Durham couple Seana and Yair Monley Rodriguez sell terrariums, cacti via their online store, Tierra Sol Studio
Cacti lined the front porch like prickly soldiers. Even more cacti in handmade pots spread across the living room mantel. The tidy, plant-filled Durham home offers cheerful evidence of the homeowners’ Etsy shop, Tierra Sol Studio.
Seana and Yair Monley Rodriguez run the company, with Seana making the pottery and running the online shop and Yair brainstorming the plant creations. After starting out in 2014 making only terrariums, they have branched out into other things, such as planters, ceramic cacti and floral lockets.
The couple met while Latin dancing in Raleigh at the end of 2010. (“I made him dance with me,” Seana says. “He’s a little bit shy.”) Seana, 32, originally from Tarpon Springs, Fla., moved to Durham in high school. Yair, 26, moved to Cary in middle school from Veracruz, Mexico. They started dating in 2011, got married a year later and have a 6-month-old son, Oliver.
Tierra Sol started with Seana’s inability to keep plants alive. She was so busy working on her doctorate in cultural anthropology at UNC-Chapel Hill that she kept killing all of her houseplants. In fact, Seana says she still has a hard time with houseplants. But then she found a piece of moss in the parking lot of their apartment complex. Terrariums were becoming popular and she decided to try her hand at them.
Soon, it became a hobby, not only for her but for him.
“We kept making terrariums every time I wanted to take a writing break. And then we had too many terrariums, so people started suggesting that we start to sell them, which I thought was really crazy,” Seana says. In the spring of 2014, they set up shop at their market, Pittsboro’s First Sunday.
“It’s really apparent that plant care is a lost art. It’s something my grandma knows how to do, but it’s something that I was never taught how to do. My mom doesn’t know how to take care of plants,” Seana says. “Every single person who comes into our booth at markets says, ‘I kill everything.’ Every single person – it’s the weirdest thing. And everyone loves plants.”
Their new business involved a lot of trial and error. “We started experimenting a lot with different mosses and all that kind of stuff to make sure that things were going to stay alive for a really long time,” Yair says. On Instagram, their tagline is “terrariums and handmade ceramic planters and cacti designed for plant killers.” And they came to that through actually killing plants themselves – not meaning to – but because they didn’t have the appropriate knowledge to keep them alive.
This realization made them see that plant care was something to seriously explore, especially in the realm of hard-to-kill plants. Because when it comes to succulents, Seana notes, “It’s a myth that all succulents, which include cacti, are easy to keep alive and that people should be able to keep them alive.” Between Seana becoming pregnant, her research and travel for her doctoral studies into drug trafficking in Latin America and becoming new parents, they had plenty of opportunities to see which plants survive with little care.
Their business got a boost last fall when BuzzFeed included one of their planters in a piece called “25 Magical Unicorn Things You Need In Your Life.”
Friend Kristin Austin, owner of Bird + Beau, says the BuzzFeed mention helped: “Her Etsy shop has exploded.” And the couple’s emphasis on simplicity has aided their success. “Seana’s eye for combining form and function so organically results in a simply fresh aesthetic,” Austin said. “What may have otherwise been just a potted plant is instead a happy addition to the home!”
About that success, Seana says, “It’s the best feeling ever.” She loves when customers return to tell them, ‘Oh, I’ve had my plants for two years! They’re still alive, I can’t believe it. You told me I wouldn’t kill it and I haven’t.’”
Betsy Greer is a Durham-based writer who writes about craft and activism at craftivism.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where To Buy
Prices range from $5-80