Make A Coastal Village Aquatic Cliffside Terrarium

Hey everyone, even though things are still crazy with the whole pandemic thing… I do hope you all had a pleasant New Year. After taking a slight break from work myself, I am back strong with a new series I’ve wanted to attempt for a while.

Today I’m going to walk you through the process of making a coastal village cliffside terrarium with an aquatic overlook (that’s a really fancy way to describe a paludarium isn’t it). This will be the first of a couple of living dioramas I’m making for the Italiano series.

The Name’s Earth… Bantam.Earth!

To start this Italian collection off, I felt like it was very appropriate to work our way into the country quite literally… starting with the coast! This aqua terrarium pulls a lot of its inspiration from the Amalfi coast located just off the southeast edge of Italy. This vintage utopia really reminds me of an opening scene from a James bond movie for some reason, so you probably know where I’m going with the initial theme for the video essay.

Making A Mini Coastal Village Aquatic Terrarium

So for those of you that don’t know already, I generally don’t sell the vivariums I make. One of the many reasons is because it comes into direct conflict with other creators I network with on the web. I enjoy the educational aspect of terrarium making and provide guides like this one as templates for anyone looking for inspiration on unique ideas.

Something that I’ve begun to do lately, is inviting other creators into the developmental stage of these bantamariums to exchange fresh ideas and further push the boundaries of my own creativity. For this coastal village theme, I got an opportunity to do just that with Patricia Buzo over at Doodle Bird Terrariums.

It’s hard to not be familiar with her work if you’ve been around the terrarium space. Her insight, and artist eye for stunning terrarium decor is a huge part of why this build might look slightly different from my prior designs. I most certainly have to give credit to referencing some of my favorite pieces from her. Do check her out on Instagram at some point if you haven’t heard of her.



Miniature Fairy Village Decor Construction:

The preparation for these Mediterranean-themed buildings will be very similar to the models we’ve prepped in the past. Trim out the support tray the models are attached to. The church will be the only piece that will require glue for the dome. I don’t recommend you glue it, until after everything is painted though (I found it easier to paint).

For the colors, I chose to go with the multi-color houses that look similar to the buildings in Positano, Italy. I also wanted a slightly washed, pastel look that more or less blended the houses into the color scheme of the dragon stone. So a two-color process is needed to accomplish this look.

Starting with the base coat of colors, I painted all of the buildings either beige, red, or yellow. I was very careful not to paint the windows or doors as I wanted those to be left black. The roofs all got a solid coat of light grey except for the church, which got a dark red coat. For a nice touch of detail, I painted the dome part of the church green.

So far, the buildings don’t quite look as detailed as my finished images but you could honestly leave them like this if you’re content. For those wanting a bit more touch of detail, add additional colors to specific features on the architecture. I painted all the window/door seals white as well as outlined structure frames and gutter pipes with grey.

To tie it all together and make the most of the fine detail these models provide, dry rub medium brown across the surface of all the models. Light brown is a great substitute for dark-colored buildings.

Pretty cool how these models come to life with such little effort isn’t it… If you’re happy with everything, seal it and let it dry while we work on the enclosure.

Making A Coastal Cliffside terrarium decor:

Once the models are prepped, we can start to assemble the terrarium. Here’s where you can start to add your own personal touch of uniqueness. If I imagined Patricia’s take on a Coastal Cliffside terrarium, I see a more shallow build where more foliage is utilized and a narrow horizon of blue resin is used to illustrate the ocean.

This would make it on its own merit a true terrarium and easier to maintain the aesthetic beauty portrayed during its conception. For my style, I tend to lean towards taller vases where there’s room to combine a terrarium with aquatic features making it a paludarium. Any long-time viewer of knows I’m obsessed with paludaria and I tend to struggle not to end up with one whenever constructing either a terrarium or aquarium.

So let me show you my process and it starts with the 5 inch round vase I tend to use for most of my aqua terrariums. With a couple of cups of sand, I pour a substrate that’s about an inch and a half thick. This will make it easier to balance the hardscape as we figure out the arrangement.

With a pretty good understanding of geography, there are quite a few options one could consider for the hardscape aspect of this enclosure. I settled on dragon stone as its structure, color, and availability made it a perfect match with the existing cliffsides you’ll see in Southern Italy.

I really like the jagged edges this stone naturally has but finding a neat way to arrange them did prove to be a little challenging. Once I started to find a formation I liked, I shifted the glass continually to create a slope for the sand to fall around the rocks. The idea here is to create a natural look of sediment as if the rock is slowly transitioning into the sand.

Once the rocks are in position, I turn the vase around and fill the back with similar colored pebbles. This is going to create a base for the village and plants to rest on. In a way, this acts as a false bottom that helps keep the terrarium aspect of the enclosure completely separate from direct contact with water. It also provides aeration for the top substrate layer as well as locks the things in place since sand will gradually fall until leveled.

Once the base is formed with the pebble stones, an additional layer of sand and soil can be added to create the first layer of our terrarium substrate. The models are then placed in and arranged accordingly and clean water is added to the setup.

While finishing off the substrate layer, I noticed a few of the pebbles had fallen into the foreground area. There was a small gap between the dragon stones around the middle of the hardscape that I didn’t notice at first. Since the gravel worked itself into interlocking with that gap, I decided to leave it as it was. It now appeared to look like an unintentional cave formed underwater which I thought was a neat little feature to have in this micro scape.

Coastal Cliffside Terrarium Plants

I decided to use sheet moss as my main choice of plant for this enclosure. It had been a while since I’ve used this type of moss and I felt like it would look really good for this setup. I slowly placed small amounts around the houses until the substrate was no longer visible.

For tighter areas where I wanted to add diversity with the foilage, Phoenix moss is placed. I really like working with this type of moss because of its versatility above ground as well as underwater.

Next, little strings of java moss are placed around the cliff edges to further enhance the natural look of a real place. As a final addition to the flora list, Bacopa Sp. is placed in areas between the rock and sand.

Coastal Terrarium Animals

From the very beginning of this build, I had my mindset on keeping things simple with one or two snails. To keep the 007 theme for this coastal village terrarium going, I’ve decided an assassin snail will take refuge here. These guys are extremely interesting microfauna to keep and if you’re interested in seeing them in action, be sure to follow my social media!

Mini Cliffside Village Terrarium Care

As with most of my miniature terrariums, this tank should do well on its own. As things grow in, the natural take over will only further enhance the scenery. If you haven’t already, mist down the scape and seal it with a little plastic wrap. Open it every once in a while to allow fresh air to circulate.

Water changes will have to be done regularly (once or twice a month) since the water is stagnant and doesn’t have mechanical filtration. Outside of that, I will through feeder snails into the paludarium every once in a while for our assassin snail to make quick work of.

Final Thoughts

This is pretty much everything needed to reproduce one of these coastal village aquatic terrariums for yourself. I really hope you guys like the diverse take on this new enclosure and I look forward to showing you what’s next for the Italiano Series. See you in the next one!

If you’re interested in seeing updates on how this as well as other enclosures progress follow me on social media. If you’d like to get your tall tweezers on one of these limited edition vivarium decors yourself, check them out in our shop.

Coastal Mediterranean Village Decor
Roman Colosseum Ruins Decor
Pompeii Ruins (Temple of Apollo) Decor
Shinto Shrine Decor Set

More In Make:

Making A Shinto Kami Jungle Terrarium
Make A Tōrō Lamp Rock Garden Terrarium
Making A Traditional Japanese Village Paludarium