Peperomia & Kalanchoe warm the livingroom in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Peperomia & Kalanchoe warm the living room (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

A good portion of the country is still in the icy grip of the polar vortex, confining the most rugged outdoorsmen (and women) to indoor activities. Why, I hear tell that even the Abominable Snowman, illicit paramour of all things cold, has been seen doing a lot more “in cave” activities. So, what’s a nature loving person to do when outdoor temperatures are only conducive to thawing dry ice?  How about grabbing a few glass containers, some plants and dirt, and making a terrarium?  While it’s not quite that simple, sticking your hands in dirt (albeit potting soil) and getting long whiffs of plant matter might be just the ticket for lifting you out of the winter doldrums. 

Indeed, terrariums have become quite the hot item lately; as low maintenance, self-contained mini ecosystems that provide beauty and tranquility to any locale they inhabit.  Tovah Martin, author of the book The New Terrarium, which I’ll be referring to throughout this article, says “No matter where you dwell, no matter what you do, there’s something about plants and nature that is relaxing. Through the years, the leaves and fronds of the plants that I’ve nurtured and the bits of nature that I’ve brought in to sit by my side have all served to placate and soften the hard, sharp edges of life. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through life, it is that green is the color of serenity. And who among us couldn’t use a little green serenity right about now?

Variegated leaves complement zebra's stripe in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Variegated leaves complement zebra’s stripe (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

I read Tovah’s book, The New Terrarium, several years ago, and have been collecting various terrarium candidates since then.  Alas, they have been sitting gathering dust in my basement, and after tripping over them multiple times, I realized that the universe might be trying to tell me something.  So, I pulled out her book, compiled a list of ingredients, and started assembling the makings of a terrarium.  Surprisingly, plants, potting soil, pebbles and sheet moss were readily available at local grocery and home supply stores, and I ordered the horticultural charcoal on line.  Following is a brief summary of the “what you’ll need” and the “how to’s” for creating a terrarium, but if you’re looking to expand your horizons I strongly urge you to get yourself a copy of Ms. Martin’s book.  Besides being a fabulous writer, Tovah’s book is chock full of her tried-and-true plant recommendations, planting and care techniques, and images of many fascinating terrarium options that are sure to inspire (www.tovahmartin.com).

Misc terrarium containers in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Misc. terrarium containers (photoby: Kathy Diemer)

To start, you will need to select a container. The New Terrarium offers loads of ideas such as discarded fish bowls or tanks, an assortment of jars (with or without lids), tureens or cake plates, or covering with a cloche.  For me, part of the challenge was finding unusual vases and glassware that I could transform into a terrarium, but you may simply purchase a designated terrarium from almost anywhere. Next, you will want to select a plant (or multiple, depending on size of container).  The plant(s) should be shade loving, *small enough to be comfortable in your capsule(*allow room for growth), and tolerant of the moist conditions of terrarium living.  Ferns and ivy are easy beginner choices, but feel free to experiment as I did.

Products you'll need in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Products you’ll need (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Once you’ve selected the setting and the characters, you’ll need Potting soil (be sure it offers good drainage), Pebbles/fine gravel, Charcoal (I used Hoffman’s horticultural charcoal), Sheet moss, Gloves (moisture resistant) and a small Trowel.  And, of course, my favorite part; Embellishments (water-safe trinkets, stones, shells, etc.).  If you’re like me, you probably have an assortment of tchotchkes sitting on your counters and shelves.  Here’s the perfect opportunity to tidy things up (a little feng shui) while redistributing your treasures into their own personal display case. Viola!

Variegated Ivy & Peperomia in terrarium in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Variegated Ivy & Peperomia brighten kitchen counter (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Now that you’ve gathered the essential (and non-essential) items, it’s time to get planting.  (Note: Be sure that your container is clean, and that all disinfecting residue is thoroughly removed.)  Combine some charcoal with the pebbles and cover the bottom of your terrarium with an inch layer of this mix.  Next, add some soil (be careful not to make too deep, you may want to place your plants in first to see how things are situated) with the total soil level between 2 to 3 inches.  You can remove some of the soil around the plant’s roots-ever so carefully-if that helps the plant conform more easily to its new environment.

Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes Phyllostachya)in container in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes Phyllostachya)in container (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

It’s time to add the plant, but if using more than one you may want to install them loosely in the bowl and review before firming in.  Because your vessel is multifaceted, you want to ensure that the plants look appealing from all angles.  Once you’re satisfied with placement, you can gently firm the plants into the soil.  With the limited space, you probably can’t fit your hand into the container, so Tovah recommends a cork on a barbecue skewer.  I used the handle end of a whisk broom instead-whatever works!  I love moss, so I added a thin layer of the sheet moss, which you can omit or substitute with a sprinkling of pebbles.  Water very lightly, insert your ornaments and stand back to admire your creation.

Now that your living masterpiece is complete, place it in an area with indirect sunlight, safe from extreme temperature changes and collisions from children and pets.  Water it only as needed, as terrariums don’t dry out as quickly as traditional potted plants.  Most importantly, be sure to position your mini planet where you will be able to enjoy its splendor anytime.

*A few more thoughts: Once you’ve become comfortable creating terrariums, why not make them as gifts?  A terrarium would be a lovely housewarming present, a great pick-me-up for a friend feeling down, a wonderful way to brighten an office cubicle, and would surely outlast any Valentine candy or flowers.  And why stop there?  Have a terrarium party!  Invite your friends to bring their containers and plants, chip in together for supplies, add wine, snacks and camaraderie, and who knows what the outcome would be . . .


  1. I will bet that if you held a “Build Your Own Terranium Class” they would come! What a bright light to add to your home this time of year! Lovely.

    • Thank you so much, Dina. I feel that sharing a little green may be just the remedy for the winter blues. And if you don’t want to make a terrarium, purchase a little potted plant and keep it close by to cheer you up. These terrariums placed throughout the house make me smile every time I look at them~

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