Houseplant Chronicles: Wisdom From Terrarium Expert Ben Newell


Welcome to our exclusive interview series, where we have the privilege of delving into the world of indoor plants and gaining invaluable insights from esteemed houseplant professionals. Among them, we are thrilled to have the talented Ben, the creative force behind Worcester Terrariums, who has achieved remarkable global success this year. His captivating videos have garnered millions of views worldwide, even catching the attention and admiration of some famous faces who are now avid followers of his unique content.

Our journey with Ben began at RHS Chelsea, where his creativity and unwavering dedication played a pivotal role in securing a well-deserved gold medal for our team. Today, we have the pleasure of not only exploring his passion for plants but also gaining a glimpse into the fascinating world of content creation as seen through his discerning lens. 

Prepare to be inspired, informed, and utterly enriched as we unravel the secrets and expertise of these exceptional individuals who have truly made houseplants their specialty. And now, without further delay, let's hear from Ben as he shares his boundless enthusiasm for plants and the art of content creation. 

Running a small business ourselves, we are keen to know more about Worcester Terrariums' journey to where it is today, creating content consumed by millions and creating aesthetically pleasing, living biotopes.

2022 was a big year for me but a few things really stand out. Firstly, the Chelsea Flower Show. I’m forever grateful for this experience because I met so many people over the 5 days and their genuine interest in what I was doing was truly eye opening. It can be easy to get wrapped up in creating content and only interacting with people online so having that face to face experience with the public was important. This was the first time I properly did that and what a platform to do it on; the worlds most famous flower show! During that period, I was splitting my time between being a postman and running Worcester Terrariums as side business, and experiencing Chelsea was a huge moment and one I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I must say a huge thank you to yourself, Sarah, Ian and the guys at Soil Ninja for allowing me to be a part of the team.

Secondly, was my involvement with Great Ormond Street Hospital which has now become an ongoing relationship over the past 12 months. I worked with them at the Bloomsbury Festival in October 2022 and what was meant to be a few demos each day turned into 21 talks and demos to over 1000 children. This was another pivotal moment for me because it changed a big reason about why I do this. Working at the Bloomsbury Festival and seeing how genuinely fascinated the children were about these tiny ecosystems made me realise that this hobby can be a powerful way to get children interested in horticulture. The positive impacts plants have on our lives in undeniable.

I have experienced this first hand and continue to do so on a daily basis. Few things are more relaxing than putting on an album and dedicating some time to creating a miniature ecosystem. The combination of plants, creativity and bugs is a super power when it comes to managing my own mental health and I know this the case for other people too. I’ve had a lot of message from people saying that terrarium building has brought them out of dark places. Not everyone has access to a garden or even green spaces, so having a little slice of the rainforest in your home can provide a much needed sense of calmness and tranquility.

Alongside all of this, and this is something that often goes under the radar, is my Facebook group which now sits at 10,000 members. While this number might not match my other social channels, it’s full of highly dedicated people invested in terrarium building. We have members from all over the world that have been brought with the common interest of terrarium building, and it’s reaffirming to read their posts and interact with them. We average 30-40 new posts per day and the community is growing steadily.

What key factors led you to realise the increasing popularity of terrariums and identify the opportunity to focus on the business full-time?

The main influence in terms of going full time was the impact of having an agent. My friend Alessandro put me in touch with one and it has been instrumental in helping me drop my day job and focus on my my business full time. Since signing with them, I’ve worked with bigger brands like Disney, Marvel and Kraken Rum and there are some really exciting things in the future we have planned that I can’t announce just yet. Keep your eyes on this space!

Can you describe your creative process for developing content and engaging with your audience?

I create my best work when I’m happy and in a good place, mentally speaking, so it’s important to facilitate the things that help me achieve this. Eating well, exercising, being around good people and spending time with the people I love is what makes me happy and it’s no coincidence that I produce my best work when all these boxes are ticked.

In terms of creating content, I think it’s all about a good hook combined with story telling. It doesn’t always have to be like this but the videos that do best always tell some sort of story, whether it has dialogue or not.

Engaging with the audience is an interesting one and creators have different approaches to this. Answering every single DM can be difficult as there are so many but platforms like Patreon, Threads and specific Facebook groups make this easier and it’s a great way to give back to those who support you.

