Tag Archives: Plants

Giveaway: Vintage Terrarium Book

14 Jul

When I was a little girl I used to love visiting my Papa and Nana’s house. We went there often but it seemed to have an ever-changing array of interesting things to look at. Their house was modest and quite small but when my dad was in grade school they built a large living and dining room addition. It housed the baby grand piano, lots of Depression-era glass, and an old TV that the cousins and I would gather around to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles every day after school. Under the piano, near a large, light-filled plate glass window stood this jar filled with the most amazing terrarium.

Only later in life did I find out these containers were called carboys and were intended for homebrewing, not terrariums. When the time came to move my grandparents out of their house, I took the long-defunct terrarium container home and hoped to fill it with plants and rocks and a tiny ecosystem someday.

I also inherited their vintage terrarium guide that my grandparents used to make the terrarium that so fascinated me as a child:

Recently, longtime flickr pal Mia sent me another awesome vintage terrarium guide she found at a book sale:

And now, Little Big readers, I have some good news: I found an extra copy of Terrariums & Miniature Gardens while thrifting and I’m going to give it away to one of you! To enter this giveaway, simply leave one comment below.

You can earn an extra entry on twitter if you tweet about this giveaway, but if you do, be sure to leave a second comment with a link to your tweet. Additional comments will be deleted.

This giveaway is open to all readers, not just those in the United States. In addition to the book, I’ll also send along some fun miniature items to stick inside your terrarium and give it personality. I’ll announce the winner next Thursday.

Good luck!

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Craft Idea: Soda Bottle Terrariums

14 Nov

I’m a withered old lady at heart and if me being a crazy cat lady librarian that watches PBS and listens to NPR didn’t convince you enough already, I actually enjoy the exhibits at the county fair.

Now, some of the exhibits I enjoy because the ridiculousness keeps me cackling well after I’ve left and eventually becomes the stuff of legends, but some of it I truly enjoy unironically. The orchid room for example. The toadstool seats. And now, the soda bottle terrariums.

This year there was a whole (small) section of kids who had entered soda bottle terrariums in the fair. I squealed when I saw them, disrupting several retired ladies looking at roses who scowled at me. Get off our lawn, I’m sure they were thinking. No way, ladies. This is my lawn too and you’ll have to fight me for it. Don’t make me get off my Rascal.


I wonder if some classroom did this as a project because I’ve never seen these at the fair before and it look like they all had the same instruction.

Aren’t these fabulous?

I found a tutorial on how to make these here and am definitely bookmarking it for future use with Isobel. I posted my own terrarium tutorial here.

This is what I would love to see more of at our local fairs. (But please don’t stop entering weird stuff for my entertainment.)

Terrarium Inspiration

4 Nov

Yesterday I posted a tutorial on how to create terrariums, but something weird happened and it posted in the past. By the time I noticed and fixed the back-dating issue it was nearly today. I know that sentence barely makes any sense, but that’s what I get for fucking with the space-time continuum. If you haven’t read the tutorial, it’s very very easy. If you have read it and can’t wait to get started, here’s some container, plant, and figurine inspiration. If you found my blog by searching for “how to build wet terrariums”, seek help immediately. Possibly in the form of a dictionary.

If you’re lucky enough to find a vintage terrarium container while thrifting, scoop it up and never look back. They aren’t that easy to find. I’ve been lucky enough to find three: an acrylic egg-shaped one, a glass mushroom, and a glass apple. I’m keeping my eye out for more and you can bet that if I find one it’s going up immediately in my store.

Before I ever found those, however, I made countless terrariums out of inexpensive thrifted glass containers. That’s the beauty of terrariums—they are adaptable and can be made from all sorts of things.

My first terrariums were created in thrifted fish bowls and storage jars from Ikea. The more I kept my eye out for interesting jars and things while thrifting the more I became inspired. I found all sorts of lovely glass bowls. I especially loved making them in tiny containers. Especially if they said something weird like, “Bishop’s Awards Dinner.”

I once bought a glass jar from either Crate and Barrel or CB2. I may have registered for it, actually. I don’t remember but I’ve had it for awhile. It was just sitting somewhere taking up space when I thought I know! I’ll make it into a terrarium! I get the most compliments from this terrarium.

One of my favorite terrarium bowls was a vintage thrifted find that was hand-blown with little bubbles embedded in the glass. Gorgeous.

I like to liven up the simpler terrariums by adding extras: toys. Historically some terrariums featured little figurines, especially mushrooms, as a decorative touch. The egg terrarium I bought came with a vintage mushroom and swan. I’ve seen some terrariums add dinosaurs for a whimsical prehistoric touch and it made me want to add more toys to mine.

Anthony and I collected the totally strange and inexplicably rave-themed Buddha Buddies from a vending machine in an old grocery store. Why they were ever created is a mystery but I love adding them to my terrariums. I purchased plastic sea creatures from the craft store and made one that resembled octopus in a bed of kelp. The terrarium I keep at work has a roaring hippo.

My sister bought me this good-luck cat and it was very happy in the terrarium I kept by the sink.

I used to keep all my terrariums on the counter near the fruits and vegetables. They looked really lovely and unfortunately I never took any pictures of them, so enjoy my cat amongst produce and a dismembered pomegranate along with your terrariums.

When I want to create a new terrarium I troll the Terrarium group that I moderate on Flickr for inspiration and it never lets me down. Really, any glass container has terrarium potential.

How to Create a Terrarium

3 Nov

Creating a terrarium is incredibly easy.  If you’ve wanted to make one but have been too nervous to get started, I hope that by the end of  this post you are going to wonder what all the fuss was about. Anyone can make one, and this is the perfect activity to do with school-aged children—it’d start some neat conversations about biospheres and the processes of life.

First thing to note is that I am calling all of these creations “terrariums” even though in the strict sense of the word they are not: most of mine are uncovered environments, meaning they don’t develop their own little enclosed ecosystem. I call them terrariums to convey the sense that they are contained within glass. Enclosed terrariums are a lot trickier to establish than open ones but are still simple to put together.

Along with terrariums you may have also heard of vivariums. They are terrariums that function as a living environment for captive insects, reptiles, or amphibians. You have the challenge of creating an ecosystem not just for the plants involved but also for other creatures. Those are much more complicated and time consuming. For now, let’s just stick with plants, shall we?

Choose Your Container

The kind of terrarium you create will depend on the type of container you have on hand and the type of plants you are going to use. You’re going to want to match the plant to the container, or vice versa.

STEP 1: Choose a glass or clear plastic container. Either wipe out the inside with a rag or swish some water around in it if it’s used.

Pick Your Plants

My favorite type of plant is the succulent, but you absolutely don’t want a humid, enclosed terrarium for them. They like dry conditions and well-drained soil or else they rot. If you have your heart set on an enclosed terrarium, use moss, ferns, or my favorite, spider plants. Spider plants are always having little spider plant babies and in my experience aren’t deterred by an enclosed terrarium. Moss and ferns love a humid environment. I’ve never grown moss (it’s not wet enough around here to occur naturally) but I’ve had no trouble establishing ferns in enclosed terrariums.

STEP 2: Have your plant ready. Choose one that’s on the small side.

Lay The Foundation

Terrariums need some sort of rocky base for the excess water to drain into. Horticultural charcoal is really nice if you have it. It helps absorb excess moisture that could lead to fungus growth and rot. I’ve used it with good results, but then I ran out and just proceeded on with rocks and soil and it turned out fine. I’ve used decorative gravel from a big box craft store, treated aquarium gravel from the pet store, and actual gravel we just happened to have in the backyard. At first I was a little worried that the treated gravel would have wacky, unintended results in my terrariums, but I haven’t noticed anything strange because of it. The gravel from my yard worked just as well as the gravel from the craft store, but it wasn’t as good-looking, to be honest.

