Through the looking glass gardens perfect for indoors

A terrarium is the ultimate, low-maintenance indoor garden.
A terrarium is the ultimate, low-maintenance indoor garden.

TERRARIUMS, or miniscapes if you like, are as quintessentially '70s as Marimekko fabrics, orange cookware and flares. But like all things retro, they're back, with a modern twist.

A terrarium is the ultimate, low-maintenance indoor garden and can be made out of any clear glass or plastic container.

Anything from the humble glass pickle jar to a specially made terrarium case.

Their development is credited to Englishman Dr Nathaniel Ward, who invented a glass case - known now as the Wardian case - around the mid 1800s.

Ward, who studied caterpillars and moths, was experimenting with a cocoon in a covered jar when he discovered a fern had grown in the soil at the jar's base.

It seems so simple. Take a glass bowl or jar, fill it with gravel, pebbles, soil and plants and hey presto, there's your terrarium. But there's more to it than that.

Don Burke of Burke's Backyard has a few tips to creating your own mini garden.

Pick a container

Terrarium containers must be clear glass or plastic.

You can use fish bowls, glass jars, jugs, vases or special terrarium containers. If you are using a closed container the cover should be transparent.

Corks can be used for small openings in jars.

Containers with large, uncovered openings can be used, but the humidity will not be as high as that in enclosed terrariums.

In addition, unenclosed containers need to be watered more often.

The container must be clean, or bacteria, fungi and algae will thrive.

Planting tips

Add a layer of gravel or small pebbles to the bottom of your container to help with drainage.

Cover this with a layer of charcoal (available from pet shops), to prevent the potting mix from becoming sour.

Place a light layer of sphagnum moss over the top of the charcoal to prevent the potting mix from sifting down into the drainage area.

The best growing medium for terrariums is a good quality commercial potting mix that has been sterilised.

Unsterilised homemade mixes may contain fungi and algae, which will spoil the terrarium.

You can reduce the root ball of plants in a closed terrarium by nearly half and it won't harm plants.


Many plants are suitable for terrariums.

Moisture-loving houseplants from tropical and subtropical regions are ideal.

Low-growing plants are preferred, but if using taller plants, pinch back their tips occasionally.

Choose plants that have similar temperature, light and water requirements.

Low maintenance

Once established, a terrarium will need only minimal maintenance.

This simply involves checking that the light and moisture levels are adequate, and perhaps pruning any overgrown plants.

A closed terrarium may not need watering for several months, as plants recycle moisture.

Terrariums with an open top will require more frequent watering.

Plant care facts

The ones with lids don't need much water as they're like a mini ecosystem but the open containers need watering every two weeks.

Moisture-loving, low-growing plants are ideal for terrariums: African violets, baby's tears, silver net plants, ferns, begonias and succulents.

Creeping fig is another good choice to create a lush, dense jungle.

Use goldfish bowls, kitchen jars, vases, bottles and even light bulbs.

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Topics:  garden gardening lifestyle plants

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