Tag Archives: terraria

MICROCOSM: I would if I could

We all deal with it at one time or another: commit to some interesting activity because the calendar is full of fluff and barf, and you find something new and much better about thirty seconds after you pay for the plane tickets. Or you discover the event of a lifetime, scheduled for the same weekend as something else that simply cannot be moved. My life story involves repeated instances where, as much as I’d love to break commitments and peruse something new, I acknowledge that I’m already on the line for something as important and do the grown-up thing. (Remind me to tell you the free lobster story one of these days.)

And then there’s the real bonecruncher: staying home and getting ready for a major show the weekend before, so I’m not frantically potting plants right after coming home from the Day Job, and then finding something that, if it were any week, running that credit card plumb dry in order to get plane tickets. Or selling body parts. Heck, selling my body parts.

And so, for those wanting to explore the frontiers of aquaria, terraria, and vivaria, get thee hence to MICROCOSM in San Diego the weekend of March 1. Of course, I only learned about this today, and of COURSE it’s the weekend before All-Con, the first really big Triffid Ranch show of the year. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’m just going to ask for a volunteer who’s already heading to MICROCOSM to grab as much promotional material as possible at the show and mailing it this way. I’ll definitely make it worth your while, so give a yell if you’re interested. And then there’s next year’s show.

Getting Potted

A few months back, some may remember my less than salutory review of the book Terrarium Craft and my complaints about the “put a bird on it” sensibility that still infects terrarium design. In the interim, I’ve been collating ideas on how to drag the concept out of the 1970s, and preparing to present them in something approximating a coherent form.

As usual, talking is okay, but action is better. The Los Angeles store Potted is hosting a terrarium design competition, with the grand prize being a $500 shopping spree. Each Friday starting on October 21, all entries sent to Potted will be voted upon, and the winners of each round will be submitted for a final competition. The final prize may be collected by anybody in the continental US, but I imagine entries don’t have to be limited to that.

Anyway. You know the drill. It’s time to take the word “terrarium” out of that horrible avocado-and-goldenrod kitchen and banish it forever from that famed kidney stone of a decade. I know you lot, and I know you’ll make your Uncle Zonker proud.

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

A few extra observations for the weekend, because I’m getting paid by the pithy comment. (Go ahead and laugh. Eating fresh grass cuttings and bowls of hot bluejean soup on the front porch of a refrigerator box builds character.)

Firstly, I’m an involuntary teetotaler: I can’t drink, but I’m fascinated by many of the aspects of the history and production of wine and spirits. This scares my family at times, as the filthiest four-letter words that could ever be uttered within range of a Riddell for the last 500 years are “last call”. It really scares my youngest brother, as his appreciation for and consumption of various forms of alcohol is generally exceeded only by the likes of Keith Richards. A few years back, he and I got into a conversation about whether sherry or port barrels should be used for scotch whisky aging, and I thought he was going to have a seizure when he realized I knew more about the meaning behind the term “the angel’s share” than he did. All I know was that milk came out his nose when he choked, and it was 20-year single-malt before it spewed out his nostrils. It should also be noted that I was wearing this shirt at the time, so I caused more damage to the lad than I’d considered.

It’s with that boy-in-the-plastic-bubble attitude that I peruse the commentary of Dr. Vino, and I discovered that he and I have common ground after all. Namely, to deal with the winter doldroms in Chicago, he’s become an enthusiast of moss gardens in rose bottles. I have only two things to add: number one, I’m going to have to do a post on purchased and constructed terrarium tools just for this sort of circumstance, because I know exactly how to fix his schmutz problem. Number two, when I do this, I prefer Jack Daniels bottles for one good reason: they’re square, so they can be set on their sides without worrying about their rolling. Other than that, we’ll have him growing merlot cuttings before you know it.

And the other installment involves the never-ending garden gnome/garden flamingo war, which now involves the police. Specifically, we now have garden gnomes in police custody for their own protection. Custody for their own protection, instead of cries of “KILL IT WITH FIRE!” as sane individuals are wont to do. I mean, c’mon. We have mooning gnomes. We have zombie gnomes. We have gnomes with guns. When are we going to back off and let the flamingos fight this out with saturation nuclear bombardment, before the gnomes get us all?

Review: Terrarium Craft by Amy Bryant Aiello and Kate Bryant

(A bit of context. This blog will feature regular reviews of books, horticultural products, and interesting related items, under this proviso. All items reviewed will be purchased by the reviewer in advance, at full retail price, in order to prevent any conflict of interest. Information about upcoming releases is greatly appreciated, but receipt of advance copies or samples will be announced well in advance and will not influence the final review. The world has enough Jeff Craigs and Maria Salases as it is.)

