#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, How-to, Plant Care, Plant History, Plant of The Month, Style Tips

Plant Care 101: No Green Thumb Required

February 13, 2017

Learning a new skill is a proven, and positive, way to fight the winter blues. Having something new to concentrate on and look forward to can stimulate your mind and give you greater pleasure in everyday life. And we could all use a little bit more ‘happy’ this winter, right?

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With that in mind, we’re sharing our team’s “top ten” houseplant tips with you below. These general tips were compiled with the thought in mind that it’s not a green thumb you’re lacking – but a starting point with concrete suggestions in plain english that you can easily digest and follow.

Not only will learning to pick and care for the perfect plants be therapeutic this winter, but so will the plants themselves. Plants have been proven to boost moods, increase creativity and productivity, convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, and naturally filter our indoor air of harmful toxins.

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OUR TOP TEN PLANT CARE TIPS

1 – Pick your plant based on your light

Our #1 rule of thumb is to determine the amount of sunlight your space receives, and to choose your plant accordingly! If you’re not sure just by looking – start by figuring out which direction your windows face. If there’s something outside your window – a large tree or building, for example – that could obstruct sunlight, make sure to take that into consideration, too. Generally speaking:

South­‐facing windows = bright light

East/West­‐facing windows = moderate light

North­‐facing windows = low light

Remember that while nearly all plants prefer bright light – be careful to protect them from intense direct sun. If the summer sun is intense enough to burn your skin, it’s certainly too much for your plant’s leaves! To protect your plants from burning, draw a sheer curtain during the day or move them a foot or two away from the window.

2 – Be mindful of your social life

Be sure to consider your daily schedule, travel frequency, and general forgetfulness (nothing to be ashamed about!) while you decide on a plant. If your absent-mindedness or crazy work schedule is what stands in the way of plant ownership – pick a plant that thrives from neglect. For example – if you have bright light, try a low maintenance succulent or cactus; if you have low light, try a low maintenance snake plant or ZZ plant.

3 – It is better to underwater, than to overwater

Beware of over-watering; it’s the easiest way to kill a plant! You may be tempted to water your plant on a strict schedule, but the best thing to do is to water it only when needed. Always check the soil first before giving it a drink. 

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Keep in mind that environmental and seasonal changes can throw your plant’s watering schedule off. For example – plants need less water in the winter, when they’re growing slower, days are shorter, and light is less intense. But if you’re blasting your heater… their soil might dry out quicker, and they might need more. A telltale sign your plant is past due for a watering? Wilting leaves or soil pulling away from the sides of the planter. If the soil is darker in color and sticks to your finger, your plant should be fine for the time being.

P.S. Always use tepid water to water your plant. Water directly in-to the soil, around the base of the plant. Let the potting soil soak up the water for about 15-­‐30 minutes, then empty any remaining water from the saucer.

4 – Increase humidity when necessary

For plants that prefer more humid conditions such as ferns, ivies, or tropical plants, don’t be afraid to mist them using a small spray bottle in-­between regular waterings. During the dry months of winter, grouping your plants together also helps to create a humid microclimate. A humidifier can help, too, and is an added bonus for your skin.

Keep in mind that drought-­tolerant plants like succulents and cacti do not need added humidity – they don’t mind being dry! In fact, their native habitat – the desert – is pretty damn dry, and that’s how they like it And that brings us to another rule that pretty much applies to every single houseplant, and all these tips: 

RECREATE YOUR PLANT’S NATIVE ENVIRONMENT (as best as possible, of course)

Most tropical plants prefer high humidity and moderate light, while most desert dwellers prefer dry air and bright light… 

Ferns on the rainforest floor in New Zealand (Image by Julius Bergh)

Ferns on the rainforest floor in New Zealand (Image via Julius Bergh)

Cacti in the desert (via In-The-Desert.com)

Cacti in the desert (Image via In-The-Desert.com)

5 – Keep your plant’s environment as stable as possible

Plants, just like us, are most comfortable between 65 and 75 degrees F. Extreme fluctuation in a plant’s environment can seriously stress them out. Do your best to avoid placing your plant near temperature hazards like vents, radiators and exterior doors, which might create hot or cold spots and drafts.

6 – It’s totally OK to forgo fertilizer

If you’re a plant novice, it’s totally OK to stay away from fertilizer. Too much fertilizer is another easy way to kill your plant. Plants get their minerals from the soil, and their food from the sun. Houseplants tend to not need fertilizer as often as outdoor plants do. It is possible to have a healthy houseplant without additives. If you do choose to fertilizer your plant, it’s best to only do so during the growing season (i.e. spring and early summer) and follow the general rule of thumb ‘less is more’. Most store-­‐bought fertilizers should be diluted with water before use.

7 – Purchase a healthy plant from a reputable source

Do your best to buy a quality plant from someone or somewhere with a little expertise. In most cases, you’ll want to stay away from department stores and supermarkets, where plants are stored in basements and dark warehouses, and instead stick to your local nurseries, garden centers, and specialty stores or florists. Definitely give your plant a once-­‐over before purchasing: watch out for yellowed leaves, powdery mildew, leaf spots, brown leaf tips, weak or wobbly stems and other obvious signs of poor plant health. 

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An added bonus of purchasing from a source with plant expertise – they can answer your questions. Don’t be afraid to ask, either. Most people who sell or work with plants, love talking about them

8 – Show a little extra TLC in the beginning

Show your plant a little extra attention in the beginning of your relationship. When you bring a new plant home for the first time, establish a routine of checking in with it every 3 to 4 days. A little extra attention can go a long way – and it can be pretty therapeutic, we promise. Slight environmental changes can cause fluctuations in the

frequency of your care, so best not to just assume “every Monday is watering day.” Besides, it’s nice to check in and say “Hi” to your plant every few days. Watching it adapt and grow can be fulfilling.

9 – Do not be afraid to repot

A common misconception – repotting does not necessarily mean putting your plant in a new planter, but rather, changing your plant’s soil or potting mix. This is because plants receive some of their nutrients from their soil. Great news if you love your planter. But if you’re looking to splurge on a new one, try to choose one no more than 2-­4 inches larger than the current planter, depending on your plant’s current size – i.e. you do not want your plant swimming in soil, which can lend itself to overwatering, and eventually root rot. 

