Vivariums, Aquariums & Terrariums for Palm Springs, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Indian Wells, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, the Coachella Valley and Southern California
The Ultimate Fusion of Primeval Nature, Advanced Technology and Cultivated Artistic Sense
Specialty Interior Design in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Indian Wells, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, the Coachella Valley and Southern California
These are our signature environments, the most spectacular living works of art we create, and the primary interior design element that sets us apart from any other company. We are the only ones to offer these magnificent installations to private homeowners and businesses in Palm Springs, the Coachella Valley and Southern California. A vivarium is probably the most cutting-edge, impressive, beautiful and unusual design feature you will ever see in any home or office.
Technically, aquariums and terrariums are types of vivariums. All are enclosed environments for living things. But in general, a vivarium is a terrestrial environment that includes both plants and animals. A vivarium can be any size, fit any space and simulate any kind of environment on Earth, e.g., desert, temperate woodland, montane (mountain), wetland, etc. Our most popular, for which we have the most requests, is the tropical rainforest.
Our vivariums are state-of-the-art, the most beautiful and technologically advanced available at affordable prices for private homes and businesses. They are comparable to the nicest displays one might find in major zoos, museums, botanic gardens, aquariums or upscale hotels and other such institutions.
To look into a vivarium is literally like gazing through a window into another world — a beautiful, fascinating, relaxing natural environment. Our vivariums are meticulously designed and created to look completely natural. They employ the latest technology, all automatically controlled, to maintain perfect environmental conditions.
The pageant is unending – every day brings fresh living spectacle. An orchid sends up an inflorescence, opening its glowing petals to the simulated tropical sunlight from above. A bromeliad roots itself to the vivarium’s bonsai-styled jaboticaba tree, collecting water in its leaf axils from the cool forest mists, into which a tiny, bright, jewel-colored dart frog deposits her tadpoles to develop. Other diminutive dart and tree frogs, in all colors of the rainbow, play on the forest floor and in the tree canopy. The finely-dissected fronds of a fern hang over the babbling water of a stream, flowing from the hillside artesian spring down to the forest pool, in which shimmering tetras and tiny, ruby-red freshwater shrimp scoot about. Velvety moss spreads in patches over the rich, organic forest floor and across rocky outcrops. A fluorescent day gecko scampers across the side of the tank, while a petite leaf chameleon the size of your thumb moves slowly and gracefully along a lower branch of the tree. As in nature, the environment changes from day to day, month to month, year to year.
A vivarium in your home will be a constant source of entertainment, amazement and education for your family and friends, an impressive focal point and object of interest and conversation at every party and a facilitator of stress reduction, pleasure and health. In your business space, a vivarium will produce a pleasant atmosphere that elevates the mood of both customers and employees. It will make your business memorable to everyone who passes through and set your business apart from your competitors. It can even increase new and returning traffic just because of the pleasurable, unique viewing experience.
If you are decorating a new space or remodeling an old one, if you are thinking of getting the standard aquarium or replacing an old one that has deteriorated, or if you just want something truly unique and amazing, consider a vivarium.
Palm Springs Vivarium When New, Four Years Ago
Palm Springs Vivarium, Four Years Established
A properly designed, installed and maintained vivarium will thrive, evolve and become more complex and beautiful over the years. This second video shows the Palm Springs vivarium featured in the immediately preceding first video after four years of being established. As you can see, much has changed. These are living environments, continually evolving. Though these environments can potentially go for up to ten years just fine with only occasional pruning, plant swap-outs and other basic maintenance, we usually do a complete refurbishment after about five years. This involves removing everything but the permanent hardscape, adding fresh planting mix, doing a major pruning of the focal or primary tree, including root pruning, removing overgrown plants and replacing them with new, small plants, reducing the bromeliad clumps that have formed, etc. Many of the original plants, or their offsets, are replaced along with the new plants. In a tropical rainforest vivarium, the nature of the plant community tends to change over time, e.g., in the tree there are fewer purely decorative tillandsias and more bromeliads, primarily neoregelias, which are more useful to many of the animals.
