Life Video·Houseplanted

Inside an Ottawa home that's covered in tropical and carnivorous plants

Emma Terrell, aka @theurbanbotanist, aims to bring the outdoors in with her vibrant collection of 120 plants.

Emma Terrell, aka @theurbanbotanist, aims to bring the outdoors in with her vibrant collection of 120 plants

Houseplanted is a bi-weekly series where folks with extraordinary houseplant collections invite us inside their homes for a tour of their verdant spaces and to share tips and inspiration for keeping nature alive inside. 

Emma Terrell, also known as @theurbanbotanist, is a designer, online plant educator and nature-lover who aims to make her Ottawa home feel as much like the outdoors as possible. In this episode of Houseplanted, we explore every corner of Emma's lush plant collection, which is filled with monsteras, calatheas, carnivorous plants and more. Plus, she shares her tips for growing and propagating plants at home.

Check out the video, then scroll down to learn more about Emma, her plants and her passion for praying mantises.

​​This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about your home.

I live in Ottawa, the same city I was born in. My home is nestled beside the Ottawa greenbelt, surrounded by Nature Conservancy of Canada trails and forests. I feel extremely grateful for the location of my house and its accessibility to nature. 

How many plants are in your collection and how long have you been at it?

I have approximately 120 houseplants in my collection, and it really is ever-changing. I've been collecting and growing my plant family for about seven years now. 

What was your very first plant?

The very first plant that really catalyzed my obsession with houseplants and horticulture was a Black Olive Bonsai.  I think bonsai tends to have that effect on people. It really piques your interest and requires you to be more present, intentional and interactive with your plants. Bonsai isn't like other houseplants where you can water and leave to grow. You have to constantly be engaging with it, pruning, trimming, wiring and training. It was what really lit a spark in me to grow my plant collection, and knowledge, as well as to share my passion with a larger audience.

Explain your overall relationship to your plant collection.

I can't imagine my space or lifestyle without them. They breathe life into my space and my daily routine, and really help to tether me to my mornings, which is when I spend the most time tending to my plants.

Describe the emotional connection you have with your plants. How do they make you feel?

My plants give me purpose, quite simply.  [They're] part of my identity, especially as "The Urban Botanist". Plants also give me a daily connection to nature. They truly excite me… a new leaf unfurling, a flower blooming or a new stalk protruding from the soil. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own houseplant collection

Start small. Don't overwhelm yourself with the fancy and expensive plants because you will likely end up let down and frustrated. Support local nurseries; they have the best selection and the best staff on site to point you in the right direction. Lastly, follow me or other house plant creators online! Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube are all endless pits of free knowledge! 

What's the most important rule or practice you follow when caring for your plants?

Never overwater, and never bring home a new plant and immediately introduce it to the rest. I have made that mistake many times. You want to quarantine your plants for a week or two to ensure that they are pest- and disease-free, and you can avoid spreading said pests or diseases to the rest of your collection.

Have you developed any unconventional methods or techniques for growing and nurturing your plants?

One thing that I've done over the past few years with my outdoor gardens is hatch and release baby praying mantises. Each year, I buy oothecae or mantis egg sacs, with each sac containing up to 100 baby praying mantis insects. I hatch them in the spring — usually in my house, for the fun of it — and then release them into my gardens as beneficial bugs and an alternative to using chemical pesticides. These praying mantises are not invasive, so they are not damaging or threatening to our ecosystems. They are also SO cool to watch hatch and grow into full-sized adults. It has become an incredibly enjoyable part of my spring, summer and fall, watching these baby mantises grow into huge adults stalking their prey among my lilac and cannabis bushes. They really are just extraordinary insects, apex predators and masters of camouflage.

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