Indoor Succulent Basics

There are two things that you really need to understand about succulents; the first is that they require LOTS of bright, sunny light. Secondly, it is better to under-water than over-water (with some exceptions – of course!).
Succulents will thrive outdoors in Australia, or in outdoor rooms and pergolas. In the garden they like lots of sunlight (but I have found that summers in Adelaide will decimate many succulents that are in full sun).
Most of you though, will be looking for help with your indoor succulents.
Choose your indoor succulents carefully as the vast majority of succulents require a super bright, sunny spot to survive inside. Those beautiful, brightly coloured succulents you see have developed those colours outside in strong light conditions. The only way they will stay bright red, orange or bright pink is to keep them outdoors. Indoors you will find that the plants will revert back to greener shades – all the better to process light through photosynthesis.
A good rule of thumb is that the darker green the succulent the better it will do indoors. Greys and very light coloured succulents need a lot of bright, sunny light to thrive.
If you are keeping your succulents inside, put them in the brightest, sunniest window you have.

The biggest succulent killer, and even more murderous than lack of light, is over-watering. This is especially the case for those succulents living inside. Indoor succulents can be left to dry out for short periods between watering. Never water if your potting mix is still moist. Be especially careful of over-watering if your container does not have drainage holes!

Signs of succulent distress include stretching and soggy leaves. Stretching (the plant nerd term for this is etiolation) – is when the distance between leaves increases as the plant stretches out to find more sunlight. The easiest solution to this is put them in a brighter spot (but generally they won’t revert to a compact state).
Soggy leaves or jelly like leaves tend to point to rot. Stop watering and let the potting mix dry out. Remove the icky parts and hope for the best!

Air plants are temporarily out of stock.

Much to all plant lovers’ disappointment, air plants – tillandsia – will not be available in large quantities any time soon in Australia. This is due to a ban on imports of air plants into Australia due to the presence of a bacteria known as Xylella (Xylella fastidiosa).

Xylella is currently not found in Australia but the risk that this bacteria poses to Australian agriculture is huge. Once it is established it is impossible to eradicate.

So hang on to your tillandsia and treat them well! We hope the ban is resolved soon. Once the ban is lifted and imports resume, so will our supply of air plant products.

 

How do I care for my terrarium? Part two – closed terrariums

Closed terrariums are, in my opinion, the easiest type of terrarium to care for – if they’ve been put together properly! A closed terrarium consists of a glass or clear plastic container such as a fishbowl, with some kind of stopper or lid. The idea behind a closed terrarium is that a mini ecosystem is created. A really good closed terrarium will have layers of pebbles, sphagnum moss, horticultural charcoal and potting medium. These are all important ingredients for terrarium success.

How does a closed terrarium work?

So, very briefly, plants process sunlight and carbon dioxide. This is called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis produces oxygen and plant food essential for a plant’s growth. As a terrarium is usually made of glass, sunlight can get through, allowing plants to photosynthesise and grow.

A terrarium is really its own little world with its very own water cycle. The moisture from both the potting mix and plants has nowhere to escape through evaporation, so it condenses on the sides of the terrarium and plants and re-waters the soil keeping all the little plants happy and hydrated. For this reason, closed terrariums only require traditional watering every couple of weeks.

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Our Mossarium Terrariums are a perfect example of a tiny enclosed ecosystem.

What plants are suitable for a closed terrarium?

Firstly, lets look at what’s not suitable. SUCCULENTS. CACTUS. All  those beautiful popular plants being shoved in terrariums with lids are being sentenced to a rotten, moldy death. These plants like warmth, air flow and minimal water. If you’ve got these plants in a closed terrarium, open the lid!

Terrarium plants should be anything small that loves a moist and humid environment. Mosses are perfect, as are little ferns, miniature violets, dwarf syngoniums… and my personal favourite, fittonia (or nerve plant).

