Point – Counterpoint: Terrariums

by: Chris Thompson

The value of terrariums are debated in a smattering of enthusiastically disagreeable point, counterpoint…

Point: Fuck your terrarium man. I mean seriously. Just fuck you. What the hell is it supposed to be? Is that a plant? Or a moss-covered rock impersonating a plant? I can’t tell because it looks to me like you’ve created a tiny menagerie of chaos and uncertainty. A damp, suffocating, glass-enclosed ode to insanity. Like someone took a handful of lawn clippings and threw them into a bowl with some water and tumbled river stones and exclaimed “Viola’, terrarium!”

And what are those? Is that a tiny family of porcelain deer figurines? They look scared shitless. Honestly, I would be too if I was thrown into this enchanted forest of deranged greenery and told to live out my days. I can only imagine the caliber of monsters that come out at night in this ecosystem. Shivers. Wait! Seriously, is that a cactus? When the hell have you ever seen a cactus growing besides some moss? I mean, they’re from entirely different geographical regions for christ’s sake, one semi-arid to dry and the other more moisture-prone and temperate. What’s up next for you? You planning on opening up a zoo where lions of the Serengeti sleep with cute little lambs? Where jackrabbits and red-tailed hawks have playtime hour in the sun?

Counterpoint: In defense of terrariums, I must admit that they truly are quite endearing. Like tiny windows into a world lost in time, they mirror perfectly my outlook on life. My belief that we should all find those moments in our day to pause and reflect on the beauty present in the tiniest corners of our world. In fact, I can think of no better way to celebrate the convergence of my urban terrarium love with houseplant tranquility then to fill a quart-sized mason jar to overflowing with feathery wisps of filloforia and the pointy, fun-shaped arms of myriad vernicosa.

Did you know that terrariums originally came from a period of time when plant hunters transported living specimens thousands of miles home? That they provided a self-sustaining mini-environment in which moisture created by the plants collected on the inside surfaces of the glass and dripped down to replenish them? And that by simulating a portion of an ecosystem on a much smaller scale, they could be used for observation and research? I like to mist my terrariums with water that I’ve distilled at home, creating a miniature moisture cycle wherein condensation that forms on the lids of my glass vessels leads to precipitation within my tiny environments. Look at this one over here on the windowsill for instance, can you see the water as it runs down its sides? What a treasure to behold! Often throughout the day I will visit with my diverse collection of terrariums and watch with gleeful anticipation as the moisture within their tiny worlds cycles through its respective phases.

And now that terrariums have experienced a resurgence in their popularity, it couldn’t be easier to enjoy the happiness and pleasure these whimsical design elements bring to any abode. I can’t tell you how many times a visitor has stepped into my home and remarked on the playful nature of my terrarium collection. On the peace and sanctity present in these verdant little realms. I credit my terrariums with being the cornerstone of many a rewarding friendship. Give me six minutes and I’ll show you six terrariums that will brighten up your day.

Point: What’s that you say? Your terrariums are merely a whimsical design element? A do-it-yourself mini-ecosystem where Lilliputian plants evoke their tree-like cousins? Where your discarded wine bottles and artist-friend’s edgy geometric glass enclosures create tiny greenscapes that are both fuss-free and simple? I say fuck that. I see right through you. They’re nothing but a prop for some over-accessorized, forced-Bohemian design vibe you are trying wayyyy too hard to cultivate. A tribute to your fanatical desire to bring the eclecticism of nature indoors. “Look hun, it’s a log. Let’s paint it and call it a side table!”

“Look at me!” your terrarium screams. “Look at how cleverly I’ve arranged this spanish moss and these flowering tillandsia across this weathered Pacific driftwood. Aren’t I edgy? Can’t you see how it’s a commentary on the prejudices prevalent in our society?” Bullshit I say. It’s just a jumbled heap of plants. An adult version of playing house. Only it’s with succulents and bromeliads and creepers. And tiny, obnoxiously cute figurines of couples holding hands and woodland creatures locked in rigid, uncomfortable poses. I reject your whimsical views on life. Your desperate attempt to present to the world an idea about yourself that you probably saw in a design magazine. The idea that you’re different. That you’re somehow better than me because you completed a “fun weekend project” by sticking a few plants inside your kids fish bowl after its guppy died and decided to call it a terrarium.

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Counterpoint: I really enjoy mixing fossils and found objects with the plants in my terrariums. The juxtaposition of placing material which was once alive with happy, growing greenery I find pleasing to behold. It’s all about gardening you know….but indoors! That what makes it so fun. Any object can become a vessel for my miniature worlds, from an empty peanut butter jar to a vintage seltzer bottle found at a quaint antique shop upstate. And when the plants in my terrariums finally have to move on to that great big greenhouse in the sky, when they begin to wither and brown, I can always count on a trip to my local farmers market to compost my departed friends and make me feel better about having to let them go.

Point: You probably have your terrariums positioned atop your non-working, exposed-brick fireplace right? The one that’s filled with all that ornamental firewood that will never burn. Or even worse, those stacks of obnoxious sounding art and photography books you’ve never read with titles like Archi-texture or Organic Photography? I can see them now, arranged smugly below your tableau of bone-white deer antlers and avian-themed frame cluster. Fuck that man. Fuck your bossy terrarium.

Counterpoint: I’ve placed my terrariums on the mantle above my non-working fireplace arranged from smallest to largest, left to right. I really love how they look against the backdrop of all that exposed brick. You know, when we were renovating our Brownstone and tearing down the plaster one rainy Saturday, I glanced up and exclaimed to my partner “Look! There’s brick behind this sheetrock and a whole lot of it!” And ever since then the living room has become my favorite place in the home. A pleasing respite from all the chaos in the world. And honestly, I just can’t get enough of all this exposed brick. In defense of terrariums, I must say that they really are quite grand.

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