Have we reached “peak terrarium?” A few years back—prior to 2012, say—terrariums were niche. (That’s a nice way of saying nerdy.) They were possibly something a houseplant obsessive would own, but not something you’d ever spy in the home of someone younger than 35 without an unusually keen interest in plants.
But now? Terrariums are ubiquitous, having come a long way from their origins in the Victorian era, when plant collector Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward raised the earliest specimens under glass. You can pick up a terrarium in US big box stores such as Target, and in UK discount retailers such as Primark, as well as from high-end outfits such as The Conran Shop and Sprout Home.
But when any trend peaks, we look to find new ways to make it fresh. Here’s where terrariums are headed next:
As Jane Powers wrote about terrariums in The Times of London recently, “Ministering to the minimal, doll-sized needs of an enclosed plantscape is like playing at gardening rather than doing the real thing.” And the more dinky the terrarium, the more we can indulge that delicious feeling of being Gulliver directing a Lilliputian world at our fingertips.
We’ve seen terrariums made from lightbulbs; Clear glass Christmas baubles containing Tillandsia (air plants) for your tree; and even terrarium keyrings containing cacti (probably thimble cactus, at a guess). The tiniest of tiny terrariums, as James Wong pointed out recently, aren’t typically sustainable for longer than a few months before they need remaking—the space for soil and air just isn’t great enough—but provided you are prepared to change the plants a couple of times a year, they can work. (A cactus in a keyring, though? That’s just plain wrong.)
The ancient art of bonsai hasn’t caught on to quite the same degree as terrariums: not surprising, really, as root trimming and trunk wiring are pretty daunting for the newbie enthusiast. Not to mention that most bonsai trees—the ones grown from outdoor species—don’t thrive indoors. Someone, somewhere had the thought that terrariums and bonsai could profitably be combined, and so the bonsai terrarium was born: the magnifying effect of the glass is a great way to appreciate the qualities of a bonsai.
Choice of tree is vital: tropical rather than temperate is the way forward, with members of the Ficus family being the first choice. Annual replanting work will probably be on the agenda to keep the tree within bounds, but a closed-top bonsai terrarium should need minimal attention day to day.
Aquatic terrariums are fast gaining in popularity. Whether it’s high-end, labor-intensive aquascaping or growing an underwater plant or two in an old Mason jar, adding water to the terrarium can provide a wonderful spin on growing in glass, particularly for anyone with a tendency to overwater their terrariums.
Perhaps the terrarium with the lowest maintenance needs of all is one filled with marimo moss balls, which aren’t moss at all, but masses of filamentous algae that roll around at the bottom of lakes in Japan and elsewhere. Sounds unappealing, but they make wonderful features among pretty stones or other artifacts.
Mention of moss-alike marimo brings us around neatly to the real thing. With its tolerance of low light levels and love of high humidity, moss is ideally suited to terrarium life, yet it often gets overshadowed by showier plants such as ferns and bromeliads. Thankfully there’s a movement that puts moss center stage. Botanica Boutique in Australia has designed the Sanctuary-S terrarium specifically for moss, with a special teardrop shape to the roof of the glass to channel water that condenses on the glass back down onto the clump of moss below. (You also can buy these from Terrain for $58 apiece in the US). If you prefer to make your own, gather moss from your garden and recycle a glass jar.
The novelty terrarium may not be our first choice but is undeniably a force in the marketplace: there are Pokemon terrariums. Hobbit terrariums. And yes, inevitably, Star Wars terrariums. These may seem a little too, well, predictable, but a parallel trend sees people using terrariums to tell a story, either fantastical or autobiographical. If you fancy DIY-ing, you can buy tiny figures to set your scene and let your imagination run wild.
If this sounds too difficult to pull off by yourself, companies such as Twig Terrariums in Brooklyn and Mossimoto in Singapore offer to bring your vision to life. As Twig’s website puts it, “Your visit to Costa Rica was so inspirational you want that amazing waterfall captured in glass? Totally!”
Artificial Plant Terrariums
While terrariums are often billed as maintenance free, anyone who’s had one longer than a few months can tell you this isn’t true. From cleaning the glass to trimming plants, terrariums containing live plants require more time commitment and expertise than some of us are prepared to give. Not to mention that when desert-dwelling cacti and succulents are planted in a drainage-free, humid environment, problems (and plant deaths) often follow. That’s where artificial plant terrariums come in.
Fake plants are now so super-realistic that they can look stunning and fool just about everyone. Vert+Sauvage in France makes stunning terrariums which you can also order on Etsy; or make your own fake succulent terrarium following this guide from HomemadebyCarmona.
N.B.: See more of our favorite terrariums: