The New Terrarium: Small world, Big influence
March 7th, 2009
I met Tovah Martin in 2005 when we both participated in a media tour to Holland during spring bulb season. Since I had for years enjoyed and admired Tovah’s garden writing in the original Victoria magazine, you can only imagine how exciting it was to actually meet her.
I think we were both surprised at how quickly our little group of seven (including our wonderful guide Bianca Helderman from the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions) bonded as accidental fellow travelers. I have vivid memories of Tovah wearing her knee-high rubber boots to tramp around the bulb fields at Hortus Bulborum (I actually envied her pragmatism: I mean, who else would pack a pair of waterproof gardening boots to bring on a trip to Europe!?)
Tovah gave me a very important gift that week. I still remember sitting across from each other at an ancient trestle table. We ate lunch and swapped stories about book publishing. Known and loved around the globe for her beautiful Tasha Tudor’s Garden and Tasha Tudor’s Heirloom Crafts and many other books, Tovah graciously shared her advice and guidance as I struggled with how to develop my “garden shed” book (it was just an idea back then). Her suggestions about photography really influenced my decision to partner with Bill Wright on Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, rather than working with a variety of photographers in every market. She gave me a lot of clarity and I cherish her advice.
So now, I’m the lucky recipient of newest Tovah Martin book, by all counts, her 13th title. The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature, was published on March 3rd by Clarkson Potter/Publishers. [Full disclosure: Clarkson Potter also published our book – we love everything they produce!]
Captured on film by photographer Kindra Clineff, The New Terrarium is a magical tome filled with small, planted scenes, landscapes, still-life’s and collections under glass.
Tovah brings a perfect combination of talent to this dreamy book. She is a gifted storyteller, both visually and with words (Tovah art-directs and produces many of her magazine articles for Country Gardens and other publications); she has a long history as an expert with indoor and greenhouse plants from her past career at Logee’s Greenhouses; and she is a visionary who understands how to get others excited about her passion.
The idea of creating a book about gardening under glass (on a small scale) struck a chord with this avid plants woman. Here is an excerpt of my recent conversation with Tovah:
Q. How did The New Terrarium come about?
A. Kindra and I started working on magazine projects together, and when Clarkson Potter came to me with this idea, I thought of Kindra. She is a cross between a garden photographer and an interior photographer.
Q. What enchants you about gardens under glass?
A. Way back when I was at Logee’s, I originally lived in the upstairs of the house that overlooked all the greenhouses. Why I find (terrariums) so quaint, and why I can really get into them, is that I’ve never lost that feeling of loving things encased in glass. I loved looking down on the glass greenhouses. I even used to produce little booklets on how to plant terrariums for people who wanted to make or sell them.
Q. Terrariums are a tradition that dates back more than a century. What makes this technique, this idea, suddenly “new”?
A. I can’t think of a modern terrarium book. What I’m hoping is that people in office buildings, people with no access to gardening for a major part of their day, will think of this as a low-maintenance way to bring nature into their lives.
Q. You really believe that plants can be transformative?
A. I kept calling up Kindra and saying, “This is really big. We’re going to change the world.” I saw that this whole mode of gardening has the potential to rescue people from terminal office life.
Q. Tell me about the glass containers you used to create your projects. There is such an incredible variety – many surprised me.
A. Almost anything can be used. You can just start looking at glass this new way.
[Debra’s note: The New Terrarium is packed with inspiring ideas of the types of containers suitable for planting – from traditional cloches, Wardian cases and lantern cloches to more contemporary vessels, including recycled aquariums, hurricane lanterns, vases and repurposed glass domes used to cover cakes or cheese platters.]
Q. What do you hope to teach gardeners and non-gardeners about growing plants under glass?
A. It’s an easy way for people to enjoy plants. Basically you don’t need to water very often. You don’t even need to fertilize.
[Debra’s note: Tovah has included a comprehensive plant encyclopedia that recommends a surprising array of plants for glass gardens, including: orchids, ferns, heucheras, begonias, mosses, African violets, bromeliads, ivies, ornamental grasses and more.]
Q. I love the photos! How did you and Kindra produce the shots?
A. This book was the challenge of the century because everything reflects in glass. We now understand why no one’s done this book before. Kindra had to surround herself in a black piece of velvet (so she wouldn’t be reflected in the shot). We kept joking that we should do the author and photographer’s portraits reflected in glass.
Q. Did you photograph at your Connecticut farmhouse?
A. We shot at four different houses, one of them being mine. I have a converted barn with big, huge windows and a little cobbler shop from 1790. A greenhouse connects these two buildings. We used the windows of these houses (for a backdrop). But most terrariums should be displayed away from the sun or windows.
Q. Tovah, how do you describe your writing philosophy?
A. This has been a lifelong mission for me: To write for (publications) that aren’t necessarily reaching gardening audiences in order to expand the whole realm.
Thank you! What a great conversation and a spectacular book.