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Our Little Jungle

January 31, 2011

About 16 years ago my family was driving along a stretch of Minnesota highway that was under construction. Swaths of great evergreens were cut down and a normally vibrant landscape was reduced to stumps and loose soil. It was overwhelmingly grey and lifeless. Noting the absence of trees my five-year-old sister began to gasp for air. As she frantically looked around and clutched at her chest my parents got a little nervous. Then she abruptly calmed down.

“Oh, I can still breath.”

As kids we’re so black and white. With no trees in sight she thought there would be no oxygen available. This tale has been told in my family for years, so much that I forget all the details. Maybe I was in the car too. Maybe it’s a second-hand story. All I know is that I’m beginning to feel that way as well. Winter in the city is fooling my brain and I’m starting to feel like I’m having trouble breathing.

Looking out my office window last week I realized there wasn’t a single living thing in sight. It is all pavement, cement and brick. I haven’t seen a bird on my ledge for months. My walks in the park with Regan and Jack are less frequent and nothing is growing in our back yard. All the green in my life is missing.

So we decided to make some terrariums.

While running errands this weekend Regan and I happened upon Habig Garden Cottage in Nora with a sign in front touting terrarium supplies. We walked into the warm, wet garden shop and ambled around the aisles, sat on a bright red garden bench and took it all in. Some bags of soil, pebbles, charcoal, moss and a handful of plants later we were out the door and hurrying home to get our plants out of the cold and into our warm home. At our kitchen table we filled glass vessels with soil. We watered the dirt. We dug small holes to hold our tiny plants. Our fingernails were filthy. Our house smelled like earth.

Then we stepped back and looked at our work. And suddenly I felt like I could breath again. These little jungles might just get me through until spring.

To make your own terrarium is really quite simple. I’m no expert, but this method has worked for us.


• Glass vessel large enough to accommodate a handful of small plants. Make sure they have some depth as the layers of gravel and soil take up some space.
• Pea gravel, marbles, small stones or other similar material to help promote drainage
• Activated charcoal to absorb potential stink
• Moss or fine mesh to prevent soil from filtering down into the charcoal and gravel. We used moss.
• Rich, healthy soil
• Tiny plants!


Put down a layer of gravel, then a layer of charcoal over this.
Arrange the moss or mesh above the gravel and charcoal layers, then arrange enough soil on top of this moss layer to accommodate the depth of your tiny plants.
Plant your plants, but as with all gardening, remember that plants grow so leave some space.

Optional: Cover the top of the soil with moss or sand and pebbles for added loveliness.

Place in an area with the appropriate amount of light for your plants and water as necessary with a funnel or spray mist bottle (I dislike the mister only for the fact it gets water on the glass of the terrariums).

Enjoy and breathe deeply.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Patti permalink
    February 1, 2011 12:32 am

    YAY! So beautiful and reminds me of sun. Oh how I miss the sun.

    • Claire permalink
      February 1, 2011 12:54 pm

      You and me both, Patti. Good luck with all the snow headed your way!

  2. February 1, 2011 11:43 am

    I was considering just driving south until I found some green. It would take like 12 hours, I know.

    • Claire permalink
      February 1, 2011 12:55 pm

      Pick me up on the way, if you wouldn’t mind…

      Or just come over tonight and we’ll make terrariums 🙂

  3. Lisa permalink
    February 1, 2011 12:58 pm

    Have you seen this??

    Your efforts are a growing trend, apparently!

    • Claire permalink
      February 1, 2011 1:48 pm

      I only caught the tail end of that last Sunday morning. Love watching the whole segment. Man, those are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing!

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