Planting The Seed: How Terracotta Herbs Began

Back in early 2020, I travelled with a few others to my friend Chris's flat in Surbiton, south of London, for breakfast and to see his new place.

January 2020: remember the good old days? This was in more peaceful times, when a strange new flu-like bug seemed like a temporary problem for a far corner of the world, rather than something that would lead to a massive run on toilet roll supply.

I couldn't help noticing that, alongside some fancy bathroom tiles and excellent kitchen extractor fan, Chris's place was full of terracotta pots.

On the window sills, side tables, in corners on the floor - like a modern-day Marcus Aurelius, Chris seemed to have adopted wholesale that ancient Roman fascination with all things terracotta.

Above: pots overflowing from one of Chris's window sills


Chris, I'm aware, is an intensely practical and rational guy, so I knew his construction of terracotta-world had to be more than mere coincidence.

I asked him about this, and sure enough, Chris had done his background research.

He'd initially set out with the goal of growing his own herbs for cooking, whether directly from seeds, or repotting the ones you get in temporary plastic pots from the supermarkets (basil, dill, coriander and the like).

The idea of growing herbs appealed to both of us: you get a bit of greenery and a nice smell, but they're also practical because you can drop them into your cooking and impress the girlfriend by claiming to have "seen it on Jamie Oliver".

Terracotta pots, he found, were quite suited to the purpose of growing herbs, for a few reasons.

Firstly, the material's breathable. It absorbs excess water and releases moisture back into the soil over time. So you don't actually need to worry about exact quantities when watering the herbs, unlike with plastic pots which drench the soil.

To be honest, he'd pretty much persuaded me by this point alone, give my tendency to turn my living room plants into mini Saharan deserts subjected to the occasional Noah's floods.

Secondly, terracotta is a timeless style. It's literally been around for thousands of years and is still in fashion. If it was good enough for the ancients, then the earthy look works for a three-bed flat without needing to consult the Grand Designs presenters for a second opinion.

Chris described terracotta pots as being "like £10 Casio watches: the technology doesn't change for decades, it does the job really well and you never need to spend time finding an alternative."

His choice of terracotta pots for grow-your-own herbs made sense to me by now, and I'm sure good old Marcus Aurelius would have been pleased.

What didn't make sense, it turned out, was the faffy process of actually getting terracotta pots and setting up your little herb-nursery: more 'ancient-Roman' than '2020 pre-pandemic'.

It's hard to order terracotta pots online, because sellers generally don't package them properly and they arrive broken, so most reviews are terrible. They're expensive, and it's surprisingly hard to find a basic, medium-size terracotta pot.

Chris had to drive to a garden centre to get the pots (a pain), and while there, wanted to pick up some soil. Except the only option was to buy a huge bag of compost, half of which he didn't need.

You know what they say about how everyday problems are the source of great new businesses?

Above: Chris's early terracotta experiments


Not long after that January terracotta breakfast, the Covid-19 pandemic reached Britain, and by the summer, we were still in this national lockdown situation. For some reason, Chris decided this was the perfect moment to figure out how to provide his terracotta herbs idea for other people - and make it as easy as possible for them, without the hassle he had to go through.

I say 'for some reason', because although it makes sense that people in lockdown might be open to new domestic activities like growing their own herbs in fancy pots, it's not at all clear to most people that 'start a business' is something they'd decide to book into the Google calendar next door to 'survive the pandemic recession'.

Good on Chris, I say. To be fair, he was suddenly spending a lot of time at home, like all of us, missed having a garden, and was enjoying cultivating his herbs, so the step to assuming that others might appreciate some help with this wasn't illogical.

Chris partnered up with our mutual friend Ernesto, also at the breakfast that day back in January, and the Terracotta Herbs Kit was born.

I initially watched from the side-lines, while giving advice based on my own experiences running an ecommerce business. But as the demands of Chris's software project, Setyl, increased, I was delighted to be invited to join the Terracotta Herbs Company and continue the project with Ernesto starting in the autumn.

I personally love hearing the origin stories of business ideas, so I hope this one's been interesting to you - there's more to come in part 2.

We'll see how things turn out, but I think there's something quite encouraging about the idea that despite a global pandemic raging around us, little business ideas that help people do simple things like growing their own herbs in solid pots at home can get going.

And now that Chris, Ernesto and me are all sprinkling homegrown herbs into our cooking, I'm pleased to say that we've found at least a few true fans of this initiative: our romantic partners keep demanding more marinara spaghetti.



Anita Mottram

Loved reading your story…cant wait for my terracotta herbs to arrive.


Glad you enjoyed reading, and thanks for the orders Liga! Hope they fit well in your place.


An amazing story and a fascinating product! Will be placing an order shortly :)

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