One of the most notable changes in this vivarium is the focal jaboticaba tree. We train many different species of trees, using bonsai-style techniques, for our vivariums. Along with many species of ficus, the jaboticaba is one of our favorites, but there are at least ten more different genera and species we use, depending on the situation and the look we are trying to achieve. You can see that in the first video, it had just had its preliminary pruning and wiring to begin its transformation from a scrubby shrub into something resembling a young tree. Most of the growth was approximately mid-level and open, with limited branch space for epiphytic plants, consisting at this point of mainly tillandsias, some small species orchids and a few bromeliads. Most of the bromeliads in the vivarium were terrestrially situated. Now, after four years of training, it has achieved the look of an ancient forest tree, with a nice trunk and branch structure, foliage concentrated in the upper layers and a beautiful, flat canopy just under the tank top. There is now much more solid branch space for the placement of bromeliads and orchids. This has created much more usable arboreal habitat for many thumbnail dart frogs, tree frogs, dwarf chameleons, geckos and other lizards. Because the canopy is more widespread and dense, additional lighting has been added down the side of the tank to increase the intensity at ground level for the terrestrial plants. Below this video is another video which features just the tree, discussing its training and development. Compare this tree at four years to the accompanying photo of it as a bush, before any training had begun. Amazing.
Besides the tree, much of the other plant material has changed. Though we use the smallest and most miniature forms of plants we can find, even these will grow and thrive, sometimes too well, in this perfect environment. Many of the original plants outgrew the habitat, including the miniature African violets, begonias, various gesneriads, some orchids, some bromeliads and some aquatic plants. Mosses, miniature ferns, anubias, dwarf acorus and scirpus, many miniature/species orchids, some tiny gesneriads, etc. tend to remain small and can be reused. Most bromeliads readily produce offsets, so when the parent plant expires, we simply reposition the newer young plants.
The animal population also changes over time. Animals are added gradually, a few at a time, initially to allow the vivarium ecosystem to mature and be able to healthily support them. This involves many factors, including plant and micro-habitat development, the establishment and proliferation of soil and water microfauna, including beneficial bacteria and fungi, the development of a stable population of resident prey species, such as springtails and dwarf isopods, etc. It may take from six months to a year before the carrying capacity of the vivarium is reached. Most of the small animals we use in such a tropical rainforest vivarium have lifespans of five to ten years, so over time, there are the inevitable occasional deaths and replacement with new animals, either of the same or different species. (For information on community vivariums, animal compatibility, microhabitat development, disease prevention, etc., see our FAQ page on this site.)
So, as you can see, these environments are true living works of art, always beautiful, constantly evolving to provide you with new, interesting things to observe, a feast for the senses – lovely sights, the pleasant sounds of trickling water and frog singing, the aroma of fragrant flowers, etc. They are not only an ongoing source of pleasure, entertainment and education for your family or business employees, but they are a focal point of enjoyment and interest for friends and visitors. Check back in another five years of so to see how this vivarium is progressing!
This was our little jaboticaba before we began training it to become the beautiful vivarium tree it is today. We carefully select the specimens to use as the primary trees in our vivaria from a wide variety of desirable tropical species. They all have characteristics that make them appropriate for this purpose. They are, first and foremost, beautiful in and of themselves. They thrive in warm, humid environments. They have trunk and branch structures that can be made to simulate a large, aged forest tree and leaves that are in scale with the environment. They will accept, and do well with, epiphytic plants, such as bromeliads, tillandsias, orchids, ferns and mosses on their branches. Though they look good right from the start, it typically takes at least one year of training before the tree begins to approach its full potential.
Serving Palm Springs, Coachella Valley, San Diego, Inland Empire and all of Southern California.