STEP 3: Fill your empty container with about an inch or so of pebbles. This depends on the size of your container, but an inch or two should be fine. If you are using horticultural charcoal, add it in a thin layer on top of the pebbles.

Add Your Soil

I usually use a sterile potting mix. If you get peat or some perlite mixed in that can help with drainage. I’ve also added in soil from my backyard, too when I was running low on potting mix. One time I created an enclosed terrarium but did not use sterile potting mix. A gnat of some sort laid eggs in the soil and within two days my lovely enclosed terrarium was swarming with tiny flies. It was nauseating.

STEP 4: Add your soil. Make sure it is very moist. It shouldn’t be dripping, soggy-wet, but it should be moist. I like to add about two or three times as much soil as pebbles, but this depends on your container. How much soil you need depends on the plants you choose and how deep their root systems go. Three or four inches of soil, or even more, has worked for me.

Add Your Plants

Moisten the soil and add your plants. The trick is to add very small plants. You don’t want to add a plant that looks like it would fit—you want to go much smaller. If you add a plant that fills out the terrarium already you are going to have to repot the sucker immediately or it will outgrow your container. Start with miniature-sized versions and expect them to grow.

STEP 5: Transfer your plants like you normally would when repotting. Gently pull it out of the pot, loosen the root ball, and set it in a hole you dug inside the terrarium. Cover gently with soil.

Add Aesthetic Touches

It’s traditional to add a little figure or statue to your terrarium. It’s definitely not necessary and I don’t always add them, but small toys can be an extra fun step in creating terrariums. When I bought my egg-shaped terrarium it came with two vintage, hand-painted figures: one a tiny mushroom and the other a miniature swan. Personally I like to add toys to the mix: a dinosaur, or a gnome, or tiny plastic ninja. It’s fun and cute but certainly not necessary nor needed.

Some people get very creative with their terrariums and they landscape the soil as they put it down to give their terrariums hills and valleys. Or they sprinkle the surface of the soil with gravel or sphagnum moss. Terrariums look lovely on their own but think of it as gilding the lily.

STEP 6: Add gravel, rocks, figures, or other decorative touches. Completely optional.

Growing Tips

The frequency and amount of water will very per plant and container. If the terrarium is enclosed and the soil is moist enough, you won’t need to do more than an infrequent misting with a spray bottle. Sometimes a trickle of water from the watering can once a week is all that’s needed. Succulents like their roots to dry out in between watering but ferns like to stay moist. If you can get a good condensation going on the glass of your enclosed terrarium, then you needn’t interfere.

Terrariums do best in indirect sunlight. Never place them in direct sunlight because the temperature inside will rise and kill your plants. Too little water is better than too much water. Overwatering promotes the growth of bacteria and fungus.

Repotting

Reassure yourself with the knowledge that some terrariums are not going to last forever. Sure, there’s the trial and error of establishing a plant, but even when things go well your terrarium might only last a season. Some plants do so well in terrariums I’ve had to repot them after a few months because they’ve outgrown their container. Some plants I’ve been able to keep going for six months to a year before they ran out of space, but some plants more and some plants less. This isn’t a failure—it’s a success.

External Links

My awesome friend Kate (whose home is so gorgeous her kitchen was featured in Better Homes and Garden) started this terrarium group on flickr. It is by far the coolest group and has tons of amazing terrariums for inspiration. Kate made me a moderator of the group and I invite people to participate whenever I can. If you create a terrarium please add it to the group! We’d love to have you.

I am not an expert on terrariums. I’m just someone who loves them and who has made a few and wanted to share what works for me. You can find more information about terrariums here:

Here’s a teaching activity about creating an environment in a soda bottle.

This guy’s all about terrariums.

I really like this site.

If you use this tutorial to create a terrarium, please share it! If you post yours on flickr please add it to the terrarium group and add a link in the comments here so we can see your work. If you have any questions let me know and I’ll answer them as best I can.