Terrarium Plants: The Little League

photograph copyright by Kindra Clineff

You’ve found that little glass venue of your dreams. The next step is purchasing plants to grow in your crystal kingdom. In their role as a little slice of nature contained, terrariums need something growing inside. No. Wait. That’s not sufficient. A terrarium needs something thriving inside. Actually, it needs a mini garden.

A lot of confusion swirls around appropriate plants for terrariums. I blame the magazines. How many times have you seen color glossies showing adorable little succulents tucked into terrariums? Maybe they lasted until the photo shoot was over. Maybe not. Trust me, succulents won’t work in a terrarium over the long haul. Succulents like dry, arid conditions. For the same reasons, cacti are doomed and so are most herbs and alpines.

What are the qualifying traits? Terrarium-worthy plants share an affinity for specific growing conditions. Here’s what they prefer:

  • They like high humidity
  • They prefer to grow in low light
  • They should remain dwarf

What are the easiest plants for a terrarium? Even if you have two brown thumbs, you will have success if you start with:

  • Ferns
  • Selaginella mosses

But as you become more adept, there are many other miniature tropical plants qualified for the job. Here’s a partial shopping list:

  • Rhizomatous begonias (miniature)
  • Members of the African violet family such as chiritas, African violets, streptocarpus, episcias
  • Ivies (miniature)
  • Muehlenbeckia complexa – maidenhair vine
  • Peperomias (dwarf)
  • Ficus pumila ‘Minima’ (creeping fig)
  • Miniature orchids
  • Paphiopedalums — miniature lady’s slipper orchids
  • Masdavallias
  • Bromeliads
  • Tillandsias — air plants
  • Tetranema — Mexican foxglove
  • Carnivorous plants
  • Viola hederacea — Tasmanian violet
  • Marantas – prayer plants
  • Neoregelia
  • Pileas
  • Coleus
  • Fittonia — nerve plants
  • Cyclamen
  • Mini hostas
  • Helxine — baby’s tears

Thinking of trying something else? Ask me if it works!  I’ve been making terrariums for many, many years — chances are that I can give you advice on whether a certain plant will work or not.

Posted in Making Terrariums | 9 Comments

Crystal Clear — Terrarium Containers

photograph copyright by Kindra Clineff

First step toward a terrarium is to find a container. No need to shell out the contents of your wallet. And no need to purchase an expensive unit. The beauty of terrariums is that you can make a small world without a big investment.

You could wander into a HomeGoods store or some such place and pick up a perfectly budget-priced sparkling sleek apothecary jar and it would do the job beautifully. Or how about rummaging in your basement, attic, garage, barn or wherever you stash yesterday’s castoffs and pull out a fishbowl, aquarium, cookie jar, or vase. Can’t find a lid? Fit a glass plate on top! In other words, rather than trying to shop for a terrarium — just enlist what you’ve got kicking around.

Wondering weather that cheese dish qualifies? Here are some suggestions to help you select:

  • Planting and maintenance of your terrarium will be so much easier if you can fit your gloved hand into the container in question.
  • A container with a base that is at least 3 inches wide will give you sufficient planting space to make it happen. Expand that base and you can feature a more complex small world.
  • For headroom, the height should be at least 6 inches to accommodate the base pebble/charcoal layer, the soil layer, and the plants. Deeper is better.
  • Clear glass works like a charm, but lightly tinted glass is also apropos, although you might have to position the terrarium a little closer to the light source for growing purposes.
  • Plastic is okay (especially for classroom use) but the sparkle will be dulled and the finished terrarium might require airing out more often.
  • If a container is open to the air, it will require watering more frequently than a closed terrarium.

So be creative and hunt around. Find a venue that expresses your inner mini gardener. Found something funky? Give it a try! What’s the worst that can happen?

Have questions? Ask away! I’m here for you.

Posted in Making Terrariums | 6 Comments

Small Worlds — Big Role

copyright Kindra Clineff from The New Terrarium

You started this. That’s right, back in 2009 when The New Terrarium (Clarkson Potter) came out — you demanded workshops. It began with an inner city public school system inviting me to come and coach their librarians on the fundamentals of terrarium-building. Then those librarians returned to their urban schools and taught the teachers. And the teachers went back to the classrooms and before long their students were making terrariums. And pretty soon, peace and happiness prevailed across the land. At least — that’s the goal.

If everyone would make a terrarium, the world will be a less stressful place. If everyone would teach someone else to make a terrarium, we will all be one step closer to universal peace. You laugh. But it’s possible. Right? Anyway, it’s worth a try.

Look into a terrarium, and you become part of that miniature world. It soaks up all your stress. Thanks to that little glass-enclosed garden, nature is infused into your hectic day. And terrariums are capable of thriving where most plants are doomed — so they can go into the trenches. Because terrariums prefer low light and require very little maintenance, they’re perfect for the otherwise nature-bereft depths of our hyper-busy lives. Grow a terrarium in your office cubicle, bring it into the classroom, have it in your home. And every time you walk by your terrarium, give it a glance. See what I mean?

