By Nancy Tannler

Roosevelt’s Terrarium’s at 44th and SE Hawthorne Blvd. has expanded. Owner Gregg Harris added a workshop to the greenery-filled shop where he and his sons, Josh and James, have been selling, making and teaching about terrariums for the past couple of years.

“When the space next door became available, we were ready for more room. We needed the classroom space and a place to store our inventory,” Harris said. An upstairs apartment is included in these storefront rentals so everyone just got a little more living space too.

The beauty of the terrariums from Roosevelt’s, besides their aesthetic appeal, is that they come with a lifetime warranty. If a plant dies, they will replace it. They also clean and prune their customer’s terrariums for tips.

Terrariums are a closed system requiring indirect light. If they are made in an airtight container, they’ll never need watering. If the lid vents air, then watering every three months is sufficient. It’s the perfect house plant for a busy person or someone claiming a “black thumb”.

The genius of this system was developed by Dr. Nathan Bagshaw Ward in 1829. It was an accidental discovery that happened while incubating a chrysalis in a hermetically-sealed glass container with dirt in the bottom. After a week, a seedling began to grow in the soil. After observing the fern’s growth for awhile, Bagshaw noticed that evaporated moisture condensed on the wall of the bottle during the day and ran back down into the soil during the evening.

From this observation he got the idea to build what became known as a Wardian Case to rear butterflies and grow plants. He developed them further for use in transporting plants to the British colonies.

George Loddiges used Wardian cases for shipping plants to Australia, a journey of six months. He said he would lose nineteen out of twenty plants. After using the Wardian case, nineteen out of twenty plants survived the voyage. This was the original terrarium.

The Wardian cases were very sturdy, made of glass and wood with brass hinges and eyelets so they could be bolted to a ship’s floor boards during transport. Gregg Harris builds an exact replica of this for his special order terrariums.

Along with ready made terrariums, you can build one yourself on location or join in on the week night workshops offered at Roosevelt’s. Between all the Harrises, there is plenty of expert instruction. They have a selection of fascinating crystals, rocks  and accessories to personalize your piece. Roosevelt’s makes a fascination with growing plants in an airtight environment more appealing than ever.

When the workspace is not in use for classes, Harris is offering it as a space for non-profits in the community to meet for free. For profit meetings will require a fee.

The namesake of the terrarium shop is Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States. As a young man he and his brother Elliot turned their bedroom into a full-scale natural history museum. Roosevelt was into terrariums and they were a necessary part of his “museum.”

Owner Gregg Harris in the workshop/meeting space

Harris admires the ideology of Roosevelt and he also bears a considerable resemblance to him in his younger years. He does speaking engagements for schools, libraries, youth groups, scouts, business and educational conferences – staying in character to keep the event authentic.

He’s the vice-president of the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association (HBBA), and encourages the business people to get involved. Together they are making a difference and meeting the challenges of a growing city.

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