In honor of the many gardening holidays this Lawn and Garden Month -- from Plant Appreciation Day on 13 April to National Herb Day on 24 April -- this Into the Deep post will focus on the many ways to garden indoors this summer. In particular, we would like to celebrate National Gardening Day -- a holiday added to calendars across the US in 2018 to encourage Americans to physically engage with nature. The annual holiday was established by Cool Springs Press -- publisher of gardening and home improvement-related how-to books. The company offers gardeners across the States regionally tailored texts providing specialized care instructions for native plants in each area. As Living Deep is based in the Pacific Northwest, we love Cool Springs Press’ Washington & Oregon Gardener's Guide: Proven Plants for Inspired Gardens -- authored by Debra Prinzing and Mary Robson. Cool Springs Press also offers a series of DIY instructionals for the best indoor gardening techniques -- the primary focus of this article. To create our own inspired indoor gardens, we have consistently turned towards their books Terrariums - Gardens Under Glass: Designing, Creating, and Planting Modern Indoor Gardens -- authored by teacher Maria Colletti -- and DIY Hydroponic Gardens: How to Design and Build an Inexpensive System for Growing Plants in Water -- by farmer Tyler Barras. In this article, we will outline four types of indoor gardens we love -- from kitchen herb gardens to living wall gardens -- as well as how to curate your own garden at home.
Four Types of Indoor Gardens We Love
#1 Succulent Rock Gardens
We begin with the low-maintenance, much-loved succulent rock garden. Rock gardens skyrocketed to the fore of public consciousness in California and other drought stricken regions of the US in the mid 2010s, but the style of garden has existed for thousands of years. In the article “Zen Rock Garden - History, Philosophy, and How-To Guide” for DenGarden, Om Paramapoonya places the origins of the most popular type of rock garden -- the Zen rock garden -- in fifth century Japan. According to Paramapoonya, the Chinese Taoist philosophy influenced the emergence of Japanese rock gardens. Inspiration was taken from the belief that “somewhere in the middle of the ocean, there are three to five islands where immortals dwell.” This tale is so intertwined with the history of rock gardens in Japan that the Japanese word used for “garden” between the fifth and eighth centuries was “shima” -- which Paramapoonya writes means “island.”
Rise of the Modern Rock Garden
Though early Japanese rock gardens were lush with trees and other plants, the rock gardens of today typically resemble those from the Muromachi Period -- dating between the 14th and 16th centuries. Buddhist monks of the Muromachi Period drew from the “dry rocky landscapes” of gardens from the 11th century Heian Period. While the style began during the Heian Period, “it wasn’t until the Muromachi Period that the Zen rock garden was fully developed” around the style and technique of Zen Buddhist monk Muso Soseki. During the Muromachi Period, plants and other living things largely disappeared from Japanese rock gardens because they were intended to “reject transitory phenomena” rather than “mirror the vicissitudes of life.”
While the rare evergreen bush was added, the majority of rock gardens from this period consisted mainly of rocks and sand, with the sand carved out in waves. According to Paramapoonya, Zen rock gardens are intended to resemble the pond gardens of fifth century Japan without including actual water. The rocks in each garden “represent elements found in regular Japanese gardens, such as islands, mountains, trees, bridges and even animals.” Even today in modern times, Zen rock gardens are tied very closely to Buddhism and are intended to serve as meditative aids.
Creating an Indoor Succulent Rock Garden
While Zen rock gardens are perhaps the most recognizable form of rock garden around the world, there are many others -- those with and without philosophical underpinnings. One of these is the succulent rock garden. As mentioned above, succulent rock gardens are incredibly practical because they are low-maintenance, long-lasting and place little stress on their surrounding environment. Rocks for the garden can also often be sourced locally -- from one’s own backyard or surrounding environment. In his article “Rock Garden Design” for The Spruce, writer David Beaulieu recommends opting for “porous, softer rock” as opposed to a harder rock because “are less receptive to the growth of mosses and lichens.” However, if you choose to stick solely to succulents, any type of rock will do. Honoring your local landscape by choosing rocks from the area is a special way to provide your garden with a sense of place. If possible, Beaulieu suggests using “rocks of similar appearance throughout your rock garden [to achieve] a more natural look.”
Choosing Succulents for Your Indoor Garden
When choosing succulents for your rock garden, consider the interior of your home and the environment surrounding it. Succulent rock gardens can be neutral -- perfect for desert landscapes --, cool-toned -- ideal for coastal homes -- or vibrant -- excellent for tropical or forested regions. For those interested in creating a neutral or cool-toned rock garden, we love the Echeveria elegans -- or “White Mexican Rose” -- succulent and the Blue Spruce succulent. The latter does sprout yellow flowers in the summer -- however -- and may not be suited to a neutral rock garden all year round. If designing a colorful or tropical rock garden, we recommend following advice from the Better Homes & Gardens editorial team in their article “18 Beautiful Plants That Will Thrive in Rock Gardens.” The editors endorse Euphorbia -- a versatile and vibrant succulent that is both heat and drought resistant. Euphorbia plants “have shallow root systems that allow you to easily tuck them into the tight spots between rocks and boulders” and which make them ideal for indoor rock gardens.
