Not everyone is born with a green thumb. It takes great skill, dedication, a whole lot of patience paired with dirt, sweat and tears to create a beautiful garden. I should know, I have killed many plants just by either watering too little or too much. One must be a plant whisperer to make them grow healthy and beautiful. But there are exceptions.
On an Easter Sunday in 1960, an amateur gardener David Latimer planted four seedlings in a 10-gallon carboy (an enormous glass jug from the pre-plastics era used in chemical manufacturing) thinking it as an experiment. This mass of flourishing plant life would make you think David Latimer was in fact a plant whispering genius. On the contrary, his 53-year-old bottle garden has not needed much tending to, at all over the last.
In an interview with the media, he said “Bottle gardens were a bit of a craze and I wanted to see what happened if you bunged (corked) the thing up.” He filled up the glass jug with soil planting the seedlings inside the earth, with a splash full of water he sealed the cork tight shut on the jug without realizing how it would turn out after all these years. It was not until 1972 that the plant got another drink of water, when Nixon was still ruling in the White House and Elvis was making records. Nevertheless, the plant has not been watered since then.
The seeds were from the plant called spiderworts or tradescantia (scientific Latin name) and these little seedlings grew to fill up the vast area and thrive within their own created self-sufficient ecosystem to fully support their life cycle. Because the plant absorbs light, it can photosynthesize to create its own food from the sun only to recycle the same nutrients and converting sunlight into all the energy needed for growth. The only external inputs were the water and the sunlight.
However, it is not just the plants that contribute, by photosynthesizing to create oxygen and water, but the bacteria in the soil uses cellular respiration to break down the dead leaves and absorbs the plant’s waste oxygen, releasing carbon dioxide, which the growing plant needs to breathe in. The water that was absorbed by the roots initially gets released into the air in the jug by transpiration. The as the air condenses it waters down over the plants all over again and the cycle repeats.
Latimer keeps the bottle beneath the stairs in his front hallway. “It’s 6 feet from a window so gets a bit of sunlight. It grows towards the light and gets turned round every so often so it grows evenly, it is the definition of low-maintenance. I’ve never pruned it; it just seems to have grown to the limits of the bottle.”
Out of curiosity, Latimer sent a photo of his garden to a gardening program wondering whether his jug of garden had any “scientific or horticultural interest”. Although this garden has no material use such as eating or cultivation but it is nevertheless intriguing. The spiderworts plant has grown to fill the whole capacity of the 10-gallon glass jug by thriving solely on recycled air, nutrients and water
Garden designer and television presenter Chris Beardshaw said in a reply, “It’s a great example of the way in which a plant is able to recycle It’s the perfect cycle of life.” He also believes that this is why NASA was interested in taking plants into space.
“Plants operate as very good scrubbers, taking out pollutants in the air, so that a space station can effectively become self-sustaining,” he said. “This is a great example of just how pioneering plants are and how they will persist given the opportunity”