Almost every homeowner with a black thumb wants to know: What’s the trick to enjoying plants without killing them?
For those who are busy, forgetful or truly hopeless in the garden, Michele Weymouth of Ashburn, Va., points to succulent terrariums. Lasting longer than cut flowers, succulents are especially welcome in winter, when everything outside is dead, dormant or covered with snow. And building a terrarium around them gives you a chance to create a living little world in your home. Yes, those glass-enclosed miniature gardens that were wildly loved by the Victorians and then populated every home in the ’60s and ’70s have made a comeback.
Weymouth, who sells her terrariums through her business Living Mi-Wey, was first drawn to them for their calming nature more than their ease. “I was go, go, go all the time,” she says. “I have a very busy boy. And we had been away for six weeks, touring friends from Australia around the country. When I got home, I dropped my suitcases and went straight to the backyard to take care of my plants. I thought, ‘This is what I should be doing all the time.’”
Weymouth crafts terrariums in all kinds of vessels, from simple glass cylinders to typewriters. She says succulents are perfect for people who are busy, who live in small spaces or who often forget to water. “They are a desert plant. Their leaves are nice and thick and cellulose, helping them to hold water, and that’s what helps them survive long periods of time without watering.”
Weymouth gave us a step-by-step guide to create your own in as little as an hour.
▪ Clear vessel with a wide mouth (This can be obtained from many sources, including craft or garden stores, or home stores, such as West Elm and Terrain. Even a fish bowl from the pet store will do.)
▪ Pea gravel
▪ Cactus and succulent soil mix
▪ Decorative gravel and rock (found at pet, craft or landscaping stores)
▪ Other decorations
1. Add a layer of pea gravel. Put a thick base down in the vessel for drainage. And make sure to start with a clean vessel, so there’s no bacteria in the little ecosystem you’re about to create. “I treat the environment like I’m cooking with it; keep it clean and washed,” Weymouth says.
2. Layer cactus and succulent soil. Make sure when you’re storing your soil to keep the bag tightly sealed to keep out mold spores and bugs. (“Terrarium gnats are not uncommon,” Weymouth warns. “They’re not dangerous, but they don’t look very nice in your house.”)
3. Add layers of decorative gravel. “I like to put a thick layer down, so that from the side, you can see the pretty layers,” Weymouth says.
4. Plan out the arrangement. “Use your eye and just have fun with it,” Weymouth says. “You’ll know if it doesn’t look right, and if it doesn’t, just change it.”
5. Plant the succulents. Once you have as many gravel layers as you want, make little holes, then position the plants well into the holes, as succulents don’t have huge root systems.
6. Decorate. Sprinkle a little more decorative rock around and any ornamental pieces you like. “You can basically decorate with any natural, organic pieces you want to use — glass, stone, wood,” Weymouth says. “If you want to create a stream, you can even put down blue crushed glass. I always put something gold in my terrariums; it’s my signature. It brings a modern touch to a vintage item.”