Prepping and Installing Your Succulent Rock Garden
In her article “Succulent Rock Garden Design – Best Succulents For Rock Gardens” for GardeningKnowhow.com, certified urban agriculturist Bonnie L. Grant explains how to get started with your rock garden. She writes that “before you install succulents in a rock garden, [you should] consider the size, shape, and height of your rockery.” Grant identifies the first steps in creating a succulent rock garden as ensuring the habitat -- whether a planter, window box or other vessel -- is set up to drain properly. When putting together the indoor garden itself, Grant notes that there are many ways to create an effective design. Gardeners can “choose to move in large rocks to plant around, fill in entirely with rock and tuck succulents in between cracks, or plant first and then gently spread rocks amongst the plants.” Keep in mind that many succulents require full sun, so homeowners with an indoor garden may need to place the garden by a window or other light source.
#2 Kitchen Herb Gardens
Growing herbs is an ancient practice that crosses eras and ethnicities. In her article “Kitchen Garden History: Learn About the History Of Kitchen Gardens” for GardeningKnowhow.com, Amy Grant writes that “the history of kitchen gardens can actually be traced even farther back than the colonial era, back into the Middle Ages when a kitchen garden was necessary to feed castle denizens, and possibly even farther into history.” Though perhaps considered quaint -- or even unnecessary -- in American homes over the last fifty years, kitchen herb gardens experienced a major resurgence over the last year as more of us “stayed safer at home” and cooked meals from scratch. At first, kitchen gardens surrounded the kitchen -- which was more open to the outdoors than the modern kitchen. Grant notes that such kitchen gardens might have existed as far back as ancient times given that the “Romans and Greeks wrote of growing and eating produce as well as numerous herbs.”
Though we might imagine that the modern kitchen herb garden would date more closely to those of 17th and 18th century “English cottage gardens and French potagers,” they have quite a bit in common with those of the ancient Romans. In her article “Window Box History: Where Do Window Boxes Come From” for GardeningKnowhow.com, Mary Ellen Ellis explains that the windowsill herb garden has existed for thousands of years. Ellis notes that “the original window boxes were probably seen in ancient Rome,” used by city dwellers in small homes with little yard space. A window box “was an economical way to grow some food with limited space.” Today, we plant herb gardens in window boxes to connect to the earth and add quality, healthy homegrown flavor to our meals -- to feel a sense of accomplishment and to feel grounded.
How to Create Your Own Kitchen Herb Indoor Garden
The Good Housekeeping article “10 Herbs You Can Grow Indoors Year-Round” outlines the proper ways in which to establish and maintain a quality kitchen herb garden in your home. This article notes that “as a general rule of (green) thumb, [you should] place your herbs in a spot that gets at least six hours of sun daily.” You can test the strength of the sun in your kitchen by turning off “all lights on a sunny or partly sunny day and periodically check[ing] to see how much natural sunlight there is.” Just like with a succulent rock garden, drainage is incredibly important to maintaining the health of your herbs, so any pot, planter or box housing your herbs should have holes at the bottom. If you plan to keep your herb garden on a delicate surface -- like a marble or tile countertop -- the GH editors suggest “using a saucer or liner to catch any excess water.” As always, follow directions on each plant or seed packet’s packaging to understand their individual care requirements before painting with too broad a brush.
Choosing the Right Herbs for Indoor Gardening
To choose the right herbs for your indoor garden, consider advice from Miranda Silva and Kristi Kellogg in their article “Create an Indoor Herb Garden: 11 Tips to Grow Your Herbs” for Architectural Digest. Kellogg and Silva write that -- first and foremost -- those designing kitchen herb gardens should choose herbs they plan to use while cooking such as rosemary, mint, thyme and parsley. Next, Kellogg and Silva emphasize the importance of choosing varieties that are compact while offering each plant enough “room to thrive.” They note that spicy globe, globette basil, “kaliteri oregano, fernleaf dill, Blue Boy rosemary and English mint” are all small-space-friendly -- growing quickly yet tidily. Indoor gardeners should stay away from those that spread out too fast -- however -- avoiding plants like mint, which crowd other herbs. Plants should always have enough space for their root system and for air to circulate around the leafy part of the plant.
#3 Vertical and Living Wall Gardens
Green wall gardens -- also called vertical or living wall gardens -- involve a series of plants joined together to form an ecosystem on the wall of a home, university, hospital or commercial space. They frequently adorn both interior and exterior walls and have gained popularity over the last thirty years -- both in Europe and across the American continents. In her article “Living Green Walls 101: Their Benefits and How They’re Made” for Dwell, Kate Reggev explains our growing love affair with green wall gardens -- as well as their positive impacts on human and environmental health. To begin, Reggev writes that “living green walls may have gotten their start 80 years ago, but they’ve recently become some of the most striking and important eco-friendly features in buildings across the world.” Though University of Illinois professor Stanley Hart White originated the green wall garden way back in 1938, the trend did not blossom in the States until about ten years ago.