Now, share that moment with someone else. Teach someone to make a terrarium. Give a small green world (a world that can survive on autopilot, I might add) as a gift for a birthday, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter — whenever. Come to think of it — Why do you need an excuse? Just share the green. Give nature a chance. Pass it along…

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Terrarium Making Lesson

copyright Kindra Clineff from The New Terrarium

Okay, here comes the pep talk: You can do this. Your kid can do this. Your grandmother can do this. Your hamster probably can’t.

Why do this? Because this terrarium will rescue your life. You will find peace. The world will be a better place. Nature will seep into all the little nooks and crannies of your existence. Your family will thank you (but I make no promises about the kids ceasing to whine). Creativity will reign. Winter will be bearable. All this from a terrarium.

What do you need to make a terrarium? Just:

  • A glass container (okay, you can use plastic, but it won’t sparkle). Preferably find a container that you can fit your hand into.
  • Terrarium plants
  • 3/8 inch pebbles
  • Horticultural charcoal (acquire at a garden center or aquarium supply store)
  • Potting soil mix (light African violet mix works — I use an organic mix)
  • Watering can
  • Nature objects like seed pods, lichen-covered sticks, seashells, whatever grooves you
  • Gloves (Always wear gloves. Don’t argue with me)

Ready? Here’s how to do it:

  • Put on the gloves
  • Mix some water into the potting soil before you start
  • Pour (or scoop) 1-2 inches of pebbles into the bottom of the glass container
  • Add a small handful of horticultural charcoal
  • Mix it together with the pebbles
  • Add a separate layer of 2-3 inches of soil
  • Dig a hole in the soil to receive your first plant
  • Tuck that baby into the hole, firming it in. Really firm it in. Firm it in again.
  • Repeat for other plants
  • Add the nature objects
  • Water the terrarium lightly
  • Put the lid on
  • See, I told you = Peace
Posted in Making Terrariums | 4 Comments

Terrarium Workshops & Lectures

Talk about fulfilling. Everyone succeeds at a terrarium workshop. This is a rewarding make-and-take where you bring home your own small world. Or come to a lecture and see a terrarium-making demonstration so you can do the dirty work at home.

Tovah does terrarium lectures and workshops throughout the country. Here’s where you can find and join her in the upcoming months:

  • March 5, 2011: CT Daylily Society ~ Avon, CT ~ Terrarium workshop, email tvcotter@comcast.net for more information.
  • March 12, 2011: Northeast Floral Expo ~ Sturbridge, MA ~ Terrarium workshop, go to www.northeastfloralexpo.com for more information.
  • March 19, 2011: Boston Flower & Garden Show ~ Boston, MA ~ Terrarium lecture ~ go to www.thebostonflowershow.com for more information
  • March 22, 2011: Middlebury Garden Club ~ Middlebury, CT ~ Terrarium workshop.
  • March 27, 2011: Lori Warner Studio ~ Chester, CT ~ Terrarium workshop ~ got to www.loriwarner.com for more information.
  • April 8, 2011: Des Moines Botanical Garden ~ Des Moines, IA ~ Terrarium workshop
  • May 22, 2011: Broken Arrow Nursery ~ Hamden, CT ~ Terrarium workshop ~ go to www.brokenarrownursery.com for more information.
  • Sept 17, 2011: Spruce Home and Garden ~ New Milford, CT ~ Terrarium demonstration ~ go to www.sprucehomeandgarden.com for more information.
  • October 2, 2011: Linden Hill Gardens ~ Ottsville, PA ~ Terrarium workshop ~ go to www.lindehillgardens.com for more information.
  • February 6, 2012: Suffield Garden Club ~ Suffield, CT ~ Terrarium lecture and demonstration.

In addition to terrarium workshops and lectures, Tovah is lecturing on many other subjects. For a complete list of upcoming lectures or to contact Tovah, please go to www.tovahmartin.com

Posted in Where I'm At | 2 Comments


Trust me, what you need is a terrarium. You might think that you need a vacation or a drink or a fast car. But really, all you need is a terrarium. Not only will a terrarium give your creativity a sparkling outlet, but it will bring you peace. Beyond enabling you to grow plants and profile nature where you could never host horticulture before, a terrarium is fully capable of soaking up the frustrations in your world. Don’t believe me? Try one.

How do I know so much about terrariums? I make them all the time. Seriously, my house is filled with terrariums. I have experience in this venue and plenty of it. I started making terrariums as a child and it became an obsession when I started growing houseplants bigtime. At any given moment, my home is filled with 20+ terrariums. I wrote the first terrarium book out there on the subject — The New Terrarium (Clarkson Potter, 2009) — and I give lectures and terrarium workshops throughout the country. I speak to groups ranging from garden clubs and school classrooms to seniors (check out my schedule for a talk or workshop near you on the most recent “Where I’m At” post). I see myself as a missionary of the gardening kind. Want to talk about a lecture or workshop? You can reach me at tovah@tovahmartin.com.

This blog is a spin off from www.plantswise.com. You wanted to hear more about terrariums. You begged for a forum to talk about gardening within glass. So here comes www.terrariumwise.com. Case closed.

photography copyrighted by Kindra Clineff

Posted in Greeting, Welcome | 2 Comments