CORKING IDEAS:

Bristol Post - - HOMES AND LIVING - With Diar­muid Gavin

Diar­muid Gavin mar­vels at the world of bot­tle gar­dens as they come back in fash­ion

E tver since I was a lit­tle kid I have been en­chanted by the no­tion of bot­tle gar­dens. I loved the mys­te­ri­ous glass world that seemed to mag­nify its green in­hab­i­tants and was fas­ci­nated by the fact that it needed so lit­tle in­ter­ven­tion to help it thrive. Dur­ing the 1970s and 80s there was a great vogue for bot­tle gar­dens but they dis­ap­peared for decades. Now they’ve come back with a bang.

In the run-up to the hol­i­day sea­son, many of us will give or re­ceive plants and some of these will be suit­able for bot­tle gar­dens. So as an end-of-year project how about cre­at­ing your own?

They con­tain all the magic and mys­tique of a ship in a bot­tle – plus they tend to ex­cite and in­spire all ages, so maybe this is a project for the fam­ily.

First step is to find a suit­able bot­tle. This should be large enough for some slow grow­ing plants to be happy in with an open­ing that isn’t too big or too small. If it’s too big you’ll have dif­fi­culty find­ing a cork to seal it, and there­fore it will need more reg­u­lar wa­ter­ing than is ideal. If it’s too small you’ll have dif­fi­culty get­ting your plants in.

Many gar­den cen­tres and florists now sell the per­fect bot­tle. Be­ing an in­dus­tri­ous type in the 1980s I used demi-johns, cheap glass bot­tles for home brew­ing.

Their nar­row open­ing was just the right size to squeeze my lit­tle spec­i­men plants through.

Wash your cho­sen ves­sel to make sure the con­tainer is clean. Dirt on the out­side will re­duce the amount of light that reaches the plants, and a dirty in­side will en­cour­age dis­ease.

Next, cre­ate two lay­ers within the base of the con­tainer. The first layer should be a very por­ous ma­te­rial to help with drainage and pre­vent fun­gal at at­tacks caused by to too much moistu ture. Use gravel, p peb­bles or sand and add a thin layer of ac­ti­vated c char­coal which will re­duce any smell caused by de­com­po­si­tion of dead leaves. Now add a thick layer of com­post.

Choose plants which need a high de­gree of hu­mid­ity but not species which are grown for their flow­ers.

Con­sider the look you want – are you af­ter a va­ri­ety of colour with many dif­fer­ent leaf shapes to cre­ate a bold con­trast? Or a con­sis­tent height level so ev­ery­thing grows to roughly the same size? Or maybe you want vis­ual struc­ture, in which case you need some taller plants.

Your plants need to be rea­son­ably slow grow­ing so as not to take over the oth­ers and they will all need sim­i­lar light and water re­quire­ments. I went for a cro­ton for its strik­ing green and yel­low leaves, a small fern which will adore the high hu­mid­ity the bot­tle gar­den will pro­vide, and a Pilea with its sil­very grey fo­liage.

All three plants will ac­cept medium light lev­els, quite high hu­mid­ity con­di­tions and will be happy in year­round warmth.

Next, plant­ing. In some re­spects this is the hard­est part of the task.

If the neck is large enough for you to get at least one of your hands in­side, things are easy as you just need to care­fully put one plant in at a time and then bury the root ball into the layer of com­post you added pre­vi­ously.

With nar­row open­ings, use long han­dled spoons to en­able you to dig out a small trench and then to help you lower the plants into the newly cre­ated hole.

Go slowly, en­joy the process and move things around un­til you’re happy with the fi­nal look. Firm the soil gen­tly around the roots. Don’t crowd the plants – al­low them space to grow and spread, and don’t plant di­rectly against the sides of the con­tainer.

Water care­fully, don’t overdo it. Pour the water against the in­side rim of the bot­tle. It will run down the sides of the ves­sel, clean­ing it along the way and into the soil.

This way it flows to the very edges without dis­lodg­ing the plants or splat­ter­ing the com­post.

Go easy on the amount used, more can al­ways be added but it takes time for ex­cess water to evap­o­rate... and your plants may have suc­cumbed by then.

Place your new bot­tle gar­den in its new home, in a bright en­vi­ron­ment but away from di­rect sun­light.

If you have a closed ter­rar­ium – if it has a lid or cork – put that cover in place. A closed bot­tle gar­den may never need wa­ter­ing again!

An open bot­tle gar­den will need a small amount of water every cou­ple of months, but if the open­ing is wide then per­haps a lit­tle more of­ten.

And one last thing – don’t feed the gar­den.

The last thing you want is to en­cour­age rapid growth.

RE­SULT: Cork on and the bot­tle gar­den is com­plete

FREE OFF: Diar­muid pulls soil from the roots

FILL UP: Com­post in and the first plants are set in place

DIG IN: If the bot­tle open­ing is nar­row, use a long spoon

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