Planting terrariums

Terrariums are miniature gardens created under glass and they are making a comeback. Here we show you how to plant up your own terrarium with an easy step-by-step guide. 


Terrariums not only add a dynamic element to a room, but also create a tiny eco-system you can enjoy close up.

Below, Ali Bell explains how to build one of these miniature gardens in a glass dodecahedron; she says 'the geometric shape [of the glass dodecahedron] both magnifies and frames the symmetric forms of the Echeveria and other small sculptural succulents, whose intricate details are best appreciated close up.'

Ali also says that, 'although these water-retaining plants prefer hot, dry and well-drained conditions, they can thrive in a partly open terrarium, such as this one, in which the air is still able to circulate and keep humidity levels relatively low'.

Read on to see how Ali achieves the look. 




How to achieve the look



The three Echeveria plants are the stars of the show. Tones of cool greens and blues are linked by the red accents on the leaves. The Sedum will colonise happily between the rocks and other plants, and the Senecio provides height at the back of the terrarium. When it grows too big I will replace it with smaller pieces. You should place the terrarium in a cool, bright room, avoiding direct sunlight, which risks glass magnifying the heat and scorching the fleshy leaves. Water these plants very sparingly, hardly at all in winter, and once every two weeks in summer if required.

Senecio articulatus
2 Echeveria colorata
3 Sedum album ‘Coral Carpet’
4 Echeveria pulidonis
5 Echeveria nodulosa ‘Painted Beauty’



To create a terrarium you’ll need:
• Pebbles for drainage, ideally around 1cm in diameter.
• Activated charcoal. Mix in a handful with your pebbles to keep the eco-system sweet and avoid any stagnation and fungi that can occur when there is a lack of drainage.
• Soil, to suit your choice of plants.
• Moss or gravel to dress. As you’ll probably need to use sphagnum, pincushion and sheet moss in fairly large quantities, it is best to buy them from a specialist supplier.
• Natural objects found in your garden to enhance planting ideas.


Planting process

Start by putting 2.5cm-layer of pebbles for drainage, mixed in with a handful of activated charcoal into the base of your chosen container. It’s much easier to work out your plant combinations on the table first before planting as you have more room for manoeuvre. After you’ve decided on a design, start placing them in the terrarium. As this container had an opening at the front I planted it up from the back to the front so as not to damage or bruise the plants. The easiest way to plant in a confined space like this – and to some degree all terrariums – is to use a long-handled spoon to place soil around them. After dressing with gravel I placed some stones I had collected to match tonally around the plants to make it look more like the plant’s natural environment. Finally, I used a paintbrush to remove any soil or gravel that had been spilled.


Recommended suppliers
(for all three displays)

• Cactus Shop
• Dee Puddy
• Dibleys Nurseries
• Ray Creek Orchids
• Shady Plants 
• Waen


Never take any plants from the wild. All mosses shown came from the author's garden or were bought as cultivated moss.


This article was taken from a longer feature in the January 2016 issue (230) of Gardens Illustrated


Gardens Illustrated Talk 2016: Sir Paul Smith and Luciano Giubbilei
previous feature Article
Where to find garden antiques
next feature Article
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here