Garden Photo of the Day

Terrariums, Tillandsias, and More in Wisconsin

By Kim Charles

Close up of terrarium with various tillandsias, phalaenopsis orchids, cryptanthus, staghorn fern, and baby elephant ear.

Chris and Pam Neumann have found the best way to make it through a Wisconsin winter, as Chris explains:

This is how Pam and I keep ourselves sane in the winter in Wisconsin. The dining room has south- and east-facing windows, so it is the official plant room. Many of these plants go outside in the summer. The lucky ones get to come back in. We added the terrarium three years ago. It helps keep the humidity up for the air plants, etc. I mist it every morning. With all the green, and the orchids, tillandsias, Christmas cactus, and other flowering plants, I think we’ll make it through until spring comes again.

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Terrarium on east wall. Hibiscus on left, aloe (not vera) on right.
The south windows with their two bookcases and baker’s rack for plants.
Top of baker’s rack: Aloe vera, jade plant, Tillandsia geographica, hoya.
One of our Christmas cacti blooming.
Succulents on the bottom shelf of the baker’s rack under artificial lights.
Flowering Tillandsia sp. It wasn’t labeled when I bought it, and haven’t ID’d it yet.

Flowering T. ioananthes. In the first terrarium photo, it is hanging on the right. There it’s mostly green; the tips of the leaves show a little orange. As it gets ready to flower, the leaves turn bright red.
Art imitating life imitating art. Or vice-versa.
Mr. Turtle watching from his nearby aquarium. At 4 inches long, he is full grown. He’s 35 years old; I’ve had him since he was a hatchling.

View Comments


  1. user-4691082 03/13/2017

    I am mesmerized by your collection! I don't know what I love most- the flowering Tillandsia or Mr. Turtle! I admire anyone that can tend to indoor things and keep them alive...I wish you could see my geraniums that I've overwintered! You would howl! Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful plants! How in the world do you get hibiscus to flower indoors? Amazing, Chris and Pam!

    1. User avater
      meander_michaele 03/13/2017

      Oh, my gosh, Rhonda...that spooky thing happened thinking to myself and then seeing the words that you posted. I, too, was trying to decide what topped my list as the most favorite and Mr. Turtle was a strong contender and, maybe, the winner!

      1. user-4691082 03/13/2017

        Good morning Michaele! I almost posted that you and I would look over this delicious post many times! I am so bummed about the snowstorm headed my may prevent me from meeting Kevin at the Philadelphia flower show tomorrow.?. I'm holding my breath. I so looked forward to all of those tulips!

        1. User avater
          meander_michaele 03/13/2017

          Oh, darn, yes, this snow storm most likely will louse up your Tues. trip to the flower show. You don't want to take any chances although the lure of blooms and gpod camaraderie will be very tempting.
          It reminds me of a time I was driving to a favorite somewhat local nursery and the radio blared out a tornado warning in the small town the nursery was located. It was in April and I was burning up with plant buying fever. Ha, I kept driving and hoped for the best. The tornado never developed and the nursery was open. And, yes, I bought some plants!

        2. frankgreenhalgh 03/13/2017

          Hope you can get to the Show tomorrow, Rhoda. Lovely 80 - 85 F autumnal days here. Cheers, Frank

          1. user-7007498 03/13/2017

            Hi, Frank. Glad to hear your temperatures are moderating a bit.

            Big storm expected overnight for me (12-20 inches of snow). Temps have been below 20 the last few nights. Winter is not done with us yet.

          2. frankgreenhalgh 03/13/2017

            G'day Kev. Yes some lovely weather here. Gee your cold snap makes it difficult for plants which have started to shoot in spring. I know that you have been looking forward to the flower show and catching up with Rhonda - hope you can get there safely. Cheers, Frank

        3. Chris_N 03/13/2017

          Two inches so far here and 4-6 more expected. Sorry to be sending the snow your way!

