By Nikky Necessario

Fond of plants inside bulbs and glass cages? Continue reading as Marvz Conti, founder of Habil Crafts, shares his experience making terrariums, living wall art pieces, and other projects made with moss.

But first, what is a terrarium? Back in the 1800s, botanist Nathaniel Ward wrote a book titled “On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases.” Originally, Ward wanted to observe insect behavior so he placed a chrysalis and a mold inside a glass bottle.

He saw that the bottle moistens up during the day and the moist circulates back down to the bottom at night. He later on put it in an area with sunlight and to his surprise, a fern seedling and grass grew inside. Plants sprouted and matured inside the glass even without water and air and that’s when the art of terrarium started.

Terrariums in glass vessels for desks and tables for a breathe of greenery in enclosed spaces.

Conti grew up watching his mom cultivate plants in her garden; it’s his earliest memory of taking care of greenery. “I think it was a process of discovery and rediscovery,” said Conti. As a child, there are things that interest you that you eventually forget, but rediscover when you grow up, and that’s how Conti renewed his interest in plants. He started incorporating plants with upcycled materials, eventually stumbling upon moss when he used it to add more aesthetic to a handmade calendar that he was working on then. From there, Conti researched about moss and today, he’s been doing terrariums for five years.

Constructing a terrarium

Conti also shared the step by step process of how to make a terrarium. First is to decide whether you’re going to have an open or closed terrarium. This help make you identify the type of vessel to use. Containers can be made from glass, wood, and even acrylic, but most people prefer using glass for their terrariums because transparent containers will let you see the life inside or as Conti calls it, “a tiny world enclosed in a glass.”

Other materials needed can be gathered once you have decided if either a zen or a lush set-up is what you want. For those who want a minimalist or zen-type terrarium, bigger stones with different textures are used. This also adds height to your terrarium. If going for the latter style, adding driftwood and twigs of different sizes will give you a woodland feel. The last step is to put the moss and other greenery in whatever position you desire.

The Filipino terrarium

Filipino terrarium enthusiasts need not worry since there’s a lot of room to grow regarding moss awareness, said Conti. Mosses are a common sight in the Philippines, especially in damp places. The most common species of moss that can be easily found in plant shops and nurseries are sphagnum moss and peat moss, which are commonly used as a potting soil ingredient because they help increase the soil’s water and nutrient holding capacity.

Hortus Speculo (“A tiny world enclosed in a glass”) is a moss terrarium in a glass dome with twigs to give a woodland feel.

All the materials that Conti uses in making terrariums are local except for reindeer moss, which is not being cultivated in nurseries in the Philippines. He also mentioned that terrariums are often easy to take care of since they do not need to be watered. Different terrariums need specific care instructions, and it can depend on the type of vessel the terrariums are settling on and as well as if it is open or closed.

Conti did not have previous training in horticulture. He considers himself an ‘autodidact,’ which means that everything he knows about terrariums are self-taught. “When you really love doing something, you do whatever it takes to equip yourself with the tools that you need,” the terrarium creator claimed.

Conti finds making terrariums a job he loves. It makes him value the slow creative process and the positive feedbacks that his customers give him. Studio Habil terrariums’ prices range from R350 to R3,000, depending on the size and intricacy of a piece. They also accept large scale projects that are priced per square meter.

“I think as humans, we have this innate tendency to connect and reconnect with nature,” said Conti. He added that being connected with nature is not only by trekking or going to the beach but can be as little as having a potted plant or a terrarium at home. He also sees having terrariums as a small step that, if done collectively, would help create awareness about greenery and how it reduces stress levels and promote wellness for people surrounded by it. He encourages everyone, especially the youth, to take care of the environment, even in small ways. As Conti said, “Start with whatever you have at the moment and slowly build up from there.”

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2020 issue. 

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