This Month’s Featured Article

Plant and Sip to Soothe the Soul

By Published On: May 1st, 2024

It was a Tuesday night in March, before daylight saving time, so it was dark at 6 pm as I headed for the Plant & Sip event in downtown Troy, NY. And it was cold the way it can be in March. But when I stepped into the room where the event was being held, there was a sensation of sunshine and life. 

At tables scattered around the room were groups of two, four, and six people, chatting and sipping in anticipation of planting. At each person’s spot was a colorful tray with the supplies that would be needed to create a terrarium: a couple of small plants, a container of fine gravel, another of potting soil, the glass globe-shaped terrarium, and a clear set of instructions for making the piece and also for caring for it. In the center of each table was an aquarium with compartments of decorative materials: pebbles, shells, fake grasses, and flowers. The displays were organized and inviting. 

On fertile ground

At the front of the room was the source of the sunshine, Mari V. Mari is the owner of The Planter on Remsen Street in Cohoes, NY, and the creator of the Plant & Sip terrarium-building workshops she conducts at her store and at other places in the Capital Region. I was at the one being held at Bard & Baker Board Game Café in Troy, NY, a popular hang-out with a menu as eclectic as the variety of games people can come in and play. The place was packed, so it was good Mari’s workshop was in a private side room.

Mari was there with her children, Josh and Aliah, who I later learned were both five years old though they were born ten months apart. They were clearly practiced at helping their mom with the workshops because they knew just what to do when, and as the terrariums were being built by the 20 or so of us in the room that night, they quietly and contentedly busied themselves with games on a table while mom did her thing.

The class started with Mari explaining what the plants were and why she chose them for us. She spoke about their care and keeping the way you’d explain to someone how to care for a beloved pet. “You have a strawberry begonia and a fern,” she said. “When you get them home in the terrarium, remember that they like an environment that is as tropical as possible. These plants thrive on heat and moisture,” she explained, “and while they like light, direct sunlight will dry them out, so indirect light is best. A bathroom is usually a good place for them, because of the moisture from the shower.” 

Mari told us what to look for to keep the plants happy and healthy, and there was a QR code on the instruction sheet she provided for more detailed information. It was time to build our terrariums.

Getting started

From the front of the room Mari demonstrated how to position the ground layer in the terrarium so that the plants would be supported for maximum visibility at the front of the container. Then we added potting soil, and she came around to show us how to carefully transition the plants from the tiny containers they were in to the terrariums. They were delicate but hardy, and it was somewhat of a challenge to settle them so that their roots were in the right place. 

Once the two featured plants were in place, we were given the go-ahead to play with any and all of the materials that would decorate the terrarium. This was where things got creative, as each person chose things that most appealed to them. My tablemates and I had lots of conversation about textures and colors and arrangements – and also about ourselves and our lives, what brought us there that night, and what we had in mind for our terrariums when we got home. I sat with Emily, Sarah, and Jack. It was Sarah’s birthday, and the event was a surprise gift from Jack. Emily was going to come with a friend who had to cancel at the last minute. Getting to know them a bit was an added bonus to the evening. 

Care and keeping

The group asked lots of questions about how and how much to water the plants, and Mari’s answers were practical and to the point, but also charming. “Once the top layer turns light brown, give them some more water,” she said, adding, “The plants will talk to you. They do in my shop all the time.” 

As people started to trickle out with their terrariums, Josh and Aliah happily set about collecting the materials left on the tables. I had a chance to chat with Mari about what she does and why. She moved back to the Capital Region from Florida to be closer to family. She was taking care of her kids and getting adjusted and situated. She explained that when she was growing up in upstate New York, her grandparents had big gardens, and she got interested in plants by spending time there. When she came back to the region, she tapped into those roots. “I started planting terrariums as a stress reliever and hobby,” she said, “and that turned into doing pop-ups as plant and sips. The plant store became available on Remsen Street in Cohoes, and it was a way to bring everyone together who was interested in creating a special place there. It’s not just a plant store, it’s also where we hold workshops and other special events.” 

The pop-ups give her an opportunity to work with other local businesses to bring a special offering to their places. She goes everywhere from craft beverage producers to restaurants to country clubs. She does private parties, too. She works with air plants, succulents, cacti, and tropical plants, and she mixes and matches the kinds of arrangements she chooses to do at the pop-ups so there’s always something new. 

When you love what you do

When I ask Mari what her favorite part is she stops to consider, then says, “It’s all pretty neat. Meeting new people through the plants and seeing the different arrangements they come up with is really fun for me.” 

I carefully put my terrarium in its box to carry it back to my apartment in Troy. When I took it out to put it on a shelf in the bathroom next to another plant that seems to benefit from the warmth and moisture from that small space, I turned the opening toward me and told them I hoped they’d be happy here. I told them Mari said they would talk to me if they needed anything. So far, so good. •

Check out Mari’s line-up of workshops, events, and pop-ups on her website, Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, too.