Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bill and Ted's Most Excellent Terrarium Workshop!
Bill:  "Duuuuuude!  What day is it?" 
Ted: "Duuuuuuude!  Its Sunday morning, man!" 
Bill: "Whoah, Ted. What happened to Saturday?" 
Ted: "It was most triumphant, Bill.  We went back in time and met some totally egregious old dead people and rocked out our History term paper"
Bill:  "Whoah.  That sounds bodacious, Ted.  And what are we doing today, dude?"
Ted: "Today, we are going to have another most excellent adventure"
Bill: "What's that, dude?"
Ted: "We're going to learn how to build a completely bodacious terrarium"
Bill" "Whoah.  Totally non-bogus, dude" 
Bill: "What's a terrarium?  Is that one of those teenage ninja turtle dudes?"
YEAH!!  Plants in little glass houses!!
(OI! Stop throwing those stones, you plants!)
And so it came to pass that an otherwise normal Terrarium class, held in a very quaint old workshop in the Mission District on a Sunday morning, became the unwitting scene for the re-emergence of everyone's favorite stoners from the Nineties.

It all began, as the best stories do, quite normally and with nothing but the slight frission of excitement in the air, borne on the promise of creating something potentially quite lovely, but without risk to life and limb.  The location for the Terrarium workshop was an offshoot of the famous Paxton Gate store, home of a whole assortment of weird, wonderful and improbable artifacts of various shapes, sizes, groups and genera and formerly home of the now liberated Puff Ducky.  This was the place they use to do all the kids workshops and it was a delightful old building - full of interesting stores, artsy-places and eager entrepreneurs doing terribly worthy stuff.  Plus us upstairs constructing terrariums.

I met Karen at around 10.50am, coffee in hand, ready for our class to start at 11am.  We were the first to arrive and meet our instructor for the class, an uber-cool hipster chick called Franny whose passion for plants rivaled that of Xander's for bees (maybe I should introduce them to each other to err... cross- pollinate?).  She was covered in cool tattoos and piercings and wearing some acid-washed jeggings -and was, of course, young enough not to have been alive the first time acid wash jeans were in fashion, back in my tragic fashion decade of the 80s.  As Karen adroitly remarked, "everyone seems to be about 25 in this town".  True, very true.  *sigh*  

Anyway, folk started to filter in, until there were about 8 of us round the table.  It was an interesting bunch of people - Karen and I were too busy catching up to really chat with anyone else, but everyone seemed normal enough, so finally we were just waiting on the last two to arrive.  Franny left it til a few minutes past the hour and then got started, as it would be easy for the late comers to catch up as she would be spending a good half an hour or so telling us all about the history of the terrarium, the different types and general principles regarding their construction, care and maintainence.    
And that's when Bill and Ted turned up.  

God only knows what those two were on, but there were definitely on something.  And quite possibly everything.  They were absolutely off their heads.  There did seem to be one of them who was fractionally smarter than the other one (but its all relative) based on the fewer number of conversational dudes per minute or DPM count.  You can see both of them at the other end of the table to me - the one as completely dumb as the rocks we were filling the terrarium with was in the baseball cap and he literally didn't stop giggling and DPM'ing the whole workshop.  The other one, in the bright yellow t-shirt and still wearing the entry wrist band for whatever club they'd been to the night before (it probably wasn't the California Academy of Science) actually managed to gather together enough coherent words to ask a couple of questions, which surprised the rest of the class no end.   Bless 'em.

Bill (yellow) and Ted (cap, on end) DPM
their way through class
But, anyway, they livened up the group and everyone got plenty of exercise in the eye-rolling and the barely-perceptible head-shaking department, so no need to go to the gym later on (this was before the Crunchy Bicycle Chain Revelation would rain down upon me).  And they had only missed the history part which I think was probably a blessed relief for their little brains - those poor cerebral hemispheres had their work cut out for them simply trying to ensure co-ordinated hand-eye movement with the maintenance of sphincteral control.

First, sniff your terrarium.
But, down to business.  Random terrarium factoid #1 - they were invented by the Brits!!  Huzzah!!  I can't remember the name of the chap who invented them, but I do recall that he was originally trying to study a silk worm (brought back from some tropical locale) and - to keep it warm - constructed a basic glass frame to put over it, to protect it from drafts and keep it alive long enough so he could study its lifecycle.  Alas, that particular experiment failed, as the silk worm died - however, he noticed something else very interesting instead.  He'd included in the glass jar some dried up old moss for the worm to live on and - though the worm died - noticed that there were suddenly little green sprouts appearing and that a little fern was starting to grow.  He was very excited by this, particularly as the fern was one he had been trying to grow outside in his (rain-sodden, sunlight-lacking) English garden with no success.  Thus the terrarium was born and soon gave rise to a thriving industry that was, at least in the beginning, very much a rich man's hobby due in large part to the exorbitant and exquisitely costly glass taxes that were imposed in England at that time.  It was also a time of exploration, with huge expeditions going overseas and discovering new lands and plants and different species for the very first time, so ships would have on board shelves and shelves full of terrariums so that the explorers and botanists and scientists of the day could bring back thousands of specimens alive, rather than dried up plant cuttings and pressed flowers.

