More than a ship in a bottle | August 20, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - August 20, 2010

More than a ship in a bottle

Terrariums provide miniature landscapes in see-through containers

by Carolyn Copeland

While growing plants outdoors may be a fun hobby for some, terrariums have found their way back into popularity since their peak in the 1970s. These detailed miniature greenhouses are the perfect project for anyone willing to get their hands dirty.

The best part about making them? All you need is some creativity, the right equipment and a little bit of instruction.

Mykel Newton can help with all of those things at her class called "Terrariums, the Art and Science," on Saturday, Aug. 21 at Filoli in Woodside. The class will highlight the history of terrariums, the best plants to use and how to make them flourish.

Class fee includes a glass vessel, soil ingredients, a variety of indoor plants and accessories, such as mushroom birds, rocks and decorative moss for building small landscapes.

"One of the most rewarding aspects of the class is that a lot people come in thinking they're not creative and then they walk away with a smile on their face because they proved themselves wrong," she said. "People don't realize that they're perfectly capable of making these things."

And, of course, keeping them alive after class.

When it comes to taking care of a terrarium, Newton stresses the importance of learning the plant's growth habits.

"You need to understand the needs of the plant," she said. "You need to do this in order for them to thrive. Terrariums are very low-maintenance. All you need are the basic materials: light, water and soil. Part of what I'm also going to talk about in the class is which plants look best in certain containers. What's great about the glass is that it protects the plant from harmful insects. The enclosed atmosphere also gives it a sort of tropical look."

Newton enjoys finding a variety of different plants — such as orchids and fetonias — in order to make her terrariums look like a miniature landscape.

"Creative expression is one of my greatest joys," she said. "Building terrariums is the perfect combination of my two loves — art and nature.

"What I enjoy most about teaching my classes is that it's really fun and it's just something different. I love sharing my passion and experience with others and providing them the tools to create a living piece of art. I know I've done my job when every participant leaves feeling inspired."

Newton lives in Fresno and is an executive assistant at Children's Hospital Central California in Madera. She started her business, Botanic Gifts, four years ago and considers it her second full-time job.

"I started with just one garden show and really saw a lot of success with it right off the bat," she said. "I noticed there was a new interest in terrariums all over again. It just kind of grew from there. A lot of people who have taken the class have asked me do to a private class for them and their friends."

Newton sells terrariums to businesses all around the Bay Area including Emily Joubert in Woodside, and New People and Urban Bizarre in San Francisco. She has taught a class for the Master Gardener's Association in Fresno and also teaches for church groups, private parties and schools as long as there are 10 or more people willing to participate. She has even been asked to teach at baby showers.

"I teach classes about four times a year as the business keeps me busy with custom orders," she said.

Though some terrariums can be expensive, Newton prefers to keep hers moderately priced. They range from $30-$400. The higher prices are for the custom pieces she makes.

"There aren't many terrarium businesses around," she said. "There's a lady in New York who sells them for thousands of dollars. I like to make mine more affordable so that people can use them as gifts."

Though terrariums can also be used for reptiles and growing vegetables, Newton prefers to stick with growing plants.

"I'm more into growing flowers than veggies," she said. "My grandmother had a floral shop while I was growing up so I have that gardening and floral background. I was also a florist in high school and college. Since then I've always kept that nature in my life. But even though I only use terrariums for growing plants, they can be the perfect environment for growing veggies. It keeps the humidity contained in that little vessel."

Newton is constantly seeking out new glass and plants for her terrariums.

"Terrariums are a living piece of art," she said. "They're perfect for people who are looking to do something different and unique. I think it's just one more hobby that people can really find interest and fun in. They're also great projects to have around the house or to do with your children."


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What: Terrariums, the Art and Science

When: Saturday, Aug. 21, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Where: Filoli, 86 Canada Road, Woodside

Cost: $90 for nonmembers, $75 for members; fee includes all materials

Info: 650-364-8300 or


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