I am quite smitten with this book.
I've seen the odd terrarium project in other gardening or craft based books and they have appealed to me, but I never felt motivated to actually give them a go. The main reason is that I'm pretty terrible with plants, I forget to water them, sometimes I drown them, in fact I'm a pretty big fan of your average weed; they seem hardy. However, Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass by Maria Colletti has given me something very special, and that's confidence!
I found that there were two things in particular that make this book so darn spectacular, firstly it isn't just a book full of projects for you to copy, projects are only a small part, it's a book that gives you a sound foundation and an understanding of what terrariums can be and how they work. The second thing is author Maria Colletti's passion and enthusiasm. I'm not sure if I've always had an unknown love for terrariums or if Maria has simply sold them to me with her positive writing, but I want to build a terrarium very badly.
In the introduction Maria explains what a terrarium is, how they were discovered and used back in the 1800s and her own background; how she first became interested in terrariums and taught herself through experimentation and trial and error.
Following on from the introduction there are seven chapters. The first chapter ‘Terrarium Design’ discusses Maria's favourite themes and concepts in a design; how added details, shapes, colours and textures can change the look of your finished terrarium. We are shown images of a range of finished terrariums that are either tropical, woodland, or desert themed. We are also introduced to an assortment of plants and glass vessels, which give the reader a quick glance at the variety of designs that can be achieved. It also acts as a summery of what is broken down into more detail in the following chapters.
‘Chapter 2: The Basics’, takes you through all the tools that Maria uses in creating her terrariums, as well as all of the other materials that can be used (other than the plants), what they are used for and why. ‘Glass Vessels’ are then covered in chapter three; Maria explains the various different shapes that can be used by sharing some of her own experiences and noting advantages and disadvantages of each.
We then move on to ‘Getting Started’. This chapter talks you through the general stages of building a terrarium from creating drainage to adding the top dressing. It features ten step-by-step projects to help get you started with your own terrarium building. Each project has an ingredients list: plants, basics and moss (if used), and numbered instructions with accompanying photos. Images are clear and the instructions are written is an easy-going, accessible way. Maria writes in a friendly manner, with some steps feeling anecdotal rather than instructional. There are lots of explanations on why plants have been chosen or why things are built In a certain order, and how these decisions work within the design.
My favourite designs include the ‘Classic Fish Bowl’ for being so full, fresh and rounded like a bubble of foliage, and the ‘Vintage Wardian Case’ for its charm. I also like how these projects include a good range of plants, vessels and other ingredients (e.g. some terrariums feature potting mix and moss, while others use sand and stones).
I think most importantly, there is a chapter dedicated to ‘The Plants’. Plants that have been mentioned in earlier illustrations and within the projects are discussed in more detail. Maria talks about the natural environment you would usually find them in, therefore giving consideration to the conditions that they like and how you can care for them. Air Plants, Cryptanthus, Ferns, Selaginella, Succulents and Living Stones are all covered, as well as other 'Unique Foliage Plants'. It’s packed with information to help you choose which plants would work best for you (i.e. the ones I think I'm less likely to kill off and the ones I'll definitely not trouble myself with).
‘Chapter 6: Modern Indoor Gardening’, takes a look at Japanese inspired gardening trends such as Keshiki and Kokedama and prompts you to consider how you could push the boundaries of terrarium design, such as creating floating water gardens.
Finally chapter seven is probably the section of the book which I'd refer to again and again, 'Maintenance'. Crucially there is a troubleshooting section which talks you through the most common problems that you might encounter, what causes them and how to tackle them whether that be ‘Watering Methods’, ‘Sweating and Condensation’ or ‘Pruning and Rebuilding’.
The whole book has a lovely fresh, clean and modern design with plenty of images. Sometimes I wish some of the images could have been larger (I love great big full page images everywhere), but they all illustrate information included in the text really well and help to strengthen the reader's understanding.
I think the problem I usually have when I come across a terrarium project, is that I convince myself not to try it because I'm convinced it is going to fail, but Colletti explains terrariums in such detail and such an accessible way that I feel like I have all of the information I need to give myself the best chance of success, and have some idea what to do should things go wrong.
For me, I found Terrariums to be the perfect book. As someone that hasn't attempted to build a terrarium before I feel like I've been well equipped with everything I need to make a positive start without being intimidated. I still have a lot to learn but Maria has generously given so much of her valuable experience and highlighted so many tips and pitfalls, that I know I’m in a great place to make a start.
I will need to invest in vessels, plants and other materials before I can make my own terrarium, and I'm itching to get going, but for now I'll have to be patient and make do with repotting my baby succulents.
Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass
Published by Cools Springs Press
Images from Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass by Maria Colletti. Published by Cool Springs Press (£15.99)