Caring for your closed terrarium

Terrariums are beautiful worlds that need care, observation and interaction. Water your terrarium when it looks like the potting mix is starting to dry out. Never let the potting mix completely dry out. Have a look at your layer of sphagnum moss. If that still looks nice and hydrated you probably don’t need to water. If it’s dry, give your terrarium a good water. You may only need to water your terrarium once a month, but this is something you will work out through observation.

Water with filtered water or rain water if you can. Our South Australian water is terrible to drink and plants don’t like it much either.

You will need to wipe off condensation occasionally, and it also helps to open the terrarium for an hour or two weekly to let in fresh air and discourage mold. At the first sign of mold, take off the terrarium’s lid. You need to cut down on watering too as this is a sure sign of too much water being added to your terrarium. If there’s only a little mold on a plant, remove the moldy bit and put it in the bin. Keep a good eye on the plant over the next few days for signs of mold appearing. If the mold is covering the plant, I’m afraid the plant has to go. Nothing moldy should stay in your terrarium as mold grows. Replace yucky moldy plants with new plants (wash your hands or gloves after taking out the moldy plants – you don’t want to transfer spores to a healthy plant) . It is also good to get a piece of wire or satay stick and start poking some holes in your potting medium. This will introduce some air into the soil so that it is less likely to produce mold spores.

Slugs – ugh – it doesn’t matter how careful you are, you’ll always end up with a sneaky slug or two in your terrarium. Look out for tracks in the condensation, then hunt down those critters and remove them from your terrarium.

Other maintenance and pruning tips are the same for open terrariums, we have a guide for them too!

 

How do I care for my terrarium? Part One – Open terrariums

So you’ve purchased a terrarium, been gifted a terrarium, or maybe you’ve had a crack at making one yourself. Well congratulations! You are well on your way to becoming a nature nerd. And now comes the fun part, where you commit to the upkeep and care of your very own terrarium world.
The majority of the terrariums we make here at Fleurieu Gifts are open terrariums. Our giant imaginarium terrarium is an example of a typical, traditionally planted, open terrarium. It usually features a bonsai tree and various other small terrarium plants such as miniature violets, fittonia, syngonium, selaginella and many others, depending on the style of terrarium. These plants are planted and arranged to create a living, breathing, little world in glass. If this sounds similar to your terrarium, read on.

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A Fleurieu Gifts Giant Imaginarium Terrarium in a woodland style.

There are two really important things to master when it comes to looking after your open terrarium; these are light /position and watering.

Terrarium Position and Watering

As a general rule, open terrariums need to be in a bright spot where they get filtered or indirect light. Glass magnifies the sun, so make sure you keep yours away from any hot windows in summer. It’s a good idea to keep them a couple of meters from any air conditioning vents or heaters, too.
Watering is a little more tricky. Here in South Australia where we have stinking hot summers with regular heat waves of 38°c and over, you may need to be watering every day. My general rule of thumb is to water around every two days in summer and every 4-5 days in winter. Remember, this is an open terrarium and will dry out if left for too long without water. A spray mister is a great way of watering a terrarium, but keep a cloth handy and wipe down the glass after watering to reduce any water marks (that’s the mum in me). Your terrarium should be kept moist, but not wet. Never let your terrarium’s potting medium completely dry out. The best way of checking if your terrarium is dry or moist? Stick your finger in there as deep as you can and feel it!

Pruning

As for pruning, most terrarium plants can be pinch-pruned at the base of the plant as needed. If it’s a clumper that’s got out of hand, like a violet or a syngonium, you can gently remove the plant, separate it into smaller plants and put one back in and plant the others up in a little pot. Ferns can usually be given a ‘haircut’ at their base and will reshoot (maidenhair comes up a treat). Bonsais such as the Buddha Belly Fig can be tip-pruned as necessary.

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This Woodland Terrarium with foxes features a Buddha Belly Fig Bonsai.