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10 – Make sure your planter has drainage

Most plants are sold in plastic grow pots, which are not meant for long-term growth! More often than not, the plant has already overgrown it’s plastic pot at the nursery, and needs to be repotted into something more substantial. We recommend picking a planter slightly larger in size than the plant’s current grow pot, in a reliable material like ceramic, terra cotta, or fiberglass. If your plant’s new planter does not have a drainage hole at the bottom of it to allow excess water to escape from the potting soil – it is extremely important to create makeshift drainage. You can do this by lining the bottom of your planter with rocks to create crevices for the water to drain into. Here at The Sill, we use lava rocks because of their porous nature. This added precaution helps you from overwatering your plants in the long run.

P.S. Plant Care questions?

That’s what we’re here for. Leave a comment below, swing by The Sill Shop, reach us via email at help@thesill.com, or watch this awesome video of Chris Satch – head of Plant Education here at The Sill – by our neighbors Digg.

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, How-to, Interview, Plant History

Living Sustainably – by GoGreen

February 7, 2017

We’re thrilled to feature a guest post by our friends GoGreen on living more sustainably. 

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GoGreen is an online guide for sustainable living and global green news. It reports on environmental topics that inspire readers to share and take action.

Their mission is to shine light on the biggest issues in sustainability from eco-friendly technology to animal welfare, applaud companies taking steps towards greener practices, and support legislation that will reduce our carbon footprint, and discoveries in green energy.

LIVING SUSTAINABLY IN NYC 

Conserving energy plays a significant role in lessening the effects of climate change. It helps to reduce the emissions being released into the atmosphere. This is more than just regulating smoke stacks from businesses or cars spewing fumes from their tailpipes. Each time we leave the light on, after exiting a room, or allow the water to keep running while we brush our teeth, or don’t insulate our windows so that we have to blast the heater or A/C, we waste energy and contribute to global warming.

With the rise in popularity of sustainable living, many think you must live a ‘country life’ – make everything, grow everything, and do everything yourself. If you can afford to do that: great. The problem is many of us live in cities because we work. We need our jobs to help pay our bills and care for our family. We need a form of income to give us the means to donate to charity, or enjoy some entertainment after a hard week of work. Yet, living in any city, even New York City, does not mean you can’t live sustainably. You can make the choice to “go green” regardless of your location!

To illustrate, New York City has a higher cost of living than many other cities – but, the wages are usually higher too. And, in New York City, it’s rare to find someone who actually owns and drives a car. So, you can easily save money on gas and cut down on car emissions if you take public transportation, walk, or bike to your office. When shopping for clothing, you can buy almost everything secondhand in one of the city’s many thrift stores. Being that you live in New York, you’ll probably find an even larger and more stylish selection of secondhand clothing! You’ll start to wonder if you’ll ever need to buy anything brand-new again.

Photography by Sidney Bensimon (credit)

Photograph by photographer Sidney Bensimon (credit)

And, to return to the point of not driving – walking around New York is quite fun. There’s great people watching, and so many new establishments and sights to explore. You couldn’t do any of these things in the country where your closest neighbor could be over a 30-minute drive away. Not to mention, simple actions such as cutting down on water, electricity, and plastic use can be done in any city.

New York City has the lowest carbon footprint of other major American cities because people live in smaller apartments, in a smaller space, and take public transportation. Plus, in 2009, the City Council approved the Green Buildings Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing commercial, government and residential buildings. (See how NYC compares to other cities around the world here.)

Since New York is a progressive city, they also offer many recycling programs you can conveniently utilize. In a similar vein, there are a wide variety of coworking spaces to save on building costs, rent, and space usage.

So, if you thought you had to move to a forest to live the green life, you were wrong. You can live quite sustainably in one of the most highly-respected locations on earth, New York City!

Photograph by photographer Sidney Bensimon (credit)

Photograph by photographer Sidney Bensimon (credit)

 

SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES OUTSIDE NYC

There is an increasing number of sustainable urban communities that are being developed. When you visit one, you might ask – “Why aren’t all cities built this way?” Naturally, the 21st century is nothing like the 20th… Cities need to grow very differently than they have in the past.

The consumption of rural lands for suburban development threatens future food security; the reason is most cities initially grew where soil conditions and farming were best. Resources are diminishing at an unbelievable rate. According to the Global Footprint Network, human consumption of resources is creating an ecological deficit.

Simple actions such as running too much water, not recycling boxes, purchasing new clothes, and driving gas-fueled cars has a significant impact on our environment. We are consistently pushing the boundaries of sustaining renewable resources though, and should be paying more attention. This is why it is critical to stick to sustainability practices.

You want to secure the earth’s resources for the future, which also helps to promote environmental, economic and social prosperity. This is also why it is important to invest more in sustainable communities in order to help address this potential malady.

A sustainable community is one labeled as a “healthy environment” where residents can prosper socially and economically, while helping to maintain the environment together. It is a community where environmental responsibilities are shared.

Benefits of living in a green home 

When you live in a green home, you not only get a better return on your investment, but you also have a positive impact on the environment.

