Weekend Project

Justin Newcombe's tips on outdoor DIY projects

Weekend project: Through the looking glass

By Justin Newcombe

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Justin Newcombe creates a tiny garden of tranquillity in an up-cycled water bottle.

Justin Newcombe's DIY terrarium. Photo / Richard Robinson
Justin Newcombe's DIY terrarium. Photo / Richard Robinson

One of the most unusual gardens you can have is a terrarium. These little glass worlds have a strange, almost surreal atmosphere about them, appearing still and delicate as they sit strangely removed from their surroundings. As an object of contemplation in the office, a terrarium is engaging, the perfect opportunity for taking a few seconds break from looking at a computer screen. I think it's the glass that gives the whole piece a sense of fragility and other-worldliness.

The glass is an important factor in considering the aesthetic of your terrarium. I've gone for a bit of modified utility and up-cycled an old water bottle, but you can buy some quite unusual pieces of glass to give your terrarium that extra edge: I've seen them in glass teapots, old fish bowls or hand-blown pieces of glass art. Because of the confined space the plant selection needs to have reasonably consistent requirements of water and light. Ferns and cactus for example will prove to be incompatible bedfellows because of their different watering requirements. I've been a bit naughty in this respect and planted cactus and mondo grass together: it will become survival of the fittest in there.

Step 1

Find an appropriate container to use. The more beautiful the piece of glass you use, the better the outcome. In this case I've decided to use a glass water bottle. I've cut the neck using a tile cutting blade on a Dremmel (you can get them at Bunnings). I've made the opening quite small because I wanted to show as much of the curve of the top of the bottle as possible rather than have it just look like any old jar. Another option is to remove the bottom from the bottle and use a small plate for the plants. The bottle just sits over the plate, and looks like a tiny dome (and it makes maintenance really easy). Goggles, earmuffs and a dusk mask are a must.

Step 2

Clean the glass inside and out. Use a hair dryer to remove old labels or price stickers. The heat softens the label and loosens up the adhesive which makes peeling the label off easy. The last bits of adhesive can be removed using methylated spirits. Finally, use #000 grade steel wool to polish things up nicely to a crystal clear finish.

Step 3

Add drainage material to the bottom of the vessel. I've used charcoal which is available from any aquarium or fish shop. Charcoal is a water purifier and will stop excessive water from stagnating and killing the plants. Use a tube to add the drainage material and soil to the container to keep it clean.

Step 4

Add potting mix. I'm using a cactus mix because of its drainage qualities.

Step 5

Using a pair of tongs, carefully plant your plants. I arranged them on a plate before I inserted them so I could get my design right before I put them into the container. Because my container had such a small opening I've made some tongs out of strips of ply to help me plant. I've also seen specially designed terrarium containers with openings in the sides rather than in the top. This makes planting and maintenance easier.

Step 6

Carefully add decorative rocks. I've used some that I found on the beach but Bunnings have a good range of options including some coloured glass pebbles.

Step 7

Lightly water the plants.

- NZ Herald

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