Bottle garden: Small ecosystem in a glass

Bottle garden with biophytum
Bottle garden with biophytum

The great thing about a bottle garden is that it’s basically completely autonomous, and once you’ve created it, it can last for many years without you having to lift a finger. As sunlight (outside) and water (inside) interact, nutrients and gases develop, keeping a perfect mini-ecosystem working inside the jar. The water, once filled, evaporates and re-deposits on the inner walls. Plants filter carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis and release fresh oxygen.

The idea of the bottle garden

The idea is not new: as early as the mid-19th century, the English physician Dr. Nathaniel Ward developed “Wardian case”, a closed garden in a glass container. Today, the term bottle garden is implemented quite differently. Sometimes it is an open glass container planted with succulents or alternatively a closed glass container. The latter is a special form, which is called hermetosphere among experts. The most famous bottle garden is probably that of the British David Latimer, who more than 58 years ago put some substrate and plant seeds of a spiderwort (Tradescantia) in a wine balloon, closed it and patiently left it to itself. In 1972 he opened it once, watered it and sealed it again.

To date, a lush garden has developed in it For plant lovers who enjoy experimenting, mini gardening in a glass is just the thing.

What actually is a hermetosphere?

The term derives from the Latin “hermetice” (closed) and the Greek “sphaira” (shell). So a hermetosphere is a self-contained system in the form of a small garden in a glass, which hardly needs watering. Placed in a warm, bright place in the house, you can enjoy the hermetosphere for many years. With the right materials and plants, this particular form of bottle garden is quite easy to care for and well suited for beginners.

What kind of location is suitable for the bottle garden?

The best place for a bottle garden is in a very bright, but off-sun location without direct sunlight. Place the bottle garden so that it is easy to see and observe what is going on inside.

Create a bottle garden: The right bottle

To create a bottle garden, you can use a conventional bottle. Somewhat larger, bulbous models with a cork stopper or similar are ideal, as are candy or preserving jars that can be sealed airtight. Clean the bottle thoroughly with boiling water beforehand to kill any mold spores or germs that may be present.

What plants are suitable for the bottle garden?

For planting bottle gardens are particularly suitable exotic plants. The climate in them resembles the living conditions in their natural habitats. Even orchids thrive in the tropical warm and humid ecosystem. For this purpose using so-called mini-orchids, which are the result of crossing small-growing species with hybrids are recommended. They are available from Phalaenopsis, as well as from Cymbidium, Dendrobium or many other popular orchid genera. Uncomplicated are also ornamental pepper (Peperomia polybotrya), spiderwort (Tradescantia) and Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomioides). Peat mosses (Spagnum) are also a must in a bottle garden, as are small-growing ferns. Bromeliads are particularly beautiful, providing color accents with their unusual flowers.

Cacti or succulents are also suitable for planting, but in this case the container should remain open.

The perfect substrate for an ecosystem in a jar

For a bottle garden, expanded clay, gravel or granules, as used for hydroponics, are made as a substrate. Particularly long-lasting substrate such as lava granules or basalt grit is well suited. Add a layer of this to the soil about five centimeters (2 in) high, depending on the size of the bottle. This provides good drainage and prevents water from collecting and the soil that now follows from starting to mold. The second layer, in fact, consists of conventional potting soil or garden soil and is laid eight to ten centimeters (3.2 to 4 in) high above it.

If your bottle has a narrow neck, you can use a funnel to fill it.

Create a bottle garden

Creating your own bottle garden is not that difficult. The prerequisite for having a stable ecosystem in your jar later on that you hardly have to worry about is that you follow the points mentioned above regarding location, substrate and planting. Below you will find step-by-step instructions for creating a bottle garden.

Fill in substrate

Fill the substrate to cover the soil. Do not use potting soil, otherwise rot will occur in the jars. After all, the plants should remain small and grow slowly.

Prepare plant shoots

Carefully pull apart individual plant shoots, shake off the soil a little and gently rinse the roots in water.

Fill in granules purposefully

Carefully place the plant in the jar and loosely arrange the shoots. With a cardboard tube, for example from a kitchen roll, which is cut at an angle at the bottom, you can fill the granules specifically – so that the roots are covered.

Add decorative elements

As a small decoration, drape stones and shells in the jar with long tweezers.

Water the bottle garden carefully

After planting, water sparingly! Use an eyedropper to carefully add water to the jar. However, no water should be visible at the bottom of the glass.

Add soil organisms to the jar

Finally, add a few harmless springtails (20 to 30 of them). The tiny soil organisms keep the glass free from mold and are important helpers.

Maintaining a garden of bottles

After the bottle garden is created, it is watered and sealed airtight. Water it just enough so that the bottle is misted in the morning, but in the course of the day it dries.

If drops trickle down the inside, the ecosystem has gotten too wet and you should open the bottle for a while to let the excess moisture out. Otherwise, you can leave your bottle garden to its own devices and rarely need to open it to check.

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