Clea Cregan started making terrariums in 2006. At the time, she was working full-time in the film industry, and relished the opportunity to do something hands on and creative on her days off. She was instantly hooked by the tactile nature of the craft, and before long her house was full of all kinds of vessels containing weird and wonderful mini plant life!
After she’d filled her own home with her creations, Clea started taking orders. It was fortuitous timing – no one else was really making terrariums commercially in Melbourne at the time, and terrariums were on the cusp of a huge revival. Before long, Clea found herself inundated with orders, and Miniscapes was born. ‘I was just in the right place at the right time’ explains Clea below. She didn’t plan on starting a terrarium business – that’s just how things unfolded.
Over the past eight years, Clea’s amazing little mini-jungles have taken her on many adventures. Her creations have been commissioned for events, restaurants, workplaces and homes. One year, she filled the VIP lounge at the Australian Open with terrariums featuring tiny tennis players amongst the foliage! She has even been flown to a luxurious private home on Hayman island to weave her magic mini-gardening skills.
Clea’s latest project, though, is her proudest achievement yet. She’s just authored her first book, ‘Miniscapes’ published by Hardie Grant! It’s a surprisingly dense and detailed read, filled with beautiful photographs and all the info you need to create your very own terrariums at home.
Miniscapes by Clea Cregan, published by Hardie Grant is priced at $29.95, and hits all good bookstores on April 1st. Or, you can Pre-order now!
Tell us a little bit about your background – where did you grow up and what did you study?
Growing up in Canberra, we lived across the road from a pine forest and vast bushland. My brother and I would spend many hours just wandering there, building forts, collecting things and exploring. I’ve always had a creative streak and making stuff with lots of projects on the go. Canberra was a great place to grow up, as we were two hours from the beach and two hours from the snow. As kids we bush walked, camped and skied, spent a lot of time in nature. I loved plants and experimented growing different things in my bedroom. Looking back now, it’s clear that I had a deep love for horticulture early on, but went off on many other career paths before arriving (happily) back at plants!
After working in web design for a few years I moved to Melbourne from Canberra to study Multimedia and Design at Swinburne University in 2002. I then worked in film production as a director’s assistant.
This year I’ve returned to school and I’m studying Landscape Design. I’ve outgrown the terrarium and am expanding into larger landscapes!
When did you originally start making terrariums and how did you first come across them? How did this hobby lead to launching Miniscapes in 2006?
I started making terrariums as a hobby while I was working in the film industry. My job involved film shoots, overseas travel, long hours, deadlines and lots of late nights! I was spending a lot of time in front of the computer so it was nice to be creating something with my hands. I was pretty much addicted straight away. I loved the tactile nature of working with plants.
There wasn’t anyone selling terrariums in Melbourne at the time, so I was lucky to receive lots of publicity. People were fascinated by these miniature gardens. Terrariums had been very popular in the ’70s, and were on the cusp of a huge revival. I was just in the right place at the right time. I didn’t plan on starting a terrarium business; it just took off, dragging me along behind! I had my first child around this time, so I was constantly juggling everything. I was working out of our living room, with terrariums and plants taking over. Pretty soon I needed more space, and found myself a studio nearby.
Miniscapes has been very busy since it started in 2006. We wholesale to a range of stores, lease to businesses and events, and we make commissions for clients. We have created some really beautiful miniature gardens over the years. I have watched how terrariums and indoor plants have gained in popularity in recent years, and love seeing plants creeping into people’s homes and offices. I now see terrariums in most cafes or shops I walk into, they are everywhere! They are the perfect green companions for the space-starved, low maintenance gardener.
Hardie Grant is releasing your first book, Miniscapes, next month. Tell us a little bit about the process of making the book, and we what can we expect to find inside.
The book was totally unexpected. Editor Lucy Heaver emailed me one day totally out of the blue saying she’d had an idea for a terrarium book and asked whether I’d be interested in writing it. BOOM! Of course I jumped at the chance to write it. I have a huge collection of beautiful old gardening and terrarium books, and the thought of creating a modern version really excited me. We have had lots of interest from people wanting to do workshops over the years, so the book seemed like the perfect way to share this information and help people create their own terrarium dreams.
The turnaround of the book happened very quickly. The content, photography and book design were all completed in three intense months! It was a really interesting process dissecting my work and translating it into chapters. Book designer Kate Barraclough and Mark Campbell from Hardie Grant were brilliant at working out the layout and design.
The book includes everything you need to know about terrarium gardening with simple instructions, plants, propagation, inspiration and 16 step-by-step projects. It’s 160 pages of beautiful botanical goodness! The plant pages are my favourite part of the book, our photographer Rich MacDonald did an amazing job.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? How do you go about designing new terrariums, choosing the plants and making them?
