Build Your Own Terrarium

Create a lush garden any time of year with a modern terrarium.

The terrarium is back, but it’s not what you remember. Yes, it’s still a garden under glass, complete with its own unique eco-system, plant arrangement and beauty. And yes, a terrarium is still a fun, easy and effective way to bring the outdoors in. But before you reach for the phone to call Mom for tips on how she created that terrarium for your tenth birthday, let a few Lake Minnetonka garden experts show you why the terrarium is back—and better than ever.

Dick Weber, owner of Weber’s Westdale in Minnetonka, remembers when terrariums were all the rage in the 1970s. “That was the first thing I ever gave my wife,” he says. “It was Valentine’s Day, 1972.”

Forty years later, Weber sees an increased interest in terrariums. A new generation of adults—professionals in their twenties and thirties—are buying and creating terrariums because of the contemporary vibe the glass gardens add to their homes. “Terrariums are now a colorful, new presentation,” says Weber. And today’s reincarnations have little in common with their predecessors. The availability of new plants, particularly those that bloom, and new containers has given the once dreary-looking terrarium a complete makeover.

Other local experts agree: today’s terrariums let your creativity run free. Use a traditional fish bowl or re-purpose an old jar. Choose flowers in seasonal colors or go for an eco-friendly green look. Create a fairy world under the glass or invite a tiny frog to live in the garden. Keep your terrarium for yourself or offer it as unique hostess gift. Whatever your interest, whatever your style, follow these steps toward creating a miniature garden of your very own.


Determine a purpose and a place. First, find a future home for your new garden. You’ll need to choose a location that receives some light but is not in the direct sun; this will keep your plants from baking in their glass house. Also, consider what type of garden you’d like to have. A true terrarium has a lid, though an enclosed garden will limit what types of plants can be included.

Finally, decide on how much time and energy you’d like to contribute to your terrarium. Some gardens are self-sustaining; they don’t even require much, if any, watering. But many people, particularly those with small children around, welcome an accompaniment of little chores. “That’s the fun—it’s indoor gardening,” says merchandise receiver Anna Risan of Tonkadale Greenhouse. “Terrariums create a love of gardening in people of all ages.” Discover the joy in maintaining a tiny flower garden—or delight in a stress-free, hands-off array of plants. There’s a terrarium that will work for you, regardless of your age, budget, lifestyle or green thumb (or lack thereof).


Choose a container. A traditional terrarium is housed in a fishbowl or Wardian case, but today’s look calls for more modern designs. Denise Young of Bayside Floral & Gifts has a nearly a dozen ideas for a more contemporary look, including a hanging orb, lantern, large flute or a long tube “Pick an odd number of long tubes,” says Young. “Put one plant in each tube and hang them from the ceiling in your kitchen.”

Check out the possible containers at a local greenhouse or floral shop, or bring in one of your own. Any glass container with a large opening will work. Prices ranges from $20–50.


Create a drainage system. One of the cool quirks of the terrarium is that it boasts its own eco-system. Start with a layer of rocks or terracotta shards on the bottom of your container; then add a layer of charcoal, which serves as filter. “The charcoal keeps the terrarium fresh and absorbs bacteria,” says Vicky Greer, a designer at Natures Harvest. Cover the charcoal with a layer of potting soil. Weber calls the trio of rocks, charcoal and dirt a “parfait” look. Each section has its own distinct look in the glass container and this adds to overall aesthetics of the terrarium.

Once your foundation is in place, check with your local expert for tips on how much water to add to your creation, both during and after the planting process. Fight the urge to water often. “It’s a balance,” says Young. “You can’t over-water or you’ll rot your plants.”


Choose plants that fit your container and vision for your garden. Your favorite local greenhouse or floral shop will carry a variety of plants that will work in a glass garden. Although Risan says that most house plants will work in an open terrarium container, the experts agree that plants like ferns, baby tears, ivy, moss and peperomia make great additions.

Be sure to take advantage of blooming plants, too. Miniature flowers, like orchids, violets and poinsettias, can now be included in indoor gardens. These 2” plants are quite affordable; most range in price from $2–4 per plant at local establishments. “The success of a terrarium is in its small plants,” says Weber.


Think outside the box—err, glass container. Weber encourages his customers to use terrariums for seasonal decoration. This spring, he recommends including orchids in hot colors like pink and yellow. “The main thing [for terrariums] right now is color,” he says. Including other elements, such as polished rocks, can add a lot to a home’s décor.

Risan, who customers call “fairy lady” at Tonkadale, has a passion for creating a whole new world. In her terrariums, she combines her love of plants with a creativity akin to a child’s make-believe world. Risan builds gardens that become homes to fairy figures, complete with paths, furniture (like a tiny table and chairs) and arbors. “It’s like you’re Alice in Wonderland and you’re looking down the rabbit hole,” she says. Risan believes that an increased interest in fairies, gnomes and magic gardens has helped terrariums make a big comeback.

For those individuals intimidated by the thought of keeping plants alive, Young offers “candle-arriums” in addition to living terrariums. A “candle-arrium” uses the same types of glass containers that other terrariums do but they’re filled with artificial plants, embellishments and candles. Young uses a lot of whimsical elements in her original creations. For example, she might put a large ceramic mushroom next to a tiny artificial plant. These playful artificial gardens offer much of the fun without any of the upkeep.

Want to “go green” to the extreme? Greer recommends bringing the spring’s green in. Greer says that choosing only green plants in varying heights makes a fresh look for any room. These little green gardens are great additions to the living room, dining room, four-season porch and even the bathroom. “It brings the outside in,” says Greer.



Bayside Floral & Gifts, 4310 Shoreline Dr., Spring Park; 952.471.8409

Natures Harvest, 320 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata; 952.473.4687

Tonkadale Greenhouse, 3739 Tonkawood Rd., Minnetonka; 952.938.6480

Weber’s Westdale, 15310 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.935.2134