Magic Garden (Apr, 1946)

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Magic Garden

Dissolve a few chemical salts in waterglass and—presto!

CHEMICAL magic in one of its most spectacular forms can be practiced by any amateur who will borrow a leaf from his high school “chem” book and conjure up a few “crystal gardens.”

These aren’t difficult to make, and require no more material than the necessary chemicals, a good size aquarium and enough sand or fine gravel to cover the bottom to a depth of about 1 inch. The aquarium is filled with a solution of water-glass (sodium silicate), and the chemicals are dropped in it. As they settle to the bottom, they grow into a colorful pattern of intertwining clusters which might resemble a submarine forest in some as yet unexplored deep.

The waterglass may be of any strength. If you can get the kind which is used to preserve eggs, dilute with its own volume of water. The salts you can use are any of the salts of nickel, iron, cobalt, copper, etc., such as the sulphates, chlorides or nitrates. Many of them can be obtained at your local drugstore. The action is as follows: as the salt crystal dissolves, it forms a silicate of the original metal. By osmosis, this compound keeps absorbing the water from the waterglass and swells up, increasing in size until the entire salt has been changed into the silicate. This latter is the material of which your magic garden is composed.

No two gardens are alike, as the growth shape of the silicates depends upon their internal structure. The suggested chemicals need not be used singly, but may be added to the solution separately or in a mixture to form color combinations. The average time to grow is about one-half hour, but frequently a garden will keep on growing almost indefinitely until it threatens to fill the entire aquarium. Sometimes, when observed under a high-power magnifying glass, the actual expansion of the silicate can be noticed.

For best results, use chemicals sparingly; avoid excess quantities which cause nothing more than a jumble of color. Be sure not to disturb your garden during or after growth. Interesting results can be obtained by ”growing” a number of small colored gardens in tall glasses for shelf ornaments.

  1. Stannous says: July 21, 200612:49 pm

    Try googling “magic crystal garden” for lots of neat ways to do this today-
    here’s one using laundry bluing and salt:

  2. Uncle B says: June 1, 20091:18 pm

    My “Chemcraft” Chemistry set had all the necessary ingredients and the fish bowl I used came from S.S. Kresge stores, a five and dime of the day. I had enough chemicals to make 3 or 4 of these before a timely and inexpensive re-order to fill the little bottles up again. I t was an age of innocence, even for my parents. GM was the world leader in cars, not, as today, defrocked and removed from the new York Stock Exchange listings, China was a country of starving people, we feared “Yellow Peril” if they ever got boats! and Russia was a backwards northern country in the History books. Gold was the currency and it kept its value, people banked on it, Saving money was in vogue, and living frugally the order of the day! Dope of the day was from the tough part of town, bennies and “H” were what we heard in whispers, no mention of “Weed”, not ever, the beatniks smoked “Hemp”, not considered dope, just a smelly annoyance in some blues bars. Gay meant happy, Bobbie socks were in, Benny Goodman was a well known name, Harley’s were a poor-mans transportation, and everyone had a backyard garden out of necessity. Radios were found in huge wooden furniture in the living room, T.V.’s were rumored in my town, Transistors not discovered yet, and a trip to the lake was considered an adequate summer vacation for most folk. The late 1940’s were a good time in my life and I thank you for this memento of my youth, and share some of it with you. Thank you.

  3. Peter J says: July 27, 20098:55 pm

    Uncle B – Thank you for that….I’m 41 and truly believe that ERA was America! Now, not so much…

  4. Firebrand38 says: July 27, 200911:43 pm

    Don’t encourage him. He may have been an innocent kid in the late 1940’s but post war America wasn’t as innocent as all of that. World War 2 was over and with the G.I. Bill for the returning G.I.’s followed by the Housing Act of 1949 the Baby Boom was about to begin. “Separate but Equal” was the law for Blacks in America.

    We certainly weren’t innocent of polio. After WW2 during the period 1945-49 an average of more than 20,000 new cases a year were reported.

    The Russian history I’m familiar with shows they detonated their first atomic bomb on 29 August 1949. Innocent time.

    Uncle B is kinda out of the loop about the motorcycle thing. He’s overlooked the July 1947 Hollister riot…

    I hate to break it to him but as far as saving money the rate in 1949 was only 5.0%…

    Yeah, it’s low now but only because the savings rate doesn’t reflect home equity and 401(k) contributions.

    I guess those chemicals take a toll on the memory I guess.

  5. dr_praetorius says: October 21, 20118:52 am

    There is always someone out there who can’t help but to try and besmirch someone’s childhood memory. You were also the guy who told all the first graders that there was no Santa Claus too, huh Firebrand38. There was still more freedom then than now in America. And what about the dumbing down of the school system now and just look at the chemistry kits now, they are sad.

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