    2. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Good morning, Rhonda. The hibiscus seems to like the east window. I had another that always bloomed when we put it there. The terrarium lights help as well. Pam is better at indoor plants than I am. Although now that I have the terrarium, I am much more conscious of watering schedules.

  2. deannalchurch 03/13/2017

    All of your pictures are nice and I enjoyed seeing the succulents especially. But, my favorite is Mr. Turtle! 35 years-my goodness. What is the expected lifespan? I know some turtles live quite long lives. He seems to be a happy fellow.

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Mr. Turtle is a musk turtle. The record for captivity is 55 years old. Some of the tortoises live much longer.

      1. deannalchurch 03/13/2017

        Thanks! Good info.

  3. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/13/2017

    I adore your very generously sized terrarium, Chris and fact, your whole dining room with all that lush greenery and colorful flowers is practically a terrarium for humans. Those bright orange leaf tips on the T. ioananthes are fabulous and then to have the shooting out flowers be purple...what a winner! Your inside winter garden packs as much interest as your outdoor "heck strip" that you shared a few years ago. Your gifted green thumbs are active throughout the winter vacation from plant nurturing for you two.

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Thank you, Michaele. I got the largest terrarium I could find (36 x 36 x18 inches) because I've found they fill up so quick. The terrarium is basically mine. Pam showed a photo of it to a friend at work who responded, "That's a good hobby for a husband to have."

      1. User avater
        meander_michaele 03/13/2017

        What is the back wall of the terrarium made of? In the first picture, it gives the impression of a real rock climbing wall because the scale is not as obvious. Whatever it is, did you add it in yourself or did the large sized terrarium come with it? It really works to create the impression of its own self contained part of nature in the wild.
        I can well imagine that it is very helpful to have some indoor interests/hobbies to help pass the time during winter in WI. I get spoiled by almost year round gardening in my part of TN.

        1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

          It is solid ... styrofoam. The background came with the terrarium and is removable. It's easy to clip light things onto like the tillandsia. I was looking at some older photos and realized it started out more tan but has faded to green. The tillandsias stood out more on the green.

          I often envy your abbreviated winters.

  4. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 03/13/2017

    Wow, Chris and Pam! It's not surprising that your gardening talents turn to the indoors in the Wisconsin winter. That's a large terrarium! Now all you need is a little water feature and some poison arrow frogs and it will be complete! Grooving on Mr. Turtle.
    Of course the first thing that caught my eye was the corner of the quartersawn white oak arts and crafts style frame and botanical wood block in the second photo, the the second with the narcissus. Very nice. Love the A&C rug too.

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Hi Tim, I keep thinking about adding a small waterfall. No poison dart frogs though. At one point in my life I had an entire wall of reptile and amphibian cages. Mr Turtle is the only one I have now and he is pretty low maintenance.

      We live in a story and a half bungalow built in 1925. It's had some serious remuddling done by past owners but it retains the flavor. Most of our furniture is A&C style, a few antiques but most reproductions or current interpretations (such as the terrarium stand aka entertainment center.) I've been admiring your house for a while (1920's? earlier?). I noticed in you indoors holiday photos that you had A&C furnishings as well.

      1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

        BTW, Tim, look up "Justin Grimm terrarium" on youtube. The best is his "My EPIC Slice of the Jungle" with the poison dart frogs (and tadpoles) in a planted terrarium. Then check out his series of videos on how he built it. Crazy amount of work and knowledge went into it.

        1. User avater
          Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 03/13/2017

          I will look that up. I can totally understand collecting reptiles and amphibians; I can also understand stopping! Lots of effort. I did a study on breeding poison arrow frogs at the National Aquarium in Baltimore for my Master's thesis, and I have always wanted a terrarium with a few species. Maybe when I retire......
          Thanks for the YouTube tip!

  5. anitaberlanga 03/13/2017

    Okay - I know it's not plant-related but I haveto say: LOVE YOUR DR RUG! But I think I love Mr Turtle best! What a nice way to get through a WI winter, with all that green!

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      I think the rug is supposed to be stylized ginkgo leaves so it is plant related in a way!

