Decorating Ideas

Terrariums for the Holidays


Leave your bellbottom jeans at the bottom of your closet and step away from the disco music playing on your hi-fi; it’s high time we bring back something good that was popular in the 70s.   Making terrariums is hip again.

I’m teaching my kids how to make them and they are sharing their newfound knowledge with their friends. Groovy.

In 1830, Nathaniel Ward made an accidental discovery that made terrariums hip during Victorian times. On a day trip to the English countryside, Dr. Ward found a hawk-moth pupa. He corked the chrysalis in a bottle he brought to gather collections. But once home, he set aside the sealed bottle and forgot about it. Six months later, he checked on the hawk-moth pupa. While the moth made no progress, he did discover something even more profound. A fern had sprouted. Sealed in a bottle, against any notion of such a thing could occur, a common, hardy fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) was growing. This discovery was well received in the Victorian era. Couple that with the advent of inexpensive glass, also recently introduced, and a new form of gardening was born.

Today, terrariums make a beautiful virtually carefree adornment for any room of the house and also work well outdoors. Most any kind of glass container will do, and garden centers are carrying plants sized just for this use. Making terrariums is also a fun project to do with a group of friends or on your own, making holiday gifts for friends and family.

Gather Supplies

Container.  Check your cupboard, yard sales, garden centers, and home stores. Match the glass container to your home’s style or one that is fitting for the friend receiving it.

Gravel.  Enough is needed for an inch or two deep; the amount will depend on the size of the container. The deeper the container, the deeper the gravel layer. It’s a matter of what is aesthetically pleasing to you.

Activated Carbon. This is found in stores selling pet supplies. Garden centers have started carrying this, as well as all your supplies for making terrariums.

Potting Soil.  You will need enough for the plants and size of the container.

Plants.  Look for little houseplants–ones that will easily fit inside your container. Plants in four-inch sized pots are probably too large to fit into the terrarium.

Assemble the Terrarium

1.  Before you start, play with your design before adding anything to the container.  This dry run will allow you to see how best to place your plants and accents, and to make sure the scale and height are right.

2.  Mix the activated carbon with the gravel and then rinse.  Activated carbon needs to be in contact with the water to be effective; as such, it’s better to mix the carbon and gravel together, rather than layering the activated carbon on top of the gravel.

3.  Add potting soil on top of the gravel/carbon mixture, deep enough to cover the plant’s root ball.

4.  Make a well in the soil and add each plant. Cover the root ball.

5.  Water lightly, close the lid and place in a bright location, but not in direct sunlight.

Once planted and covered with a lid, little is needed to care for your terrarium. Terrariums mimic a rain cycle. Just ensure the soil is moist

When my family gathers during the holidays, I like having little crafts for us to do.  This year, I think it would be great fun to make terrariums while we goof on the 70s, man.

Photo by Helen Yoest.

Helen Yoest is the author of “Gardening with Confidence®–50 Ways to add style for personal creativity.” Helen is an award winning garden writer, garden coach and a sustainable gardener caring for her ½-acre wildlife habitat, Helen’s Haven, in Raleigh.

Copy link