Desktop gardens make delightful gifts for office-mates.

TerrariumsDesktop gardens make delightful gifts for office-mates.

Combining my passion for plants with a desire to craft some of my holiday gifts inspired me to make a set of “horticultural cocktails” for my work mates this year. For the containers, I paid a visit to ReCycle North, our local reuse and thrift store that’s filled with inexpensive household goods in need of new homes. A half-dozen martini and wine glasses and a couple of brandy snifters at 50 cents apiece filled the bill.

Each glass holds only about a cup of potting soil, so finding tiny plants can be a challenge. But, being a major plant geek, I had plenty to choose from in my light gardens at home. Some of the glasses hold tropical paradise themes and others lean toward the Southwest. Succulent plants with finely textured rosettes of leaves and fleshy blue-gray foliage fit the low-water tableau.

TerrariumSucculent plants, half-inch plastic lizards and a pebble-sized boulder set the scene in a southwest-themed martini terrarium.

For the rainforest look, I chose newly started African violet plantlets with foliage the size of little-finger nails. Selaginella (spikemoss) thrives in moist soil. Some types vaguely resemble palm trees. Dwarf sedge (Acorus minima), tillandsia air plants, oak-leaf creeping fig, baby’s tears and dwarf ferns made good additions, too.

I look for suitable terrarium plants whenever I travel or visit local shops. My favorite web sources include Black Jungle Terrarium, Rob’s Violets, Tropiflora, and Logee’s Tropical Plants. The best terrarium plants have small foliage, fine texture, and grow slowly. Relatively low light requirements and ability to tolerate high humidity are bonuses, too.

To assemble the terrariums, I put a tablespoonful or two of coarse gravel in the bottom of each glass, then added a cup or so of loose, crumbly Transplant Mix potting soil. It’s important that the soil holds plenty of air space so that the plant roots don’t sit in soggy, densely packed soil, which promotes root rot. I used the same mix for both tropical and arid-climate terrariums.

Tropical terrariumPersonalize tiny terrariums with tropical-themed accents.

A chopstick proved helpful for placing the plants and pushing their roots into the soil. Being a designer at heart, I made sure that each glass had a variety of textures, colors and shapes. As a final touch, I personalized the terrariums with tiny plastic and confetti critters, pebbles, driftwood, shells and sea glass.

Caring for the miniature habitats is simple. All they need are few tablespoons of water every couple of days and 8 to 10 hours of filtered light a day, such an east-facing window or bright office lighting. Fertilizing two to three times a year with a low-strength natural fertilizer, such as Terracycle Plant Food, is sufficient.

Happy, crafty holidays—and cheers!

-Ann Whitman
Horticulturist, Gardener’s Supply