A world in a bottle

A world in a bottle

So in my Steampunk – interior decorating post  I had a quick photo of my moss terrarium.  I love these tiny little worlds, and ended up making a few to give away as Christmas (2010) gifts.  Since then I’ve had a few people ask how to make them (mostly where to get the moss and how to make them not get all stinky or dead…) so I figured I would record the how-to here, along with some cool inspirational ideas that I either used as research before hand, or found after the fact and thought were neat!

How does this play into the whole “steampunk” vibe that I’ve been going with for this blog so far – well mostly it relates to the interior decorating aspect of it, but also the history of how terrariums came into popularity.

Early recorded mentions of terrariums started around 1830’s.  For evidence, see the book On the growth of plants in closely glazed cases published in/around 1852.  During the Victorian Era terrariums swelled to the height of their popularity, and it became more common to see small glass ‘greenhouses’ in studies and other areas of the home.  Additionally, there is the reference to the ‘language’ developed in the Victorian Era relating to flowers and plants – each flower and plant had a specific meaning attributed to it, and thus by giving flowers/plants, or having them in the home, they were intended to send a message.  Moss relates to maternal love and charity.

References http://www.stormthecastle.com/terrarium/history-of-the-terrarium.htm & http://www.victorianbazaar.com/meanings.html


Taken from her flickr account - hopefully the image will show - if not, click the link to see it in context.

 http://thehipsterho.me/2010/01/how-to-make-a-tiny-terrarium-in-a-light-bulb/ – The URL tells all – this crafter has a how-to to make a terrarium in a light bulb.  I think this is insanely cute, and like the author I love the ‘hard’ edge of the light bulb shape and materials, combined with the softness of the terrarium.

Additionally, I just love the unexpected aspect of this – that it’s not something you would expect to see together, and in a similar way, I love that it’s almost like the way moss grows in old abandoned gardens and things.. the way that life has a way of surviving even in unexpected environments.  The re-use aspect also appeals to me, provided that the light bulb is burnt out – not purchased new and wrecked….

However, the author suggests using sand over soil, preserved moss over fresh, and uses tillandsia (air plants) as the feature plant instead of moss.  Feh… I like MOSS… and although preserved moss can look really good still, it doesn’t have that lush, run your fingers into it, sink into it like a feather bed quality that the real thing has.

bunnies! Click to see more of the article.

http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2009/03/craft_project_mason_jar_terrar.html is another tutorial this time again using preserved sheet moss though.  I am not sure why, since the author suggests watering instructions.  Pssst.. if you use the preserved stuff – you don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) water it…

However, this is the method of pebbles/charcoal/soil that I used – layering them so that the activated charcoal will absorb any nasty smells if you over water and things get stagnant.  Thus far with mine I haven’t had any nasty issues at all!  (And I’ve had mine going for the past 5-6 months.)

So, let’s get down to the how-to (my way!)

I used:


    The small version I made to start out with. For this one I used the slightly warped glass, and I like the clearer glass better.

     An apothecary-style jar with a lid. The lid needs to be quite tight-fitting, or you’ll need to water more often.  I went with the apothecary-style for my own terrarium, but obviously you can use whatever you like… for friends I made them with fairly simple jars with very clean lines.  I ended up buying almost all of my jars (except for two, which I had holding cotton balls and things in my washroom) but obviously re-using would be better!  I found aesthetically that I preferred jars with a clear lid, and very smooth glass – versus vintage-style glass with all the warps and warbles.  I think it’s because I really want to see the moss – not see the beautiful warped glass.  I’ve seen really neat ones made from canning jars, medicine bottles, salt & pepper shakers, vials, etc.  (The one I made for my office is a canning-style jar I picked up from the dollar store.)