The tricky part for me is finding new and interesting terrarium vessels, we like to bring out a new Miniscapes range each year to keep things fresh, so I visit trade shows and scour the internet looking for inspiration. Choosing the plants is my favorite part, as they come in such an amazing range of colours and textures. The plants palette usually dictates the design of the terrarium.
What’s the secret to keeping a terrarium alive?
Don’t overwater it!
What are your three top tips for making a terrarium?
1. Select small compatible plants, they all must like the same growing conditions. Don’t mix desert and tropical plants together.
2. As the terrarium doesn’t have any drainage, you must use pebbles or small rocks to create a drainage layer.
3. Never put a terrarium in direct sunlight or outside, the sun through the glass will burn your plants.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Life is pretty hectic with two young kids, especially as my partner is currently working longer hours on a film. Generally I’ll wake around 7.30am, get the kids fed, dressed and out the door. I walk my boy to school, then drop my daughter off at kinder. On a good day I’ll try and get to a class at the gym or go for a quick swim, then I’ll head into the studio.
I share a space at Home-Work studios in Brunswick with lots of lovely creative people. It’s a beautiful saw-tooth warehouse with great natural light that keeps my plants happy. I’ll grab a coffee then get started; check emails, order stock, visit wholesale nurseries, deliveries, watering, plant up orders, make a mess until about 3pm when I’ll go and pickup the kids.
The early evening is a mix of board games, backyard time, and cooking dinner. My daughter likes making ‘potions’ from sticks, leaves and water from the backyard. We eat dinner together. This is followed by a few hours of trying to get my insomniac three year old to sleep. I usually collapse into bed about 10pm.
What have been one or two favourite recent projects or commissions?
We have just renovated our home in Brunswick and the garden has been my latest project. The renovation included a small-internal courtyard (three sides of glass), which I have planted with giant tropical plants, grasses and vines. I love this effect; it feels like you’re inside a terrarium. I can’t wait till it’s like a jungle in there. Our new front yard I’ve planted as a Palm Springs style arid garden, and the backyard is a tropical vibe with lots of luscious large-scale greenery, banana palms and creepers growing up rusted reinforced mesh.
One of my all time favourite commissions was when clients flew me to Hayman Island for a few days to install terrariums in their amazing private residence. Dream job alert! I had all the plants carefully packed into my hand luggage; a suitcase full of soil and the glass was shipped up separately. WhiIe I was there, I had time for some island exploring and snorkelling with giant sea turtles, so amazing!
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Jamie North: I love Jamie’s sculptural combination of concrete rubble and plants. Seeing his work at the NGV last year was very inspiring.
James Ettelson: I love his beautiful intricate paintings that are so colourful and vibrant.
Glendyn Ivin: My friend Glendyn is a filmmaker and photographer. He documents his creative process through beautiful photographs. We have a few of his large prints around our house.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
Nature is my biggest creative inspiration. We are totally spoilt in Melbourne with so many incredible gardens and natural bushland close by. Guilfoyle’s Volcano at the Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne is one of my favourites.
Talking Plants on Radio National. I’m a plant nerd so I love this podcast.
This American Life. Sometimes it’s just good to get lost in a great story; and this keeps me entertained while I’m planting or pottering around the studio.
The Planthunter. I love reading the interesting articles about plants and interviews from fellow plant lovers.
Pinterest. I do have a Pinterest obsession, although I have cut back now that we’ve finished renovating our home. Bathroom tile overload! My latest obsession on Pinterest is Palm Springs gardens.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
Becoming a published author has definitely been a career highlight.
What would be your dream creative project?
I’d love to create a giant terrarium garden in a public space, a modern take on a rainforest fernery.
What are you looking forward to?
Miniscapes morphing into landscape design, I’m really looking forward to designing gardens without the constraints of fitting into a glass vessel.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
Brunswick is my favorite suburb. Actually I don’t seem to get out of it much at the moment. It’s an eclectic mix of old and new. Great food and coffee. I love the sense of community, we live on a quiet street with lots of kids that are friends, streaming in and out of each other’s houses.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
Moroccan Deli-cacy – The most impressive lunch plate I’ve seen in ages, bright and colourful and loaded with fresh, punchy Moroccan flavours. I have to stop myself from going there everyday. Our family also get to Laksa King around once a week as we are addicted. We’ve also just discovered Miinot Gelato too, which is seriously good!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Jumping on the trampoline with my family, playing lego, gardening, having friends over for brunch, lying in the hammock. I wish I could say sleeping in, but those days are sadly no longer.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne. You MUST visit this place on your next day trip, the gardens are astonishing!