A Child’s Terrarium is Magical, Too
Creating terrariums has been an adult project that I have very much enjoyed doing all by myself. My son also loves the terrariums I make. He enjoys staring into the glass vessels and inspecting their miniature habitats. He has managed to mostly control his impulses, and follow the “Eyes only, no hands” rule that accompany my glass worlds. He even manages to do so when we have a couple of ladybugs crawling around inside a jar for one or two days. He likes my terrariums so much, however, that I wanted him to have his own that are accessible and hands-on. I wanted to find a way to replicate the creative experience for him, as well, to create with him a child’s terrarium.
On Pinterest I was reminded of a project I had seen before: starting a seed inside of a clear, plastic container stuffed with a damp piece of paper. I tried this project out a while ago. As with all of us, my son is perfectly aware of how a seedling appears above the surface of the soil. But also, as is the case for so many, what happens beneath the soil was still a complete mystery to him. We followed the conventional instructions to unearth this secret and it was fun. My son thoroughly enjoyed his peas and beans growing on the windowsill next to our kitchen table. I enjoyed his excitement and I like anything that grows. Still, this was not my favorite project. To tell the truth, it was really ugly.
Building terrariums for myself and my family gave me the idea that we could create something better, something beautiful, instead of a straggly plant in plastic.
First of all, we switched to glass jars. Aesthetically, this already made a world of difference. Another difficulty I found with the basic bean and pea projects we tried the first time around involved how much the plants wanted to grow. They did indeed manage to grow – our pea plant even produced a pod containing one mature pea! However, they looked starved. The plants were pale and stringy and dropped many leaves. I imagined that in our new version a little soil could be added in just the right way, making sure that the seeds were not occluded, but that there would be nourishment for our tender seeds. This way the plants could have longer, much prettier lives. Another challenge was that peas and beans like to climb. With no support system they would grow up as far as they could manage on their own, and then fall over. The plants were a straggly mess. This is what I had to look at each morning when we had breakfast. Not good enough! I knew these lovely little plants could start off my day with far more inspiration and magic. Instead of a child’s science project, I wished for a child’s terrarium.
How my Son and I Built a Child’s Terrarium Together
We rescued two transparent, glass jars from my mother’s recycling bin. My stepfather was an angel and he washed the containers and removed the labels for us.
I poured about a half an inch of light, sterilized potting soil into the bottom of each jar. Sterilization is a hassle but absolutely necessary. From personal experience, I can share that you don’t want to contaminate all your indoor plants with pests that come into the house in commercial potting soils. Potting soils sold outdoors at big box retailers are the worst culprits of all.
My child crumpled up unused napkins that we brought home with us from our last flight to Montreal. I can never bring myself to toss out unused napkins. I know that at some point they will come in handy.
Then my son, two years old, placed two or three of his crumpled balls on top of the layer of potting soil in each jar. He was so delighted to take the responsibility for preparing and placing the paper into the jars all on his own.
I reached into each jar and fiddled a small bit with the crumpled paper to make a natural shelf in each. Each shelf was meant to hold a seed where it could be easily viewed from outside the jar.
Next, my little boy placed a pea seed onto one shelf, and a runner bean seed onto the other.
Together, we gently poured some water into each jar: just enough for the paper to wick the water up to the seed. Pea seeds easily get too damp and rot, so a lighter touch is better for pea seeds. If you need to add more water on a later day, you can do so.
Place the lids on the jars, and set your child’s terrariums in a bright place. Our kitchen windowsill is bright and does not receive direct sunlight.
Every morning we inspect the growth. These sorts of seeds sprout so quickly! It is so much fun to watch the young growth. Once the plants were high enough that they were growing back downward again, we removed the lids and the vines popped out! My little boy found this step to be hilarious. The popping plant stem inspired a gleeful, toddler squeal.
To support the upward growth, we made trellises for our plants. We collected sticks from a local park and we cut lengths of wool yarn at home. I built an organic looking trellis by wrapping yarn around the joints where the sticks met. My son thickly wrapped his lengths of yarn around his sticks. He laid them out on the table for a while. Then he surrounded the jars on the windowsill with his yarn strewn branches for a day. Then one day I noticed his sticks stuffed into and poking out of his pea terrarium! This works, too! It is not necessary that the trellises be traditional in design. Trellises merely need to support the growth of the young plants.
Once the lids are removed, you have to keep on top of watering. In the summer months, the paper tends to dry out quickly. After several weeks of growth, we added more soil to the jars. My son poured in more soil just up to the level of the seed, so that we would not have to water as often, and also to provide more sustenance for the small plants. Having my son complete this step was a bit messy, of course but again he was delighted to do so on his own.
Our glass jar planters are beautiful! My son knows the secrets of the life of a seed beneath the soil and we both get to start each morning off right, with the inspiration and grace that a child’s terrarium offers.
Please Subscribe to Mama is Inspired by entering your email address into the box in the upper corner of this page. Thanks!