Tara Sherman: Bringing the Outdoors In

February 12, 2013

By the time we get to the middle of winter, many of us crave a bit of green in our surroundings. After all, it’s been a while since the trees had leaves, the gardens were blooming and we could see the grass. Here in New England, we still have months to go before “real†spring hits. So now is time when I usually look around my home and start to feel that it could use some freshening. My quick fix? I create a terrarium–a small world in a jar.

A terrarium is the perfect solution for adding life and “green†to your surroundings, and the good news is that they perform these functions while requiring minimal care. I love having small indoor gardens throughout the year, but especially during the winter. They can be elegant, fun, and colorful…all at the same time!

The history of terrariums dates back to the 1800s, when London physician and plant lover Dr. Nathaniel Ward was running experiments on cocoons in a sealed jar. One day he happened to notice that tiny plants were also growing in the jar, thriving because of the humid environment and protection from the polluted air of London. Voila! His new pursuit was born. To this day, terrariums are sometimes referred to as “Wardian Cases.â€

Terrariums became very popular during the Victorian era, and eventually fell out of favor. But, lucky for New England gardeners, they have made a strong comeback in recent years, becoming a hot accessory of sorts for the home.

You can create your own terrarium, or simply stroll through your local plant nursery and see what they have created for you to take home and enjoy.

Large Terrarium by Mahoney’s, Winchester, Mass.

I love how this terrarium is actually part of a larger display of plants. Imagine incorporating one into your home decorating, perhaps among your other houseplants.

Photo courtesy of Josh Leo

This is an elegant terrarium that would look beautiful in a well-dressed kitchen, living room or office. The flared bottom allows for a good view of the attractive layered materials.

The great thing about designing your own terrarium is that you can choose any container that suits your needs and that works with your home and lifestyle.  If you can fit a plant in it, you can use it!  Often you can bring your own container to a nursery and the professionals will gladly plant it for you.

Jars from Mahoney’s, Winchester, Mass.

I really like these large jars, and at about twenty-four inches high, they could fit several good-sized plants. What a great statement in a foyer, a kitchen, or even a bathroom!

Photo courtesy of Josh Leo

This lovely jar reminds me of a brandy snifter, and would seem quite at home in a den or study.

Photo courtesy of Pop Deluxe Modern Gifts & Accessories

The wood and glass make a great contrast here, making the plants look especially vibrant.

Selection of terrarium plants from Mahoney’s, Winchester, Mass.

You can find terrarium plants in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Decorative elements can also be incorporated to personalize your small garden, such as small furniture and figures, simple wood and metal ornaments, stones, shells, seaglass, sand, or anything else that has meaning to you.

Porch design by Portland, Maine interior designer Karen Gallagher Interiors; Photo courtesy of Houzz.com

I love the terrarium placement on this porch at the Portland Symphony Showhouse. All the plants bring warmth to the room, but the glass terrariums also add sophistication and style.

Because terrariums require only minimal care, they can be placed anywhere you need a touch of green. Think of putting one on a desk, in a bookcase, or on a coffee table.

Photo courtesy of Houzz.com

Most of the plants need low light, and should do well just about wherever you put them. Some, like succulents, require more light, so simply choose a brighter spot (but never full sun). More good news: terrariums only need to be watered every week or two, making them perfect for keeping even while you’re away on your mid-winter ski or sunshine holiday!

Craving some green this winter? A terrarium adds life and freshness almost anywhere. Feel like creating your own? Do an internet search on terrarium instructions, or try Yankee Magazine’s.

Happy nesting!

-Tara Sherman 

Tara Sherman is a Master Gardener and member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. She has gardened for much of her life, and loves educating children and adults on the joys of gardening for food and for pleasure. Tara’s business, The Flower Box, is based in Lexington, MA and provides container and small garden design and installation.