No Matter How Many Plants You’ve Killed, You Can Keep This Store’s Terrariums Going

Bella Vista’s Pretty Green Terrariums stocks self-sustaining creations that you don’t have to water more than twice a year.


Pretty Green Terrariums’ low-maintenance environments make it easy for anyone to be a plant owner. / Photograph courtesy of Pretty Green Terrariums

Getting outside almost seems like a luxury these days: In a recent global survey known as the Indoor Generation Report, 66 percent of people reported spending at least 15 hours a day inside. It’s a shame, considering that immersing yourself in nature can help reduce your stress and improve both your productivity and your self-confidence.

Holden Ohl knows all about the benefits of taking a walk through the woods. He grew up on a nature reserve in upstate New York, 15 minutes from the site of Woodstock, and has always been fascinated by the flora around him. Yet he understands that many in this cubicle economy don’t have time to head outside on a regular basis.

That’s why the Philly transplant, who’s studying biomedical sciences at the University of the Sciences, opened Pretty Green Terrariums with Jeremy Marion, the business brains of the operation, in August. The store strives to introduce more folks to indoor plants — and how populating your rowhouse with them can produce the same mental boosts as a nature hike

What differentiates Pretty Green from the many other plant stores in Philly is primarily the easy-to-care-for aspect of its greenery. Having struggled to keep common houseplants alive himself, Ohl gives each plant in the store a stamp of approval only if it doesn’t require watering more than once a week.

That includes the terrariums: glass structures that operate as self-sustaining greenhouses, complete with nitrogen-fixing bacteria (which convert nitrogen gas into compounds that plants can absorb), pill bugs to eat any decomposed plant matter, and tiny, six-legged creatures called springtails that will eat any mold that pops up. They require watering once or twice a year at most. “I think a lot of people… relate to that,” Ohl says of hectic millennial schedules. “You see all the time where young people on the go are having a hard time with meal prepping or just cooking for themselves, let alone having to take care of plants.”

Pretty Green Terrariums offers walk-ins for DIY bioactive terrarium set-ups, including all of the necessary plants, soil, and microscopic creepy-crawlies, starting at $40. During the first month, you’ll need to pay a little more attention to your mini ecosystem and help it find its humidity equilibrium by opening it up when the glass becomes foggy. After that, you can pretty much leave it alone.

And these plant havens basically last forever. Ohl keeps in touch with several kids who started their own bio-active masterpieces years ago, with his help, and the terrariums are still going strong. He says new organisms, like mushrooms, pop up all the time, so you’ll never know what to expect — besides zero stress.