I have a background in music and I’m lucky to have had some wonderful teachers who have taught me some valuable lessons that not only apply to music, but the entirety of life. Andy Edwards is a musician who has played with huge prog bands like IQ and Frost, and has also worked with Robert Plant. He was instrumental in helping me turn my life around and I’ve learned so much from him. In one particular music history class, I remember hearing him speaking with a ferocious passion about Louis Armstrong and his impact on music and culture which totally resonated with me. I admired his dedication to practice and the level at which he played, and it made me realise that if I ever wanted to achieve anything in my life, I had to work extremely hard. 

What challenges have you faced as a creator, and how did you overcome them?

Imposter syndrome is a big one and that can be difficult to eradicate. I think we all experience it to some degree and I find that nothing helps more than talking about it. People naturally don’t want to impose on others but talking about your problems is so important and bottling things up only compounds them. It’s amazing what a 30 minute chat with a valued friend can do.

Focussing on metrics can have an adverse effect on your mental health. Of course, we all want to make content that resonates with as many people as possible, but not every video is going to go viral and that’s ok! Focusing on nurturing your existing audience is something I strongly advise creators do.

Are there any specific moments or milestones in your career that you are particularly proud of or that have had a significant impact on you?

A few years ago, the idea of doing a talk to a room full of people filled me with anxiety and I’m delighted that I’ve conquered this fear. Talking at the Malvern Spring Show, BBC Gardeners World Live, numerous horticultural societies and hosting a monthly workshop at my local garden centre shows how far I’ve come in terms of public speaking. Going from an anxiety riddled teenager to someone who is talking at big horticultural shows, alongside all the big horticultural names, is something I’m proud of.

I also can’t not mention the gold medal at Chelsea. Meeting the team, speaking with the public over the 5 days and seeing my horticultural heroes in person was something I’ll never forget. I take great pride in telling people I won a gold medal at Chelsea!

Another standout moment was working with Disney and Marvel. I couldn’t believe it when my agent called me and said they wanted to work with me! I actually had a terrible day so that phone call was the best remedy imaginable. Creating the video was a lot of fun but also gruelling at times. I was lucky to have my friends Haydn, Tom and Linas helping me film it which eased the burden. This sits among my greatest achievements but once it was over and everything settled, I felt a sense of emptiness.

When things are going well, I often think of this quote from the character Don Draper in the TV series MadMen: “Happiness is just a moment before you need more happiness”. I needed to create more moments like this and made a promise to myself that this was just the start.

How do you maintain authenticity and connection with your audience while dealing with the pressures of being in the public eye?

Being in the public eye is actually something I’ve enjoyed. I’m not on television but I do get recognised from time to time! It’s nice to interact with people in person and I’ve never had any negative experiences with this. In terms of maintaining authenticity, this might sound boring but I just try to be myself. I don’t pretend to know about things I don’t understand because people can see right through that, and I treat everyone kindly.

I also try to focus heavily on the things that make me unique! I love music and could talk endlessly about jazz. I studied guitar and got to a fairly decent level, though I could never make it as a musician. I went to India in 2011 and fell madly in love with the place and the people which led to 2 more trips and a wild obsession with Indian cooking! I can’t put into words just how interested I am in Indian cooking which likely stems from my obsession with eating. They may not be linked to terrarium building but being a content creator is more than just your field. It’s about you as a person and the more authentic you can be with your audience, the better.

Could you share some insights into Worcester Terrariums' ongoing innovation efforts? What are some recent advancements or developments in the field of terrariums that you are working on?

I’m glad you asked me this because I’m working on some really cool stuff! I think it’s important to keep things fresh so testing new ways of filming and different content ideas is important, rather than doing the same thing over and over. I’ve spent some time getting to know my camera, which has not been an easy task, and I think the video quality and content ideas have been better than before. I have a fascination with old video games and movies and I want to incorporate some of that into my future work. I’ve had good feedback on the recent videos I’ve made doing this, with the LEGO Jurassic Park video standing out in particular! That’s what I really love about this hobby; it opens up the opportunity to be creative in ways other sectors of horticulture don’t.

Thinking bigger (in terms of physical size), have you ever seen those living root bridges in Meghalaya? I want to recreate that in a terrarium using some flexible liana vines, tree fern fibres (that were taken directly from a tree ferns growing here in the UK), aquatic mosses and miniature epiphytes. The build will be a large paludarium with a running stream flowing underneath the living bridge. I have a Google doc full of hundreds of video ideas that I can’t wait to get through and show everyone!

Sustainability is an essential aspect of Worcester Terrariums, living biotopes that are sustainable over time. Could you elaborate on the sustainable practices that you follow?