  1. Economics. When you use durable materials, they last a long time and you save on the cost of replacements or regular maintenance. Some states will even offer tax rebates for living in a green home. The long-term savings is realized because green homes use less energy, and so, you have lower energy bills. In addition, your home value goes up as consumers are attracted to lower utility and maintenance costs.
  2. Improved health. Sustainability means leaving with fewer toxins. Green homes take advantage of non-toxic materials. During construction, this means that lowered amounts of toxic waste are emitted into the air. Plus, green homes have purer ventilation systems. The air is cleaner, which promotes a healthier indoor environment.
  3. Better environmental impact. Using clean energy sources and renewables decreases our reliance on fossil fuels. Recyclable materials also lower the negative emission on the environment.
Features of sustainable communities
  1. Housing is much more affordable. When a community is densely built, it can offer a larger share of apartments and townhomes. These are a lot less expensive than detached homes. Moreover, when the availability is larger than the demand – it also lowers expenses. Furthermore, higher-density housing has lower maintenance costs than single-detached homes.
  2. Cuts down on transportation cost. If communities are walkable, then less travel by automobile is needed. The goal is to have many destinations close by and good transit services. When families can leave the car at home, it results in lower maintenance, gas, and insurance costs. Some can even give up their car completely.
  3. Better work-life balance. If household expenditures are lower, fewer hours of work are needed to support the home. As a result, families can spend more time together. They have more opportunities to live life, as opposed to living to work.
  4. Lower hardship on households. Climate control and transportation costs are lower in sustainable urban communities. This means that overall hardship on households also goes down. When energy costs go up in the future, this will have a huge impact on household hardship. Sustainable living can keep energy costs down.
  5. Efficient infrastructure. Less infrastructure per capita means less maintenance of roads and utility infrastructure. If the population density is higher, then infrastructure only needs to be maintained where the population is centered. Plus, infrastructure can now be built more efficiently.
  6. Better use of public facilities. In sustainable communities, libraries, parks and community centers are easily reached. This helps access, especially for those that don’t have cars. Also, if an area is more densely populated, it means that one library or pool can serve more people.
  7. Improved delivery of water and wastewater services. Since everything is closer together, the distance that water and wastewater must be pumped to households is lower. It makes for better efficiency over communities that are spread out. It also saves on the energy needed to pump water.
  8. Leaves land available for future growth. Designing housing and commerce to accommodate a higher density means that more land will be available for future growth.
Sustainable communities around the nation

One of the most sought-after divisions is Village Homes in Davis, California. Here are some of the features:

Village Homes (credit)

Village Homes (credit)

 

  1. Pedestrian lanes for walking and cycling. Vehicle access is by back lanes only. Plus, grocery stores are within walking distance.
  2. A sweat equity program allows low-income construction workers to buy homes.
  3. Narrower streets produce less storm water run-off.
  4. All homes are passive solar designed, which include solar hot water and natural cooling. There is also more space for trees, with reduced pavement. This lowers the ambient air temperature, which means a decreased need for air-conditioning. Household bills in this area are 1/2 to 1/3 less than those in surrounding neighborhoods.
  5. Much of the residents’ food is being grown in the neighborhood, due to agricultural space. There are commercial fruit and nut orchards, a commercial organic produce farm, home-scale garden plots and edible landscaping throughout pathways and roads.

Other examples of sustainable communities in the U.S. include Pacifica Cohousing, Earthaven EcoVillageArcadia, and the Weaver Community Housing. Other notable sustainable living  ideas include tiny houses, like the Triangle Tiny House movement. And Raleigh Cohousing is developing cohousing for senior citizens – expected to be completed by 2019.

Sustainable communities are on the rise for reasons mentioned above and more. Wouldn’t it be nice to see America booming with usable with farmland as it once was generations ago?

Article above contributed by GoGreen. Read more on sustainability on GoGreen.org

Behind The Scenes

Our Team’s Local Lunch Spots

January 29, 2017

In honor of Chinese New Year, we’re sharing a few favorite local Chinatown spots (within walking distance from our NYC Shop and our very first office) where we get our grub on:

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1) Super Taste
26 Eldridge Street, between Canal Street & Division Street
Open: 10am-11pm
$ (Cash Only)
Tip: Get the hand-pulled noodles to go

2) China North Dumpling
27 Essex Street, between Hester Street & Grand Street
Open: 9am-11pm
$ (Cash Only)
Tip: 12 dumplings are $3

3) Spicy Village
68 Forsyth Street, between Canal Street & Hester Street
Open: 10am-11pm
$ (Cash Only)
Tip: BYOB

4) Vanessa’s Dumpling House
118A Eldridge Street, between Broome Street & Grand Street
Open: 10:30am-10:30pm
$ (Accepts Credit Cards)
Tip: Semi-touristy spot, so go late to avoid the lunch hour rush

5) Banh Mi Saigon
198 Grand Street, between Mulberry Street & Mott Street
Open: 8am-7pm
$ (Cash Only)
Tip: You’re not lost – it IS hidden in the back of a jewelry store

P.S. Find upcoming Chinatown NYC events in celebration of the New Year here

 

 

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Houseplant Tastemakers, Interview, Plant Care

Meet Tastemaker Caitlin Ezell Waugh

January 26, 2017

Our newest installment in our Tastemaker series features Louisiana-based artist and plant lover – Caitlin Ezell Waugh! We came across Caitlin’s timeless stained glass pieces and wanted to know more about her inspiration for incorporating plants into her work. And the more we learned about Caitlin, the more we realized that she’d be the perfect coffee date, if only she lived in NYC. Check out our Q&A with Caitlin below. 

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NAME: Caitlin Ezell Waugh

LOCATION: New Orleans, Louisiana

OCCUPATION: Self Employed Artist, Paraph Studio

FAVORITE PLANT:  This question got me ranting to my boyfriend. “Nightmare question!” I began… and now that I think about it, I’m thankful for the question because now I’m thinking about how and why I love so many plants. I love all herbs, for their smell and taste and medicine and memory triggers.

When I plant basil, I yell and shout, like the Italian lore tells us to, as a way of ensuring a strong taste. I love the French lilac that blooms in spring outside of my childhood kitchen. I love snacking on leaves of the ever spreading chocolate mint whenever I pass it. I really enjoy chewing Calamus root for focus and calm. I ALWAYS stop and smell jasmine, gardenia and white ginger when I walk by them. I’m really proud of how well my little bay laurel and meyer lemon trees are growing. My whole back yard is full of banana trees that shade me and feed me. I’m grateful for an ecosystem of plants that usher me through the seasons.

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Can you share a little bit about yourself – and your art?

I was raised in the woods in Maine, which is where I learned to love plants and discovered the pleasures of working with my hands. I focused on literary journalism and conceptual art at Hampshire College, and got clear that my art gets to tell stories and help me synthesize continued research into new subjects.

