South Street: New Business Uses Terrariums to Improve STEM Literacy

Holden Ohl grew up immersed in nature. His hometown of Narrowsburg, New York, has a 12,000-acre nature reserve and a 10-mile-wide Boy Scout camp. There were forests, rivers, and trails to discover and roam, making a lasting impact on the youth of the area.

Narrowsburg residents are deeply connected to this land and would fight long and hard for it. The town sits on the banks of the Delaware River and is a water source for New York City and protested a proposed pipeline installation that could contaminate the water sources nearby. Narrowsburg was also instrumental in New York’s ban on fracking in 2014, Ohl said.

“We felt like we had a duty to protect the land and the water that supplied so many people,” Ohl said.

This value of nature embedded itself into Ohl’s life — in more ways than one. Ohl is a biomedical sciences student at the University of the Sciences who connects to his roots through a discovered love of building terrariums.. 

“When I make terrariums, I’m simply recreating a lot of themes from my childhood,” Ohl said. 

This long-lasting love for terrarium-building has since evolved into much more.

Ohl is also a co-owner of Pretty Green Terrariums on 11th and South streets.

As someone who finds himself juggling being in school and running a business, he often has to answer to others.

“You don’t always have control of every aspect of your life,” Ohl said. “A terrarium is something you get to design. You get to create this whole little world. It’s very therapeutic and gives one a greater sense of control in their life.”

This past summer, Ohl and Jeremy Marion, Ohl’s boyfriend and business partner, opened a pop-up shop in West Philadelphia selling terrariums. Marion said despite the original intent for it to be a “summer thing,” the feedback and demand was astounding.

After peeking through the windows of buildings for sale on South Street, Marion was approached by a landlord. Soon after, on Aug. 2, 2019, Pretty Green Terrariums opened.

Marion always had an inkling he’d own a business after spending years working at restaurants. He feels lucky he and Ohl can now encourage awareness of their passions. This South Street location can impact the community while also attracting foot traffic of students, explorative Philadelphians, and tourists, Marion added.

Marion said Pretty Green Terrariums implemented a three price-point scale to give access for any customer. Items in the shop range from $5 to $800. Prices are based on the complexity of the terrarium, its makeup and the size of tanks, and plant type.

There are two different terrarium options at the shop. Customers can create their own or buy one premade by Ohl. Various tanks, mosses, bases, and plants are provided for the build-your-own experience. Ohl or Marion help with the construction and teach customers about the biology of terrariums and how the ecosystem functions.

“We don’t stuff things in jars and send them home,” Marion added.

The shop has more to it than terrariums and plants. Customers can come by and visualize the extensive science behind a distinct ecosystem. Ohl and Marion founded Pretty Green Terrariums as a way to increase STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) literacy among children and the community through encouraging individuals to approach complex problems and create solutions by relying on their understanding of STEM principles. 

“We’re not just about terrariums,” Ohl said. “Our foremost goal is every time you come to the shop, you see something new and you learn something new.”

In order to truly increase awareness about STEM literacy, the business sells locally sourced artisanal goods. By doing so, customers can learn about the backgrounds of artists and how their products were created sustainably and efficiently.

“Everything in the shop is supposed to be inspired by nature and through our products, we’re not only allowing a person to invite nature into their home, but also inspiring curiosity about the natural world,” Ohl added.

Ohl and Marion know not every artist can afford to open a physical location, and with a presence like Pretty Green Terrariums, artists from different backgrounds can reach a larger market.

Honey Rose Botanicals soaps, oils, and scrubs on display at Pretty Green Terrariums.

Andrea Rose Apice is one of the artists promoted at the shop. She founded Honey Rose Botanicals, which specializes in sustainable skin care and herbal remedies, seven years ago after discovering a lot of the products she used were packed with chemicals.

Apice made the decision to eliminate those chemicals from her routine and decided the best way to avoid harmful ingredients was to make her own. Now, her products are sold online and at pop-up events, and she has wholesale accounts across the country.

She knew Pretty Green Terrariums’ ethos and business model were similar to her own. 

“My main goal is to be sustainable in the ingredients I source and the packaging I put them in.”

Both Apice and Pretty Green Terrariums want to tip the scale from big business more in favor of smaller businesses.

“You can come over to our shop, see a picture of our artists, read their bio, know exactly who or what you’re supporting,” Ohl said. “You can buy into their story and put money back into the community versus … extracting resources and profiting off people.”

It’s the local business aspect that resonates with Apice.

“[Pretty Green Terrariums] is important because it’s giving back to the community,” Apice said. “It is supporting local artists who, especially in the fine arts world, really need a sense of community where they can sell their products and be supported.”

Jeremy Marion providing customers care instructors of a specific plant after it was purchased.

Despite being in the beginning stages, there are big dreams for the future of Pretty Green Terrariums. Ohl and Marion hope for the shop to be a beacon for residents and students, eventually becoming a community space for people to interact, learn and thrive. Marion would like to host events such as movies or poetry nights to connect attendees with the shop’s mission and one another.

To further consideration of the environment, Ohl plans to add large enclosures and fish tanks that represent different environments. Two possible ecosystems include a bog with carnivorous wetland plants native to Transylvania and mangroves from coastal regions.

The introduction of animals (like poison dart frogs, butterflies, and ladybugs) has also been in the works. This would not only attract the interests of children but allow for customers to see how each item of an ecosystem is important and interconnected..

“For little kids who live in the city, how often do they get to go to the zoo?” Ohl asked. “Every six months or once a year? When kids see animals in an enclosure, it’s a more static image. OK, I saw some birds. I saw a giraffe. I saw the bats. That’s a static image. They were discontinuous, they weren’t connected.”

The enclosures will be strategically placed — such as placing them lower to the ground — to catch the eye of children. Pretty Green Terrariums aims to improve an understanding of patterns and behaviors of animals, and how they interact with the factors of a specific environment, Ohl said.

“We’re more than a storefront,” Marion said. “Sales aren’t a forefront of who we are. We step it up and science the crap out of things and make something that lasts.”

Just like how Ohl’s childhood roots have continued to grow into adulthood.

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