  6. KarlaRoady 03/13/2017

    I'm in the west - take heart, we have had a few good days which we'll send your way.
    Love the tillandsias. I have five and now I know the name of one - my T. loanthes is tiny compared to yours. It has bloomed once so now I'm excited to see the color change as it gets bigger. I also had the one with the orange/yellow blossom but it couldn't tolerate the dryness and died about a year after it had bloomed. I just found some tillandsia and bromeliad fertilizer - do you fertilize yours?

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      The T. ionanthes, I bought as a hanging ball so I can't take credit for growing it that large. Also, there are different varieties within ionanthes. I have one at work that is smaller that I've had for several years. It started as single but has multiplied and has about 7 clumps (bunches?) now. It flowers pretty faithfully every year. I try to fertilize mine about once a month with a very dilute fertilizer.

  7. sheila_schultz 03/13/2017

    I can almost feel the warming moisture in the air that must be drifting throughout your dining room. Chris and Pam, you've found a very creative way to enjoy a bit of a tropical paradise during your typically long WI winter! Add me to the growing list of GPOD'ers that adore your rug, it was made to be paired with your lovely oak pieces! Oh, then there is the star of the show, Mr. Turtle!!! Perfect!

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Thanks, Sheila. The terrarium stays nice and humid, the rest of the house, even with the plants, not so much. I'm afraid to show Mr Turtle all these comments. He might get a swelled head!

      1. User avater
        meander_michaele 03/13/2017

        Ha, we wouldn't want him to get such a swelled head that it no longer fit inside his shell.

  8. LaurelEm 03/13/2017

    Love the Turtle! He looks very happy, especially to be inside. Does he get to live outside in summer?
    I'm in Wisconsin too and so tired of winter. Then today with a snowstorm! Beautiful indoor plants and fun to play with I am sure!

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Mr Turtle lives in his tank year round. I don't have a good place for him outdoors. And raccoons like tasty turtles.
      As far as snow, Reticulated iris at work Friday and today:

      1. User avater
        LindaonWhidbey 03/13/2017

        Oh, I do not miss that!!

        1. frankgreenhalgh 03/14/2017

          Exactly Linda - fortunately we don't have that problem. It must be very frustrating to have ice kill new buds, shoots and flowers etc. Cheers from Oz

          1. User avater
            LindaonWhidbey 03/14/2017

            Actually, Frank, we just bought a small winter home in Arizona and are learning all about desert plants. We're home on Whidbey now where it is quite cold and rainy but next year, uh, uh. We'll stay until at least the end of March and just start our tomato plants there if we need to or buy plants at our garden club plant sale. If things continue in the USA the way they've been going, our part of the country will continue to get colder while the colder climate areas continue to warm up. It's all very disturbing.

          2. frankgreenhalgh 03/14/2017

            Hey Linda - How exciting for you both. A different gardening style, and a nice challenge. Variety is the spice of life. A nice combination of climates.

            The climate of the world is changing, but some dinosaurs cannot accept that fact - and we know what happened to dinosaurs! Our part of the world is becoming warmer and drier, and with more extreme weather events.

            Interesting how GPODers don't mind a challenge and are prepared to get on with things. Did you pick up on Sheila's news about moving to Mexico? It would be great to communicate with you on developments in Arizona and on Whidbey (are you on Facebook?). Cheers, Frank

          3. frankgreenhalgh 03/14/2017

            Seeing that it is so miserable weather wise in your neck of the woods at the moment, Linda - here is something to remind you of better weather and your 'son' in Sydney. FG

          4. Chris_N 03/14/2017

            Great photo, Frank.

          5. User avater
            LindaonWhidbey 03/14/2017

            I am on FB. My last name is O'Connell...there are probably a few of those in Oz:) I'll try to find you. Didn't know about Sheila. i think I'd rather head north if I was leaving the US since both of our children live in Canada.

  9. frankgreenhalgh 03/13/2017

    Hey Chris & Pam - Nice work indeed. I also like Mr Turtle. Like to add more (about your late post), but it is bed time here in Oz. Cheers, Frank

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Have a good sleep, Frank!