I’ve run my design and restoration business, ‘Paraph,’ from my home studio in New Orleans for the last decade. I apprenticed under a master glazier before moving to New Orleans, and I’m dedicated to the rejuvenation of the stained glass trade by using traditional techniques inventively. My workload is a balance of commission projects, retail collections, stained glass restoration, and conceptual gallery work. In each of these endeavors I’m fueled by a connection to people. As a maker and a preserver, I’m fascinated by humans’ attachments to objects, by the nostalgia and energies we infuse into objects. I strive to create and maintain a sense of the sacred with my work, and I increasingly see myself as healer as well as artist.

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What’s a secret skill you have?

I really love to write. I enjoy writing and reading guided meditations and conducting small intimate ceremonies as a way to connect with plants, animals, the earth, and self. I do that in private settings, so it’s still pretty ‘secret’. It’s been a great way for me to dig deeper into using my observation skills, trusting my intuition and practice different ways of communicating.  I’m also pretty good at working through difficult conversations and situations.

What’s the best present you’ve given or received?

When I graduated from high school my sister Kaiya told me to choose where in the world I wanted to go. We backpacked through Greece that summer and she taught me how to travel without a strict plan, which changed my life.

If your space was on fire, what’s the first thing you’d grab to save?

The cats, Stagger Lee and Elwood. If I had time, I’d grab the wooden box of my journals and sketchbooks and I’d look longingly at my shop tools, my altars (so many beautiful crystals and precious little objects), my great kitchen knife collection, and all of the inspiring art I’ve collected.

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What’s on your to-do list today?

I’ll work in my studio with the phone off until about noon, and then write follow up emails to clients and make a few phone calls while I do the dishes and fold laundry. Then I’ll write a couple of letters and package up several orders and go to the post office by 3pm. I’ll listen to NPR and work in my studio for another hour or two and go to my favorite yoga class at 6pm a few blocks from my house. Then I get to make dinner and figure out what to do with all of the ripe bananas I harvested from my banana trees!

What is your favorite plant and why?

See above… but right now my favorite houseplant is a phlebodium aureum mandaianum. It’s a gorgeous huge fern that cascades over my bed. I’m also amazed by my night blooming cereus. It only blooms for one night, once a year, and it’s a gorgeous bloom.

Do you have a green thumb?

Yes. So do my both of my parents and my sister, it was a huge part of my childhood growing up in an old farmhouse in Maine.

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Any plant care tips you can share?

My relationship with plants, and food, is an extension of my art and ritual practices. Taking care of plants is about paying attention to them. Plants give lots of hints about how they’re feeling and what they like, so it’s important to watch them and listen. Ritual helps with that. For example I water my plants on Sundays (cactus every other Sunday), and it helps me feel grounded and ready for the week. I feed my orchids on the full moon, and I feed all of the outdoor plants around Easter and Thanksgiving (I live in the deep south). Most of us find health and a sense of well being in rhythm, so figuring out how to ground your weekly, and seasonal schedule to your interactions with plants is a wonderful way for your plants’ health to support your mental health.

Along those lines, I was taught that sweet peas should be planted at Halloween here in the South.

When I realize that I no longer notice the artwork on my walls, I move it around. Plants are similar. If you find you don’t notice the plants when you walk by them, move them. Arrange them in ways that make you feel excited about the space. I also arrange my plants with objects I love, found pieces of ceramic or shells I’ve collected, sculptural objects, funny little figurines. I arrange vases of cut flowers near potted plants too, so I’m constantly paying attention to what’s changing.

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Keep plants that feed you. Harvesting from your plants (herbs and citrus trees come to mind) is a great way to really fall in love with them. When my herbs go dormant outside, I buy little hydroponic potted herbs for the winter kitchen. I love cooking with fresh herbs, and if you don’t cut them all the way back, they can often be potted in soil and become outdoor plants in the spring.

Healthy plants don’t always look like they’re thriving. I have a bunch of plants that look like sticks for a month or two, and then they come out of dormancy looking great. Don’t assume that your plant is dying just because it’s loosing leaves or slowing its growth! I find my plants need less water when they’re dormant, but they should still be in the watering rotation. I cluster my dormant potted plants together in one part of the yard in the fall so I can keep an eye on them. Any plants that I feel worried about I put on the back steps because that’s my favorite place to sit and watch the sun set, and I see them every day.

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I keep my orchids in the bathroom during the winter – so they can have the hot house effect. 

Don’t be afraid to trim, especially during the growing months, it produces more growth!

Also, get to know what the soil feels like in your plants when they are happy. That helps trouble shoot later when they’re not so happy. Soapy water is a quick way to get rid of mealy bugs. Also, sharpen your clippers for clean cuts, wash and dry your clippers if you’ve been working with a plant you suspect is diseased.

What tops your houseplant wish list?

I saw a gorgeous old Cyprus bonsai the other day that I’d love to live with.

What or who inspires you?

Ah. I really could go on and on with this list. I grew up around clever creative makers, they inspired me first. I have an incredible community of artist friends here in New Orleans (and spread across the world!) that inspire me daily with their own work, through conversation, and in collaborative projects which I find creatively invigorating. I’m inspired by walks in the swamp, by sunlight through tree canopy and by the rust and decay and growth of the cityscape.

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If choosing one, Liza Lou is the artist who most inspires me. Her work is obscenely patient, and her focus tunneled her from a place of working alone and unseen to a vibrant career working with others to create meaningful work.

How would you describe your work?

My work is patient as well as spontaneous. I like to make decisions throughout the process, so I usually resist patterns and lots of planning. That said, I work with metal, glass, and clay primarily and much of my work requires puzzling out the best order of operations so the materials can function. Most of my work has a very ‘organic’ feel, very hand produced. For the last couple of years I’ve been focusing on a kiln process of fusing plants between glass. The delicate structure of the plants remains as ash fused in place. I call this process ‘enverre’.

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How do plants play a role in your creative process?

I use my enverre process to preserve plants for two main reasons. One is to preserve specific blooms that clients have a relationship with, like flowers from wedding bouquets or funerals, plants from home gardens or travels or other special life events. I make those panes of glass into custom windows or furniture or sculptures. The moment in time that the plant was blooming drives the purpose, and I love listening to the stories, the nostalgia and emotion people have attached those particular plants.

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The other body of plant based work I make is driven by the symbolism, the medicine, the messages from physical forms of the plants. I harvest plants and research the medicinal uses, history, lore and symbolic meanings given by different cultures to the plants. I’ve learned the names of lots of new plants, and I record when and where they bloom. I fuse the plants in glass and my research informs how I make them into art objects.