Today’s Green Wall Gardens
Today, we see green wall gardens on the sides of office buildings and apartments in urban areas “where the plants act as an additional layer of insulation and help reduce the overall temperatures of the building from solar radiation or prevent warm air from leaving the building.” Within homes and commercial spaces, vertical or living wall gardens serve two primary purposes: aesthetic value and air purification. Reggev writes that vertical gardens used indoors “can help improve air quality not only because plants naturally remove carbon dioxide and produce oxygen-rich air, but also because plants can filter the air around them by absorbing and cleaning pollutants.” From an aesthetic perspective, “when they’re used inside, living green walls frequently act as a three-dimensional, living piece of artwork, providing an aesthetic component as well as a health element.”
Finding a Low-Maintenance Green Wall Garden for Your Home with MossWallArt
If you feel your home -- or your schedule -- cannot support a true living wall, consider interspersing potted house plants with other items on a vertically oriented bookshelf or choosing low-effort plants. MossWallArt can help in this department as they offer pieces created from “real mosses, lichens, natural woods and organic features” that are easy to maintain while complementing existing interiors and gardens. Each installation is created from both living and harvested natural elements, the combination of which “offer a simple solution to creating a hanging, living garden.” MossWallArt owners Joe Zazzera and Pat Mahan -- also the founders of Plant Solutions -- joined forces with Hawaiian designer Brad Heinicke to create this innovative company.
Each piece is made to order to the client’s specifications while treating the earth with care. MossWallArt carries a number of sustainability certifications and meets or exceeds efficiency requirements. These include the Carbon Trust Certification, Energy Star Most Efficient Product, Global Recycled Standard and Green Seal. Not only are their pieces stunning, personalized and sustainable, but they are also fairly affordable -- beginning below $300 per design. We are honored to have MossWallArt as one of our Living Deep marketplace vendors.
#4 Terrarium and Miniature Greenhouse Gardens
Terrarium and miniature greenhouse gardens are perhaps the most charming of all interiorscapes. With their delicate glass and iron houses and tiny yet tidy collections of plants, both terrariums and miniature greenhouse gardens offer homeowners a magical microcosm of the natural world. In his article “The Accidental Invention of Terrariums” for JStor Daily, Matthew Wells reveals the shocking origins of the terrarium. Wells writes that “the terrarium was an accidental discovery in one of the most polluted parts of the world,” created by failed London gardener Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in the late 1820s. A doctor with an established practice in London, Ward was surrounded by the pollution caused by early 19th century factories.
Failed Victorian Horticulturist Grows a Garden in a Bottle and the Terrarium is Born
Though he tried to nurture a green thumb, Wells was consistently thwarted by the “toxic byproducts of local industry [that] befouled the air.” In 1829 -- however -- the doctor discovered a fern spore growing inside a bottle he “was using to hatch an insect chrysalis.” Both the chrysalis and an idea hatched that day when Wells realized that “tightly-sealed glass cases could be used to control humidity...and air quality.” This controlled environment blocked out the pollution spewed by London manufacturies, offering ferns a safe -- yet quite small -- place in which to grow. As London’s industrialization spread to other regions of England -- and much of the European continent -- Ward’s terrariums gained immense popularity. Advertisements of the era described his tiny gardens as “the splendor of nature effectively preserved from the ravages of modern industry.” As England moved from the Victorian age into that of the British Arts and Crafts movement, focus shifted from austere religiosity to the importance of connection with the natural world.
Designing Your Own Terrarium at Home
In the article “How to Make a Basic Terrarium” for The Spruce, landscape writer and photographer Kerry Michaels writes that very basic terrariums can be made “in less than an hour with very few inexpensive materials.” Michaels suggests purchasing a glass container -- with or without a top --, some sort of base material like “gravel, sea glass or beach stones,” activated charcoal, plants, “sterile potting mix, sheet moss [and] decorative elements.” Though closed terrariums are common, Michaels recommends opting for an open container because “open terrariums are less likely to experience problems with condensation and fungal plant diseases than are closed terrariums.”
Choosing plants is perhaps the most difficult and delicate part of creating a terrarium, as each must live in harmony with the next -- avoiding creeping in on each other, hogging resources or stretching too far towards the opening or sides of the terrarium itself. Michaels identifies “Croton, Pothos, Dracaena, small ferns, Lucky bamboo, Nerve plant, Prayer plant, Club moss and Creeping fig” as excellent options. As with rock gardens and kitchen herb gardens, terrariums do need effective drainage and enough sunlight to invigorate the plants within. To water, Michaels suggests a spray bottle or watering can with a controllable, tiny-nosed spout.