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Creating terrariums with kids

Posted by Dawn Isaac on 08 Dec 2011 at 10:29 AM



The other day I learnt this lesson: when a child tells you “If I eat any more of this, I’m going to be sick” they aren't always being melodramatic.

Sadly, I also learnt that my daughter is a stickler for the rules.  It didn’t matter how many times I tried to explain that her brother only threw up because I forced him to eat too many beans she just became more and more adamant that “You can’t go back to school for 48 hours after you’ve been sick.”

I could’ve risked it, but sadly Ava would embrace the role of Supergrass.

So I had my son at home “sick” for two days, except he had bundles of energy and required almost constant entertainment.

Bring on the Terrarium (less catchy that "Bring on the Wall", I’ll admit).

Yes, Oscar decided we should make a terrarium as he’d seen one in a book.

Thankfully these are relatively simple and a useful way to distract children for a good chunk of an afternoon.

First you need to find some kind of clear container.  I have seen terrariums made using old plastic bottles, but quite frankly, if this thing was going to sit around the house, I was after something a little more pleasing on the eye. Thankfully I had a fishbowl shaped vase which I’d purchased from Wilkos for the princely sum of £5 which was perfect.

You then need to add some gravel to the base to act as a drainage area for excess water, followed by a layer of charcoal.  This is important as it absorbs the smells which would otherwise arise from a slightly damp and festering environment.  Sadly, it is also supposed to be "activated charcoal" (nope, I hadn't a clue either but apparently this is the stuff you use in aquarium filters and can be bought from a pet shop).  However as ours has an opening rather than being a fully enclosed terrarium I'm hoping we can gloss over the fact I threw in some bits of charcoal from the barbeque.

Next you need to add compost.  Usually the advice is a peat-based compost but I’m a tree-hugging peat-free kind of a girl, so this is all we had.  Quite frankly, I doubt it will make much of a difference.

Finally, you get to add the plants. Given the moist environment, it is best to stick to ferns, mosses and lichens because flowers are apt to rot in this sort of atmosphere.  That said, we were somewhat bereft of mini ferns so I let Oscar add a Viola and Hellebore which had self seeded in the garden.  These will give the finished space a bit more interest and we can always swap them out in a few weeks.

The moss and lichen we found on broken twigs and in shady spots around the garden and on a wander down a local lane.  It’s a useful way to get children to look more closely at these less glamorous plants and fungi as there are a huge variety of different ones when you investigate.

Planting is best done with a long-handled teaspoons followed by the artistic arrangement of your other finds. Oh, and dinosaurs always look good (as do plastic pigs and Hex Bugs according to Oscar).

We then just watered the whole thing very sparingly before placing it near the window, but not in direct sunlight.

There are loads of sites devoted to the world of terrariums, some of which are less frightening than others – have a look here and here.



On another, completely unrelated note, I received my most exciting parcel ever last week.  It contained an advance copy of my book. I should probably be cool and blasé about such news but I'm really not, so can I just say YESSSSSSS! (I may also have punched the air just then - something I hope you can overlook).

Sadly, it won't be available until February 9th but until then I shall lovingly stroke the pages of this one copy (at least when no-one is looking).



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