On a recent stroll down tragically hip (yet loveable) Valencia Street in San Francisco, I noticed that terrariums, small self-contained mini-gardens composed mostly of succulents, were all the rage. Having recently taken a terrarium-making class in my hometown of Miami, I was shocked to see how much these baby ecosystems were going for. A tiny specimen in a pot no bigger than a baby food jar cost $30 in one boutique, while larger ones were breaking triple digits.
The original terrariums were completely closed, self-contained environments fashionable in Victorian England as a way to maintain rare tropical plants. The modern versions sold today are usually open mini-gardens, though they retain the characteristic of minimal care in eye-catching glass vessels.
I was bunking with my dear friend Kristen (Stylenik’s editor) at her uber-stylish 1970s house in Pacifica. After my terrarium sticker shock in the Mission, I spotted an empty jar in her kitchen (which had previously held M&Ms from Neiman Marcus) and promptly sprung into action. Terrariums enjoyed fierce popularity in the 1970s, so I thought one would make a befitting housewarming gift for her and her hospitable husband (I extended my stay twice!). The result was adorable with the added perk of being 100 percent cost-free, so I decided to pass on my mad skillz to the people! With a little DIY attitude, your mini-Eden is easy, inexpensive and satisfying to make. Here’s how:
1. Vessel. Choose a glass jar or vase. It can be any shape or size, just make sure that the opening will give you enough room to work.
2. Rocks. Fill the bottom of the jar with common rocks. They should take up about one-quarter of the jar for drainage. Succulents don’t like to sit in moisture.
3. Dirt. Next add soil to fill about two-thirds of the jar. Succulents are extremely hardy and do not require overly rich soil. Common soil, even if it’s a little bit sandy, will do. In my class we were given fancy soil with bio-nutrients, but for Kristen’s I went outside and nicked some potting soil from one of her plants.
4. Forage. Their name describes them best: succulents have fat, juicy leaves that appear to be filled with liquid. An aloe vera plant is a good example of a succulent. There are many species, some juicier than others, so consult the Internet or a local garden shop to get an idea. Aeoniums are common varietals, and are easily identifiable because they look like little green roses, often with red tips. Once you understand what succulents look like, you’ll notice them everywhere. For Kristen’s terrarium, I went outside and found some growing in pots around the house as well as wild varietals in the ground. I looked for new growth and dug out baby plants with roots in order to create a finished product, but succulents can also be rooted. If you cut off a bloom or tip of a plant and let it sit in water, it will sprout roots in a couple of week’s time. For intrepid types, walk around the neighborhood and see what you can find. A snip here and a snip there and no one’s the wiser. Or visit your local garden center to purchase them.
5. Plant. Once you have a few plants with roots, simply dig little holes in the soil with a spoon and arrange the terrarium to your liking, covering the roots with soil. Some folks choose to put a thin top layer of white sand for a more desert-y look.
6. Decorate. Gussy up your terrarium with a few rocks or crystals and even a figurine or two. Little birds, deer and rabbits are popular in the shop terrariums, but perhaps try something fresh like Star Wars Pez dispensers or action figures of all four members of Kiss (with face paint, of course, see the gallery below!)…the possibilities are endless. Tweezers work well to shift your tiny Gene Simmons and other objects around once they are in the jar.
6. Water. Terrariums require a good soak every three to four weeks. Use a spray bottle with no residue from cleaning agents (a new one is best) and give it a good spraying, checking the bottom to see when the water beings to seep down into the rocks. That’s when you’ll know to stop spraying.
7. Sun. Make sure to place the terrarium in a bright spot. The more sun the better with direct light being optimal, but as long as it gets strong indirect light, it will thrive.
8. Enjoy! You’ve now got you’re your own little mini-wonderland. And the next time you see an overpriced terrarium in a chic shop, you can take comfort in knowing you’re saving beaucoup bucks. Just keep Darth Vader and Gene Simmons in separate gardens: that’s too much testosterone in one terrarium.