At Hiland Hall Gardens, we love to foster children’s natural curiosity about the natural world. A fun project that encapsulates this feeling is creating small garden rooms in terrariums made out of recycled containers.
What you need for each garden:
• a clear 2 liter bottle cut in half
• 2 cups of small pebbles or rocks
• sphagnum moss
• large bowl or bucket of potting soil
• seeds (we used watercress but lettuce or other small seeds will work)
• plant cuttings (we used rosemary for extra scent but lavender or other sturdy plant cuttings would easily work as well.)
• some fun fairy house furniture (could be store bought or make your own!)
To begin the project, I prepared several 2-liter clear bottles by carefully cutting them in half so the children could easily place the soil and other materials into the terrarium.
The children’s first job was to put in about two cups of small pepples. This helps with drainage so that everything doesn’t end up getting soggy and moldy.
Next, the children put in about 3 cups of sphagnum moss, which also helps to keep the soil well drained.
Finally, we added some water to our bucket of potting soil to moisten it. We stirred it up and created a nice moist (but not soggy!) soil. Then the children put the potting soil into the terrarium.
We decided that planting watercress in the terrariums would soon turn into the “bushes” for the garden room. We also wanted some “trees,” so we chose rosemary cuttings to get that effect.
For the rosemary cuttings, with sharp clippers we cut a few sprigs from the base of the plant. We then took off any leaves that would be below the surface of the soil (up to about an inch at the base of the sprig). We kept them in some water until we were ready to plant and then just popped them into the soil. If you’re doing this project in the winter and don’t have access to outdoor plants for cuttings, try using a few from your houseplants.
We planted our watercress seeds by sprinkling them over the moistened soil. Some dried chive blossoms were added into the terrarium for fun (the children called them truffula trees), however we decided to remove them later so that they wouldn’t become moldy.
Final additions included some whimsical fairy house furniture to add to the sense of wonder.
The last step was to fit the top back on and find the perfect place to put our terrarium for many months of enjoyment!
To keep your terrarium growing, just add some water whenever things look a bit dry. Using a spray bottle is the best way to ensure that plants are moist but not soggy. For a terrarium, too much water is much worse than too little. Also, open your terrarium lid for about an hour a week to give it some much needed fresh air!
A simple way to get kids excited about gardening . . .
During the summer, I enjoy teaching children from a local preschool the value of gardening. We read garden-inspired stories, do creative gardening projects, eat freshly grown food, and simply enjoy being in nature. For this terrarium project, I opened the class with a book called The Secret Fairy Garden by Allia Zobel Nolan and Kathi Ember. It really got the imaginations flowing with pictures of fairies doing all sorts of fun, whimsical tasks such as serving tea to ladybugs and grooming a caterpillar’s hair. It was a perfect book to grab the attention of the three-to-four year olds.
After the story, we talked about what the world would be like if we were the size of the fairies. A puddle would be an ocean, a plant would be a forest, and even a nice doggy could seem monstrous. The world would change dramatically based on our size. To investigate that idea further, we decided to create terrariums, or small garden rooms. In creating these simple terrariums, we created tiny worlds for visiting fairies and, of course, for our own personal enjoyment.