 

Top Tips for Terrarium Care:

• Keep your open terrarium in a bright spot with filtered / indirect light
• As a general rule of thumb, water every 2 days in summer and every 5 days in winter
• Never let your terrarium totally dry out
• Wipe as you spray – it saves on cleaning. But if you do get water marks, try a tiny bit of vinegar on a clean cloth
• Find the balance in keeping your terrarium moist but not wet
• Keep a spray bottle within reach of the terrarium so watering is easy
• Don’t fertilise. Fertilisers make plants grow – you want yours to stay little!

Finally, all the tips above are general and will be affected by your home’s temperatures and light levels. Your terrarium is your own special little garden in glass. A terrarium is most fun when you interact with it. Give it a little prune, remove those dead leaves. Spend time getting to know your terrarium. Observe how quickly it dries out and how it responds to water. Get down and dirty with it. Get your hands in there if you’re not sure if it’s moist enough and feel it!
If you have any questions or there’s something I haven’t covered, please send me an email at [email protected] or post a question below.
Charlene x

How to make a simple succulent terrarium with kids

Being out in the garden with little ones can be such a fun time and often it is these memories that children take with them into adulthood. When my youngest was a toddler (eek, almost ten years ago!) she roamed our vegetable garden every day in summer. She’d sit on the edge of the garden bed and chomp away at cherry tomatoes, beans and snow peas. To this day she’ll choose a punnet of cherry tomatoes over a block of chocolate. Weird, I know.
Let’s face it, kids are going to be happy with any project that involves being outside and spending time with mum, dad, grandparents or any loved adult. Pair this with dinosaurs and fairies and you know you’re on a winner.
This is a simple terrarium project for children that uses mostly found objects around the house. You may need to purchase a small pack of sphagnum moss, which is readily available at any garden centre or hardware store.

What you’ll need:
– an old jar (one that you or the kids can reach into a little way if necessary) – I used an old coffee jar
– pebbles
– sphagnum moss, soaked in water to hydrate
– potting mix or soil
– small succulent plant (more on plant types later)
– a small figurine for the terrarium, such as a little dinosaur, fairy, even a matchbox car would work
I recommend everyone wears gloves for this project, as potting mix and sphagnum moss can carry harmful bacteria.
How to make your terrarium:
Place the pebbles in the bottom of the jar, so that you have a layer of pebbles at least 2cm thick. It can be thicker, depending on how large your jar is. Pebbles help to ensure drainage and act as a small water reservoir.
Squeeze out a small handful of sphagnum moss (watch out for prickles!) and place it on top of the pebbles. Sphagnum moss is great for holding moisture but it also acts as a barrier to stop the soil or potting mix falling into the pebbles. Push it down so it sits nice and flat.
Top with about 4cm of potting mix. Make a small dent in the mix where you’ll place your plant.
Now here’s where little hands come in handy. Shake off any excess dirt from your succulent and plant it into your terrarium’s soil. If you’re using a succulent cutting, just push that baby right into the soil.
If you’ve got spare pebbles, top your terrarium with pebbles, then place your figurine and you’re done! Succulents won’t do well in a closed terrarium, so keep the lid off your jar and find a bright, warm spot indoors, or a sheltered part shade position out of direct sun outdoors. It should only need a small amount of water every two weeks or so. Keep an eye on the water level in your bottom pebble layer. It’s fine to have a little water in the bottom of the jar, but never more than a couple of millimetres as this will rot your succulent.

kids open terrarium 2_web

If you prefer not to get your hands dirty, but love a tiny garden, you might like our Tiny Dinosaur Gardens, all made up, boxed and delivered to your, or someone special’s, door.

 

I do, I do, I do.

