How to choose your first terrarium

Lose yourself in these enchanting mini gardens.

I find myself obsessed whenever I see doll houses, tiny replicas of things, and other kinds of miniatures. (Hmmm, that was kinda repetitive…) 😬

I can stare at them all day, and study each and every painstaking detail. They’re just so intricate and cute. (Yes, cute – a word I don’t use often. Well, maybe when I talk about my dogs.) I can just imagine the time and effort it took to make them.

Are terrariums miniatures? They are, in way, or they very well could be. They’re small, and the pieces you use to decorate them are small. (And cute. Yes, I said it again.)

“I used to attend the Gardeners’ Day Out at Hort Park (in Singapore) five to six years ago. I saw and learnt about the terrarium back then,” recalls Wan Ting, the founder of A Tilly A Day – a plant shop in Singapore that offers a wide range of terrariums, indoor plants, air plants or tillandsia, cacti and other succulents, carnivorous plants, and gardening accessories, among others.

“Back then, it was actually those colourful cute decorative figurines in the terrariums that attracted me. The terrariums then were basically Fittonia planted in a jar. There wasn’t much emphasis on the design and layout of plants.”

Wan Ting sought to rectify that. At A Tilly A Day, they have ready-made terrariums and DIY ones as well, for those who want to be creative with their own dream terrariums. Customers can also enrol in their workshops to get their team’s help and expert tips.

“We conduct formal terrarium workshops for groups and individuals,” she says. “Casual DIY sessions without instructor charges are available in-store. Customers simply need to get all DIY materials in-store and my colleague will guide them on the necessary steps to build the terrarium and advise them on the care of the terrarium.”

(Just a note: “DIY sessions are currently suspended due to current COVID-19 safety measures,” she tells us. You can check in with A Tilly A Day once restrictions ease.)

This is serious

Terrariums aren’t just meant to be admired, though (although that is the main reason why I would like to get them…). They involve plants, which should be responsibly and properly looked after and cared for.

This is where Wan Ting and her team come in. Go to their shop or Instagram for instructions and information if you’re a beginner. Or even if you’re already a seasoned terrarium maker and keeper. 👍

But there are also other things to think about. Wan Ting lists down the preliminary questions we should ask ourselves in order to choose or create our dream terrarium (or at least one that best suits us).

#1 Where to put it?

“Where do you want to place the terrarium? (Consider) the lighting and temperature of that location,” she points out. “Plants need light to photosynthesise and grow, so there must be at least daylight during the day for them to thrive. Terrariums should be placed away from heat and direct sunlight.”

#2 Open or closed?

“There are two types of terrariums: open and closed. Plants appropriate for closed terrariums are moss and leafy plants that love shade and humidity. Plants appropriate for open terrariums are cacti, succulents and air plants. Cacti, succulents and air plants prefer brighter spots with good air circulation.”

Landscape closed terrariums that get a thumbs up from Wan Ting

#3 Which plant?

“Decide on the plants you prefer, then choose the appropriate vessel.”

#4 Which design?

“Everyone has their preferences: Zen, fairytale-like, landscape, forest, with or without decorative figurines, green or colourful, etc.”

Spread the love

Wait, don’t you think terrariums make great gifts as well? I do. (And if you’ve read some of my gift-related posts, I struggle with gift ideas.) Now I have them to add to my list.

Wan Ting agrees. “A terrarium is a great gift as plants in the terrarium give you positive energy. It’s also an excellent alternative to fresh flowers as it can last for a few months without maintenance.”

That’s good to know. So what questions should we ask our friends and loved ones, so we can surprise or give them a terrarium they’ll cherish and love? (We can use these for ourselves too.)

#1 Do they love nature?

“People who love nature usually prefer Zen and landscape designs with natural stones and materials,” Wan Ting observes.

“In all my terrarium designs, I love to incorporate natural materials such as rocks, driftwood, crystals and pebbles to add dimension and colour.”

biOrb Air 60 terrarium
One of Wan Ting's personal favourites

#2 Do they like cute?

Here we go again with the word “cute” – but I’m not complaining. 😁 “People who love cute and colourful things may prefer a terrarium decorated with coloured sand and figurines.”

#3 What are their favourite things?

“It would be good to know their favourite plants, hobbies, colours, animals, fictional characters, etc.”

#4 What catches their eye?

“Best way is to Google images of terrariums, tell your friend you are thinking of getting one for yourself, and ask them which ones look good. From there, you will know what kind of terrarium they like.”

We wouldn't mind receiving a few of these – a geo air plant terrarium that Wan Ting rates highly. "Love the colours and easy maintenance. In the event of an air plant knockout, I just need to replace the air plant without much hassle."

#5 What’s their space like?

“Terrariums can be crafted to suit the aesthetics of your house.”

#6 What’s their routine like?

“Plants in terrariums need less maintenance” so they’re perfect “for people who are busy and have no time to water their plants”. But do remember that it also “depends on the plant type” and that “plants are alive – they need to be maintained (water, trimming, removing old or dead leaves) occasionally”.

They’re addictive

Can you even stop at one? 😊 How many can we actually keep?

“It really depends on how much space you have at home,” Wan Ting answers.

“I’ve probably made a few thousand terrariums to date,” she adds. “At the shop, there may be 50+ terrariums, and about 10 at the office/warehouse.”

It’s understandable because it’s her work, but then terrariums truly are enjoyable.

“For me, it’s really the process of making terrariums that’s therapeutic, and the satisfaction of completing the design I want to achieve,” she states.

“I love it when clients give me a brief (colour scheme, theme, plant type, vessel shape), push me to explore beyond my usual preferences, and create new terrarium designs.

“The bigger the vessels, the more challenging (the terrariums are) to design and craft, and the more room to create a 3D landscape design.”

I mean, just look at them. 🙂 I dare you not to stare at them all day, or spend a considerable amount of time doing so.

"The different shapes and colours of succulents are very appealing, making terrarium design easy. Simply arrange a few succulents of different heights, shapes and colours together to achieve visual interest," Wan Ting suggests.

“Looking at the plants in the terrarium lifts my mood. Watching the plants grow makes me happy.” And why wouldn’t she be? 👏 (Us too!)

Find A Tilly A Day on Facebook and Instagram.