One of the messages of our Chelsea display was about the misconception that the houseplant industry is green and sustainable, when in actual fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s important that I can be as sustainable as possible so I propagate as many plants as I can and use those in my builds. I don’t often buy plants anymore. The vast majority of materials I use come from companies with an emphasis on sustainability like Soil Ninja. The use of moss is a tricky subject and one that concerns me. I’m part of numerous terrarium groups on Facebook and I see people taking mosses and lichens from the wild which is highly problematic for numerous reasons. Mosses provide a habitat for many types of insects, molluscs and microfauna. They help to soak up rainfall, maintain moisture in the soil and keep conditions around them humid which enables other plants to thrive.

Terrestrial mosses are often slow growing and take many years to replenish so blindly taking them from the wild, with no idea if they’ll work in a terrarium is a big problem. I get my moss from two places; Moss Clerks in Scotland who only harvest from areas of woodland being felled for timber or property development, or aquatic moss suppliers like Tropica. Aquatic mosses are fast growing and easy to propagate making them a sustainable way to add moss to your terrarium. 

What are some common mistakes or misconceptions people have when making terrariums? How can these be avoided?

I go on about this a lot but get the substrate right and ensure the plants are getting enough light. You’d be amazed how many people stick a terrarium in a dark corner and wonder why it fails. Plants need light! I advise getting a light meter as this removes any ambiguity around how much light is needed. As a general rule, a minimum of 150 foot candles is necessary for most terrariums.

Watering is another common problem with people being overly generous when it comes to giving their terrariums a drink. Never water to a schedule and learn to observe the substrate; if it’s drier and lighter in colour it may need some water. If it’s darker and damp, leave it be.

What sets Worcester terrariums apart from other creators? How do you strive to stay ahead of the competition and maintain your position as the leading terrarium creator globally?

I played a lot of football as a child and have recently started playing again over the past few years and I can tell you that I’m competitive (which may surprise some people)! It’s so nice to see other creators doing well creating terrarium content and it’s important for the growth the hobby.

Healthy competition is a good thing and it keeps everyone on their toes. I feel that the content I make is unique which is reflected in the audience I’ve grown and the opportunities that are coming my way. For me, it’s really about keeping my foot on the gas and pushing forwards, trying new things and giving as much as I possibly can to the wonderful community. If I can do this, everything else should follow. 

What's been the most surprising thing you've learned personally or professionally from your time as a full-time YouTuber and creator?

For a long time I thought I was a failure in life because I didn’t excel academically and had mental health issues in my late teens and early 20’s. Embarking on this journey as a content creator, has shown me that I have something to give to the world and I’ve learned that I’m resilient and I’m capable of achieving great things. It can be strange talking about yourself and your practice but starting Worcester Terrariums has been the best decision of my life and I’ve learned a lot in the process.

In terms of a specific thing, I suppose that making engaging videos is hard and takes a lot of practice. Sometimes you think you have a wonderful idea, put hours of time into making the video and it bombs. Or, on the flip side, you can create a 6 second video of a frog sleeping under a leaf which is viewed millions of times. Content creation is a funny world.

And what are your biggest dreams for the year ahead? Or the next five years? (personal or business)

I want to continue to build this business. Each year has been an improvement on the last and in particular, the last 2 years have been better than I ever imagined. I plan to continue this trend and take Worcester Terrariums to the moon! Personally speaking, in the next 5 years I’d like to become a father.

What is your favourite creator working right now (any sector)?

I couldn’t choose one so here are a few.

Spicy Moustache
Ellen Mary Webster
The Plant Rescuer
The Urban Nemophilist
Leafy Street
The Bearded Plantaholic
Ben Askins
Gary Vee
Ixta Belfrage
Darcy Stokes
Aslan Pahari

Quickfire Round:

What is the greatest life hack for running a business while juggling a life?
Exercise as much as possible. It releases happy juices in your brain.

DIY task you ace?
Building flat pack furniture. I hate it but I’m especially good at it.

What's your favourite botanical garden?
The Singapore Botanic Garden.

What would you save first in a house fire (after family & pets)?
My guitar.

Do you have a favourite cocktail?
Old fashioned.   

What luxury would you take to a desert island?
A fridge (I’m assuming I have an electricity source).

Top Terrarium tip?
Make as many as you possibly can!

For more of an insight into Ben's work, make sure to follow him on Facebook Instagram and Youtube, and have a look at his website here.

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