Happy terrarium

January 16th, 2013 :: 14 comments :: permalink


This year I wanted to make Christmas gifts that were out of the ordinary. I overheard one of my friends at work saying he was going to make a terrarium for his mom. I didn’t even really know what a terrarium was, but decided to do a little research online. There were so many cool designs and each one was unique in its own way, so I quickly jumped on the bandwagon. Of course this was only a week and a half before Christmas and I had never made a terrarium before, but a little urgency never hurt anyone. Dustin and I have a different ideas of how well I work under pressure.

To begin, I ordered and scavenged for supplies. Some things, such as the little figurines of people in various poses, were specialized and had to be purchased online. While I waited for everything to be shipped, I painted a brightly colored instruction card, which came out doubly bright due to the psychedelic cold medication I was on at the time.


Most of these terrarium supplies can be found at Joann’s Fabric, Hobby Lobby or Michaels. I used moss, charcoal (to help prevent mold), rocks, potting soil, jars (some terrariums use lids and some don’t) and little HO scale figurines. Since I was crunched for time and it was freezing in Chicago, I didn’t feel like venturing out for moss, so I ordered it from Etsy.


Just a “common sense” note that I learned the hard way: softly place the rocks in your jar. I shattered my first jar when I poured the rocks in. Luckily enough, I had an extra mason jar sitting in the cupboard.

There are quite a few HO figurines to choose from to bring some human life to a terrarium. The figurines are usually used by model railroad hobbyists. Another note: Baby Jesus and nativity scene figurines are hot commodities in December.


Here is the order in which I filled my terrariums. Most of our family lives outside of Chicago, so I used metal pieces from Michael’s (found them in the jewelry section) to keep everything secure. I also carefully filled the jars with damp paper towels once I was finished, to keep the moss alive and in-place while it was being shipped. They all made it to their recipients in one piece.

The jar above was for my sister. She loves books and reads more in a week than I do in a year (sad!). I liked that the figurine is upside down, since my sister is juggling a new job and a big move to Chicago. Seemed appropriate.


This terrarium with a dancing couple was for Dustin. It feels like we had a whirlwind of a year with an engagement in March and a wedding in August, so I wanted to create a relaxing environment deep within the greenery (cheesy, I know).

I thought about painting the lady to give her a little tan like me, but time did not allow and I had to smile at myself for thinking it was perhaps a bit racially insensitive.


I found decorating to be my favorite part of building my terrariums. It felt like I was creating a little home for each of the figurines and I wanted my gift recipients to feel happy when they looked through the glass to these peaceful little worlds.

You do have to water them periodically, but otherwise they are, in fact, fuss free.