A few weeks ago I finally made a bottle garden, something I’ve been meaning to do for many years.
It wasn’t so much the difficulty of the project, more the assembly of all the necessary items which took me so long. My guide was a book published in 1976, which I had bought from an op shop.
I didn’t realise I was interested in bottle gardening until I discovered this book. It includes the history of bottle gardens, how to make them, and which plants are most suitable. After reading through it, it all seemed very achievable. I had not taken into account the fact that since the book was published I had been born and lived for many decades, i.e. bottle gardens are not as popular in 2012 as they were in 1976.
I cheerfully made my way down to the closest nursery and asked if they stocked “soilless mix”, which the book declared as the best growing medium for the plants in the bottle. The man who runs the nursery had an expression on his face like his world had been turned upside down. “What do you mean? That cannot be,” he said.
I started to explain about the bottle gardens. While I was talking, the woman who runs the nursery cafe, a stern but charismatic Russian woman, came over to listen. They are a funny pair, the nursery man and the cafe woman, and often can be heard arguing while one is out browsing the succulents.
“In the nineteen seventies,” I said, though both of them would be old enough to remember the seventies, unlike me, “people kept gardens in bottles. It was a fad.”
The woman looked at me seriously.
“Not in Russia,” she said.
“But soilless potting mix makes no sense!” the man cried.
I promised I would bring the book down to show them one day, although as yet I have not done so.
There are numerous bottle gardening tutorials online, so I’m not going to write about how to construct one. The greatest problem I had was finding plants that were small enough to fit through the neck of my bottle. I’d found my bottle, which once I imagined must have held a great amount of port, in an op shop for $1 and it had been in my laundry for about six months, waiting for me to sort out the soilless mix dilemma (in the end I used sphagnum moss and a small amount of seedling mix on top). But few nurseries sell tiny plants. I ended up digging up a fern from my mother’s garden and then buying the red-leafed plant from a nursery in Newtown which sells small indoor plants.
“Buying some new little friends, are you?” the man at the counter said. (C’mon man I am a grown woman! Oh well I guess you’re just being nice.)
“I’m going to put them in a bottle,” I replied.
“And what, drown them?” he said. (What do you think I am some kind of strange witch woman now?)
I explained my bottle garden plan in some detail, hoping that I impressed him with my knowledge of 70s gardening.
Then, after visiting the dimly lit cave of the aquarium shop to buy charcoal, I had everything I needed to make my bottle garden. I horrified Simon by telling him it was going in the corner of the kitchen that was stacked chest high with newspapers, so he sat going through them and throwing them out while I dug around in my bottle with a fork tied to the end of a piece of cane.
I thought back to the time I got an email from Frankie magazine asking if I had a “rad 70s house” they could include in a book about eclectic interiors. My subsequent description of a room with thousands of books, ferns, lamps and a 7 foot papier mache bear in amongst it all must have scared them off, for they never wrote back. The Frankie aesthetic is a very neat and nice one, I knew I was too wild to fit into it so I wasn’t particularly surprised I didn’t hear back.
I shook off this and all other irritations, and stood back to admire my bottle.