It’s the start of a new year, so it will come as no surprise that goal setting and reflection has been BIG on the agenda. I’m going to let you in on my big goal for 2015 (actually there are a few big ones, but this is the one coming up first on the list). Because if I tell you, it keeps me honest and accountable and helps to ensure that I actually get to tick things off that long list.
Okay, so in March, I am getting married. Now that’s not the goal as such (although my fiancé will disagree) but it is the inspiration for the goal. I love the gorgeous flowers and floral styling in the wedding magazines and blogs; I spend hours bookmarking photos of roses and poring over peonies – but the eco-bride in me wants something that will last. I want sustainable beauty. I want local. Fleurieu Gifts is all about providing flower alternatives with sustainable and living plants. What sort of business woman and enterprising eco-bride would I be if I did not seize this opportunity to design flower alternatives for weddings, starting with my own?
So this January and February I’ll be designing all sorts of sustainable accoutrements for myself – from the bouquet to the boutonniere, and the table centrepieces to the flower girl head-pieces and baskets. I’ll trial them myself, wear them and use them then perfect them. These new designs will form the first new products for the Fleurieu Gifts Wedding Line, for other like-minded eco-brides!
Over the coming months I will design and add new products in the Fleurieu Gifts online shops and later in the year I will officially launch the new line of Fleurieu Gifts Weddings. This makes me incredibly excited because not only will I be working on creating a new line of beautiful products, it means I get to share in one of the most treasured days in people’s lives. And I just know there are other eco-brides out there who can’t quite find exactly what they are looking for; who would like something that lasts well after the wedding day and is full of natural beauty.
In fact, just writing about it has me wishing this rain would go away so I can get out the shed and start playing around with plants. I’ll be documenting the trials and successes via instagram and would love to have you along for the journey as I strive to meet the needs of today’s eco-bride (and groom – sorry boys). If you have any ideas on what you’d like to see as a sustainable floral alternative, I’d love to hear from you!
Charlene x

I Get By With a Little Help From my Friends

As you may know, Fleurieu Gifts is my first venture going it alone. So, so alone…
Up until recently I had worked at executive level in education and marketing. Both professions that depend on great communication, with a wide variety of people. If I got tired of being at a computer or frustrated with the project I was working on I’d grab my coffee cup, leave my office and pester one of my work-mates with meaningless chitchat for five minutes, then return to my desk refreshed, my need for stimulation and company filled.
All this is but a distant memory as I potter in the shed at Fleurieu Gifts, tweak the website, do the finances, create botanic master-pieces, work on marketing… all. by. myself. There are some days where I go a full six hours without speaking a word to a human. Plants don’t count.
An old work colleague called recently to touch base. I felt like a giddy school girl as I asked and answered questions, caught up on gossip and enthusiastically invited him for coffee any time, no really, any time…really.
I realised I had fallen into the trap that one of my business friends had warned me about. I was so engrossed in the business that I had stopped networking. Something I did on a daily basis in my office jobs. Why? Because it was good for business and it is good to talk to people in similar positions. They have ideas; you learn about new opportunities… (mentally slaps hand on forehead). Determined to right the balance, and wanting to meet other business people doing it alone, I joined the Adelaide Etsy team – Etsy is a global marketplace for handmade goods. Fleurieu Gifts’ Etsy shop is where I list Fleurieu Gifts’ more custom-made and unique pieces.
Last Saturday, a group from the Adelaide Etsy Team met up for coffee and to swap stories about what works, what doesn’t and the perils of postage etcetera, etcetera. I got so much more from that meeting than tips and tricks; I got to hear people’s stories, learn about what they do and be inspired by their success. I also realised I need to do this more. So in addition to committing to meet up with the Adelaide Etsy Team every two months, I’ve also joined the Fleurieu Food group to meet other local business owners.
And it’s not just about meeting others in business, but appreciating and being grateful to family and friends for their encouragement and support. Today I was nominated for the AusMumPreneur Award for Emerging Mumpreneur and Eco-Friendly Business. I don’t know who nominated me (I do know it was none of my family members) but knowing that someone loves the concept of Fleurieu Gifts enough to nominate for an award was as humbling as it was awesome.
If you’re thinking of going it alone, be sure to surround yourself with positive, honest and enthusiastic people. They will carry you through when you need it.  If you are already doing it alone, I’d love to hear how you’ve got by with a little help from your friends, too.

