A little behind the times: Making Your Own Terrarium

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If you live in Canada you’ll know that this past weekend was so cold that it resulted in an extreme cold warning from Environment Canada being set for SIX of our ten provinces. That meant that here in Ottawa the temperature hovered around -28°C (with a windchill of -37°F) for almost three days. For you Americans out there, that’s basically absolute zero (actually on the Fahrenheit scale it’s kind of close to the same thing). It was too cold even to take our extra-furry dog out for a walk, and we were all cooped up inside driving each other nuts.

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As a nod to the spring that I know is coming, I decided to take the time to make myself a terrarium or two. I know I’m behind the trend curve on this one, but now I finally have actual windows that point in directions where sunlight comes in and I’ve been itching to make my own terrariums for YEARS. Now keep in mind that the versions I made are “quickie” versions, ones where the plants inside will need to be re-potted or moved in a couple of months. If you want to do it right, I suggest you read some of the articles I have at the bottom of this post. These succulents I picked up at Home Depot and very carefully bundled them home in a way that would avoid being outdoors for longer than thirty seconds at a time.

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These containers I already had. The little fishbowl thing came from the dollar store and the giant antique cookie jar thing came with the Pie when we moved in together.

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First thing you need is some gravel for drainage (at least until the root systems get bigger and they start traveling downwards). I didn’t have any gravel on hand so I used these glass pebbles I’ve had kicking around the house for like a decade. I’ve used and re-used them for projects like this a million times.

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Then you scoop in some potting soil. I used a cactus and succulent mix, which has decent drainage.

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Then you wrestle with your plants. When repotting anything, make sure to loosen the soil where the roots are – disturbing the root ball will make roots grow in different directions and force them to adapt to the new setting.

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I used  a soup spoon to pat down the soil inside my little fishbowl.

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The cookie jar ended up being smaller than I had anticipated for the plants I bought. These are way overcrowded, so I ended up pulling out one of the plants and putting it in a pot in the living room.

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Then I added a pirate. Looking for treasure.

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And a skeleton.

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To the other one it was some tiny army men.

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One is on my coffee table.

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The other is in the dining room. And both make me happy to see them every day. Spring can’t be that far away!

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How-to-NOT Build a Cactus Terrarium

Nine steps to make a terrarium using succulents & cacti

A guide to making a succulent terrarium

Wee Clay Pot City

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When I saw these wee things over at Say Yes to Hoboken I knew immediately who I had to make them for (but I’m not telling you: it’s a surprise).  Perfect for small plants, especially succulents, I could see these forming a little town on someone’s coffee table.

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I decided to make my own template for my wee town, so that I could get some variety in the buildings I created.  Just make sure, when you are creating your pattern, that you account for the width of the base and the thickness of your sculpting medium.  It’s all about the math, b’ys.

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For this little jobbie you need some Sculpey, a cutting tool (I used a paring knife), a smoothing tool (I used some old manicure tools), and something for rolling out the clay (I used an empty Screech bottle).  You will also need a glass dish for baking your clay, and a work surface that doesn’t stain easily.  Raw Sculpey is pretty toxic, so it’s best to work on waxed paper, parchment, or a silicone mat that you can easily wash.

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It’s a simple thing to do, but it takes some time.  First you need to condition your Sculpey by squishing it a bunch with your hands.  Then you roll it out, and cut out your shapes.

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When you press them together, make a little snake out of extra clay and use it to seal the edges — you want the wee pot to be water tight after all.

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My first go-round, I made my templates too big and so my little houses weren’t really all that little. You can see in the photo below how it sagged under its own weight.  Fortunate thing about Sculpey is you can just squish it all up and start again, which I did.  My new templates work on a 2″ square, and so I can make about four structures out of one pound of clay.

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I wanted a bit of variety to my city, so with the white Sculpy I made two regular houses, one house with a slanty roof, and a factory.

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Do you see how I raised the floor of the factory on the inside so that the plant would still come out the top?  I know: clever me.

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And the basic house:

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With the terra cotta coloured Sculpey I made a mansion (or row housing), a city hall and a church.  The church is just the small house with a cross instead of a chimney (which baked a bit wonky), and the city hall is just a big house with a circle cut out of the taller roof to signify a town clock.

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Use a smoothing tool to smooth out the edges on the outside, too, and the bottom.

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The next part is easy.  You preheat your oven to 275°F and pop your little structures into your glass dish (I lined mine with parchment, just because I find if the clay is right on the glass surface it tends to cook with a glossy flat edge that doesn’t jibe with the rest of the piece).  Bake for 15 minutes per every 1/4″ thickness of Sculpey.  You don’t want to overbake, but as some of my pieces were obviously thicker or thinner than that (yes, we’ve already gone over how much I suck at Sculpey), I go for a round 20 minutes and that seems to work out just fine.

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Haul those out of the oven and don’t touch them until they’re cool.  Sculpey is designed to shrink less than 2% while baking so you shouldn’t have much trouble with your watertight seal, but you should check anyway.  If it’s not sealed, just add a touch more Sculpey to the hole and bake it for a few minutes.

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I didn’t have enough Sculpey left to make a whole other building, so I made this little round pot.

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And then a wee man.  He’s a magician (hence the top hat and cape) and he’s sitting staring at this wee box, thinking.  So I call it Thinking, Outside the Box.  I gave him to the Pie.

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And there you have it.  I don’t have any succulents on hand, so you’ll have to imagine them in these shots.  But it’s a cute little town, no?

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