      1. frankgreenhalgh 03/13/2017

        Hey Chris - Sorry about early this morning - it was getting late for this old codger!
        Wow what a wonderful display in your dining room. A real credit to you and Pam. Great photography too. Cheers from a wide awake Aussie

        1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

          No problem, Frank. Actually, I want to know why you are up only 5 hours after going to bed. If I don't get 8 hours, I am pretty much worthless.

  10. deannalchurch 03/13/2017

    I agree. It is very important to take that into consideration. You will need to have someone willing to take over the care of the pet if they are likely to outlive you. :)

  11. Chris_N 03/13/2017

    Thanks, Diane. I actually think it's funny that for a bunch of plant people, we are drawn to animals in photos.

  12. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 03/13/2017

    Nice terrarium! Mr. Turtle is a wonderful addition and for 35 yrs! wow. congrats.

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Thanks, Kathryn.

  13. tennisluv 03/13/2017

    Pam & Chris, love your terrarium. I have never been much of a succulent fan, but you and previous GPOD's are beginning to change my mind. Your Flowering T. ioananthes is especially pretty and may tip me over. Mr. Turtle is precious. Your Arts & Crafts furniture, rug and picture are equally lovely. Thanks for sharing your 'winter' terrarium dining room.

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Thanks, Sonya. Airplants (tillandsias) are sometimes succulents and sometimes not. The big T. geographica, comes from a very arid climate and I just water by soaking it once a month. Some of the others want to be misted daily or soaked once a week. The T. ionanthes is great.

  14. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 03/13/2017

    Good morning, Chris. Wow, I'm at a loss for words to describe how much I love
    everything that you posted. It's not easy to incorporate plants into an indoor environment and have everything look so healthy but yours are not only healthy looking but just beautiful. Those Tillandsias are pretty amazing, especially the ionanthes. You're very lucky to have a turtle for that long. Love the paper whites in front of that painting and your house looks like it would fit well into the Frank Lloyd Wright neighborhood in Middleton. Thanks so much for making this rainy Monday a little brighter.

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Hi Linda. Thank you for your kind words.

  15. User avater
    treasuresmom 03/13/2017

    Wow! Love all this!

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Thank you, Treasuremom!

  16. schatzi 03/13/2017

    WOW!!! What a beautiful room full of plants! The terrarium is outstanding. Love the T. ionanthe - beautiful coloring. We do have to have something to get thru the grey and
    cold - and out here, wet. I have a house and greenhouse full of plants to enjoy and play with and I'm still chomping at the bit for spring. Like all of us. Oh well, spring will come -
    sooner or later. Great job.

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Hi Shirley. I wouldn't mind a greenhouse but have nowhere to put it. I'd have to tear up some of my garden so that won't work. Yes, spring can't come soon enough.

  17. suzflora 03/13/2017

    I assume you bought the terrarium but I am curious about the light. Did it come with it or did you design if?

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Hi Susan. Yes, we bought the terrarium; it's an Exo Terra 36 x 36 x 18 inches. I couldn't find it in stock locally so we ordered it. The first one was not handled as gently as a glass item should be; luckily the second one came intact. I made up the light myself. It has four T5 HO (high output) fluorescent strip lights connected with a bracket bar at either end. The lights are designed for plants. I bought mine at a store that specializes in indoor gardening supplies.

      1. suzflora 03/14/2017

        Thanks Chris for your reply. i like the reptile cages except I wish they had the doors on the side and not the front! I'm looking at LED's for the top.

        1. Chris_N 03/15/2017

          Side doors would not work where mine is at but I could see the advantage. LED's are still a little pricey for me but I have seen some nice LED plant lights.

  18. Quiltingmamma 03/13/2017

    lovely room and happy plants. How lucky and lovely. We won't even start on the FLW design and carpet....I'll trade you snow for the current cold snap where we had average -20F weather all weekend. The best we can say here is 'Well, at least it is sunny"....

