Even though the backyard is not quite thawed enough for full hands-in-the-dirt enthusiasm, we have the perfect solution for gardeners with spring fever. Bring the planting inside! Create a bright little oasis by potting small groups of plants in glass containers (many that you can find hiding around the house), and you can enjoy the rich smell of leaves and soil without worrying about the weather.
We’ve assembled four easy-to-plant terrarium gardens: Sweet Succulents, Very Violet, Cyclamen Cloche and tiny Tropical Trees that offer a no-fuss alternative to bonsai. The best part? All require only minimal care, and some actually do best when left to themselves. And, believe it or not, since these plants are naturally contained by the small growing space, they can thrive in their original containers for up to four years. So visit your local nursery (or order plants online), pull out your gardening gloves, hunt for a few unused jars and set aside the time for a lovely afternoon of digging, patting and pruning.
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With sandy soil and intriguing plants, an indoor desert garden can bring a bit of Zen to any room. Start with a wide dish—to allow as much humidity as possible to escape—and combine succulents and cacti of varying heights and textures, such as crassula, kalanchoe, aeonium, aloe, sedum and sea-urchin cactus. Use sandy cactus and succulent potting mix to ensure adequate drainage even without the searing desert heat. And remember, the brilliance of this little oasis is that it won’t need, or want, very much water. So put down the watering can, step away and just say, “Om.”
This romantic little patch bursts with color, even without very many flowers. We used one blooming plant, an African violet, whose petals are delicately edged with brilliant shades of purple and pink. But the secret behind this garden’s constant color is its leaves—which come from the pink, red and playfully spotted coleus, bromeliad and polkadot plants. Pot them in a small open container, like this antique compote, or any unused candy dish or serving bowl you have in the house. Try to find a container that’s footed, because a little height can instantly add another layer of charm.
A richly textured grove of mossy greens, lacy ferns and graceful flowers will remind you why the woods were once your favorite playground—and give you a magical respite from the dramas of daily life. Start with a centerpiece of magenta florist’s cyclamen, then surround it with densely planted ivy, maidenhair and artillery ferns, southern shieldferns and selaginella moss. Add a tiny rabbit or deer ornament (or both!) to complete the woodland fantasy, then put your mini-forest under glass. A simple cloche will keep the air inside humid and the soil moist—which means zero maintenance for you.
Bonsai trees are notoriously difficult to care for since they need a precise temperate climate, but they’re also irresistible. So here’s our modern update on the ancient art: tiny, easy-to-care-for tropical trees. Pair a small creeping fig with a coffee tree (pictured bottom right) to create a striking scape that will thrive even in drafty rooms. If you have little natural light or an old radiator with a mind of its own, plant a parlor palm (middle left) or an umbrella plant (top right) for a hearty architectural beauty. All these small trees grow best in open containers, need little pruning, and do best when their soil is embellished with stones or pebbles.