How to Build a Terrarium with Phoenix's Ian Christiansen of TerrarIAN

Categories: DIY, Events

Janessa Hilliard
Ian Christiansen's terrarian workspace in his downtown Phoenix home.

The workshop is tucked away in a tiny corner of a kitchen in a downtown Phoenix apartment. An array of glass containers has been arranged neatly on top of the refrigerator, some tall and skinny while others are fat and bulbous. Where most would entertain a window-side breakfast nook, a table is full of lush, green moss that looks fluffy to the touch. Beside them: six fully naked women and six male photographers.

The apartment, the workspace and the dozen (miniature figurine) people all belong to Ian Christiansen who will, in an hour or a few weeks or a month, bring each of them together to create a small, seemingly self-sustaining ecosystem: a terrarium.

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Today's common decorative garden is thanks to a British man named Dr. Nathaniel Ward. These "Wardian cases" were an early sealed protector of plants, so that Europeans could import foreign plants from overseas, keeping them alive in glass bottles and out of exposure to the elements.

Christiansen, a 40-year-old artist and actor who can currently be seen on stage through the end of the month in "National Pastime" at Theater Works in Peoria, stumbled upon the craft almost by accident.

"I was on a really awful date at the Desert Botanical Garden when I found myself in the gift shop," he says. After browsing seemingly aimlessly, Christiansen came across a book on terrariums written by the owners of a successful retail space in Brooklyn, New York.

"I thought, 'Why am I not doing that?'" he says. "I love miniature. I'm totally obsessed."

That was a year ago. Since then his hobby has turned into a full-fledged endeavor: TerrarIAN -- a play on, well, the obvious. Now he spends his time hunting for vintage glass shapes and sends away to Oregon and Arkansas for particular moss types like fern, mood, and pillow.

"It's a way to have outside inside, which is hard here [in Phoenix] because outside is dirt and sand and rocks," he says.

He sells these sustaining scenes in a variety of sizes (ranging between mini to extra large at $48 to $150) at For the People in the UNION at the Biltmore, makes custom orders for friends, and, starting Thursday, March 13, at Frances, will host how-to workshops.

The event, which has room for 20 people, teaches the green- and black-thumbed alike how to make and sustain a thriving miniature garden. Attendees are asked to include their own vessel (lidded and not too thick, Christiansen says) but the rest of the materials -- from plant life to tiny people -- are included in the $30 price.

"I think with the demands of today, people are living in smaller places [or] are on the go and can't spend all day Sunday in the garden," he says. "It's a way to feel like you still have a hand in caring for something.

Location Info



10 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ

Category: General

Desert Botanical Garden

1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ

Category: General

UNION at Biltmore Fashion Park

2502 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ

Category: Restaurant

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