Workshop on Terrariums – Adding Life to Bottles & Jars

A terrarium is an indoor miniature garden confined within a glass container that is usually sealed to create a largely self-sustaining ecosystem. Sometimes referred to as a “garden in glass jars/bottles,” a terrarium makes a wonderful and impressive gift.

If you have ever seen these miniature glass gardens and are curious to know how they are made then, watch our workshop based on “Terrariums – Adding Life to Bottles & Jars” with our speaker Archana Sampat. She has been a plant lover since childhood. She started making terrariums to gift her loved ones which soon turned into entrepreneurship. In the workshop, she will show how we can make a basic terrarium in less than an hour with very few inexpensive materials. You can find her on Instagram as “earthyelves”

Archana and her tips to grow terrariums:

“Hello, everyone. Welcome to another workshop by TAOS. Today we have with us, Miss Archana Sampat. I’ll introduce you to our viewers briefly. She has been involved in gardening since childhood, and her passion has led her to make beautiful bottle gardens known as Terrariums. Today she’ll show us how we can do it too. So, let’s start,” said Zehra.

“Hello, everyone. The first bottle garden I created was about 40 years back, while the second one was about 20 years back. I used them as gifts, and the idea gained momentum among my family and friends. So, the first point I would like to make is that these are best made in glass jars. For the garden to last for a long time, the visibility should be clear. Plastic ones should be avoided since they start getting hazy very soon. Also, one should avoid colored glasses. Transparent glasses, such as jars and bottles, are suitable for this purpose. Any shape or size of a bottle or jar can be used.  So firstly, these bottle gardens are self-sustainable because once I have closed the lid, I do not open it again at all, for whatever time period it might be. Now, the first thing that comes to people’s minds is how to water it. So, I watered it at the time I made it and did not water it again. You can see small vapors on the terrarium, which is because the water condenses and settles down ever since the lid is closed. You don’t need to water it again. We also know that they give out both Oxygen and Carbon dioxide periodically. So, the Co2 helps in the condensation process,” said Archana.

“So, it’s like creating an eco-system of their own inside the glass jar?”

“Yes, absolutely. In fact, if you have a very old terrarium, you may also find a small snail inside. They have actually been born there under the circumstances. So, once you have made a closed terrarium, you should not open it again. If you do, it is not a successful closed terrarium. So, over the years, I have identified certain plants that will successfully survive in a terrarium. Then again, you should keep enough vacant space in the jar for the plant to breathe. As the plant grows, it will fill up automatically. Hence, filling up the bottle while starting out is not a good idea. If there is no space for growth, there is a good chance that the plant is going to die. For example, here is a terrarium where I have left enough space on both sides,” said Archana.

“How do you add fertilizers to the plants? Do the plants need any?”

“I do not add fertilizers, nor do I suggest adding any. There is a cycle happening inside the terrarium, where leaves are falling, getting decomposed, etc. So, the artificial addition of fertilizers isn’t necessary.”

“Do these leaves shed at any particular point in time? As we have for plants, they shed leaves in autumn; is it similar?”

“No, there is no specific case with regard to terrariums. It can happen anytime round the year.”

“If vapour becomes excess, then what to do with the extra water?”

“The only solution to that is opening the bottle, which again would symbolize that it has not been successful as it should have been.”

“We have one more question. What is the ideal size of the jar that can be used?”

“There is no actual size as such. It is very subjective. Once you have a bottle, you can get a plant accordingly, and vice versa.”

“Okay, so let’s proceed to the selection of plants then.”

“This is sometimes very challenging because getting small plants is tough. So, some plants include:

  • Fittonia, or the nerve plant, is very suitable for closed terrariums,” said Archana.

“You have collected all of them from the nursery?”

“Yes, you need to keep mapping the nursery for the right plant and the right side of the plant.”

  • Arelia, is generally a big plant, but you can sometimes find a small one. I have used one in a bottle.
  • Syngonium, any variety of them can be used. They do well in bottle gardens.
  • Pothos, which does well as well.
  • The Anthurium plant, which has got silver lines on top.

There are other costly, exotic plants that are also grown in terrariums. As beginners, however, it is advisable to start more simply.

