Terrarium Design

By Tovah Martin, author of The New Terrarium


Terrarium design is all up to you

The point where a terrarium and talent intersect comes in the design stage of your miniature glass garden.

Basically, anyone can lay out a miniature landscape in a terrarium, you don’t need design credentials or experience. And no one can really tell you exactly how to accomplish the feat. It’s got to come from your heart.

But that said, I’ll try to offer some design ideas that might make the process roll easier off your fingertips.

Principles of terrarium design

Like any canvas, plan to fill the entire space of your terrarium. Lay out your scene before starting to get a sense of efficient usage of space and also to balance colors, textures, and layer heights.

Keep in mind that the little plants will increase in size – and factor in slight expansion. Remember that most terrariums offer vertical as well as horizontal space. Think about taller plants (ferns, aralias, ivies, etc) that might grow upward. And don’t forget that it’s usually possible to prune plants to prevent them from pressing against the lid of a jar or the roof of a Wardian case.

A good rule of thumb is to think in terms of threesomes and triangulate your plantings. Choose plants with the threesome-theory in mind.

Correlating colors can be very effective, especially when you look for subtle nuances in leaf hues. Because terrariums are displayed in shady locations, consider using plants with golden foliage to make the scene “pop” rather than dark-leaved plants.

A shiny object, a ceramic piece, or a small orb can give an important contrast. While working, make sure your terrarium looks good from all angles. After all, you might need to rotate the container to expose all sides to balanced light.

Wardian cases are especially intriguing design projects

You could simply fill them with an array of interrelating miniature plants or ferns.

But Wardian cases also offer the opportunity to make a tiny garden scene complete with paths (just lay gravel on the soil), structures (purchase miniature buildings), mini birdbaths, elves, wheelbarrows, tools, birdhouses, you name it.

Take your cue from your garden, your neighbor’s yard, or maybe a favorite picture. Lay out some miniature carex plants, some selaginella, or several miniature Kenilworth ivy to form a “lawn.” Find or make a miniature trellis and use elfin herb (cuphea) or serissa to climb on it. Start by laying the “hardscape” and then plant in threesomes around the structures, just as you would work through your home landscape outdoors. Plant mini-trees or hang plants from twigs meant to mimic shrubs.

Basically, you are shrinking the garden – so get whatever idyllic scene you want to ponder in your mind’s eye and go for it.

Be creative and have fun. You don’t need a yard to plant a garden. Real estate isn’t part of this equation at all. With a terrarium or Wardian case, everyone can own a garden and enjoy its relaxing, peaceful benefits --

It is a small world after all!