Emma Terrell of The Urban Botanist provides terrarium workshops to educate others about the world of botany in an urban setting. We chatted with Emma about how to how to discover one’s green thumb—and, if you would like to learn more about her approach to gardening, head to the Vancouver Sun Gardeners’ School stage at the upcoming BC Home + Garden Show happening March 16 to 19, 2023, at BC Stadium Place. Carissa will be presenting on Saturday, March 18 at 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. Come say hello! —Vita Daily
Hi Emma! Tell us a bit about yourself to start.
My name is Emma Terrell. I am a solo female entrepreneur that started my company, The Urban Botanist, about six years ago as a side hustle. As an avid nature enthusiast, adventurer and storyteller, with a huge passion for environmental conservation, I am on the go a lot and have just as many interests to go with it! I have collected and curated my own extensive insect collection; filmed, wrote and produced a nature series on YouTube; and this year, I am launching a podcast. I go by the online alias as The Urban Botanist.
At this year’s BC Home + Garden Show, you’ll be speaking on the Vancouver Sun Gardeners’ School stage about the power of plants. Can you tell us more about how you help others easily and effortlessly transform their interior space.
You can expect to hear some of my personal stories with my plant journey on stage including how I went from having zero to over 150 house plants in my space and how to do so effortlessly. I will be sharing my top tips and tricks for keeping your house plants alive, the best beginner plants and how to shop on a budget to not break the bank. I will literally be telling you how to grow your plant collection for free as well. Other topics I will be discussing are zero-maintenance green walls that are suitable for absolutely all shapes, sizes and budgets of homes, as well as moss walls.
You have a really compelling story on how plants led you to recreate yourself and your career. Can you tell us a bit about that journey?
This side hustle went from being a creative outlet and a way of connecting with nature, to now a seven figure, seven employee full-time business that I run myself! My background is in biology. I studied entomology (the study of insects) for eight years at Carleton University in Ottawa, which is where I grew up. While trying to juggle school, with a full-time job as a flight attendant, social life, etc., I was feeling really starved for that connection with nature, which is what got me into the hobby of making terrariums. I was so enamored by their existence, how a tiny ecosystem could thrive and grow, captured inside of a glass vessel. I started making more and more of them, gifting them to friends and family which eventually ended up with people wanting to buy them. Then ultimately, learn how they work and make their own. This led me to starting “Plant Night” in my city and the cities that I flew to, growing my audience of people who could sign-up and come have a night out and learn all about plants, ecosystems and more, while building their own creative garden under glass. I learned how much I loved educating my community on the importance of engaging with nature regularly, while empowering and inspiring them to grow their green thumbs. This quickly came to a halt, as did my flying career when the pandemic hit. Thankfully, I was in the process of developing a DIY box experience for my workshops, and was able to scale that business to where it is today. I now offer virtual and in person corporate team building, staff appreciation and workshops that teach you all about the Power of Plants and how to Pause with your Plants on a regular basis. I also design, fabricate and install vertical green moss walls, and enjoy visiting far and distant places in the world to discover fascinating frogs, bugs, plants and other animals.
For those readers intimidated to start or feel like they just don’t have a green thumb. Will you share where they can start?
For people who are just getting started, I think that all you really need is a grain of passion or interest to get into the hobby of indoor horticulture. You don’t need a university degree in biology or years of experience in horticulture, you just need to start. There are so many online resources, my own platforms included, that can help to point you in the right direction. Find some of your favourite creators on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram to follow for regular tips. You can also check me out at @theurbanbotanist for example. I think the best way to start is to get on YouTube and search houseplants for beginners, or head to your local nursery where you can speak with experts in-person about what your houseplant goals are and whether you are someone who is away a lot. You might be best suited with low maintenance cacti or succulents that need minimal watering. Another question you might ask is whether you work from home and want some plants that you can more regularly engage with. Maybe more humidity or moisture loving plants are better for you. Don’t shop at big box stores like Home Depot or Canadian Tire for plants if you’re new to the game. Usually the staff aren’t experts as they would be in a nursery, and a lot of the times these plants come with pests and diseases so you aren’t really setting yourself up for success. Get yourself some good, high grade potting soil. I recommend ProMix, healthy plants, some basic tools like shears and a shovel, some insecticidal soap like Safers, and you’re basically set to get started on being a plant parent!
Could you share a simple DIY guide so that we can get started?
One of my favourites to share is for a DIY guide to making your own terrarium:
- Gather your materials: a clear glass container that can hold soil and a few plants (ideally unsealed glass), potting soil, small succulents or cacti, decorative rocks or shells, and some preserved or decorative moss.
- Start by adding a 1-2″ thick layer of small rocks at the bottom of your container. This will help with drainage at the bottom of your glass container.
- Next, add a layer of potting soil on top of the rocks. Potting soil should be selected to best suit your plants inside your terrarium. Cactus or tropical grade soil is perfect for succulents.
- Carefully remove your succulents from their containers and place them into the soil.
- Finally, decorate your terrarium. You really want to bring it to life with added stones, driftwood, and even figurines!
- Make sure to water your terrarium straight away, and place your terrarium in a spot that is exposed to indirect sunlight and enjoy!