Terrariums: Herbs Under Glass


| December/January 1998

The herb gardener who is homebound by winter can take

pleasure in a different kind of garden environment: an ecosystem in miniature whose tiny plants are seen through the glimmer of glass.

When a small garden in a closed or nearly closed terrarium thrives, the gardener knows it has found a proper balance of the elements of its survival—air, light, moisture, humidity, and soil. Moisture evaporating from the plants’ leaves condenses on the container walls and runs down into the soil, where it is taken up again by the plant and utilized in an ongoing cycle. Putting together an or­namental tabletop terrarium can be a thought-provoking, satisfying project when the wind outside is howling.

For herbs that might do well in such an environment, we looked to moisture-loving woodland natives such as foamflower and ebony spleenwort, as well as low-growing old favorites such as violets and sweet woodruff. Most of the familiar culinary herbs would meet certain death in a terrarium because of its dim light, high humidity, and lack of drainage, although some will grow in an open dish garden. Like a terrarium, a dish garden has no drainage, but it can be placed in direct natural or artificial light. See the chart on page 37 for other herb options.

Many containers can become terrariums; consider using an old aquarium or goldfish bowl, an old-fashioned cloche with a dish for it to rest on, or a large brandy snifter. The Victorian-looking teardrop terrarium on page 34 is not suitable for growing edible plants because it is made of leaded glass, but it sets a mood beautifully.

Making A Terrarium

Choose a clear glass or plastic container with a large opening, or one whose top can be removed, such as a 10-gallon fish tank. The container must be scrupulously clean to minimize the risk of plant disease.

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