Charles Loh is a graphic designer by day and a maker of terrariums by night under the moniker Mossingarden. Besides enabling people to bring greenery that require little maintenance indoors, Charles’s terrariums are sculpted with moss (core material), small plants, stones and miniature figurines that come together to portray a story. He hopes that his living art pieces will invite people, himself included, to slow down and find beauty in nature and its little things.
Do you recall your first encounter with nature?
I was probably eight years old when ‘fighting spiders’ or ‘fighting fish’ were things kids did for leisure. I used to go into the forest with my father and we would spend half a day there catching spiders. I would get so excited when I spot male spiders (used for fighting) after many hours of trekking and waiting.
Tell us the story behind Mossingarden?
Having worked as a graphic designer for a while, I found myself looking for a hands-on and craftier outlet. I have always wanted to bring plants to work, but without the right amount of dedication, they die easily.
During a trip abroad, I chanced upon a terrarium, which gave me a spark, yet I felt something was missing [in the terrarium]. I wanted to create something rustic and meaningful. I did a lot of research and trial-and-errors, which led me to use moss as my main material. Moss is so underrated. They are found almost anywhere, but only certain types [of moss] are perfect for the terrariums I am doing today.
I wanted the name to be simple, something that is a no-brainer, that’s why it was Moss In A Garden. After many mispronunciations, ‘Mossing Garden’ came up. ‘Mossing’ [informal] literally means chilling. It is perfect for me. I want this little project of mine to be therapeutic, at the same time, inviting people to take it slow and appreciate life more.
Have you started running Mossingarden full-time?
I am still in the midst of it. It is good now as a hobby.
What goes inside each terrarium?
Materials that I source for, such as rocks, quality woods, as well as figurines, which I paint with colours most of the time so that they can fit into a scene that I am trying to portray within the jar. Every piece is different in a way, even though they may be similar. I create every piece with my hands, so all of them are my babies. Sometimes I would redo the pieces if I find them boring or imperfect.
What is the process of creating customised terrariums like?
I often ask [the customer] for the budget first. After which, I will invite the customer to browse through my website to pick a jar, before asking them about the themes they are interested in exploring or who the jar is for. I would then quote them depending on the theme and setting. I love customising pieces because I get to create something personalised. It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I receive praise from customers who like what I have created for them.
How does nature inspire you?
In a way, nature helps me to see things more creatively. When I was breeding bettas and guppies during my schooling days, I was really obsessed with their colours and genetics. I was even more inspired by aquascaping techniques – perhaps this plays a part in what I do now. The creation of therapeutic scenes by hand and seeing balance within a fish tank is amazing. This is where art and science blends.
How do you become better at what you do?
There is so much to learn from nature. Different climate produces a different variety of plants, and of course, different plants have different needs. Sometimes I learn from the aunties working at the nurseries. They have a lot of experience and can teach me more than what I can learn online. Of course, trial-and-error always helps me to learn.
Tell us about some of your favourite plants/landscapes?
My favourite plant will always be moss because of its rich variety and history – they are the first plant to conquer land. They are amazing because they seem to be able to appear on any surface.
Other favourites would be monsteras, ferns, ivy, venus fly traps, succulents or Japanese maple... there are too many. I don’t really have a favourite landscape. I find every landscape amazing, be it natural or artificial urban-scapes.
Do you struggle with the notion of ‘containing’ nature, and turning it into an art form?
There are certain types of plants that I would really like to put inside a terrarium, but because of its climate requirement and size, I cannot do so. There are some plants that are best suited to living in a pot rather than in a jar. They are an art form in their own natural state, I feel.
What has been your most heartening moment to date?
The best moment so far was to be able to go overseas and conduct terrarium workshops, or to create a giant installation for the opening of National Gallery Singapore.
What do you love most about what you do, and what matters to you?
I love being able to share what I know and to constantly learn. I use Mossingarden as an excuse to slow down. I like it when I can bring smile or evoke a sense of curiosity from the young or old, or when they see my creations and bring them home.
Photos by @colinchen.jpg
You can sign up for a Moss Terrarium 101 class with Charles via the link