It’s Friday evening on Gloucester Road, the rush-hour traffic dying down and the bars filling with post-work drinkers having their first pint of the weekend. Inside the calm space of Kiln Workshop, tucked away up a side-street towards St Andrew’s Park, the cork pops from a bottle of prosecco and Robi Moore, founder of LOOF Terrariums, ferries in the last bit of greenery from Wild Leaf next door for her first ever workshop.
One wooden bench is covered with bags of gravel, empty angular glass terrariums, moss, seedling pots and trays of tiny plants in different hues, some trailing and others with buoyant leaves. Bigger plants spill from the tables and shelves and a set of Robi’s finished terrariums, including a huge one the size of a fish tank, sit on the windowsill to catch the last of the evening light.
Robi stumbled across terrariums around two years ago, while visiting Amsterdam. “We saw these really cute one in this secluded florist that we just fell upon. I knew I’d love one for the flat but we couldn’t ever find the florist again,” she explains to the four of us who have assembled for the workshop, seated on benches with a green goodie bag and set of tools marking each place.
Back in Bristol, Robi struggled to find anywhere that sold what she was looking for, so with the encouragement of her boyfriend she began to research terrariums and create them herself. “At that time I was a bit of a plant killer,” Robi laughs. “I wasn’t very good, especially with tropical plants – anything with foliage just seemed to die. I wanted to do cacti and succulents, so I started with them. It was slow progress reading up about the plants used in terrariums and the history of them but it just sparked this little interest in me.
“I was going through a bad time mentally at the time as well, and I just found it was nice to have something relaxing to take my mind off things. When I was going through a really rough patch, plants really helped me, and they still are helping me.” There are understanding nods around the room: this might be Robi’s first ever workshop, but she’s managed to create an atmosphere that is completely supportive and low-pressure before we’ve even got stuck in to the task at hand.
Robi runs through a brief history of terrariums, including the Victorians’ obsession with fern-hunting in the belief it would improve their mental health and virility, and then begins to demonstrate the first stages of building up the layers of gravel, activated charcoal, moss and compost that will allow the terrarium to flourish. She works methodically and with care, smoothing the layers with the back of her hand and explaining the process as she goes before handing the gravel over – along with delicious botanical cupcakes from Pearly King Cakes to keep our strength up – and we get started on our creations.
“I’ve got a few of the first terrariums I ever made and they are still thriving – they’re so happy. One I gave to my parents has just gone wild!” Robi says. She began to sell her creations at markets in the autumn of 2016, and from there her business was born. “It’s opened me up creatively, and I’ve been able to explore different avenues including making a really big moss wall for Harbour & Browns and plantscaping for Harvey Nichols.
“I’ve also started working at Wild Leaf and collaborating with the owner, Tya Shannon. I remember walking past when she was painting the shop and getting really excited because there wasn’t anything like it in that part of Bristol. I used to spend all my spare time in there just surrounded by the plants, and a few months ago Tya got me on board. She and I are really helping each other to bloom – sorry, that’s a plant pun,” Robi says, breaking into giggles – “sometimes they just come out because I talk about plants constantly.”
Tya is on hand at the workshop, chipping in with useful information about which plants will work best in the terrariums, and what makes the compost we’re adding to the terrariums so effective (worm castings, apparently). She and Robi use their expert knowledge and obvious adoration of plants to help everyone to select two or three little plants to fit into the terrariums, and we get our fingers deep into the compost to place them in their new homes.
After agonising decisions about how best to balance textures and height, the terrariums are beginning to come together. Despite all using the same materials, everyone’s creations look completely different – some manicured and symmetrical with expertly-layered gravel; others wild tumbling jungles bursting with moss and greenery. The final touches are a couple of pebbles and a thin top layer of gravel followed by a generous squirt of water from a pipette in each goodie bag, which also contains information about caring for the terrarium.
“It’s made me want to learn again – that’s the fun thing about it,” Robi, who grew up in Clevedon, says of her new-found love for all things green. “Plants are so fascinating. I turn into such a child, especially now it’s growing season, when I see the leaves are unfurling on my plants. Even at work I get really carried away when I see something flowering in the shop.
“Everyone has such a busy lifestyle and you do just need to take that step back and breathe in the air and relax a little bit, and I think that plants really help with that. I do my morning and evening ritual where I go around my plants and check the soil, see that they are happy, and give the tropical ones a mist. I love walking into spaces that have plants because it does just bring me joy.”
LOOF Terrariums’ next tropical terrarium workshop takes place on Friday, May 4 2018 and costs £60 per person, with complimentary refreshments and a terrarium to take home. To book or find out more, visit www.loofterrariums.com/workshops