San Diego Vivarium Ten Months Established
This is our San Diego vivarium after about ten months of evolution. The primary tree, a jaboticaba, continues to be trained using bonsai techniques and resembles a miniature version of an aged forest giant more with each passing month. Most of the original epiphytic orchids, bromeliads and tillandsias have rooted themselves to the tree and mosses are also spreading on the branches. The frogs are doing well, and the Epipedobates anthonyis are breeding like mad, with many tadpoles currently in the forest pool and one juvenile emerged. The red-eyes are approaching maturity and will hopefully breed as well in the near future. We will post another progress video at the one-year mark. Also check our Palm Springs vivarium progress videos and the new San Diego terrarium project video. Lots of beautiful living art happening!
A Built-in Desert Vivarium
This stunning desert vivarium was designed for a master bedroom with a retro 80s theme. It is a built-in installation, with an alcove above for the display of indoor bonsai. The slate blue, cream and rose tones of the stone and gravel echo the colors in the room décor. The minimal, stark, sculptural nature of the environment also compliments the clean look of the 80s decorating scheme.
The lighting simulates intense, full-spectrum desert sunlight, allowing the desert plants to thrive. It also contributes to the physical and mental health of the colorful, active little desert lizard inhabitants. At night, lighting simulates a full moon, casting a faint glow over the landscape that allows the owners to watch the nocturnal lizards, but still allowing for a peaceful night’s sleep.
Among the many features of this vivarium are the skull of a hapless small carnivore, bleached by the desert sun, and our own signature “thunderstorm pool”, which we always incorporate into desert vivaria as an attractive, naturalistic way to provide a water source for the animals.
A Craftsman Home Vivarium
This vivarium was designed for the front parlor of a classic Craftsman home. The cabinet and canopy were created by a local artist to match the traditional oak woodwork of the home’s interior. The tropical rainforest environment was landscaped with the same native granite used on the home’s exterior and featured a waterfall, stream and rocky jungle pool showcasing a miniature tropical water lily, a rocky “escarpment” with lithophytic plants, a low mossy glade and a central bonsai-styled jaboticaba tree with epiphytic plants and beautiful, patchy bark that echos that of the native sycamore trees in the front driveway planter just outside the parlor door.
A Built-in Home Office Vivarium
This vivarium was designed to be built into a mahogany bookcase wall in the office of a large Tuscan-style home. The coffered ceiling is also of mahogany and the floor is green Italian marble. This was one of the first of our designs to feature a full-front opening door, in this case in an arched mahogany frame.
This is a large, vertically-oriented tropical rainforest vivarium designed primarily to house an exquisite Amazon basin emerald tree boa, as well as accompanying dart frogs and tree frogs. A specimen weeping fig tree was selected and trained bonsai-style for several months to create a beautiful central tree with several strategically-placed branches on which the snake can rest at different times and for different purposes. Its exposed upper roots wind among and over the rocky forest floor beside a stream that winds around under the tree and empties into a jungle pool. Epiphytic and terrestrial plants include orchids, bromeliads, tillandsias, mosses, ferns and many other specialty tropical species.
A Reptile Shop Vivarium
This vivarium was designed for a reptile shop to demonstrate to customers a type of environment that can house a community of tropical rainforest reptiles and amphibians.
A College Laboratory Classroom Vivarium
This vivarium was designed for a biology laboratory classroom as a simulation of the type of habitat found in the “sky island” mountain ranges of Arizona. This area is studied by college professors and students. The college maintains a collection of reptiles from the area, including three beautiful species of dwarf rattlesnakes found only there. The rock and all plants used in the vivarium are native to this habitat.
We designed several vivariums for the children’s exploration area of a Southern California county museum. Shown here are the desert vivarium and the aquatic turtle vivarium. The desert vivarium was designed to house the museum’s collection of lizards native to desert areas of Southern California. The turtle vivarium was designed to simulate a shallow river edge and housed several turtle species.
Planted Freshwater Aquariums for Palm Springs and Southern California
Our aquariums are beautifully designed to look completely naturalistic. We specialize in planted freshwater aquariums that are unlike anything most people have ever seen. The nicest planted freshwater aquariums available in Palm Springs and Southern California.
These are not the large brandy snifters or second-hand aquariums containing assorted house plants like you saw in your old hippie Aunt Sally’s house or on a desk in an office cubicle.