  • Pebbles, glass marbles, etc – this to provide drainage, but obviously pretty is important too.  I picked up nice smooth river rocks while on a hike and other bits and pieces.  (tiny twigs, etc) You want things that won’t really absorb moisture though.
  • Landscaping fabric – I figured this one out after my first attempt – when the soil was spilling in between the pebbles.  I didn’t notice any other tutorial that mentioned this, but I think it makes a big difference to the clean look… plus colour-wise it blends in totally with the soil. This comes in huge rolls that include WAY more than I’d ever need, but we had a roll left over from back yard work, and I just cut off a piece from there.
  • Activated charcoal – pick this up in pet supply – it’s used in fish tanks.  A small bag is only a few dollars, and you only need a tiny amount for each terrarium – basically enough for a layer.
  • Soil – I was super-lazy and just took some potting soil out of a plant pot that had been re-potted elsewhere.  Moss likes a bit of acidity apparently, so perhaps there’s a better alternative.  If you’re reading this and have suggestions – please leave a comment!
  • Moss! My first attempt, I actually found some moss growing in our yard in a shady spot where there used to be a bunch of really big pine trees (that acidic soil…).  I just dug some up with a spoon, and planted that…. For the larger projects though, I did head out to the forest and harvested larger pieces.  I found while making them that the flatter moss that had been growing on rocks worked better than the thick, rich, beautiful moss that was growing on the soil.  Your mileage may vary!
  • Tools – like chopsticks, spoons, funnels, long tweezers, etc to work with everything.
  • Decorations – obviously this is optional, but I ended up putting some little twigs in some of my terrariums, and found little tiny miniature terracotta pots for some as well which I think look super cute. Since I was giving some of them away at Christmas, I also bought those tiny ‘miniature’ Christmas ornaments at Michaels, and put them in some of the terrariums too. On Etsy I saw little mushrooms made of polymer clay that were adorable, little deer and birds as well. I also put some hanging moss in one or two – but wasn’t fond of how quickly they took up the water and started to change.

How it all goes together:

  1. First add the pebbles, then fabric, then charcoal, then soil into the jar. I found when I varied the amount of pebbles/soil, that I liked a lower-sitting plant, so less was more. Again, this will depend on preference… I just wanted to see more moss, more glass, less soil/pebbles – and moss doesn’t need much soil to grow!
  2. Push down the soil firmly with your finger, back of a spoon, etc and then tear your moss apart to fit your container. I found that I’d tear off an ‘almost right’ chunk, and then smaller chunks to fill in the voids.
  3. Press the moss down firmly into the soil as well. I tried to remove as much excess dirt as possible from the moss (again, because I didn’t want huge layers) though I didn’t go crazy with that. Since my moss was growing in the wild, and not a nursery, I also wanted to make sure anything “wild” wasn’t in there. (I did find one worm in my stash, who found a lovely home in our garden instead.)
  4. Then I needed to clean up the glass – get rid of dirt that was around the edge.
  5. Decorate! I glued some wires to little mini terra-cotta pots, miniature Christmas ornaments, etc and stuck them into the moss as well. (The wires just stabilize the item.)
  6. A light misting of water is enough for the moss – then just cover, and let it live in a not-too-sunny, not-too-warm spot. Remove the lid to water and to let excess water evaporate, otherwise leave the lid on.
  7. Ta-da!

versions I made for friends

Two additional notes on care – Although I haven’t had any “stinky” I did have some pests – those darn little fruit flies seemed to make one of my terrariums a home at one point when I left the lid off to let it air out (too much condensation).  Those fruit flies seem to live everywhere – luckily only for a short period, and when I covered the terrarium with a cloth (still let moisture out, but hopefully not let flies in), killed the flies that were on the glass inside, and then re-covered the terrarium, they never have come back.

As well, a friend who received one of the terrariums said that a mini-mushroom started growing in hers!  I asked for a picture, because I’m super-curious, but nothing yet… it would be interesting to see!  I know that when I was keeping them (after planting, but before giving away) one of them was sending up spores!!!  (This of course, is awesome, since it’s self-contained and I’m not worried about them spreading to other plants.)

