jug and lasted about three years.  It looked a lot like the photo above from Note the deep moss roots, and appearance of algae type stuff in the bottom layers of the soil. This is what a slice of the outdoors looks like under glass!

Secrets to a Long-Lasting Terrarium

  1. Use a large enough glass container. A general equation seems to be, the larger the container, the better the chance the terrarium has to thrive.
  2. Use an adequate amount of soil. If plants are to grow, they will need some space.
  3. Use healthy plants and moss that have been inspected for insects and washed if needed. Select plants that have similar light and water requirements (e.g. woodsy ferns with moss, succulents with cacti.) See 19 of the most popular terrarium plants.
  4. Keep up with terrarium maintenance! This includes managing water and temperature levels (e.g. water occasionally and don't leave it in full sun all day).  You might need to put a lid on your terrarium occasionally to help keep water in the system.  You might need to remove dead leaves or scrub the sides of the container of algae fuzz.
  5. If all else fails, try again. Don't be afraid to restart your terrarium if mold takes over, plants die, or insects infest.  Shake it all out, scrub out the container with water and a bit of bleach, and try again when it is dry.  Fresh plants and soil!
How long has your healthiest terrarium lasted? 53 years?

53 year old terrarium

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Is Moss Magic?

Goblins' Gold (Photograph: Matt Goff)
Oh the attraction of simple moss.  A vibrant green patch, a soft carpet on the forest floor or alongside a creek.  Many terrarium builders seek moss for their projects as its diminutive scale suits terrarium life quite well.  But the world's fascination with moss runs much deeper than just crafting.  Moss has associations with magic, with fairies gardens, with damp and shady glens.  Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer explores the abstract side of moss in her book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses.  Her affection for common moss is apparent, but her scientific knowledge of bryology allows her to share stories of some of the world's most spectacular and unusual moss.  Kimmerer describes Schistostega pennata, known as Goblins’ Gold, a unique moss that subsists in a rare habitat where the undersides of rocks along a lake receive reflected light. 
"The shimmering presence of Schistostega is created entirely by the weft of nearly invisible threads crisscrossing the surface of the moist soil. It glows in the dark, or rather it glitters in the half light of places which scarcely feel the sun.... Rain on the outside, fire on the inside. I feel a kinship with this being whose cold light is so different from my own. It asks very little from the world and yet glitters in response."
Read more about this singular book at Brain Pickings.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Living Walls Create Landscapes Indoors

Photo: Ema Peter, Design: Gustavson
Wylie Architects, from The Globe and Mail
Green walls or living walls are an indoor gardener's largest scale project.  The idea of water seeping down walls might be enough to scare you off the idea, but if you are willing to put in a bit more money or effort, you too could arrange a vertical landscape in your dwelling. 

The multi-story living wall design at Lululemon Athletica in Canada contains over 2,000 individual plants, designed by Vancouver design firm Green over Grey.  Employees that work in the building cherish this bit of green to get them through long grey winters. “On one of those dark, rainy, typical Vancouver days … it feels refreshing to come in here” says Lululemon’s Karen O’Connor.  Large scale living walls such as this need a built in feeding and watering system behind the wall.

If built-in infrastructure sounds beyond your pocketbook, there are plenty of modular living plant arrangements that can be displayed on a wall.  Another Vancouver company, ByNature, offers its ModuloGreen living walls, which are soil-based and come with compact automatic irrigation systems.

Read more about compact living wall arrangements at The Globe and Mail.