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Brrrr. I don't like -20 in January. I'd hate to have it now. Where are you located? I know you've had photos on GPOD but my poor brain can not keep track of everyone.

  19. Meelianthus 03/13/2017

    Chris, I really enjoyed your planterium (is that a word?) and the beautiful job you have done to display all of your in-home plants, how much you must enjoy them all winter. A real plus to have some flowering during the dark days that seem to go on forever outside. Sorry about your approaching snow storm when you already had so much. I think our winter is just about over. Whew! Thanks for sharing such a delightful home garden.

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Thanks, Linda. We do indeed enjoy them. The plants that is, not the dark days, but you knew that. The snow should melt by the end of the week. This is not unusual whether for March in Wisconsin. Sunny and high 50's one day, snowing the next. The 60 degree weather in February was quite odd and I think a lot of people thought February was our new March. Nope, still have the old March. Sounds like the eastern US is going to be hit harder with snow than us.

  20. Chris_N 03/13/2017

    Oops, just looked it up and it is Tillandsia ionantha not ionanthes. I know I should always double check spelling.

  21. user-6536305 03/13/2017

    I love your beautiful indoor plants and terrarium! What is the rock like background that is in the terrarium? Thanks for your posting.

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Thanks, Lilian. The background is molded styrofoam and came with the terrarium.It's easy to hang the lightweight tillandsias on.

      1. user-6536305 03/14/2017

        Thanks Chris. I am on my way to make a terrarium. I have a fish tanks 24" tall and wide 12" deep currently sits in the garage and will be a perfect terrarium. Thanks again for sharing.

  22. bsavage 03/13/2017

    Beautiful! Love Mr. Turtle!

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Mr Turtle says thank you.

  23. user-7007140 03/13/2017

    Just beautiful. I was admiring a selection of Tillandsia and orchids in a garden center today - making a mental shopping list. Thank you for sharing your own collection.

    1. Chris_N 03/13/2017

      Thank you, Eddi. I think I am maxing out on the airplants. Well, maybe just one, or two, more.

  24. Chris_N 03/13/2017

    Thanks, Lee.

  25. user-7007498 03/14/2017

    Chris and Pam: Sorry I am so late to respond. Saw your post earlier, but I just didn't have the time before now. WOW!!! Such a great collection of plants. They look so awesome. My outdoor containers that I brought in for the winter are just limping along. Yours are robust and beautiful.

    I really love your terrarium. I have got to try that sometime. Such a great way to get through the winter.

    We had some nice weather here in February. Everything started to bud, including all the trees. Now we have had a cold week with lows in the 20s. Just starting snowing. We are expecting 20 inches by noon tomorrow. Such is winter. At least the snow will protect the perennials that have emerged from the bitter cold.

    Thanks again for sharing your photos.

    1. Chris_N 03/14/2017

      Thanks, Kevin. It's been a crazy winter/spring so far. I expect the temperature roller coaster in March but not in February. We had snowdrops and crocuses blooming at the end of February which I've never seen before. Now everything is under the snow. Only 6" here but with a low of 8 it was nice to have some cover as you said. Not sure you need 20" for protection. Sorry you couldn't get to the flower show today. Stay safe.

  26. thevioletfern 03/14/2017

    Marvelous! Now just whip up a blender of pina coladas! Love the terrarium. I got rid of my fish tank of 30 years so I could migrate South which has proven to be a good choice. But they sure make nice plant nurseries. Amazing that your air plants are flowering! I didn't know they flowered. Mr. Turtle is so cute! 35 years! He looks really happy as does the plant room. Very good vibes - enough to last through winter.

    1. Chris_N 03/14/2017

      Thanks, Kathy. I used to have both fish tanks and various reptile and amphibians. Now just have Mr Turtle and the terrarium. The terrarium is nice because it has two glass doors that open on the front which makes it easy to care for.

  27. cynthiamccain 03/14/2017

    In a word, FANTASTIC! Mr. Turtle obviously agrees.

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