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Terrariums: Living Landscapes

Building a terrarium is like creating a miniature world. Using glass vessels, textural houseplants, and miniature natural and purchased decorations, you can live vicariously in a tabletop fantasy world. By Karen Weir-Jimerson

Beach and Mountains

Easy to assemble and care for, the living landscape of a terrarium adds petite personality to every room of the house. Here, a tabletop terrarium depicts the two landscapes of perfect vacations: a sandy beach and a mountain vista.  (Hint: place this terrarium on your desk at work to do a little dreaming…)

Beach and Mountains Detail

White sand and smooth pebbles create a yin/yang effect in a low glass bowl. Plants include false aralia ‘Variegated Galaxy’ and Rex begonia. Make the fence by clipping 3-inch segments from the de-leafed stems of a shrub (we used hydrangea). You could use popsicle sticks to make a cute picket fence.

Desert in a Dish

A pink earth star (Cryptanthus) is the star attraction in a square glass bowl filled with soil and topped with gravel. Earth stars are extremely easy to care for, love bright light, and can do with little water. Their pink color and finely rippled leaf edges make them a gorgeous tabletop planting for a sunny kitchen or dining room.


Tiny Greenhouse

True terrariums are covered environments. The domed top of this tiny greenhouse sits atop a pebbled lined base. The humidity loving 'White Anne’ nerve plant will flourish under glass happily. Surround the base of the container with bright green preserved reindeer moss.

Forest Floor

Plant a tiny forest in an oversize brandy snifter using a trio of short, medium, and tall plants.  Design a terrarium like you would landscape a yard. Start with the treelike plant such as false aralia ‘Variegated Galaxy’ then add the shrub layer, a lower growing houseplant such as rabbit’s foot fern. Then add a ground-hugging base of a small leaf or vining plant such as 'Bellus' creeping fig.

Forest Floor Detail

Adding a small glass or plastic animal, such as the adorable bunny here, sets the scene for a whimsical wildlife refuge. Match the fauna to the flora to create magical landscapes.

Wardian Wonder

A Wardian case, a Victorian indoor greenhouse, becomes a colorful jungle when packed with beauties such as red-hued croton ‘Mamey’, chartreuse-and green-striped dracaena ‘Lemon Lime’, creeping fig ‘Bellus’, and fittonia ‘White Anne’. You can add plants to soil or just keep them in their pots.

Big Fish Story

Like Jonah in the whale, this terrarium landscape lives inside the belly of a glass fish. We added a layer of soil, and then tucked in an easy-care jade plant ‘Baby Jade’ because it looks like an undersea plant. Pink fittonia ‘Frankie’ adds a burst of color. Blue aquarium gravel spread across the soil mimics water. A seashell completes the underwater scene.

Big Fish Story Detail

A glass fish makes a great kid’s terrarium. Look for other whimsical glass shapes when creating a terrarium for kids. A terrarium is an ideal tool for helping little sprouts learn about caring for a living thing—in a really fun way.

Cloche Garden

A cloche (French for “bell”) is a bell-shape glass that was created to place over garden plants to protect them from the elements. Inside, it makes an ideal terrarium cover. Use over a deep or recessed dish planted with a humidity-loving plant such as a fern.

Cloche Garden Detail

Rabbit’s foot fern (Humata tyermanii) loves medium light and will do well on a coffee table or bedside table. If the cloche becomes fogged (because covered terrariums are very moist environments), lift up to let in a little fresh air.

Farm in a Jar

Change the landscape of any terrarium by adding a theme-inspired accent. Here, a set of foraging chickens (borrowed from a children’s farm set) turns a lush landscape into a chic chicken yard. The plants include rabbit’s foot fern (Humata tyermanii) and little clumps of preserved reindeer moss.

Farm in a Jar Detail

Add landscaping elements to terrariums such as stones (that look like boulders!), preserved reindeer moss (that look like little shrubs), and small figures such as animals, Lego people, or gnomes. Let your creativity (and sense of humor) run wild!

Colorful Combo

An 8-inch tall wide-mouth vase features an earth star and false aralia ‘Variegated Galaxy’, two plants which feature variegation, or two-hues on one leaf. Use variegated plants to create color and texture in terrariums. Jade green stones cover the soil’s surface, which also serve as mulch to help hold moisture in the soil (which means less watering is needed!).

Colorful Combo Detail

The top-down view of this terrarium is as beautiful as the side view. Using two variegated plants creates color, drama, and texture.

Trifle Dish Terrarium

Transform a footed trifle dish to makes a gorgeous terrarium (we’re sure you can live without trifles for a while). Terrariums can be made from any number of clear-glass serving dishes (think old wedding presents). Just dust them off and plant them up. The terrarium features ivy ‘Pixie Dixie’, 'Snow White' Waffle plant (Hemigraphis alternata ‘Snow White’), and silver pothos.  A resting sheep creates a pastoral focal point.

Glass Globe

Look for unusual glass vessels to create unusual terrariums. Here, a globe with side hole allows you to make a ball of plants that sits on a coffee table or side table. Simply add soil, then starting planting from the back to front (it’s like building a ship in a bottle).

Glass Globe Detail

Variegated nerve plant‘White Anne’, dracaena ‘Lemon Lime’, and Rex begonia represent colorful plants with a variety of leaf shapes and hues. If plants grow too large for the space, switch them out with smaller versions. Terrariums are easy to care for and will last for years.