So that was all fascinating stuff (although a dangerous amount of information for Bill and Ted to absorb) and Franny certainly knew her stuff!  But we were definitely ready to get on in there and get our hands dirty after the history lesson was done, so let me now take you through how you build a terrarium.

A little known side effect of terrarium construction is the
uncontrollable urge to mug for any passing cameras
You're welcome.

Step 1 is to select the appropriate terrarium for the type of plant you are working with.  We had two plants - two succulents who are great candidates for terrariums because their root structures are very shallow and so occupy very little subterranean space.  Our glass container was very open, but you can get all different types - from the most open, like ours, to those that are enclosed - but not airtight.  Obviously, the more enclosed your terrarium, the more water it will retain - so terrariums with little to no opening are considered best for moisture-loving plants such as ferns, orchids, some air plants and carnivorous plants.   Karen and I were both excited to hear that they will be offering both orchid and carnivorous plant terrarium classes in the future, so that will be fascinating.  The other main thing to consider is placement - under glass, stuff gets a lot hotter, so you obviously don't want to put it into direct sunlight.  That would be bad and you would have a cooked plant.  Instead you want to put it in diffuse sunlight - and here's a neat trick whereby you can find the perfect place.  Hold your hand up to the wall.  If you can clearly see the outline of your hand, its shape clearly visible against the wall, that is direct sunlight.  If you hold your hand up against the wall and you can still see a shadow, but its fuzzy and ill-defined that, my hopeful herbalist, is diffuse sunlight.  Bingo!  Terrarium nation!

Anyway, when you've selected your terrarium and you have your plants, you need to put a thin layer of soil on the bottom.  You can also place it on a rolled up circle of tissue paper, as i've done below, if you want to tilt it slightly so that you build up the layers at a fun angle.

Step 1: add a thin layer of soil
Step 2 is to add a layer of charcoal so that it just covers the soil.  The purpose of the charcoal is to help keep the water cycling through your terrarium clean and algae free.  You can also add pebbles to provide some extra drainage if you like.

Step 2: The Charcoal.
Not sure where i'm supposed to grill the burgers though..
After the charcoal, then it was time to get mucky and add a 2' deep layer of soil to the top.  I can't remember the exact composition of the soil but it had these little crumbly white bits in it, that were made of some special mineral or other and hadn't been touched by human hands before we got our porky little fingers into the soil bag! (the terra equivalent of Fuji mineral water, I guess).

Step 3: Special Soil.  With extra for the tray for luck.
Ooops.  The Terrarium Destroyer
claims its first victim

Once the soil was in, then it was time to carefully place the plants.  Tapping them gently out of their little tubs, you then equally gently shake free some of the soil from the root ball structure, before placing them into a knuckle-deep hole that you've made in the soil.  You then pack them in with additional soil so that they are stable and don't wobble around.  This is when you also get creative with rocks and pebbles - both for decoration as well as to help hold the plants in place.  After the adornments with rocks, pebbles, colored glass and various mosses and lichens are complete, just give them the tiniest squirt of water using a nozzled water bottle, directly to the soil at the base (rather than onto the plant directly) and - shazam! there you have your very own terrarium!

Unless you are Karen and you don't know your own strength and happen to destroy your first one by accident!

I was actually pretty pleased with mine - here's how it turned out (all planted to the tunes of Bob Marley and Kate Bush on the radio - I told you, Hipster Nation!!)

The Other Side
The Back Side (steady)

Terrarium Stereo.  (think they were around in the 80's too..)
So, a job very well done, I think.  A very easy way to feel very productive on a Sunday morning without having to either do any housework or go to the gym.  I will leave you with a picture of our graduating classmates and our precious little planted prizes.  I will also leave you with probably the quote of the day, from our favorite stoners and newly-minted terrarium warriors, Bill and Ted:

Bill: "I want to make a hybrid animal" (upon hearing that Paxton Gate also offers taxidermy workshops)
Ted: "How long before my brain starts sprouting flowers?" (enquiring as to the blooming cycle of the Lithop plant)

Class of 2012.  DUUUUUDE!!


Mumsie said...

Dude do you live life to the fullest or what! And you do meet the most randomly odd folk whererver you go. am trying to imagine two english blokes after getting hammered in a night club turning up to a terrarium class and it does not compute.thats why you gotta love san fransico! it looked great fun and you created something quite beautiful, well done you.thanks again for another very funny entry hope Bill and Ted turn up again loved their style! love you lots darling xxxxxxx

louise holloway oymak said...

ahhhh! bill and ted! totally laughed my butt off man reading that!! so funny! and your terrarium is so cool!! looks amazing! and something that you can keep and think back to that bodicious lesson with those too and franny is totally awesome!! i really hope you bump into them again! so random and funnny and i loved how the rest of you found them cutely amusing instead of annoying!! well done you the terrarium is so pretty and colourful! expect you to open up your own store with terrariums, cute stuffed birds, plastic root veg, square marbles and occupied bee hives! you certainly live life to the full!! most excellant blog! love you lots xxxxxxx

Anonymous said...

actually it was jimmy cliff, not bob marley, i dont have any of the wailers on that ipod :) -f

Sarah Holloway said...

Ha! Awesome - thanks for the erratum, Franny! Looking forward to the next class!!