“Do you always use plants with roots or cuttings as well?”

“Roots are fundamental to grow plants in the terrarium. Cuttings won’t be able to survive. You have to plan your terrarium according to the size of the roots. This is because the roots are going to go into the soil and take up a certain space. Arelia has big roots, while plutonias have small roots. Hence, understanding the root of the plant is also very important before putting them in a jar,” said Archana.

“Is there any specific sign of understanding if the water is less?”

“If the condensation is not happening, then that will act as an indicator. You will have to open it and add more water.”

“How much soil should we add in the beginning?”

“It again depends upon the size of the plants, the size of the root, to be specific.”

“What soil mixture do you use for the plants?”

“I use prepared garden soil, and I do not add anything extra.”

“So, can you please elaborate on the soil and the amount of water we need to add to it initially?”

“It will actually come with experience, depending upon the amount of water that you use, the size of the plant, etc. It varies with each terrarium. So, this is governed by intuition.”

“Okay, please proceed.”

“So, these bottles or jars must be avoided from direct sunlight. You can keep them in a place where they may get indirect sunlight. People even use artificial lights in their homes.”

“Why should they not be exposed to direct sunlight?”

“That is because it will upset the temperature prevailing inside the terrarium, which will be detrimental for the plant.”

“So, people often ask me that these are big plant species, how will they stay in these containers?

The thing is, they have adapted themselves according to the surrounding, and hence, even though there will be growth of the plant, it would be at a languid pace. They understand what resources they have and will adapt accordingly.”

“Next thing is how we can judge the likely age of the terrarium. Simply, by looking at the soil, since you’ll be able to distinguish between an old and a new terrarium.”

“Because of the moist condition inside the terrarium, are there chances of mosses growing inside?”

“It does at times. In fact, you can also find small insects in the terrarium, which remains a mystery for me.”

“Are these insects harmful to plants? Or are they helpful rather?”

“I haven’t noticed any harm to any of my plants. They are actually helpful for the ecosystem.”

“Someone has said their plant had got rot while trying to grow in a terrarium, and she is asking for possible reasons for the same.”

“It depends largely upon the plant you have selected. So, it may be because of unhealthy roots, or maybe there was too much water. There can be various reasons.”

“Will Succulents do well in a closed terrarium?”

“No. Succulents need a dry atmosphere. It won’t grow in the humidity and moisture of the closed terrarium.”

“So, next, what instruments would you need to make a terrarium? You can use long forceps or even chopsticks to place the plant in the container. When using forceps, it becomes easy to push the roots into the soil. You can as well use screwdrivers for the purpose. Then, for decorating it, use can use coloured marble chip granules, and you can use miniatures as well. People also make sand layers to give it an aesthetic look,” said Archana.

“Do we need a specific lid or cork to close the bottles and jars?”

“It can be any lid. You can use plastic, glass, wood, etc.”

“Okay. Carry on,” said Zehra.

“Coming to making of a terrarium. So, whenever you are pulling out a plant from a potted condition to place it in a terrarium, you need to be careful not to break the roots. If it has got cocopeat stuck to the roots, it may lead to the death of the plant because cocopeat retains a lot of moisture, which will lead to rotting of the root. Then, you have to place the plant inside and add soil to the jar,” said Archana.

“When moving the jar, will the plant not fall?”

“If you have planted it well, the soil will hold the roots. So, it won’t fall down if you did plant it right in the first place,” said Archana.

“So, after that, we just need to water it. It is important that you water the terrarium with a spray bottle. This will keep the soil off the sides. Then, we’ll just wipe the sides of the container.”

“People use other mediums too, like leca. Is that not possible in the case of terrariums?”

“Soil is better because it will help in composting too inside the terrarium. The look would also not be the same in the case of Leca. If you want to add decoration, you can use small pebbles, small coloured chips, etc.,” said Archana.

“On what basis did you choose this wooden piece?”

“You can get readymade driftwood at the stores.”

“So, that’s it. Then we can put the lid here. Make sure the lid is airtight. The terrarium is then ready.”

“This was a wonderful session. We’ve learned a lot today. Thank you so much for joining us today.”