Do you have a favorite project (or upcoming project) that you’d like to share?

I have a new gallery space to play with at 5700 Magazine Street in New Orleans. I’m using the space to curate art events that encourage civic participation. I believe handmade objects help us ground and stay present and therefore support sustained engagement. These events are designed to connect people with specific ways to get involved and to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Additionally I’ve been curating collections of my work by plant symbolism to help support organizations. For example, one collection of objects I’ve made all contain plants that symbolize protection, understanding, sanctuary, innocence, and family. A percentage of the sales of that collection are donated to CASA, an organization that helps advocate for foster children. I also made a line of plants to help support the water protectors at Standing Rock. I’m excited about channeling messages and medicine from plants into healing in this way and am conscious of the line between support and opportunism. It feels very right to align my art and my politics.

P.S. To find out more about Caitlin and her work, follow her on Instagram and Facebook, and visit her Website. And check out her beautiful collection for CASA here

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Houseplant Tastemakers, Interview

Tastemakers: Simon Posch

January 12, 2017

The newest installment of our Tastemaker series features plant artist, Simon Posch! We came across Simon through his Instagram account, where we were inspired by the gorgeous photos of kokedamas that he has posted. We highly recommend that you give his Instagram page a scroll through for some great plant inspiration! Check out our Q&A with Simon below! 

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Name: Simon Posch

Location: Innsbruck / Tirol / Austria

Occupation: Student (Biology Bachelor) | Plant artist

Favorite Plant: Moss

Can you share a little background about yourself?

I’m 31 years old, have two kids and an ever increasing love for plants which probably started out with helping my grandfather in the garden. Later on, I had my own little garden for a while but when moving to a flat my interest shifted to houseplants. I started making kokedamas (calling them mooslinge, which is kind of a diminutive of moss in German) to save space and increase air quality in the flat. I was still working my regular office job at that time. But as I was spending most of my free time working with and reading about plants I decided to take a chance and follow a long kept dream to become a botanist and started to study biology.

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What’s a secret skill you have?

I am able to find the right plant for every environment or person – and can share my passion for plants, infecting others with it.

What’s the best present you’ve given or received? 

This years birthday present for my significant other, I hope.

If your space was on fire what’s the first thing you’d grab to save?

My kids…and maybe one or two orchids 😉

What’s on your to-do list today?

Doing an interview with The Sill :-); caring for my houseplants is a continuous task; a stash of plants that have yet to be kokedamified, and many university exams.

What is your favorite plant and why?

The most difficult question of all. I don’t have one favorite plant. I have a great interest in moss but other than that I have favorite current plants. This time of the year many of my orchids are in bloom. I love orchids. The favorite of the ones I have are my Brassia toscana followed by the Oncidium twinkle. I very much like succulents too and a good Monstera deliciosa of course, well and Staghorn ferns and on and on.

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Do you have a green thumb?

I’d say so yes! The trick being, I try to only deal with plants that suit my environment. Which leads me to the next question.

Any plant tips you can share?

Choose plants that work well at your place. Cut your losses. If a plant isn’t working for you, get rid of it and try another one. Don’t waste your love, time and energy on plants that just won’t do. And don’t start out with tiny delicate seedlings or cuttings, but get a well sized plant to start with.

What tops your houseplant wish list?

Discorea elephantitis.

Find out more about Simon by visiting his social media pages:

(All the photos above were taken by Kathleen John – kathleenjohn.de )

 

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Houseplant Tastemakers, Interview

Tastemakers: Olena Shmahalo

January 6, 2017

We are thrilled to introduce you to our featured guest in this newest installment of the Tastemaker series: Olena Shmahalo! While scrolling through Olena’s instagram feed, we fell in love with her tasteful and aesthetically pleasing photos of houseplants and vegetation. We knew we had to reach out and find out more about her love of plants. Check out our Q&A with Olena below! 

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Name: Olena Shmahalo

Location: New York, NY

Occupation: Art Director at QuantaMagazine.org.

Favorite Plant: 

I don’t like to pick favorites! However, if I had to, maybe Philodendron gloriosum — that’s the plant I’ve made into my instagram logo/icon right now, because it kind of invigorated my botanical obsession, for better or worse. I first saw it in photos of @aleajoy’s home and was amazed at its huge, velvety leaves. It’s unreal!

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I’ve always liked plants, but the specifics eluded me. I don’t think I knew that something like P. gloriosum existed, and better yet, that it could be grown easily indoors. It made me curious about other species and genera, and all the different sorts of leaves and shapes out there. I’m a visual person, so I was absolutely intoxicated by this whole new world of living sculpture, with all its colors, patterns, and textures.

Can you share a little about yourself?

I’m Ukrainian, spent most of my childhood in California, and then moved to New York. Not sure where I’m “from” anymore, but I’ve been here in NY for about a decade now and it’s where I feel most at home.

I was always sure I would be an artist. Everybody else told me so as well; I think other people were more convinced than I ever was! Ironically, it was during art school that I questioned it more and discovered a latent love of science.

Now, I’m working as the art director (/producer/illustrator) at Quanta Magazine, which is a really cool science news outlet. Every week, I get to visually interpret the latest esoteric, gritty work in math and science that more popular media usually doesn’t cover. Make invisible things visible — it’s really a puzzle! It’s a great mix of both worlds. (Promise I’m not trying to advertise; just excited by it and proud of our little team.)

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At home, I moonlight as an indoor gardener/botanist-wannabe. I have over a hundred plants in my tiny apartment. My SO jokes that it’s a second full-time job. I love taking photos of them (they’re such patient models!) and sharing in the plant love with other self-described “crazy plant people” around the world. Especially on Instagram, there’s such a great community.

What’s a secret skill you have?

Hmm. Secret is relative. Our professional lives and social media encourage a fairly one-dimensional view of people. Pick a theme and stick with it, right?

But that’s not reality, is it? Everybody is multi-faceted. I’m lazy (ahem, efficient), but if I find something super interesting, I get a bit overzealous in doing that thing to its fullest. I’ve always wanted to be a “Renaissance man”. So, people who knew me as an artist have been surprised by my work/education in science, and the plant stuff. People on Instagram might be surprised about the former.

