Search This Blog

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A garden in a bottle part 1

Wardian case: Wikipedia image.

I plan to do this in two parts, with the art of planting and the making of tools next time. Right now, I am flat out finishing a book, so Part 2 may be a few days away.  Amuse yourself getting together the stuff you need, and planning where to put the finished product.

It's amazing what will grow in captivity if you give it a chance. In the middle of the 19th century, the Wardian case, a sealed case with glass panels, became popular as a sort of mini-greenhouse. It gave immigrants to Australia a way of carrying plants and soil from Europe to Australia, and pests were often carried along as well.

This is what you need:jar, gravel and peat moss.
Forget the tools, they will be covered in Part 2.
Wardian cases were first used in 1833 when a ship carried British ferns and plants to Sydney, where they were no doubt unloaded and set loose in the colony. The case was certainly refilled with Australian plants and sent back to England. In 1841, New Zealand plants travelled to England in a Wardian case. Another case was used to smuggle tea plants from Shanghai in China to India. Later, rubber seedlings, germinated from smuggled Brazilian seeds, were carried in Wardian cases to Malaya and Ceylon (now Malaysia and Sri Lanka).

 Once sealed, there is little water loss from a Wardian case as most of the evaporated water condenses and runs back to the bottom of the container. So long as the case gets enough light, the plants will do well. On ocean voyages, the main benefit was that the plants were protected from salt spray, strong winds and extreme cold.

First, add the gravel.
These conditions are not found in most homes, but it's easy to forget to water house plants, so a sealed environment makes a good garden. You can use a bottle or a fish tank just as effectively as a case, so long as it is sealed, so long as the sides are clear glass or polycarbonate sheeting and so long as the plants get enough indirect daylight. If there's enough light to read by, there should be enough light for the plants.

Any clear bottle will do, although 3 litre PET bottles seem to be about the best available these days, now wine flagons are a thing of the past. When you have mastered the art of planting in bottles, look around gift shops for fancy bottles to plant a really fine garden in.

You can get bags of clean gravel at aquarium shops.

Peat moss is sold at gardening shops.  You don't need much so you may be able to persuade a neighbouring or family gardener to make a small donation.
Then add some peat moss and tamp it down.

Notice how I chose a jar large enough to get my hand in (and out), with a good seal as my practice jar to learn on.

You will need some water in the very bottom, but most plant roots can't survive being surrounded by water, so you need 2–3 cm of gravel at the bottom of the bottle.

Use fine gravel, the sort that is sold in aquarium shops, then cover that with about 3 cm of potting mix. Make the surface level (or sloping like the terrarium), and add water gently to avoid washing the potting mix away. Use a funnel and plastic tubing if you can. Add water until there is visible water among the stones.

You need to add the water gently. I use a squeezable plastic water bottle, the sort that has a 'pop top' on it for this purpose.

And here's what it should look like. If you look very carefully, you can see how far up the gravel is saturated: notice how the top, dry half of the gravel looks lighter.

Next time, I will have something to say about what to plant and how to make some gardening tools. They aren't so necessary for a jar like this, but they can be if you really want a garden in a bottle!

No comments:

Post a Comment