What could be better than a miniature landscape that sits in your living room? Just remember, as you put the finishing touches on your first terrarium and celebrate by cueing the chorus of It’s a Small World (After All): This is a tiny garden, not a scaled-down theme-park installation where the scene is picture-perfect, day after day.
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“It’s not a diorama, and these are not plastic plants,” said Patricia Buzo, a terrarium designer who owns Doodle Bird Terrariums, in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota. Buzo’s terrariums are living gardens that she plants with narrow tongs and then prunes with shears more appropriately sized for manicures than hedge trimming.
The same rules that apply to tending your garden outside also apply here: Choose the right plants and put them in the right place. Or else.
Your subjects should be selected not just for their good looks, but for their compatibility with the environment you’ll prepare for them – inside a container of a particular size and shape – and with one another.
Shallow containers may make good homes for open-dish gardens that are more forgiving, like a bowl of succulents on a sunny windowsill. But in a conventional terrarium – a vessel that has a lid and is closed at least some of the time, or has a narrow opening – the conditions are different.
For one thing, the environment is more humid. It was that heightened humidity that allowed the Victorians to cultivate orchids and ferns at home in otherwise inhospitable environments, conjuring diminutive versions of the dreamy splendour inside the grand climate-controlled conservatories of the era.