(I also like to write a lot, whether or not anyone will read it. Can you tell? This is why real writers have editors.)

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What’s the best present you’ve given or received? 

I’m having an inordinate amount of trouble with this question. Because, again, I hate picking favorites and I hate surprises. But I’ve always felt happy and grateful when friends have given me little things they thought I’d like — a cool rock, a hat, a dead bug, a weird little plastic thing that plays recordings of Buddhists chanting. Oddities and treasures.

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If your space was on fire, what’s the first thing you’d grab to save?

I guess my boyfriend. I kind of like that guy. But assuming he could do his own saving, I’d grab my phone. Not very sentimental is it? I want to say that I’d grab some plants, but by the time I decided which ones, we would all burn.

What’s on your to-do list today?

Loads of stuff for work. It’s Saturday but I just remembered I need to check in with a freelancer. Some boring domestic stuff; cleaning. Then, a 6th anniversary dinner with the boyfriend!

What’s your favorite plant and why?

Hey, I did this one already!

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Do you have a green thumb?

No. People think I do; it’s a lie. There’s no such thing. I’ve killed a lot, unfortunately. But I’ve also learned a lot.

Any plant care tips you can share? 

Relax! You don’t need to immediately bare-root and repot your new plant because some internet person said your potting mix has to be a specific ratio of peat/perlite/bark. Leave it alone.

In fact, don’t do anything with your new plant. It’s just survived a bunch of upheavals. Let it rest for a couple of weeks. If you got it in the mail, keep it in a darker spot and let it transition to a lighter one, slowly.

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Get a moisture meter, stick it in. Don’t trust the reading alone — pull it out, wipe the soil off with your fingers and rub them together. If moisture comes out, don’t water. If dry, water. Also, “keep moist” doesn’t mean “water again even though it’s still/already moist”.

Get a feeling for light levels. Download an app that reports in foot-candles, test various areas, and cross-reference with a plant lighting chart online.

Fertilize weakly, weekly. Less is More!

If you’re having trouble, you could always ask @plantasshole (who is definitely not me) for help. I guess, if you’re desperate. They’re not very nice.

What tops your houseplant wish list? 

It keeps growing! I started listing some in response to this question but there are too many.

I’ll just say, I wish I could have humongous plants. I actually like when they’re “in the way” and I have to duck under, step over, or brush past them to get around. I’d love a 20-ft Monstera deliciosa, or an Alocasia ‘Borneo Giant’ with leaves like blankets. But there’s not enough light and constant humidity in my home for that to happen right now. …I should just live in a conservatory.

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P.S. Want to work on your plant game this January? Join us for one of three special Plant Care 101 Workshops at The Sill Shop at 84 Hester Street, in NYC. 

 

#PlantPorn, #PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Behind The Scenes

Send Plants – Lia Sang

January 4, 2017

Lia Sang, a great friend of The Sill, sent us some plant-postcards from her trip to the south of the Dominican Republic. Lia explored gorgeous provinces along the coast line like Barahona, Azua, and Bani. “There are cacti everywhere, it’s dry but still full of plants and trees…” says Lia. The huge cacti in the middle of the beach in Palmar de Ocoa has us day-dreaming of future vacations.


Lia Sang - DR

Lia Sang - DR

Lia Sang - DR

(Hi, Lía!)

Lia Sang - DR

Lia Sang - DR

Lia Sang - DR

Lia Sang - DR

P.S. Going plant hunting? Tag @TheSill on social so we can live vicariously through you 🙂

 

#PlantPorn, #PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Behind The Scenes, How-to, Plant Care, Plant History

Carotenoids 101

November 15, 2016

Ever wonder what makes a tomato red or yellow?  The answer is a class of molecules called carotenoids that have great importance to plants – as well as people.  They have so much importance serving as vitamins and pigments, that we cannot live without them.  They are responsible for the colors of autumn foliage – the bright reds, oranges, and yellows.  They are responsible for the color of many ripened fruits – carrots (for which they are named!), corn, beets, and pumpkins. They are also responsible for the colors of flowers, and even responsible for the color of egg yolks! 

an Echeveria with orange flower buds

an Echeveria with orange flower buds

There are over 600 known carotenoids, which are split into two general classes: Xanthophylls and Carotenes. Xanthophylls contain oxygen, while Carotenes, which are purely hydrocarbons, contain no oxygen. Both classes have long, unsaturated carbon chains.  This means that they have numerous double bonds along long chains, and the ability of conjugation – the ability to allow electrons to pass freely along the molecule.  This, in turn, gives the molecule the ability to absorb light.  Longer unsaturated chains = more blue light absorption, which leaves the returning light to be hues of yellow, red, and orange. Chemically speaking, this is how carotenoids get their color! 

sunflower by Olia Gozha

sunflower by Olia Gozha

If we still have your attention – we know it’s a lot to absorb (wink, wink) – let’s talk about what carotenoids do, the differences between the two classes, and what it all means.  We’ll start with animals. Because animals, and humans, are incapable of synthesizing carotenoids , they must be taken in via their diet.  Carotenoids are then stored in the body’s fatty tissue.  Exclusively carnivorous animals obtain them from their prey’s fat!  Think of a flamingo for example.  The rosy pink color of a flamingo’s feathers is due to their diet of algae, larvae, and small crustaceans such as shrimp – which are all rich in carotenoid pigments.  Some might argue that carotenoids are used as ornamental traits in animals because they can be a visible indication of the animal’s health, making them helpful when selecting potential mates. 

flamingos by Seref Yucar

flamingos by Seref Yucar

Carotenoids are also used in vision, eye maintenance, and development – due to their ability to absorb high-energy, damaging blue light.  Xanthophylls are used in the eye to protect the rods and cones from light damage.  High-energy light excites electrons of eye molecules, and the electrons can be safely passed to the Xanthophylls until they rest at a lower energy state.  This helps prevent eye molecules, rods and cones, from forming free radicals and damaging other parts of the eye.  