Herbs – what to do when you’ve got too many

On the weekend Fleurieu Gifts had its debut at a very sweet little market tucked away in Aldinga Bay, aptly titled the Aldinga Bay Market. There were some fantastic stalls, lots of Fleurieu produce made by passionate and very clever clogs and there was even a lovely lady spinning wool (which I hadn’t seen for 30 years).

One of the other stallholders was Margaret who was selling her amazing, fresh olive oil, that she and her husband press at their farm which overlooks McLaren Vale in the Fleurieu Peninsula. McLaren Vale is world renowned for its wine (particularly Shiraz) but perhaps not so famous for its olives. Which, by the way, are very good. One try and I was hooked – once you have had fresh, locally produced olive oil, you will shudder at the thought of buying supermarket varieties again. So I purchased said olive oil and have plans to feature more in a Fleurieu Food Hamper in the near future.

Unfortunately, at the end of the market day I was left with a few pots of herbs that didn’t sell. I also have an over-abundance of herbs in my herb garden due to the rain we’ve had lately in Port Noarlunga. Now, I’m not actually sure that you can have too many herbs. But if you’re like me, when you want those herbs to cook with they’re out of season.

Here’s what to do when you’re herbs are out of control:

Get yourself some lovely olive oil and an ice-cube tray and once you’ve chopped up the herbs you like, stuff as many as you can into the tray, then drizzle with olive oil. Stick the tray in the freezer and voila! Herbs and olive oil ready to go whenever you need them. The olive oil freezes to a butter-like consistency (which is the sign of a true, unadulterated olive oil).

You may notice in the picture above that the last four cubes of my tray hold mint and ice. This is because cooking is hard, hot work and is always more fun with a mojito 🙂

When life gives you a lemon tree.

If life gives you a lemon tree, rejoice! Lemon trees are by far my favourite form of citrus. Super easy to grow; they’re hardy; they are generally not too big (dwarf lemon trees are great); they can grow in a pot; and they grow lemons. Surely this is a no-brainer?
In short, if you don’t have a lemon tree, you should.
If you have a garden, no excuses, go out and plant a lemon tree now (seriously – Autumn is the perfect time to plant). If you don’t have a garden, the great news is that a lemon tree makes a fabulous indoor plant, as long as it can be moved outside occasionally.
How to nurture your little lemon tree
If you have a garden, choose a sunny spot and plant your tree. Remember to protect it from frost while it’s young until it’s really established.
If you are growing yours in a pot, choose a good potting mix and remember to fertilise with citrus food regularly. A Meyer lemon is a good choice for indoors.
If you are bringing your lemon tree indoors, it will need a very brightly lit spot with plenty of good, strong sunlight. Ideally it should get about 8 hours of sunlight a day to thrive. Without plenty of strong sunlight it is unlikely that your little lemon tree will flower and fruit.
Indoor trees also require humidity, which means you need to keep the potting mix moist but not wet. Water when the top 2-3 centimeters of potting mix has dried out and the rest of the mix remains moist. Don’t let your lemon dry out or it will get stressed. A spritz of water on the leaves every couple of days will help keep the humidity up too.
On nice, sunny days, give your tree a holiday outside if you can. If you don’t have an outside or even a balcony, just opening the windows will help.
Lemons make you feel better
As winter approaches, at the first sign of a cough or sore throat, we pick a lemon from our tree and make a hot lemon and honey drink with loads of freshly squeezed lemon, hot water and a teaspoon of honey. Some use lemons to detox but I’d rather have them squeezed on pancakes with a bit of sugar.
To finish up, I have to share what a friend of mine said when he was reviewing our lemon care package, because it gave me warm fuzzies. He said, “I’ll buy this gift for the next of my friends who ends up in hospital with a serious health condition and needs a sense of survival embedded in a gift. I care about this one because if someone had given me this gift during my recent hospitalisation, I would have loved them forever”.
We’re meeting for coffee this week and I’m bringing him a lemon tree.

