It's a small world: DIY micro-plant landscaping is a means for spiritual growth

By Yan Bin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, December 9, 2022
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Everything rendered small may look cuter, which may be the main reason for the growing popularity of plant-based micro-landscaping among young people in China. For them, micro-landscapes are not only a homey decoration, but a mode of spiritual relief from daily work or life. 

Micro-landscapes usually take the shape of a potted micro-world incorporating moss, ferns, small herbs, and other plants in glass containers with rocks, themed characters, and endless accessories. By utilizing aesthetic design concepts, one can build a small-sized fairy garden, an idyllic scene, a landscape with a small bridge over flowing water, or any green setting you can imagine within just a few square inches. However, micro-landscapes did not start out this way.

The development of plant micro-landscapes owes much to the invention of the Wardian case. At the end of the 19th century, many Europeans were frenziedly collecting exotic plants from all over the world. However, due to limited transportation channels, exotic plants could only be transported by sea, and the survival rate was extremely low. In 1829, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, an English physician and collector living on the outskirts of London, accidentally discovered that ferns could grow well and reproduce in closed tanks. After his discovery, he planted ferns in moist soil and packed them in sealed glass cases. The ferns were not detrimentally affected and grew well for three years. This kind of container, one designed specifically to maintain plants, would later become known as the Wardian case. 

The Japanese, inspired by this invention, skillfully combined their love for moss, bonsai, plants, and flowers in glass containers of various shapes, which gave these miniature gardens a sense of Zen – the predecessor of DIY micro-landscaping. 

With ongoing urbanization, many Chinese people live in big cities and are surrounded by steel and concrete, gradually separating them from green, natural landscapes. The popularity of DIY micro-landscaping therefore satisfies people's need to appreciate a touch of green, whether at home or in the office.

Micro-landscapes are essentially small ecosystems cultivated in glass containers. The bottom is generally composed of pumice substrate, sphagnum moss, and peat soil, with the pumice acting as a water barrier and equivalent to the permeable hole at the bottom of a flowerpot. The sphagnum moss is then packed as tightly as necessary, acting as an isolation layer to maintain humidity and bear loading. Finally, peat soil provides nutrients to meet the growing needs of plant roots.

"It can be said that the production process of a micro-landscape is easy, but to make it amazing requires talent and aesthetics," explains Bai Yue, the founder of Beijing NatureIn Technology Co., Ltd., a micro-landscape production company. "You can learn how to make one by watching a two-minute production video. But you need to pay special attention to the light since it is an important prerequisite for the growth of micro-landscape plants."

Bai Yue began designing and selling micro-landscape materials online in 2015. Before that, he had worked online for more than 10 years. Bai often enjoys exploring cutting-edge, advanced, or beautiful things in his free time. Later, he found himself drawn to the small world of plant-based micro-landscapes, making a lot of friends as well as an extensive customer base thanks to his new hobby. In early 2020, Bai opened his first offline store when the COVID-19 epidemic hit.

"We have a lot of family customers and many parents who buy DIY micro-landscapes or ecological fish tanks for their children. Through DIY micro-landscapes, younger ones can be closer to nature, and adults can take a break from technology. Besides, people love to beautify their living environment with DIY micro-landscapes," said Bai.

Under the ingenious design and careful construction of micro-landscape fans, simple materials have become unique works full of idyllic elements. Some fans have even been hired as micro-landscapers in Bai's company.

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