I added little ornaments to all of the terrariums. These were just mini-Xmas ornaments from the craft store.

Taking it another step:

One of the moss ornaments, close up.

So after making the mini-terrariums, I thought it would be cool to make Christmas ornaments too.  I was inspired by the “light bulb” projects, but wanted to use those neat totally clear glass ornaments you can get at craft stores (I picked up the super big ones from Michael’s).

Since these ‘terrariums’ (more like display items) won’t get watered, I wanted to preserve the moss instead.  I started with sheets of moss that had very little soil on them, and removed any that I could.  Then I followed the instructions on e-How to preserve the moss, BUT I added some green colouring into the mix.  When it was wet, the moss was SUPER green (kind of fake looking) but since I knew the colour of the moss would fade as it dried out, I figured that this would keep the moss looking fresher.  So far, so good!

I started assembling by first removing the cap and hook from the ornament, and rinsing each with rubbing alcohol and letting it dry.  Then I carefully added a few decorative vase stones to each ornament (well, on the first one I wasn’t so careful – these ornaments break easily!) and some activated charcoal.  Although the “terrarium” doesn’t need drainage (since no water will be added) I thought that keeping it up off the glass would look prettier, and help with the drying process.  The activated charcoal was added just in case.

Then I ripped off a piece of the moss from the sheet, and rolled it up into a cigar shape, and pushed it through

The finished ornament, from above.

the tiny opening of the ornament.  The using a chopstick and a pair of long tweezers (from my serger sewing machine!) I unfolded and arranged the moss, and added in the tiny ornaments.  Then it all got closed up, and I added some small silicone bumpers to the bottom to act as ‘feet’ so the ornament could be displayed, instead of just being hung (since with the glass vase stones, they’re not terribly light…).

A few more links:

If you prefer video over reading – here’s another light bulb terrarium from Etsy how-to Tuesdays http://www.handmadeology.com/how-to-make-a-mini-lightbulb-moss-terrarium/ and another video from Sprout Home (though theirs are HUGE in comparison!).

Another personal how-to as someone makes her first terrarium http://www.thebyandby.com/2010/09/mini-moss-terrarium/

A second blog entry about making terrariums http://the-bob-blog.blogspot.com/2009/03/dyi-mini-moss-ecosystem.html

Insanely simple how-to, using found materials as the terrarium itself.  I think this would be a cool temporary terrarium, though I don’t see it being great in the long run.  (No drainage, difficult to water, etc…) On propagating plants, there’s a similarly simple post on Design*Sponge.

How about a super-simple how-to for mini-terrarium party favors/place cards?  So cute!

I found this simple how-to for terrarium ornaments after making my own.

Terrarium Ornaments

On the buying (and inspiration) front – these Etsy sellers makes some great terrariums with moss – http://www.etsy.com/shop/MossTerrariums?ref=seller_info

http://www.etsy.com/shop/blithegardens?ref=seller_info (of course, shipping plants is tricky at best, across the border…)

On the “inspiration” front – http://www.thefernandmossery.com/search/label/How%20to%20Make%20a%20Terrarium has some amazing photos, stories, shopping, etc for terrariums of all sorts.

Copper and glass – from Etsy seller

More inspiration – copper and glass light bulb terrarium.  http://www.boingboing.net/2009/11/28/steampunk-terrarrium.html or when you’re done reading the article, check out the seller’s collection here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/SteamedGlass?ref=seller_info

Versions I made for my uncle and aunt and grandmother.

2 comments on “A world in a bottle

  1. Monroe Eventers says:

    Just desire to say your article is as amazing. The clarity
    to your submit is simply great and that i can think
    you are an expert on this subject. Well along
    with your permission allow me to snatch your feed to keep up to date with drawing close post.
    Thanks one million and please keep up the gratifying

  2. Dawn says:

    Thanks Monroe, if you happen to make your own little terrarium, feel free to share the link so I can check it out too! 🙂

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