I came by my fascination with terrariums through my cats. Having cats who like to nibble leaves limited my ability to go all out on houseplants, so I turned to these little encased gardens. They're like works of art that make perfect additions to an interior design plan.

What is a Terrarium?

Like an aquarium, a terrarium is an enclosed ecosystem. Instead of enclosing an aquatic world, it contains an earthly one -- a little garden. A true terrarium is totally closed. It creates its own water cycle, and it's possible to close one off for years and have the plants thrive.

Terrariums originated in the Victorian era. The inventor, Nathanial Bagshaw Ward, was observing insects in jars when a fern spore sprouted and grew inside one of them. He had struggled to grow plants and found ferns thrived inside a closed container with humidity and indirect light.

Ward ran with this discovery and created numerous enclosed gardens that he shared with the world. They were called Wardian cases. They didn't just become popular as cases for houseplants -- they revolutionized the transportation of plants around the world. With the discovery that plants could grow in a closed container, it followed that they could be shipped safely. It opened up the world to gardeners.

How to Design with Terrariums

Cats may have been the main reason for starting terrariums in my house, but I have fallen in love with these little worlds. They now form an integral part of the design of my home. Here are some tips and ideas for using terrariums in your interior design:

  • Choose the right plants. The best plants for a terrarium like humidity, warmth, and indirect light. Among my current plants, an orchid is absolutely thriving, shooting out new roots and buds.
  • Choose the right container. For ideal terrarium plants, you can use a completely closed container. If you want to try growing something that doesn't like as much humidity, like succulents, get an open container, like a fishbowl.
  • Fit the terrarium to your space. There are some beautiful large terrariums available, but if you have a small apartment, it will look out of place. For a large room, try a big cabinet-style terrarium. For smaller spaces, stick with smaller jar-type models.
  • Make it a focal point. Use a larger terrarium as the focal point of an area or room. Set it on a coffee table, for instance, and choose other simpler design elements to let it shine.
  • Try a hanging terrarium. Small hanging globes make great design elements. Just be sure you can attach them securely, so they won't shatter.
  • Don't ignore the bathroom. A bathroom is a great place for plants that thrive in humidity. Plants help create a soothing atmosphere for this often-overlooked room.
  • Include holiday design. You can even make a terrarium part of your holiday décor. Add a little pumpkin for Halloween or a sprig of red berries for Christmas.
Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.