How to create your own terrarium garden

No matter what size your home or garden is, you can nurture plants to your heart’s content. Terrarium gardens are back in vogue – here’s how to create your own miniature biosphere.

It all began with one Dr Nathaniel Ward, way back in 1829. Ward was a physician in London and, like the rest of the empire, obsessed with collecting things. Colonies, animals, plants – Britain’s thirst for all things exotic was in full swing. Transport took a long time – often many months – and most birds, bees and trees didn’t make it to HQ London. Ward kept moth cocoons in sealed glass bottles and by accident he found a fern had germinated, followed by some grass. And so, the Wardian Case was born.

Case closed

The premise of Ward’s discovery was simple: to grow plants in closed glass cases, in which condensation provided moisture and humidity, while dead leaves and other debris supplied nourishment. Ward found that the longer the containers were kept closed, the better the plants grew, until finally, exotic plants were thriving in Victorian-era London, protected from the generally unsuitable growing conditions. But the Wardian Case wasn’t just a tank of pretty flowers. Because most plants being shipped between continents died from a lack of fresh water and the constant salt spray at sea, the invention was immediately put to good use – Wardian cases were installed on ships to travel the high seas. At first, tea plants were smuggled out of Shanghai and shipped off to British India, destination Assam. Then rubber trees left Brazil for the colonies of Ceylon and Malaya — and started a massive industry there.

The frog who loved me

The 1970s saw a revival of the case, as what we now refer to as the terrarium garden. While macramé wall hangings adorned the lounge and bell-bottoms swept the disco dance floors, the terrarium garden was another must-have of the decade. However, the essence of the closed case was discarded now that it was more a decorative display in glass or a way to view roots and shoots in a contained environment. And with the supply of oxygen came the obligatory frog. Mostly green and feasting on flies supplied by the kids, he was part of the family and provided endless hours of entertainment.

Fast forward

With the current trend for all things green and growing, it’s no wonder the terrarium garden has made a comeback once again. This time it’s not about the frog but about space. More and more people live in small environments confined by urban planning, with little access to proper gardening spaces. Terrarium gardens are perfect for mini-landscaping. We kept the lid off for most of our versions here but it’s entirely up to you if you want to control-freak a Wardian Case or let go in a mini-jungle where the sky’s the limit. Just follow the instructions and you’ll soon enjoy a biosphere in your bathroom.

How to make your own terrarium garden

The great thing about terrarium gardens is that they are easy to install and maintain – and light on the bank account.

Get started with any glass container of your choice with an opening that’s big enough to fit your hand through. Clean it properly and rinse off any soap.

Begin with a base layer of pebbles, followed by some horticultural charcoal. The charcoal is particularly important in closed cases because it keeps the air clean of any fumes from decomposing plant material.

On top of the charcoal goes a thick layer of potting soil, and voilà, you’re ready to plant.

You can also try adding some moss in areas between plants to retain more moisture in the soil.

What to plant

Plants suitable for terrariums must fulfil three basic requirements – they must enjoy high humidity and low to moderate light levels, and they must remain relatively small.

Here are 10 plants that will love a glass home:

  • Ferns
  • Succulents and cacti
  • Miniature orchids
  • African violets
  • Air plants
  • Mondo grass
  • Baby’s tears
  • Coleus
  • Spider plants
  • Pilea

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