Great Gift Idea: Terrariums

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Great Gift Idea: Terrariums

I love gardening and strive, no matter what the season, to have at least a few flowers and foliage for bouquets that I can bring to friends or put in a vase on my dining room table. 

This is about as crafty as I get.  Last year though I was inspired to create living holiday gifts that would last longer than cut flowers. Like my fellow Fiskars contributor, Dee Nash, I had recently read (well really, salivated over is the better description) The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature by Tovah Martin with photography by Kindra Clineff, Clarkson Potter, 2009. This book inspired me to create my own terrariums!

Great Gift Idea Terrariums Cylinder-with-gravel-charcoal-and-needing-soil

The containers
I got the containers from a local florist supply.  I opted to use contemporary glass cylinders with a wide opening which made it much easier for me to work with.  I also choose some wide glass short cylinders which were more like planters but with no drainage holes.  I opted not to use containers with tops like traditional terrariums.  I prefer the look of the open container.   
The plants
I headed out to a local nursery and lucked out. They were selling small (2” pots) lady slippers orchids, Paphiopedilum, for a very reasonable price.  I selected plants that were still in bud or those whose flowers had recently opened.   Although they look exotic, these orchids are relatively easy  to grow as house plants.  And, most important, the flowers persist for weeks.  I also purchased an assortment of ferns and mosses.  I like the chartreuse Scotch moss, Sagina subulata ‘Aurea,’ and the colorful Ruby Red Spikemoss, Selaginella erythropus ‘Sanguinea,’ with leaves that are dark green on top with maroon undersides.  Both of these grow anywhere from six to twelve inches high, making it easier to maintain them in a container.  


For ferns I choose the rabbit foot fern, Davallia fejeensis, and delicate miniature maidenhair fern, Adiantum species, as well as the button fern, Pellaea rotundifolia.  

The planting medium
The three key ingredients are a layer of small gravel (I suggest about one inch deep), a thin layer of charcoal and then a light weight potting mix. I used a dark gray gravel so as not to attract too much attention to the planting mix.  

The type of charcoal you use is important – do not use the type you use for cookouts. It helps keep the soil from smelling bad due to any excess moisture.  I finally found some Activated Filter Carbon at a local pet store.  Typically they sell it to use with aquariums to clear the water, but it works well for planters, too.  Use caution with this material and read the label for any warnings.
I put the gravel in first, then a thin ¼”  layer of the charcoal and finally, the soil. Place the plants in the soil, firm them in and water lightly.  (Tip: I like the FiberComp® Transplanter for a narrow trowel to help ease the plants into your soil.)


Care of Your Container
Bright, indirect light is ideal.  The best way to water after the plants are settled in is with a spray bottle.  Invest in a decorative bottle that can be left out as a decoration.  This way the receiver of your gift will see it and remember to spritz lightly and often.

With any luck this living gift will last for months or longer.  I still have the rabbit foot fern I planted last year and it looks great.  As for my friend Lee Ann, well let’s just say I told her I would be happy to replant the container I gave her again this year.