The girls at Fleurieu Gifts and our lemon tree.

Air plants – why they’re awesome and how to care for them.

Air plants are amazing. They don’t need dirt to live, they’re hardy and they are great conversation pieces (if you have green thumb friends – other friends are not so impressed).
Air plants or Tillys (short for tillandsia – their botanical name) are epiphytes, which means that they can grow without being planted in the ground. This is awesome because it means you can be very creative with them. We have them in glass globes, but I’ve seen them in vertical gardens, living arrangements and stuck to curly branches as a kind of living installation.
Air plants are hardy and will last for years – but do need some care. When you first lay your hands on your air plant, give it a good water by soaking in a bowl for 20-30 minutes. Then let it dry completely – especially if yours is living in a glass globe like ours do. Air plants like bright, filtered light. It is important to keep them out of direct sunlight or they are likely to dehydrate and may dry out to the point of no return. Spritz your air plant with one or two sprays of water every 4 or 5 days (they may need a little more if it is very hot or less in the middle of winter). Once every couple of weeks give your air plant a soak for 30 minutes. Remember to let it dry if you are putting it into a glass globe.

Most importantly, air plants don’t like to be over-watered. Never let water pool in the bottom of your globe.

How it all started.

The time I spent trying to decide what the first blog post should be is rather embarrassing. Then I realised it probably isn’t as important in readers’ minds as it is in mine! So here is an introduction of sorts.Most of my blog posts will be about gardening tips, or showing how an arrangement has been put together, or highlighting some of the fantastic producers we have on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula. But for this first post I wanted to give a bit of information on how Fleurieu Gifts came to be.
Announcing that you are going to start a business when you are 40 years old and reasonably successful at what you do in the corporate world brings a range of reactions from friends, associates and family.
Some care enough to try and talk you out of it: there are no sick days in business; it’s really hard work; South Australia is in the middle of a significant economic downturn! All pertinent points.
Some are kind of uncomfortable, like they think it is a really bad idea, but are too nice to say so. They nod and ask kind questions about what are you going to do, smile and say, ‘oh yes, that’s interesting’, or look terribly confused because quite frankly, gardening and plants have had nothing to do with my career up till now.
The really great responses are these: concerned questioning, followed by various forms of encouragement. I was lucky enough to have a lot of these.
To give a little bit of background, I had been thinking of business as a way of leaving behind my then current work. I was keen on a total career change and had been looking into floristry and other creative job types. Then things started to go pear shaped at work. Finances were not great, and a new board were determined to turn this around. It became very clear that redundancies were not just likely, but inevitable. Sure enough, early in 2014 this became the reality. I had a choice: I could stay and ride out the changes, or I could take the money and run.
I chose the money. To cut a long story short, I then chose to invest in a chance for the future – and Fleurieu Gifts was born.
But let’s get back to that encouragement. I really want to share this, because it may just help someone else who is in a similar boat.
I took a short course, ‘Plan and Start a Business’. Best thing I ever did. I got to really think about what can work, what probably won’t work and what steps to take to make a START. Because that is the hardest part, just starting. The encouragement of my tutor was without doubt, the biggest shot in the arm I’d had at that stage. I’d recommend anyone who is thinking of going into business to do a short course, it’s money well spent.
Another friend of mine sent me these words, ‘find the thing you love and work at it – it takes time, but when you love what you do it lasts a lifetime. And the benefits that go with that are enormous’. She taught me that there’s no reason why we can’t create our own work. She also made the point that now that it is likely that we will be working until we are 70, it may just be that I can create work for my family down the line as well.
I know there are no guarantees, but the whole point is – it’s worth a crack, isn’t it?