spring terra

Lilliputian Gardening: Living in the Present
This November morning a slate gray sky sprinkled raindrops on the dogs as I stood outdoors with them at dawn. A single Blue jay peered at us from a bare maple branch with obvious interest. Hairy was absent as were the chickadees. It is warm enough today for insects to be out and about, becoming delectable protein-rich food for most birds in Fern Hollow, my home. Just two days ago I had a visit from a ruby-crowned kinglet when he flew in the door!

Returning to the house, ‘Mary’s Garden’ casts a warm emerald glow, lighting up the kitchen, now shrouded in winter gray. My terrarium, now one-year-old, is moving into late fall, and yet many of her plants are still growing, albeit more slowly. The tiny hemlock seedling is bristling with new needles. A few ferns still unfurl; others have disappeared. The creeping partridgeberry has kept her crimson seeds for a whole year. Last spring when the partridgeberry set her two fragrant blossoms, those diminutive trumpets lasted only two days before withering away. I had always wondered how long these flowers lasted. Had bumblebees pollinated them, they would have produced two hard lime-green seeds that would have turned bright red by early fall.

Some of the lichens on an old heartwood log have disappeared, but I notice a new shield lichen on another. Most curious, the Isopods that Al (MGM) gave me last year are finally making an appearance. They enrich the soil by eating all decaying material but appreciate a carrot or two as a treat. As a result of their presence, my terrarium thrives and is self–sufficient, a miniature reflection of nature in the round caring for herself without human intervention, except for occasional misting by me.

Gray-green Usnea still clings to some splintered wood and for the first time ever, I can witness this plant’s slow growth. Gone are the twinflowers, violets, mushrooms,
fairy cups, small grasses, and unknown seedlings… the sphagnum moss tufts are no longer bright green but have turned bronze or gray. Other mosses still thrive; these will probably stay green all winter. The liverworts on a piece of birch bark are crafting new patterns, which I would never be able to witness growing on a tree.

I have learned so much from this miniature forest by observing minute changes day by day. The biggest surprise came last spring when May called me into my favorite forest. Although I answered, ticks, and all, I never lost my fascination for this indoor forest garden. It’s added a whole new dimension to my life. What took me by surprise was that by creating this miniature woodland, I was literally attaching myself to two people and forests I loved. Invisible threads stretched out between us across time.

Because of the great generosity of this family who had a visionary capacity and the financial resources to begin protecting forests in the early 70s, healthy hemlocks bow to streams moderating the flooding of lowlands. The forest floor and thick understory support all manner of trees – conifers and hardwoods – plants and shrubs a multitude of spring, summer, and fall flowers – partridgeberry, hobblebush, viburnum, laurels, clubmosses, and an incredible array of fruiting fungi. The underlying mycelial network is teaming with insects, bacteria, and microbes we know nothing about but happen to make up 2/3rds of life on this planet.

Lichens thrive on supine logs bursting with new life. The banks of seeps streams and rivers wear gray or green mossy coats. Wood frogs, green frogs, leopard frogs, peepers, red efts, and salamanders are nestled under damp logs and stones. Water striders ripple quiet waters. Ruffed grouse and wild turkeys are hidden under tree boughs. Glacial boulders stand as sentries to the past. Vultures and hawks peruse the skies in open places and can almost always be seen, the former year-round. A few of the songbirds that live here can be found nowhere else. Weasels, mink, beavers, porcupines, squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, moose, deer, bobcats, lynx, wolves, and bears make their homes in this place.
But I digress…

I keep the terrarium on the kitchen table, and every morning, even during the spring, I open her doors to inhale the sweetness of a healthy functioning ecosystem with a sense of perpetual wonder that continues today. Terrariums have seasons too, I have learned, only the changes are less dramatic because there are only three. I watch leaves slowly disintegrate before my eyes. Paying such close attention to details has sharpened my perceptions, helping me to become an even more keen

In the past, I have kept terrariums through the winter and returned the contents to the wild in the spring, so this is my very first experience with a miniature forest in an ongoing way. For anyone who thrives on being in a healthy ecosystem for spring summer and fall, creating, observing, and keeping an indoor terrarium is a project I would thoroughly recommend.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: