Nature Under Glass

Terrariums are a great way to bring plants indoors—especially if you don’t have the greenest of thumbs.

During the Victorian Era, terrariums, or “Wardian Cases,” became very popular and many people kept them in their homes as a way to cultivate unusual tropical plants. These traditional terrarium styles were completely closed off to the outside environment, so when sunlight caused moisture to condense on the inside of the container, the moisture would simply fall into the soil and water the plants. Therefore, enclosed terrariums needed little maintenance.  

Now these horticulture pieces are coming back into fashion, thanks to their ease of care. You can add your own updated touch to these classic designs with a variety of plants, stones, vessels and decorative ornaments. 

The first step is deciding if you want to make a traditional enclosed terrarium or consider trying an open-air terrarium with succulents. Your container choice will really determine which is best. Be creative when looking at options; you may find everything from old fish bowls to a trifle dish used for desserts to suit your needs.  

For succulent terrariums, use a container with a wide opening to allow good air circulation and the evaporation of moisture. You can use alternating layers of sand and soil to create interesting patterns along the edge of the glass. You can even add small pockets of gravel for texture. This is best just along the edge and not as an entire layer in the terrarium; the roots of the succulents will not grow through the pebbles. 

If you are creating a traditional terrarium with tropical plants, you will want to look for a glass container with a small opening at the top and preferably with a lid.  Start by adding one inch of activated charcoal as the first layer. This will reduce algae growth and is available at most pet stores. Your next layer should be small pebbles that will provide drainage, followed by potting soil to hold and support your small plants. Use a trickle of water to wash any soil or debris from the inside walls of the container. 

When the layers of your terrarium are finished and the plants are in place, start considering how you will use a top dressing element to make your terrarium unique. Pebbles or mosses create a very natural look, while brightly colored rocks or glass marbles can add a fun aspect to your terrarium. Be creative—wine corks, pennies, seashells, or bottle caps are just a start to the possibilities that can give your terrarium a fun twist.

Keri Byrum is assistant director of Harry P. Leu Gardens, Orlando.

Maintenance Tips

  • Select plants that naturally prefer low light and want to stay small. This will help keep them from getting tall and spindly. 
  • Use miniature scissors to trim plants regularly.
  • Water sparingly so that plants are not submerged. Remember, there are no drainage holes, so it is better to water less rather than more.


Categories: Decorating