In plants, Xanthophylls carotenoids play different, but similar roles.  Xanthophylls are involved in photosynthesis, and are currently thought to quench excess high energy electrons in high light environments.  This means that, as high light hits the plant, too many electrons are stimulated to a high energy state, and they are passed to Xanthophylls to quell down.  If they are not quelled, then high energy electrons will break free and form free radicals, damaging other molecules.  In fact, these Xanthophylls molecules are partially responsible for plant variegation!  Plants are thought to have evolved variegation in order to deal with high light environments.  Too much light excites too many electrons, so chlorophyll production is reduced, and xanthophylls are increased, providing a sink, or buffer to all those high-energy electrons.  This also partly helps to explain why plants lose variegation when brought to lower light conditions.  No excess light means no excess damage, which means chlorophyll production is increased, and variegation is decreased. 

fall foliage by Providence Doucet

fall foliage by Providence Doucet

Similar to the example above about plant variegation, because chlorophyll is not present in autumn foliage – the yellows, oranges, and reds of the carotenoids are predominant. These hues are also seen in ripe fruit – after the disappearance of chlorophyll.

autumn leaves by Aaron Burden

autumn leaves by Aaron Burden

Molecules from the Carotene class are also involved in photosynthesis, but sort of in the other direction.  They help capture light and push the excited electrons to the chlorophyll molecule, assisting in photosynthesis.  In ripening fruit, it is thought that carotenoids help protect the inner developing seeds and fruit by absorbing the higher energies of light.  The secondary benefit of carotenoids is the signalling of fruit ripening, and pollinator attraction.  Whether or not plants happened to have evolved this mechanism, or whether this signalling mechanism to pollinators and fruit-eaters co-evolved with animals, remains to be seen.  As far as we know, carotenoids are mainly responsible for light-mediation and gene expression.   

pumpkins by Corey Blaz

pumpkins by Corey Blaz

So when you’re taking a stroll through the park admiring the fall foliage, or through the produce section at your local grocery store, remember there’s a lot more to those hues than what meets the eye.

 

#PlantPorn, #PlantsMakePeopleHappy, How-to, Plant Care, Plant History

Carnivorous Plants

November 14, 2016

Our in-house plant specialist Christopher Satch talks carnivorous plants. Have a plant care question for Chris? Comment below and we’ll tackle it in an upcoming post. 

Carnivorous plants have been all the rage lately – but they might seem more difficult to take care of than even the notorious Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrata), right?  The truth is, everything you know about carnivorous plants is probably wrong.  To fully understand why, we’ll need to learn some ecology…

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Dionaea muscipula, Venus Fly Trap, tato grasso – Own work CC BY-SA 2.5 (image)

Carnivorous plants are polyphyletic groups of plants that trap insects to acquire nitrogen.  They have evolved in environments that are so extreme, that the need to capture nutrients outweighs any energy investment into specialized carnivory structures.  Many carnivorous plants live in bogs, which are high in sunlight, perpetually wet, acidic, and nutrient-poor.  In many bog areas, the waterlogged soil is so acidic that any minerals that would be there have dissolved and washed away.

The NJ Pine Barrens, like many bogs, has extremely clean, salt-and-mineral-free water – in fact, the aquifers that lie beneath the NJ Pine Barrens are one of the cleanest in the entire country!  These acidic conditions and poor nutrient soils prevent most other forms of plants from growing there, with the exception of mosses, liverworts, some species of pine, and so on.  The New Jersey Pine Barrens is one of the few places on the planet with relatively unchanging flora types, having the same heath, oak, pine, and other plant species since the early Cretaceous Period. (Even with species stability, many carnivorous plants are endangered in the wild, so please do not collect plants from outside!)

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Dionaea muscipula, Venus Fly Trap, Mnolf – Own work CC BY-SA 3.0 (image)

And it just so happens that many bogs, where the majority of carnivorous plant species have evolved, are in temperate climates or colder (NJ has a few native species, as does NY).  Therefore, many species of carnivorous plants have a winter dormancy.  So, if you have a carnivorous plant that looks dead – it may just be hibernating.  Many pitcher plants (family Sarraceniaceae), and even the famous Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea spp.), have some periods of dormancy.  However, it’s important to know exactly what type of carnivorous plant you have – because tropical pitcher plants (family Nepenthaceae) do not have any dormancy. They’re native to tropical Asia, and may be kept alive for a year-round display.

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Pitcher plant (Nepenthes sp.) found in Mount Hamiguitan Range, San Isidro, Davao Oriental. Taken from Nov 29-Dec 1, 2009 CC BY 2.0 (image)

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Anatomy of a pitcher plant.  This one is a Sarracenia (image)

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S. leucophylla, common along coastal plains until they became endangered.  Photo taken by Brad Adler, edited/enhanced by Noah Elhardt – Scanned slide CC BY-SA 2.5 (image)

There are even aquatic carnivorous plants (Utricularia spp.) called bladderworts which use a hydraulic suction trap to capture aquatic insects.  Within that same family Lentibulariaceae, are terrestrial butterworts (Pinguicula spp.) whose leaves are sticky like flypaper.

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Michal RubešCC BY 3.0 cz (image)

There are four general trapping mechanisms that have evolved across carnivorous plants – pitfall traps, flypaper traps, snap-traps, and bladder traps.  Bladder traps are unique to Utricularia (aquatic carnivorous plants), and consist of a triggered aquatic vaccum that sucks aquatic insects into its trap.  Pitfall traps are modified leaves that have curled-in on themselves and fused, to create a pitcher.  This pitcher is the pitcher of pitcher plants, and is coated on the inside with low-friction slime and digestive enzymes.  Insects fall in easily, but cannot escape.

Snap traps, like in the Venus Fly Trap, use hair-triggers to sense when an insect has landed in the appropriate place, then snap shut through a quick hydraulic flux in the hinge of the trap.  Flypaper traps – common in sundews (see photo below) and butterworts (Drosera spp. and Pinguicula spp.) – are perhaps the most rudimentary as they are only modified trichomes, filled with sticky glue-like substances and digestive enzymes.  Trichomes are plant “hairs”, and exist in the plant ancestors and related species.