Our terrariums are large, custom-designed, state-of-the-art, carefully controlled environments that provide the perfect conditions in which the plants will thrive, bloom and look their very best.
We can design terrariums for specific types of plants from specific habitats and geographic locations. You can have a stretch of the Mojave Desert or several cubic feet of Brazilian rainforest canopy in your living room.
We can also design terrariums for the optimal maintenance and display of plant collections, e.g., ferns that require low to medium light, high humidity and highly organic planting medium; or orchids that are epiphytic and require high light intensity and regular but not excessive moisture. If you’re a collector or propagator, why not keep your prized specimens in your living room so you and your friends or fellow plant society members don’t have to trek out to the greenhouse to see them?
A San Diego Terrarium
The video and photos above are of our latest interior showcase environment, a large tropical terrarium. One of our specialties is converting old installations (like aquaria), unused or difficult spaces into innovative, new, fresh and unique environments. A San Diego couple had a 15-year-old marine aquarium that wasn’t doing well. They were tired of it and wanted something new and exciting. With a terrarium in mind, they called us. This is what we created for them.
Landscaping a repurposed aquarium is difficult. Unlike the tanks we have custom-built, which have full-front-opening doors, aquarium tanks are accessible only from the top and often not fully open, as this one was not. The hardscaping was done by my partner sitting inside the tank, while I handed in rock and tools and directed from outside. I did the planting hanging through the top, while my partner outside made sure everything was properly positioned and looked good. Everything we do in a tank like this must be up to artistic standards, both ours and the client’s, just as in our custom-built tanks. There are no excuses. As indicated by their comments at the end of the above video, our clients were pleased with our finished product. We always seem to have the most wonderful clients, and we thoroughly enjoyed this project.
We started by removing all of the old aquarium equipment, repairing certain areas where leakage had occurred and cleaning up all the salt residue, etc. We then installed our terrarium equipment, making use of existing tank intrusions to run our cords and tubing and for tank drainage. The old aquarium overflow column, which could not be removed, was concealed behind a rocky cliff face, which we built from scratch in situ. About half-way up the cliff face is a simulated artesian spring, forming a small waterfall, which spills into a pool below.
The systems include automatic misting, drainage, daylight and moonlight fixtures. We utilized a new daylight fixture in this installation, which incorporates every component in one nice fixture. It provides full-spectrum, intense light that simulates natural tropical midday sunlight. It provides every wavelength, from UV through infrared, needed for the plants to grow and bloom, as well as anything necessary for animals, should the clients eventually decide to add these to the environment. The intensity ranges from over 20,000 foot-candles immediately under the fixture to over 13,000 fc at upper treetop canopy/upper cliff level, to about 2,000 fc at lower epiphyte levels, to 5-800 average at ground level. This makes it possible to grow and bloom difficult, high-light orchids in the tree canopy and upper cliff to African violets on the ground below. Under this excellent light, along with the regular misting to maintain moisture and humidity, plants will bloom prolifically and the bromeliads will not only maintain, but increase, their vibrant colors.
The primary tree is a lavender star flower, planted on the cliff, to be trained using bonsai techniques, over the course of a year into a windswept/gravity-induced form that fills most of the upper interior space of the tank. At this point, it hosts few epiphytic plants. More will be added as the tree grows. On either side of the cliff pocket where the tree is planted, there are root bundles contained in wrapped columns of planting mix, which we call braids. These can be seen in some of the photos. The roots will grow down through these braids of mix. When they reach the tank bottom, they will grow into the planting mix. When this happens, we will gradually unwrap the braids to expose the roots, which will harden over. The eventual result will be a simulation of a tree growing on an eroded cliff, hanging on by the exposed roots.
Other plants in the environment include thirteen types of bromeliads including Neoregelias, Aechmeas, Billbergias and Orthotanthus, seven types of orchids, six types of tillandsias, African violets and several other types of gesneriads, a dwarf water lily and several other types of aquatic plants, ferns, mosses and several other types of tropical plants.
Check back for updates on the evolution of this terrarium.