Living art in a jar

St. John’s woman launches new business with customized terrariums

Tara Bradbury
Published on July 7, 2012

A miniature world encased in glass, with lush greenery, little pebbles and lilliputian inhabitants, doing everything from scaling rocks to getting married.

These are Nicole Furlong’s tiny universes, each one unique.

Furlong, of St. John’s, has long had a love for both art and gardening: she’s a visual artist who paints, and has a certificate in landscape management from the University of Guelph and experience working in greenhouses.

Decorating her bathroom one day, she found some pretty glass jars and contemplated what to put in them.

“At first I was thinking maybe pebbles or glass, and then I thought it might be nice if I could get a small plant, something that was whole on its own, like moss,” Furlong said. “I did that, and then I thought it would be adorable if there was a bunny or something sitting on it.”

When Furlong gets a project in mind, she “Googles the death out of it” to find the perfect supplies to put it together, and it wasn’t long before she discovered a website where she could buy miniature figurines.

After bunnies, she branched out into other animals and human characters, and started assembling tiny landscapes in jars under the name Green Glass Terrariums.

Furlong chooses unique sizes and shapes of glass jars, in which she carefully and expertly arranges pebbles, soil, peat and moss of all types.

“I started harvesting moss from the woods off Old Pennywell Road, and I bought some from a moss collector in the States, because they have more variety than here,” she explained.

Moss, because it has no vascular system and pulls moisture down through its stems, is ideal for terrariums, she said. Because it needs no direct light — and, in fact, shouldn’t have it — it can easily flourish in homes or office spaces.

Furlong chooses the moss according to the scene she’s trying to set — some are soft and feathery, others are leafy or vine-like.

When it comes to the tiny figures in her scenes, she personalizes them to suit her customers. It could be as simple as painting a figure’s hair a different colour, or it could include altering them altogether.

She’s done children with balloons, pregnant women, punk rockers, firemen at work and a construction scene.

For local refrigeration company Kool-Rite Refrigeration’s 25th anniversary, Furlong made a heavy terrarium with a polar bear (the company’s mascot) and an iceberg.

For a photographer friend who’s also a mom, Furlong included a woman figure with a camera, holding a little boy’s hand.

For a customer who’s a diver, she put together a scene with a man in an orange dive suit, oxygen tank and scuba fins, standing on the edge of beach rocks with blue sea glass.

When she couldn’t find figurines to suit a “zombie picnic” idea, Furlong took miniatures of people eating hamburgers, and painted them to look undead.

“My sister lives in Sleepy Hollow, New York, and she told me, ‘I’d love one, but only if you can get a headless horseman,” Furlong said.

The town is named after Washington Irving’s 1820 short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which features a headless horseman.

A figurine of a headless horseman was impossible to come by, so Furlong took one of a cowboy and altered it, adding a few pumpkins in the process.

Furlong’s biggest terrarium to date has been a large, covered vase with a hand-painted church — complete with stained glass windows — a horse-drawn carriage, and a bride and groom.

The one that seems to get the most attention is one she made on a suggestion from her husband, John, a fan of

CBC-TV’s “Republic of Doyle.”

“He said, ‘I bet you couldn’t find the car,’” Furlong said, smiling, of character Jake Doyle’s infamous GTO. “It took a lot of searching, but I managed to find a collector who had seven of them. When I saw they were the perfect colour, I bought all seven.”

Furlong found the Gower Street home used for outside shots of the Doyle residence on the TV show, and — with help from her husband, who cut the shapes from wood — she carefully painted that row of houses immaculately, down to the exact colours. She formed a Gower Street scene with a GTO in front, and the tiny, muscular figure of a man leaning on it, wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

Furlong’s terrarium prices start at $40, but they’re also available for rent for wedding or event centrepieces. Businesses can also lease a terrarium for their lobby, and Furlong will attend to it regularly, and change the scene inside.

“I can do pretty much any theme — if someone can think of it, I’d be hard-pressed not to come up with something, and I’ll work with them to get it perfect for them,” she said.

The terrariums are very low-maintenance, she explained, needing only a light mist every two to four weeks. While Furlong offers no guarantee on the lifespan of her living art pieces, many terrariums can last for years, and she can help if any issues arise.

She has plans to expand her pieces to include micro-flowers, which she has ordered through a local nursery, and perhaps bonsais.

“I’ve got to be careful not to put anything in there that will outgrow its surroundings,” she explained.

Furlong sells her work online through a Facebook site ( and can also be reached by email at

Twitter: @tara_bradbury