Gardens in Glass: Terrariums

I have to say, writing this post got me a little excited. Terrariums have to be one of the most curious tangents of indoor gardening. There are just so many options, so many ways to be creative when it comes to terrarium gardening, it is impossible not to daydream over a miniature world enclosed in glass.


Impossible not to fawn over an amazing bottled garden.


Terrariums were invented in the late 19th century when gardening aficionado Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward noticed a fern sprout inside of a corked bottle in which he had placed a hibernating chrysalis. Terrariums, or Wardian cases as they were called, quickly shot to craft of the year in Victorian England but, after time, became a bygone novelty, only to make a massive come back in the 1970s.


Terrariums were the project of the decade circa 1970.


Besides being absolutely charming, terrariums are self-sustaining, which means little to no maintenance, and can be made in less than an hour. Terrariums require only in-direct light, which is fantastic for homes without much sun exposure.


No south facing windows for terrariums, which is great cause most of us don’t have those anyways.


The first step to making a terrarium is choosing a container. Let your imagination run wild! A terrarium can be made from literally any clear glass or plastic container regardless of size, shape or dimension. You could even make a terrarium from something as small as a apothecary bottle. A terrarium can thrive in a cookie jar, wine bottle, decanter, canning jar, crystal flask, goldfish bowl, vase, or a lightbulb. Go to a Trödelmarkt near you and begin to visualize that antique crystal home to a tiny lost garden.


Once you learn how to do one terrarium, you will soon be a pro.


After you have choosen a container, you will need to lay down an ideal ground for your plants to place their roots. The layers that will fill the bottom of your terrarium will be made up of pebbles, moss, activated charcoal and soil. If you decide on a succulent terrarium, make sure to pick up sand as well. All of the components mentioned above can be found at Obi. You can find moss and potting soil in the gardening department and then navigate to the pet/aquarium department for charcoal and a selection of pebbles.


Terrariums can be made out of just about anything, even an old coffee pot.


If you can’t fit your hand into the container or have decided on a narrow-necked vase or bottle to house your terrarium:

Make sure to pick up a pair of long-nosed tweezers or chopsticks that can reach well into the vase or bottle as you will be using these to guide your plants in.

You will also need a wire coat hanger to use as a tamper.

And something to fold into a funnel to get your soil and pebbles into the container without making a huge mess.


A pinecone feature, left. Cacti and succulent terrariums, right.


For any terrarium regardless of size or make, create your ground layer with the above components as follows:

Pebble layer
Minimum one pebble thick for the smallest containers. This layer should a minimum of half an inch thick for regular sized containers, although it can be thicker depending on your desired aesthetic.

Moss layer (preferred but can be optional if you cannot find moss)
Add a layer of moss on top of the pebbles to keep the charcoal and soil from mixing into them. It also holds water and helps keep the terrarium moist.

Charcoal layer
A thin layer of charcoal. This keeps the soil fresh and filters the air within the terrarium.

Soil layer – Potting soil
Minimum one centimeter for the smallest containers. This layer should be minimum one inch thick for normal sized containers, although you can have as much soil as you like, again depending on your desired aesthetic. Where you plants will actually be potted into.

Sand layer – 75% sand, 25% potting soil (For succulent terrariums only)
Minimum one centimeter for the smallest containers. This layer should be minimum one inch thick for normal sized containers, although you can have as much soil as you like, again depending on your desired aesthetic. Where you plants will actually be potted into.


Let the creativity flow.


Pebble, moss, charcoal, soil. That is all you need! Repeat this formula in any glass container, adjusting the amount accordingly to the workable space within the terrarium.


Fishbowls are a good place to start since they are so easy to plant.


Finally, your plants. I have seen in the gardening department at Obi a section with baby tropicals for 99 cents each. Mix and match these little plants, in groups of 3 and up. Try to envision them all together, with contrasting colors, leaf size and shape. Get creative with your terrarium plants choosing some plants interesting for foliage and others for ground cover. Mix in tropicals with lucky bamboo, ferns, mosses and lichens. If you can’t find what you are looking for, you can always order from internet nurseries.


A ground layer is illustrated clearly in the center jar, although you layers needn’t be that thick.


To pot your plants, simply place them in the soil as you would any plant. If you have a narrow-necked bottle or vase, use one end of your coat hanger to make a divot in the soil for your plant to go. Next, guide your plant though the neck of your container with chopsticks or tweezers. Once you have your plant sitting where you like, bend one end of the coat hanger into a small, flat circle that can pass through the vase or bottle neck to push the soil around the plant and tamp it down.

Lastly, water your plants. Only water enough to slightly dampen the soil. Then you can spritz the plants lightly with a spray bottle. Spritz your plants whenever you want but only water when absolutely necessary, most likely once a month.


Plants survive well inside a light bulb, transforming it into a quirky miniature garden.


If you cork your container, make sure you open it and allow it dry out once a month. This will rid of condensation build-up and prevent bacteria or mold from taking over.

Place your terrarium out of direct sun. Your terrarium still needs light, so households with no windows or light are not suitable. But north facing window sills are perfect for moss, lichen and fern terrariums and a well lit room, away from the window is perfect for any other kind.

As a final touch, and maybe the best part, decorate your terrarium. Use different colored and textured sand on top of the soil for an interesting look, pebbles, stones, marbles, pieces of broken glass, drift wood, shells, figurines, found objects, and knick knacks of unique interest. The sky is the limit, you are creating a weird and wonderful indoor world for plants to live, maybe with a story, theme or design interest in mind.


Wear a terrarium around your neck as a living necklace.


Closed vs. open terrariums

You can cap your terrarium if you wish, to further reduce its watering needs. Plants can survive like this indefinitely, as long as they are placed in a warm spot, away from direct light and are kept moist but not wet. I have even seen terrariums in a tiny bottle and worn as a necklace! Open terrariums are standard because it is easier to access the plants and condensation does not build up. Succulent terrariums must always be open as they cannot handle too much humidity.


Living stones nestled in sand.


More terrarium resources:


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  1. Pingback: As Pretty as a Bed of Moss | Daisy Dukes

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