Terrariums are all the rage — again. And while I don’t ordinarily gravitate toward the latest trend, I was hooked after creating just one. Now, any clear, glass vessel I see is instinctively assessed for its terrarium-potential, favourable contenders cleaned in a soapy bath until gleaming then filled in layers with decorative pebbles for drainage, moss, soil, more moss, and a pleasing array of diminutive tropical plants.

Terrarium creations have revitalized the spaces inside my home, previously devoid of plant life. Terrariums are miniature gardens, or even just a single plant, housed inside glass, which is typically sealed with a removable cover, but can also be open and make uniquely stylish plant options.

Chantale Cléroux, of Les Jardins Cléroux et Frères in Pierrefonds, agrees that terrariums are once again in vogue, but with a twist on traditional containers, suggesting that even recycled glassware pieces, like an unused brandy snifter or glass fruit bowl can convert into a terrarium. Container selection is as versatile as individual tastes.

They have come a long way since the late 1800s when the idea of terrariums originated after a fern spore fell into a glass bottle and grew unnoticed for years into a healthy fern despite having never been watered.

In fact, what I like best about terrariums is their low-maintenance. Closed terrariums are mini ecosystems where plants and soil release and reabsorb their own moisture so you can just forget about regular watering. High humidity levels within the glass make terrariums much more hospitable environments in which to grow plants than the desert-dry air in homes — especially where winters are long.

Well-chosen, terrarium plants are also slower growing and require less light than conventional house plants, so they will live happily in a confined space for years without much intervention but can simply be changed if a display needs refreshing.

Terrariums are easy to create yourself and specialized kits are available to help get you started. According to Tovah Martin, author of The New Terrarium, these ‘tabletop humidity chambers where plants thrive…make it possible for anyone to have a green thumb”.

Here are a few other things to consider when creating a terrarium:

Terrarium containers

Central to terrarium attractiveness is the glass that encloses them. Look beyond ordinary fish bowls found at the dollar store and, if you can, invest in a vintage or quality piece of glass to add “wow” appeal.

Plants

For closed terrariums, choose compact, moisture loving plants such as mosses, miniature peperomias, fittonias, African violets, orchids and ferns. Small succulents work in open containers. Group plants as you would in any garden by ensuring they have contrasting foliage textures and similar cultural requirements. Because of their small size, individual plants are not very costly so be creative and experiment. Try not to crowd plants too much and don’t fertilize; you don’t want plants to outgrow the container.

Lighting

To avoid overheating, never place a closed terrarium in a sunny area or beside heating vents. The bright, indirect lighting of an east-facing windows is best for most terrariums. Rotate the terrarium now and then as you would any houseplant to give it even lighting on all sides

Keep it clean

Remove any yellowed leaves promptly to prevent disease, which only prosper in humid environments, and use horticultural charcoal in the terrarium soil to filter water of impurities.

Above all, have fun with it.

With a little practice you too will want to turn every glass container you see into a beautiful, low-maintenance terrarium.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com

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