Terrarium Craft: Create 50 Magical, Miniature Worlds by Amy Bryant Aiello and Kate Bryant, photographs by Kate Baldwin.
ISBN-10: 1604692340
ISBN-13: 9781604692341
Published: Timber Press (OR), 05/01/2011
Pages: 195
Language: English

You’d think that after years of working as a book, music, and film critic, I’d learn not to freak out over first impressions. Don’t read advance reviews. Don’t listen to samples before you hear the whole album. Most importantly, in Nyarlathotep’s name, don’t flip through a book and expect to get a good impression of the content from that view. When I received my copy of Terrarium Craft, I made that mistake.

As an aside, after the last seven years of serious horticultural research, I’ve come to one absolute. Namely, any book with the Timber Press conifer on its spine is worth buying. The serious reference volumes are worth every last penny, and I spend an inordinate amount of time searching for and purchasing the out-of-print volumes, especially those on orchids and conifers. Even the more ethereal volumes are must-haves, and I suspect that at least a quarter of my horticultural library now consists of Timber Press releases. As I like to point out to the folks working there, I see at least one volume every six months that invokes my horticultural theme song.

For about five minutes, I forgot all about this as I flipped through Terrarium Craft on my way to work. I swear to you that my first response was “What the hell is this put-a-bird-on-it gibberish? Deer antlers? Fluorite crystals with bladderworts? Venus flytraps in votive glasses? What happened?” I suddenly wished I had good hard research on whether hallucinogens could pass via the placenta from mother to child, and wondered exactly what my mom was up to 45 years ago.

Thankfully for all involved, I didn’t take this as a sign that someone spiked my Albuterol with ketamine. I did the sane thing and actually read the whole book. Cover to cover. In the process, I had a bit of a revelation.

The problem, of course, lay with the fact that while the rest of living sculpture and design, for lack of a better term, kept advancing into the 21st century, terrarium design still remains trapped in 1975. When I first started out, I picked up a lot of terrarium construction guides, and most of them were published in what G.B. “Doonesbury” Trudeau called “a kidney stone of a decade.” Those who do not remember the Seventies and its terrifying insistence upon homemade junque are condemned to repeat it. Those who do also remember such a proliferation of mediocre crafts that by 1981, “handmade” was almost a profanity. The backlash against depressingly banal handmade clothes, toys, and gifts was so extreme that by the time I left high school, that jacket or that backpack had BEST come from a store that had lots and lots of the exact same thing. (You think I’m kidding. Maybe it had to do with life in North Texas during the oil boom, but wearing a handmade sweater or scarf to school after Christmas was taken as meaning “Oh, your parents were too poor to buy you real presents.”)

For a very long time, “terrariums” were just as much a term laden with sneers as “macrame”. Nearly 150 years of laudable tradition in Wardian cases and fern enclosures, wiped out by maybe five years of mayonnaise jars and little purple elf figures. Vivaria for reptiles and amphibians took off and expanded well beyond their origins. Penjing came into its own in the West, to be met by saikei from Japan and Hòn Non Bô from Vietnam. The popular view of terraria, though? Lucite domes on shag carpet with funky guitar riffs coming out of the quadrophonic stereo, like the set design for an episode of Space: 1999.

That’s why I had my initial freakout, and then I read the whole book. As a guide for beginners, it’s remarkably complete. About the only thing it suffers from is a distressing tendency seen in many contemporary books, exacerbated by Martha Stewart, not to offer general guides on particular effects and designs, but exact step-by-step instructions for exact copies of the displayed arrangements. Many of the arrangements themselves are a bit too twee for my own tastes, and many of the open-glass containers stretch the very limit of the term “terrarium”. For someone who never saw the original terrarium boom of the Seventies, though, it offers a lot of possibilities.

I have to admit that this one will never supplant my favorite terrarium book, Successful Terrariums: A Step-By-Step Guide, by Ken Kayatta and Steven Schmidt. I’ll also admit that Successful Terrariums is now over 36 years old, and the days of getting away with black-and-white photos and sepia illustrations in a hardcover book died along with disco. I’ll even note that with the last four decades of improvements in construction materials and lighting systems, additional knowledge of suitable plants and their needs, and techniques learned from improved botanical garden and zoo displays, now is a perfect time for a book that expands upon this base. It’s definitely high time for a volume that offers additional possibilities for more advanced terrarium and vivarium builders. With a bit of luck, Timber Press will be the publisher of that book, too.

Oh, I’m in trouble

I’d never advocate or endorse warehouse hijacking. Likewise, I feel for Dan Aykroyd after the recent Crystal Head Vodka heist took some 21,000 bottles of the stuff. HowEVER, Dan, if it turns out that most of it is drunk before the FBI and ATF get hold of the perps, want to work out a deal to sell the empty bottles? They make really good sundew terraria, after all…