in partnership
The Audrey is named for a former roommate who was cute and little. (Image: Kate Warren)

Can't keep a plant alive to save your life? Try succulents.

Sure, gardening sounds like a fun hobby to list on your work bio or dating apps, but in reality most of us have neither the space nor time to become true green thumbs. Let's face it, city living (in the pressure cooker that is D.C.) isn't exactly conducive to potting hordes of plants or tending to tomatoes. But, plants do make a space feel inviting and sometimes you just want a little bit of greenery in your home. Enter, terrariums -- charming mini gardens housed in glass containers, often containing succulents, a plant popular with timid gardeners or those who travel a lot, because they are nearly impossible to kill.

We chatted with D.C.'s queen of all things succulent, Holley Simmons, to understand why these little buggers are so appealing right now, how to create our own terrariums and ways to use them as easy home decor. By day Holley is the dining editor for The Washington Post Express, but when she isn't out taste testing at hot new restaurants, she is designing chic one-of-a-kind mini gardens to sell through her business, Sill Life, or teaching her uber popular terrarium class out of her shared studio, The Lemon Bowl.

First of all, how did you get into terrariums?

My mom is a seamstress and growing up, we bought very few things. It was always "I can make that for you" or "lets learn how to make it together." It instilled a strong DIY mentality in me and when I see something I like, my first reaction is to try and make it myself. I saw a cute terrarium at West Elm a few years ago and went to buy it, but it was over $100 and I thought, "mom would kill me if I spent $100 on this." So I attempted it myself. Well, I didn't do a ton of research, ignored a lot of what I did read and as it turns out, terrariums are kind of expensive to make. Needless to say I killed a lot of terrariums when I started out. I ended up investing in all the materials I'd need to do it right, so I wound up with a big bag of dirt, activated charcoal, succulents. I didn't know what to do with it all so I started inviting friends over to teach them how I did it, and it really expanded from there. It has been a very organic process.

What materials are you using in your classes?

Terrariums are built in layers and every layer has a purpose. You have rocks, sheet moss, activated charcoal, which is what keeps mold from growing, and of course succulents. I offer a few extras from time to time, the most popular by far being my gold-painted dinosaurs. They are kind of my signature thing now.

Where are you sourcing your materials?

When I started out I was foraging most of my materials but as the demand for classes increased I outgrew my supply. But I wanted to source locally as often as possible to support small business and because I want to use products in my classes that my students would have easy access to. I get moss from Potomac Floral Wholesale in Silver Spring, soil from Home Depot and the activated charcoal from a store in Capital Hill area called Ginkgo Gardens. They have been lifesavers.

Why are your classes appealing to city dwellers?

I think because the one thing people tend to know about succulents is that they are hard to kill. The more you forget about them, the better they perform because the worst thing you can do for a succulent is over water them. They only need to be watered twice a month. The key to keeping any plant alive is to mimic the natural environment. Succulents are desert plants, so they are used to really dry and sunny environments. Put your terrarium in a south-facing window with full sunlight, and only water it when you get a paycheck. The good news, even if you are really killing your succulent they will still look beautiful for at least a month.

How can succulents play into home decor?

Well the nice thing about a succulent is that they are beautiful on their own. You can put a single succulent in a tea cup and call it a day, or you can be more adventurous and work on a terrarium. You can put just about anything in a terrarium. Around 85% of my day is spent wondering "can I put a succulent in that?"

Where in the home would you put a terrarium?

Lighting is really the determining factor. Succulents may be resilient but they aren't really flexible plants. Sure it may look cute in a photo on a bookshelf, but is it getting direct sunlight for at least six hours a day?

For more information or to see a schedule of Holley's upcoming classes, visit