Many of us are urged to think out of the box. But for local botanical stylist Charles Loh, creativity can run wild even in the smallest of bottles.
In October last year, Charles launched Mossingarden — a “verdant venture” selling miniature gardens in a jar — or terrariums. You might vaguely recall terrariums from learning about the water cycle in school: essentially, they’re sealable glass containers containing plants. The transparent glass allows heat and light to enter, resulting in a tiny water cycle forming inside the sealed enclosure and creating a largely self-sustaining environment for plant growth. This makes it particularly convenient if you love greenery, but don’t have green thumbs.
What sets Charles’ miniature gardens apart, though, is the striking beauty of his creations. Each jar is a work of art, with moss, pebbles, and figurines painstakingly arranged to form a scene startling in its vividness. Some of his recent terrariums, for example, depict a man gazing wistfully from the edge of a cliff (Homesick) and a deer bending to graze (Deer Stop). Each composition has a magical, lifelike quality — their stillness draws the eye, as though reminding us to take a moment in our hectic lives to breathe, and to appreciate the simple beauty around us.
Indeed, the philosophy behind his nature-inspired startup, Charles explains, centres around the need to have a balanced life by slowing down our pace on occasion.
“In this fast paced city, I hope Singaporeans can take a little time to appreciate the things around them or find some [inspiration] in my products. Nature’s the cheapest form of therapy.”
We may call ourselves a garden city, but the truth is that few of us have an actual garden to call our own. The gorgeous landscapes that Charles sculpts might just be the perfect way for Singaporeans to enjoy the calming effects of nature — in a bottle.
Nature Is For Everyone
The first thing that’s evident about Charles is that he’s really, really passionate about nature. With tongue firmly in cheek, he describes himself as a “terrarist”, as well as someone for whom nature is one of his biggest inspirations.
“As a young teen, I became engrossed with the idea of merging art and nature… Fast forward to 2014, where I took up growing terrariums as play after stumbling upon it during one of my recent travels abroad. It started out as a hobby that I’d drifted from when I was a teenager making aquascapes, but I found myself relating back to it.”
Through the natural beauty of his terrariums, which he calls “living art”, Charles can engage with the part of himself which is “constantly finding the right balance in life, and trying to appreciate life and its meaning.” Sounds philosophical? “On the flip side,” he laughs, “I can be full of nonsense if you know me well enough.”
One interesting reflection of the unique way he fuses artistry and greenery is the snippet of song lyrics that accompanies each product. The name of each terrarium derives from the song that inspired it; his ‘Next to You’, for instance, features a verse from Bell X1’s “Next To You”:
“Time pulls a face when I’m next to you
Let’s hope the wind changes
Time pulled a face when I’m next to you
Let’s hope the wind changes”
Charles explains, “I create my terrariums whenever I feel [I have] a story to relay — usually when a song hits me, and kind of pushes me to make something based on it.” In this way, all his products are infused with distinctive meaning.
The capacity of art — and more commonly, music — to soothe and provide emotional catharsis is probably something we’ve all experienced at some point. Add to that the fact that greenery is scientifically proven to have a calming influence on our senses, and it’s no wonder that Charles’ terrariums seem to resonate so well in our local context. Asked to sum up some learning points from his Mossingarden journey, Charles says, “From young to old, nature is for everyone.”
Back to the Growing Board
Besides the terrariums that he himself designs, Charles is intent on bringing nature with a personal touch to his customers. If you’ve got a story that you want to see sculpted in moss, Mossingarden provides you with the option of customizing your terrariums. And if you’d like to put your green fingers to the ultimate test, Charles also conducts team workshops for you to DIY your own terrarium.
On top of Mossingarden, Charles juggles a 9-to-5 job as a creative photographer and designer — as you can probably imagine, the biggest challenge he faces in his solo venture is time. True to his balanced philosophy of life, though, he remains admirably undaunted. “[Despite] constraints with time, everything I do is done with sincerity and handmade. It’s definitely a reward to see all my products being recognised, and receiving good responses from customers.”
Already, Charles is in the midst of planning a shift from his current full-time job. Within a year from now, he says, “I hope to open up my own studio and work on Mossingarden full time.”
We might expect extraordinary things of a designer who’s turning drab, unexciting moss into functional, yet breathtaking mini-ecosystems. Still, the audacity of his vision for Mossingarden may astound you. “I’m progressing in using [this] unconventional growing style, whilst mixing modernism, quirk and sleekness. My aim is to make terrariums the everyday chic — cooler than the next gadget.”