Use your imagination to make a terrarium
LIKE OTHER ’70S-STYLE ICONS, terrariums are back. But today’s mini landscapes have little in common with the sweaty “lidded aquariums” popular decades ago. Instead, these stylized dryscapes of natural materials and easy-care plants fill sleek glass or Plexiglas containers and bring a touch of nature to modern interiors.
This trend and an oceanview setting for a monthly meeting proved irresistible for 19 members of the In the Garden gardening club who spent a day creating “Under the Sea” terrariums to use as tabletop décor.
“I couldn’t believe how different each one was,” says Cathy Campo, who co-organized the craft day with Kathleen Delancy. “Some were simple like ‘Sticks of Fire’ euphorbia circled with white sand. Another had an Oregon beach look. Everyone had their own vision.”
To try this at home, here are the materials needed and some basic instructions. More inspiration can be found in Terrarium Craft: Create 50 Magical, Miniature Worlds by Amy Bryant Aiello and Kate Bryant (Timber Press, 2011).
Containers: The club used 10-inch-by-8-inch-by-10¼-inch-high Plexiglas rectangles, but glass containers of all shapes work as well. Choose from fish bowls, canning jars, cloches, glasses — let your imagination be your guide.
Sand and rocks: Campo started with white silica sand (Dixieline and other stores), three kinds of pea gravel with different textures and colors, and sand flecked with shells and pebbles to resemble the ocean floor (both at KRC Rock). She also picked out small “volcanic-looking” rocks for accents.
Shells, starfish and botanicals: Craft supply shops like Michaels or Shinoda Design Center (wholesale) are good sources of shells, tiny starfish and moss in shades ranging from bright green to gray.
Plants: Campo bought artificial plants; and club member Mia McCarville, owner of Cedros Gardens, brought a variety of succulents in 2-inch pots. Hardened-off succulent cuttings from the garden also could be used. Keeping with the theme, the plants resembled undersea flora and critters. For live plants used, Campo recommends having succulent potting mix on hand.
Tools: Chopsticks and long-handled tweezers aid the insertion of plants and rocks. Small paper cups help when pouring sand.
• Start with a layer of pea gravel to facilitate drainage when live plants are watered. Then add a layer or two of sand.
• Decide if the terrarium will be viewed only from the front or from all sides. Then begin adding rocks, setting some on top of the sand and some down in it.
• Add plants, tucking them in around the rocks. Remove existing soil from live plants. Create a hole in the sand, add new potting soil and then insert the plant.
• Add decorative touches. Campo suggests layers of different sands and gravels, varying levels so the seascape seems brushed by waves and wind. Follow with shells and other sea décor. Lastly, add moss “to pull it all together,” Campo says.
Terrarium Plants and Care
Today’s terrariums require tough, waterwise plants that can thrive indoors. Two ideal choices are succulents and air plants.
• Succulents — Make selections from this vast, varied family to suit the terrarium’s theme. Tiny cacti or stone-like europs can suggest a desert, while various euphorbias can conjure up coral, jellyfish, sea urchins and other marine life. Remember, succulents do best in bright light and appreciate regular water.
• Air Plants — As the name suggests, air plants don’t root in soil and claim moisture from the atmosphere. Favorites for terrariums are otherworldly Tillandsias that look more like modern sculpture than living plants. Over time, many will flower. Most appreciate some humidity, like that found in a bathroom or kitchen.
Another option is artificial plants that, in addition to needing no care, look amazingly lifelike today. “I’ve bought some that I use in my garden where nothing else will grow,” Campo confesses. “They are that realistic.”
Garden Guide: By Mary James • Photography by Bob Wigand