​Fancy having some greenery in the office? Why not take a step further and enjoy a whole garden? With terrariums, you can do just that!

Terrariums, broadly defined as a mini garden in a container, were all the rage in the 70s and made a huge comeback in recent years. For space-starved colleagues who crave some green serenity at their workplaces, terrariums are the perfect solution and we have an expert in our midst who can teach us how to create one!

Joy at Work had Mr Tan Suan Kai from SingHealth Academy share more about his passion over a cuppa. He’s even shared some tips on how to build your first terrarium. Read on to find out more!

1. How did your journey in making terrariums begin?

It began two months after I started work at SingHealth Academy in November 2016. I realised that my eyes would tire easily as my work revolves around digital design, requiring me to spend long hours staring at the computer screen. As my other half has terrariums at her place, I noticed that looking at the greenery has quite a relaxing and therapeutic effect. So, we got together to make my very first terrarium so that I can soothe my eyes easily while at work.

The beauty of terrariums is that they are low maintenance compared to normal plants and can last quite long if you know how to take care of it. On average, they need to be watered only about twice a week. Interestingly, I grew multiple terrariums from one single plant as it had “offspring”, which I could replant into a new terrarium.

Suan Kai’s creations of joy and beauty

3. How do you go about designing terrariums?

First, I decide on the type of plants and soil to use, then the type of decorative objects I'd like to incorporate (e.g. mini houses, mushrooms etc). I will also need to take into consideration the size of the container as it ultimately dictates how many figurines I can include. Sometimes, I improvise as I go along, depending on factors like the amount of soil used and location of the plants' roots as it is important for the plant to get sufficient water.

4. Any challenges or memorable moments to share?

It is sometimes tough to visualise the look of your terrarium and formulating the steps needed to create it. Good planning is important as pebbles and soil can be pesky and difficult to separate once they have been mixed together. Drop terrariums, which are contained in a glass globe suspended in midair by a stand, are the most challenging. The key here is balance between an ideal weight and having sufficient materials in the terrariums to sustain the plant as well as the design.

The most memorable experience in my terrarium journey so far has to be the President's Challenge 2017. To raise funds, I suggested creating terrariums for sale and conducting workshops on terrarium-making. I was bowled over by the number of people who turned up for the workshops. My little pots did well in sales too! 

Suan Kai’s drop terrarium creation

Suan Kai’s little pots were put up for sale at the President Challenge’s Charity Bazaar in 2017

Suan Kai (front row, third from right) at the class he conducted on terrarium-making for staff

5. Who did you learn the art from? What gives you inspiration?

I learnt this art from my other half as well as through hands-on experience. Inspiration comes from things we typically pay scant attention to, like used items that we throw away without a second thought but could be repurposed for terrarium design. Upcycling items such as a used candle holder or a salad bowl has trained me to think out of the box and challenged me to constantly come up with interesting terrarium designs that fit these unusual containers.

6. How has terrarium creation helped you in other areas of life?

Terrariums have benefitted me in both work and my daily life. At work, I have a dedicated space for my terrariums which I can look at to relax and de-stress whenever I need to. Taking care of them is very similar to how I handle my projects. It is all about the journey - learning that there is always more than one way to resolve an issue, not staying in our comfort zones and being bold enough to experiment. We never know what the next moment brings!

A little corner at Suan Kai’s workstation for his creations.

7. Tell us more about what you do in SingHealth and how you find joy at work.

As a media developer at SingHealth Academy, we design and develop content for a rich teaching and learning experience with the use of advanced technologies.

I remember my manager asking me how I would handle recurring projects that could get mundane after a while. My reply was to constantly innovate and try out different methods to create content. Approaching projects with a different and fresh perspective keeps work fun and interesting. Of course, work-life balance is also important. Having a hobby that you like helps too.

Smurf-themed terrarium created using MacDonald happy meal toys with various types of succulents and cactuses.

8. Any last tips for terrarium newbies?

There is no hard and fast rule on how to create or design a terrarium. Seek inspiration everywhere and use your imagination to build your ideas bit by bit. Just keep in mind that different plants require different growing conditions, so do your research to decide what’s best!

Suan Kai's Tips for Terrarium Newbies

1.    Choose your type and kind of plant you wish to use. Common plants like succulents and cactus are quite easy to handle for beginners. They come in different varieties so you can pick and choose.   

2.    Get the appropriate-sized pebbles, colored sand or rocks or any items that you wish to decorate with.

3.    Choose your container and start designing your terrarium! A key thing to remember is to use sufficient soil so that the roots of the plants are covered. Be creative in the use of containers. They can even include ice cream cups, wine glasses, glass bowls, salad bowls and more. There possibilities are endless!

Soil and pebbles can easily be found in supermarkets or at florists. I usually get mine from a florist in Punggol. One big bag of soil from any supermarket would cost around $5. Rocks and pebbles are generally quite cheap. A box of them would cost around $2 which you could use for more than one terrarium. Plants on average cost around $3. Containers and design elements can be recycled items. So for around $10, one can get started on this hobby!

Different kind of plants and pebbles/sand that can be used for terrarium design.