Plant terrariums in wintertime are dreamy

December 20, 2022

Plant terrariums in wintertime are dreamy

Moss balls Moss and tillandsia terrarium Air plants in kitchen window at Wind River
Air plants, bromeliads and succulents are dreamy and ethereal…

Air plants are a unique treat in wintertime. Most especially for  gardeners

After such a difficult gardening season, summer of 2022, I felt ready to clear out my garden beds and let them rest for a while. I was literally and figuratively burnt out. In September my husband and I visited New Orleans. It was a business/pleasure trip.  Early Friday morning my husband had a business meeting so I decided to stroll down to the French market to visit Café du Monde for a beignet and café au lait, then a leisurely stroll along the promenade.  

What I intended to do did not happen - but turned out to be much more satisfying. (This type of thing often happens when in New Orleans, by the way;) I did have my long-awaited café au lait and beignet (3 actually)  but as I was leaving Café du Monde, I was soon drawn into a sidewalk eatery (I think it was called French Market Café,) to listen to an incredible jazz quartet.  Two tall Blue Moons, shrimp poboy, a decadent Caesar salad — AND 2 HOURS LATER - I left the amazing café and struck out toward the French Market for a little shopping.

Once there, I noticed a very unique display, floor-to-ceiling.  It was such a captivating spectacle of plants, but they were not your typical nursery plants. There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of what I soon learned were Tillandsias, or air plants.  The proprietor was a very interesting woman.  Very enjoyable to visit with, as are most folks from New Orleans.  She educated me on the different varietals, asked where I was from and began making suggestions of what might be a good fit for me.  I was captivated by  an ornate dish filled with tight little mossy balls.

“These are selaginella tamariscina,” she remarked matter-of-factly.  Very common around here, grow in the elbows and crooks of trees. When you water them, they open like blossoms but then close up again into little balls as they begin to dry.  I attempted to pronounce  back what she had called the little moss balls. She held up her hand and indicated, with a smile, “just call them spike moss.”

I scooped up a handful, about half a dozen, (wishing now I had bought more, my dog shredded three) and added them to my little handheld basket.  Behind her, above a succulent-laden etagere’ table, was a beautiful sage green “octopus-looking” plant. Its foliage spread out like tentacles and gently curled back from the center, resulting in a large, airy, rosette-shaped plant.  I noticed that it was not in a pot but instead hanging from a hook on a pegboard.

“Is it dead?” I asked. 

 “Oh no!” she proclaimed. “That one is a Tillandsia Brachycaulos; it is an air plant as well.”  

“I love it! Is it for sale?”  

She paused, eyeing me apprehensively, “It is… but you need to do your research. They’re not hard to take care of but you can ‘love them to death’ if you are not careful.”

Tillandsia brachycaulos
(RIP beautiful brachycaulos)

Which, sadly, I DID kill within two weeks of purchasing it.  I accidentally left it to soak overnight. Kiss of death for an air plant, which typically requires a good 10- to 20-minute soak, period, amen.  But thankfully, that is not what this blog post is about.  This post is about…

The joy of air plant terrariums in winter

Wintertime is a slow and sleepy time.  To me, it’s a time for self-inquiry, reflection and…surrender.  It is a joy and a wonder to befriend these beautiful and wispy little stalwarts, which require so very little fuss. They are neat and tidy, refreshing in their simplicity, and invoke a great frame of mind in which to start the new year.

Air plants do not need to have soil to grow; they receive some of their water and nutrient requirements from the air. Fun fact:  Spanish Moss and Pineapples are bromeliad, a type of air plant!

Getting started with air plants

Air plants are easy to acquire and very affordable, some selling for a few dollars. There are many different varieties which may be purchased through Amazon, Etsy, or many specialty sites online.  Some companies offer “surprise bundles,” introducing buyers to varietals that they may not have considered otherwise.

In order to thrive, air plants need bright, indirect light, proper watering and nutrition.  Watering an air plant depends upon the species and its current environment.  Misting may be sufficient.  Sometimes short-duration soaking is needed.  Depending upon the plant’s disposition, a combination of both misting and soaking may be necessary.

Better than a box of chocolates

As you may have noticed, I have mixed and matched the different varieties. To me, the mix is more irresistible than a box of chocolates. I have acquired most of the air plants, bromeliads and succulents from Etsy.  Lithops (stone faces), Pleiospilos neliisplit  (split rock succulent) and even a marVelous Petite Tillandsia Mystery Box!  It has been a  great joy curating the different small terrariums for the windowsills. You may have noticed mixed in with the terrariums are moss clumps, crystals and interesting rocks that I have foraged from our property in Arkansas.  

I highly recommend giving terrarium gardening a try, if this idea appeals to you - especially gardeners.  Be creative - or check out air plant boards on Pinterest.  There are many sources online that teach basic air plant care.  I have personally found that air plant care is very easy and rewarding.  Be mindful of over-care, as an air plant that is exposed to too much moisture can quickly rot.  

I wish you great success in air plant gardening. I hope that you are able to take inspiration from their beautiful simplicity - and in the restful and meditative practice of their care.

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