Garden News Blog

Terrarium: A New Exhibit at BBG

Terrariums have captivated people since the first one was accidently created in 1829 by an amateur entomologist attempting to make a habitat for a moth chrysalis inside a bottle. Terrarium, a new exhibit on view now at BBG, shows how far these “gardens in a bottle” have come since then. As part of the exhibit, which also includes artworks by Jae Hi Ahn, BBG’s Jennifer Williams, curator of interior displays and the Washington Avenue gardens, has designed 26 unique terrariums. Each one is a charming, verdant world unto itself. Taken as a group, they show the wide array of possible interpretations of this lovely art form.

To create the exhibit, Williams scoured home design and floral supply shops for an assortment of glass containers. BBG staff also pitched in with loans of several old aquariums and a Victorian glass case. Williams collected a variety of decorative elements for the interiors, including petrified wood, unusual rocks, traditional Chinese mud men figures, and whimsical animal figurines like a frog prince and tiny sheep from a model train store. Her plant choices included a variety of orchids, carnivorous plants, ferns, mosses, succulents, cacti, and tropical foliage.

When it came to arranging each terrarium, Williams let inspiration take over. Some works, like a blown-glass vessel containing a beach scene complete with shells and sea grass, are meant to evoke natural landscapes. For others, Williams made particular plants the centerpiece—like the miniature moth orchid simply placed in an elegant stemmed vase. Other pieces were all about creating a composition of different colors, textures, and shapes. “I learned to take a step back with these so I could see the complete picture rather than just look down on them from above while working on them,” says Williams. Enjoy a sneak peak of the exhibit in the slideshow below. See it in person at the Steinhardt Conservatory Gallery through February 26.

Sarah Schmidt edits BBG's Garden News Blog and the Guides for a Greener Planet handbook series.

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