Home & Garden

Time for terrariums

The last time terrariums were in fashion, so were tie-dye and love beads. "They were big in the '70s, then kind of died out," said Mary Beth Gullickson, a horticulturist and designer for Bachman's floral and garden company in Minneapolis.

But there are signs that the small glass-enclosed indoor gardens are growing in popularity.

Sales of terrariums and supplies increased 20 percent to 30 percent last year at Bachman's, Gullickson estimated. "Things cycle. They were 'out,' but now we're hitting a new generation of people."

Lifestyle publisher Clarkson Potter recently released a glossy coffee table book, The New Terrarium.

Its author, Connecticut garden writer Tovah Martin, hasn't seen any data about a terrarium resurgence, but she has been seeing a lot more gardens under glass in catalogs and magazines.

"All the stores, even the big-box stores, are selling vessels," she said. And shelter periodicals are not only running how-to articles about making terrariums, but they're also using them as props in photos. "They're using them to show that this person is cool and current and has empathy for nature," she said.

The green movement has renewed interest in terrariums, along with gardening in general, Gullickson said. "People are more interested in growing things and creating self-sustaining eco-systems."

And terrariums are a great starter garden because they're low maintenance, Martin noted. "We have less time than ever, and we're distracted. Yet we want to bond with nature." With a terrarium, you can bring a bit of the natural world into even a tiny apartment or office cubicle. "They're good for people who don't have the time or the venue to grow any other way."

But even seasoned green thumbs seem to be rediscovering terrariums' charms, Martin said, who tends 22 terrariums.

"Flower shows are adding them as an entry category, and many of my workshops are attended by people from garden clubs who want to compete."

The "new" terrarium is different from your mother's model. For starters, it's a lot more stylish.

The '60s and '70s terrariums were frankly "frumpy," Martin said. "They were more like science experiments. This time around, it's more about beauty and sparkle, very much like creating an object of art. The containers are beautiful vessels that you'd display even if they were empty."

Today's terrariums aren't just castoff glass jugs filled with plants, agreed Pamela Larson Frink, a White Bear Lake, Minn., gardener who teaches a community-education class, "Terrariums to Go."

"Instead of the old-fashioned terrarium -- an old pickle jar sitting in the corner -- people are using different plants, prettier containers and adding found items from nature or other trinkets," she said. "It's become part of the decor of the house."

Susan Gorr used a terrarium as a base for creating a focal point for her dining room in Buffalo, Minn. She started with a house-shaped terrarium (called a Wardian case), from which she removed the glass panels. She then filled it with potted house plants of varying heights, a bird's nest and eggs, and other small decorative tokens. "I don't use it as a terrarium but as an architectural element," she said. "It's a little environment -- like mini-decorating."

Terrariums' small scale is part of their appeal, Gullickson said. "For a while, everybody went big; now we're going back to miniaturization."

Growers seem to be responding by offering more dwarf species, and the greater plant palette, in turn, piques consumers' interest.