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A sundew With Insect (Drosera sp.)  NoahElhardt assumed (based on copyright claims) CC BY-SA 3.0 (image)

Now that we know a little bit about the diversity of carnivorous plants, caring for them is easier than you think.  The key, like with many houseplants, is to recreate their natural habitat.  Carnivorous plants need direct sun daily.  That means right next to a window, with southern and western exposure being the best.  The native environments are extremely clean and free from salts that come in regular tap water, so it is important to water them and keep their roots perpetually moist with distilled and purified water.  I have gotten away with using bottled water, which has added salts that may be too much.

And here’s the biggest misconception about carnivorous plants –  do not feed them!  That’s right.  Just.  Don’t.  Do.  It.  The biggest killers of Venus fly traps are those who feed and constantly harass the traps.  Think about it.  The success rate in the wild of catching a bug is pretty slim, yet they get by.  There’s no need for you to feed them.  They have literally evolved to catch bugs all by themselves.  And there are plenty of small bugs around the house (and dust) which they can feed off of just fine.  Harassing the traps just exhausts the plant to death, so don’t do it.

Carnivorous plants are sensitive to water and humidity, and coexist with mosses.  Therefore, a terrarium with a closed lid will be best for them.  I recommend using a glass terrarium – and lining the bottom with a pinch of soil and 3-4” of live, sopping-wet sphagnum moss.  Pop the plants into the moss, place in a warm, sunny window, and add the lid.  Literally set it and forget it until you need to add more water.  The ideal water line is at the 2nd inch of the live moss.  The plants with the highest success rate with this method are pitcher plants, followed by butterworts, then everything else.  A carnivorous plant terrarium is a fun project to put together – and a unique conversation piece for all to enjoy!

 

#PlantPorn, #PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Houseplant Tastemakers, How-to, Interview, Plant Care

Tastemakers: Tylor Rogers

November 2, 2016

This edition of our Houseplant Tastemakers Series features “your local plant boy” – Tylor Rogers. Not only are we envious of Tylor’s personal houseplant collection (check out his Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’), but we love Tylor’s genuine passion for plants which is evident by scrolling through his Instagram feed. This young Instagramer proves that houseplants aren’t just a hobby for the retired. Check out our Q&A with Tylor below! 

Tylor Rogers captured by Sam Davis

Tylor Rogers captured by Sam Daniels

Name: Tylor Rogers
Location: Valparaiso IN//Chicago IL – I split my weeks between the two places.
Occupation: I am a barista back at home in Valpo, and then I’m also fortunate to work at Sprout Home Chicago!
Favorite Plant: Oh man, that’s a hard one. I go through phases where I’m obsessed with a certain plant and then the next week it could be something completely different. I would have to say that a Variegated Monstera deliciosa has been my favorite plant since I’ve been into plants though.

Tylor Rogers in his element by Sam Davis

Tylor Rogers in his element by Sam Daniels

What’s a week in the life of Tylor Rogers like? 

My days usually are pretty busy. When I’m not slinging coffee I’m working around plants! Between my two jobs, I work 7 days a week. I really enjoy staying busy and for the time being I love what I’m doing! I’m crazy about plants and coffee so it only makes sense that I would find myself surrounded by the two. Working at Sprout Home Chicago is very fulfilling, I’m constantly learning about new plants (and constantly adding to my plant gang).

Sam @ Home

Tylor @ Home

When I’m not working I typically spend my time hanging around my plant jungle that is my room. I also really enjoy finding different conservatories/greenhouses to explore. Adventuring through new parts in the city also excites me.

What’s a secret skill you have?

I’m very receptive, I pick up on peoples needs very quickly and it makes working with others very easy. I also know how to get down on the dance floor, which not too many people know!

What’s the best present you’ve given or received?

PLANTS! Always plants. Some of my favorite plants in my collection have been gifts. I also think gifting a plant fits any occasion. You can always find room for another.

Sam and Penelope

Tylor and Penelope

If your space was on fire, what’s the first thing you’d grab to save?

My jungle pup Penelope! She’s an English Bulldog and I’m lucky enough that she doesn’t mess with any of my plants. She only enjoys napping next to them.

What’s on your to-do list today?

I am finishing up writing a letter to my girlfriend Krysten, who’s studying at Indiana University, making my daily plant rounds, (I don’t stick to any type of schedule, you kind of get a feel for which plants need more maintenance and being diligent about checking them has worked best for me), I work at Sprout Home today, after I’m going to a plant auction (of course), and then lastly I’m going out to sing karaoke and to a club with my friend in Chicago!

A pencil cactus looms over some of Tylor's houseplant collection

A pencil cactus looms over some of Tylor’s houseplant collection

What is your favorite plant and why? 

Really all of them! I’ve been obsessing over Anthuriums lately, there’s so many different plants within that genus that its hard to pick just one. Really anything with unusual foliage or that’s considered rare will draw my attention.

Do you have a green thumb?

Not to toot my own horn, but I would say yes! It would be a little difficult to take care of my 100+ plants at home if I didn’t have a green thumb. I counted earlier this week, 86 of my plants are in my bedroom! That’s not saying you can’t have a green thumb too! Reading up on plants and not being afraid to lose a couple in the process will help you cultivate a plant hobby! I actually just killed an air plant earlier this week, but thats okay!

Tylor's Houseplants

Tylor’s Houseplants

Any plant care tips you can share?

RESEARCH! Half the fun of having a plant gang is learning how to take care of your new friend. There’s a ton of plant books out there to help you, and google is there to help 24/7. With winter approaching and us cranking up the thermostat, our plants need extra love too! Invest in a humidifier and keep those tropical plants happy! Lastly, houseplants should bring you joy, if you find one of them is being more of a nuisance to you, don’t be afraid to give ‘em away or toss it out. This is something I still struggle with! 😉

Tylor's Anthurium crystallinum

Tylor’s Anthurium crystallinum

What tops your houseplant wish list?

There’s so many different plants on my wish list that it’s hard to keep track! Most recently it was an Anthurium crystallinum, but just this week I got one from work (Sprout Home)! Anything that I find unusual always makes it onto the list. The list is never ending!

(all the incredible plant photos above were taken by Sam Daniels – iamsamdaniels.com@iamsamdaniels