"There's this sudden craze to go back to nature and own natural things."
Ms Dawn Quek on the growing popularity of terrariums. She paid $55 for
a customised hexagonal version
For space-starved folks craving a patch of greenery in their homes or offices and do not want to pick up a hoe, a terrarium is a perfect solution.
This is because a terrarium is a low-maintenance miniature garden inside a clear glass case. It is planted to look like a tiny garden or forest enclosed in its own little world.
These tidy little gardens-in-jars have taken off here, as more people use them as home decoration, gifts for friends and wedding favours.
Ms Wen Xiu Juan, 30, who opened online store Hedge Garden about 31/2 years ago, says the terrarium movement is powered by people who do not have the time or commitment to care for a regular plant.
After all, terrariums need very little attention - minimal sunlight, the occasional spritz of water every week and the opening of the lid when there is excess condensation.
In the last few years, many terrarium stores - mostly online, with a handful of brick-and-mortar ones - have sprouted. Then there are the do-it- yourself workshops conducted by the National Parks Board and small outfits such as EcoPonics that are popular with schools and companies which want to encourage gardening as a hobby.
EcoPonics' owner Ivan Sei, 28, who holds workshops and has made mini terrariums for five weddings this year, says such set-ups are a great learning tool for students as they learn about photosynthesis, respiration and the water cycle up close.
As for office workers, terrariums "are a form of relaxation after staring at the computer for too long", he adds.
Over the years, the traditional terrarium has changed its look.
In 1829, when the concept was created by Dr Nathaniel Ward, an English physician with a passion for botany, terrariums were modelled in the shape of a greenhouse. From the 1970s, they became a groovy house accessory with ferns growing wild out of their plastic containers or even fish tanks.
Now, terrariums come in all types of containers from diamond-shaped glass cases to lightbulbs. A local store has even created a terrarium in a mini gumball machine.
While a true terrarium is not open to the elements, enterprising sellers have created the open terrarium, where part of the container is left open. This allows for more variety of plants, which do not need to be as hardy or resistant to humidity, to be used.
Shop owners say most terrarium fans are young professionals who want to try their hand at gardening without the hassle of getting their hands dirty.
Some of those who fell in love with terrariums have started businesses selling them.
Teacher Ricky Lim started making terrariums as a hobby with his fiancee, who is a graphic designer, last year.
Then in October, they started The Green Capsule, a themed terrarium online store, after getting a good response from friends and family who were gifted some of their first terrariums.
Mr Lim, 32, says: "We enjoy gardening and visiting nature reserves in our free time. We see this business as a form of recreation and after-work activity that we can share."
Others put their own spin by using unusual plants. At Mossimoto, an eight-month-old online outfit started by three friends, the founders began by making small fish aquariums for themselves. They later gravitated towards making mossariums - a glass jar decorated with a little landscape of rocks, moss and figurines which tell a story.
Ms Felicia Tay, 27, co-founder of Mossimoto, says the trio make the mossariums after work and on weekends. She is a copywriter at an advertising agency, while her partners Dickson Liew, 28, is an art director at the same firm and Vipul Shetty, 28, is a broker. They work out of Mr Liew's home, where Mossimoto's supplies are kept.
So far, the business has been lucrative enough for them to continue their hobby. Ms Tay says: "During off-peak season, we aren't overwhelmed with orders, but festive seasons such as Christmas and Valentine's Day have been busy. We've had to stop taking orders because they were so popular."
She puts it down to the long-lasting quality of their mossariums. "Compared with flowers, these are more value for money and you can add your personality in the design when you customise them."
Price-wise, these terrariums match up to their flowery counterparts, going for between $30 and $450 each, depending on the size of the jar and plants used.
Civil servant Dawn Quek, 29, paid $55 for her customised, hexagonal terrarium from Botterboom, a four-month-old online store. She had asked the sellers for a figurine of a Jack Russell to add to the terrarium because she owns a dog of that breed.
She says: "There's this sudden craze to go back to nature and own natural things. Terrariums might be expensive, but they are bespoke, so they are worth the price. Seeing how good different types of terrariums look on Instagram makes me want to buy more."
This article was first published on Apr 4, 2015.
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