Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Terrariums Part One…

December 11th, 2009 § 12

A seasonal terrarium filled with North American forest plants…

I am very fortunate to live and work surrounded by gardens. Even in winter, nature is part of my everyday life. But not everyone is so lucky. Some of us have friends and family members working in city high rises, crowded into sterile offices or lifeless cubicles. As gardeners, I’d like to think that we can alter this situation, especially around the holidays, by bringing a little bit of nature into these people’s lives. A few years back a friend of mine gave a magical, mist-covered terrarium as a birthday gift to a mutual acquaintance. This gorgeous garden-behind-glass, filled with ferns and moss, inspired me to create one for a nature-lover I know; one sadly trapped inside a concrete jungle.

I have loved building mini-greenhouses ever since grade school, when they were a big fad with my friends. Although terrariums disappeared for awhile, I am happy to report that this indoor gardening trend has returned – and with a vengeance ! Terrariums are all the rage right now. The popular craft and decorating blog Design * Sponge has been running spots on glass covered terrarium ornaments and even haunted ‘terror-ariums’ for months, and suddenly it seems that tiny greenhouses are turning up everywhere from trendy restaurants and hotel lobbies to libraries and classrooms. With the surge in terrarium popularity, you might think that keeping plants beneath glass is a new idea. But small-scale, glass covered gardens have gone in and out of fashion for centuries. The Victorians were particularly elaborate, designing exquisite table-top greenhouses and free-standing conservatories in miniature, (usually fashioned from plate glass and forged iron). These days, we are seeing everything from itty-bitty, hanging glass-globe-gardens to enormous, sculptural terrariums; masterful works of art and horticultural science.

Creating a basic terrarium is very simple, and it’s a fun project for kids and adults alike. All you need to begin is a glass jar with a lid, a bag of pea gravel, sphagnum moss, potting soil, a spray-bottle filled with water, and a selection of rocks, bark, sticks and plants. Holiday conservatories, filled with birch bark, native moss, ferns and partridge berry look particularly lovely centered on a dining table or grouped together on a mantel. Terrarium design is limited only by your own imagination! For inspiration, I love Tovah Martin’s book, The New Terrarium, pictured below…

Tovah Martin BookThe New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature

To build a simple terrarium like the one I made, (pictured at the top of this article), begin by locating a clear glass container with a lid. The smaller one pictured here is an Anchor Hocking 3 quart, glass kitchen canister. You can find these at most department and craft store, or order them through the various links below. If you are planting your first terrarium, or if you are working with school-aged children, I recommend starting with simple containers or jars. If you are making a holiday gift, or feeling more adventurous, then by all means get more creative with antique apothecary jars, glass cake domes, or specialty terrarium containers.

Now, just follow the simple steps below…

terrariums, gathered woodland materials

Step one: Purchase pea gravel or aquarium stone, sphagnum moss, (for native plants I also recommend peat moss), and good, dry potting soil, (you can get all of these things at a local home store like Home Depot). Collect decorative materials such as stones, bark, twigs, and pine cones from nature or purchase these types of items from a craft store. Select and buy small plants from a local greenhouse/florist or through online resources. Cover the table top with newspaper before you begin – this is a messy project !

terrarium stage one base

Step two: Fill the bottom of the glass container with about an inch of pea stone gravel. This is important for drainage, but you really only need a bit to cover the bottom. You can get more creative, as you gain experience…

terrariums stage 2 sphagnum sheet moss

Step Three: Add a layer of sphagnum moss, (sometimes called sheet moss), to hold in the soil and retain moisture. This is optional, but I find it helps the terrarium remain neat. You can also add horticultural charcoal to keep the jar fresh, but it isn’t necessary, (I skipped this for my holiday terrariums)…

terrarium stage 3

Step Four: Add potting soil,(and peat moss if you are planting acid-loving natives like ferns and moss). Make a mound so that the plants in the center will be visible from all sides…

terrarium stage 4

Step Five: Add bark bits here and there, and wet down the contents of the jar thoroughly with a water-filled spray mister, like the one shown above. Let the contents settle for a few minutes and then add your plants. For my native terrarium, I added club moss,(Lycopodium), partridge berry, (Mitchella), and a forest moss called Dicranella. I also scattered tiny pine cones and birch bark in the jar to make the woodsy scene more realistic. Mist your terrarium thoroughly after planting and cover with the glass lid. Check your plants over the next few days and water with your mister if they seem dry.

You are finished ! Terrariums need very little maintenance. They are the perfect project for new indoor-gardeners. All you need to do is check on them once a month or so, and add water if necessary. Once terrariums are established, they can go months without any attention at all. Humidity and condensation inside the jar will generally keep things alive and well.

Below I have pasted some jar photos to give you some container ideas. But if you have the time, let your creative mind be your guide. Once you begin, you may find yourself catching terrarium-mania. I know I have. In fact, I am headed to my local greenhouse tomorrow for some tropical inspiration. Next week I will share what I find for my larger table-top terrarium. You can go wild with all kinds of plants from African violets and orchids to exotic ferns and moss. I will be back with more terrarium plants, containers and ideas soon…

Container ideas and links…

Glass Cake Cover with Dome

This glass cake cover with a dome lid, ($39.99 from Target),  makes a beautiful terrarium…

Luigi Bormioli Michelangelo Cake Plate with Dome

Glass Cake Dome

This one from Anchor Hocking at Amazon has a more open lip, and the price is a bit lower, ($24.99, free shipping). A Low ceiling like this means you will be limited to tiny plants, such as moss and miniature ferns…

Anchor Hocking Presence Cake Dome Set

1 gallon terrariumSet of 4, 1 Gallon Terrarium Jars from Anchor Hocking at Amazon, $39.96

Anchor Hocking 1-Gallon Terrarium, Pack of 4

Glass Apothocary JarApothecary jars make lovely terrariums. They are available in many sizes. You can seek them out in antique shops or buy them new. I found these sets from Anchor Hocking company at Amazon.com. I also spotted lots of cool, inexpensive jars at Target and the local grocery store.

Small sized set of six $23.94 with free shipping…

Anchor Hocking 95596 12-Ounce Clear-Glass Apothecary Jars with Lids, Set of 6

Or larger sized set of four $27.96 with free shipping…

Anchor Hocking 40-Ounce Apothecary Jar with Glass Cover, Pack of 4

Anchor Hocking 3 Quart Apothocary Jar w:lid

A 3-Quart clear jar will make a nice sized terrarium. The top lid makes for easy maintenance…

Anchor Hocking 3-Quart Heritage Hill Jar with Glass Lid.

There is a huge selection of glass jars with lids available at Amazon.com, linked here.

Find more sophisticated and advanced terrarium ideas on the Indoor Eden page at left. Or, visit retailers linked below – all known for fine garden products and terrariums…

Shop Now! HPotter.com

VivaTerra - Eco Living With Style

shopterrain.com

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Article and Photographs (excepting product links) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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