BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. —
At her family's kitchen table on a bitterly cold January morning, 18-year-old Madeline White was busy bringing a bit of the outside in: She was crafting a vivarium.
Or, more accurately, a terrarium.
"I think they're so cool; a wonderful example of an ecosystem you can bring into your house when outside it is so cold and dismal," White said as she added first five or six small rocks, then a few handfuls of aquarium gravel, to a tall glass jar.
Within minutes, she had transformed the jar into the kind of place garden fairies might call "home."
A vivarium -- Latin for "place of life" -- is a small-scale, enclosed area in which plants, or even small animals, may be kept for observation. A terrarium is one type of vivarium, created to replicate a temperate woodland habitat using real elements of such a habitat such as soil, moss and ferns.
White, the daughter of Baxter Springs resident Amber Tyree and a music and theater major at Wichita State University, made many of them during her holiday break.
"I wanted one so badly for Christmas, and my mom gave me what I needed to create one," she said. "We did it as a mother-daughter activity on Christmas Eve."
After their first attempt, making them has become a family thing, White said.
"My sisters, Bridget (a high-school freshman) and Kate (a sixth-grader), at first didn't really want to, but once they saw how neat they are they got into it and they make them, too."
The girls use natural items they find in their yard and the yards of friends, along with tiny inexpensive crafting items purchased at stores such as Hobby Lobby or Michael's.
"We use a lot of trial and error," White said. "You can't really make a mistake. Once you put one together, you can always move something or change it according to what looks good to you."
Gather supplies and assemble it in this order:
- A glass jar. It can be any size. White has used everything from large jars intended for holding sugar, flour or cookies on the kitchen counter to tiny glass containers found at flea markets. It can have a lid or not.
- Several small rocks that will cover the bottom of the jar.
- A small bag of aquatic gravel. Look for the kind sold by pet stores for use in aquariums. White pours this over the rocks, using her fingers to tuck the gravel in and among the rocks.
- Activated charcoal, which can be found at a pet store. White pours this over the gravel. It's important for keeping the terrarium fresh and mold-free, she said.
- A small amount of soil, preferably loose without much clay, to form a layer over the charcoal.
- A fern or a few small succulent plants, including hens and chicks and aloe vera. White presses these into the soil in an arrangement pleasing to her, keeping in mind which part of the jar will be the "front" for viewing.
- Found natural objects, including lichen, moss, pieces of bark, twigs or pebbles. In one, White even used a crawdad claw. She presses the moss around the succulents to help cover the soil, and uses one or two of the other items in each jar to "decorate."
Tiny plastic figures, if desired, to finish off the miniature scene. White used a small Statue of Liberty as the focal point of one terrarium, and a tiny plastic man similar to what model railroaders might use in another. Among her collection of items for future terrarium construction are a tiny plastic dinosaur, a small plastic frog and a miniature red bicycle.
"You can personalize them in that way if you're going to make them as gifts," she said.
After assembling, spritz water into the jar (avoid pouring).
They're a breeze to maintain, White said.
"You just need to put them in some place that has sunlight, then water it once every two weeks or so. The worst thing you can do is overwater; you'll know if you have if you see water sitting in the bottom in the rocks or if there is so much condensation on the glass you can't see what's inside."
"Just take the lid off for a while and let it air out," she said.
The only downside: "They're kind of addictive," she said, laughing.