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#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Houseplant Tastemakers, Interview

Jeannie Phan, Illustrator, Freelance

October 13, 2017

Meet Jeannie Phan, an editorial illustrator residing in Toronto, Canada, with her furry best friend, Odin. Jeannie immediately captured our hearts with her picture-worthy and plant-filled apartment when we stumbled upon her on Instagram. Then we realized that she is also an amazing illustrator with a cult following. Swoon. 

Headshot by Dawn Kim

Name: Jeannie Phan
Location: Toronto, Canada
Occupation: Freelance Illustrator
Favorite Plant: Strelitzia nicolai (Giant White Bird of Paradise)

Can you share a little bit of background about yourself?
I’m above all, an artist, which explains why I can’t help but keep my hands moving and picking up things like plant care, home organization (or really, just the obsessive re-arranging of bric-a-brac) and DIY projects. If you’re into the Meyers-Briggers personality typing, I’m an INTJ, but far from a mathematician.
Originally, I’m from a small city in the prairies of Canada (Winnipeg), born from immigrant parents who brought us up on resourcefulness and appreciation of the outdoors. Although, I’d say I’m a definite late-bloomer in the latter, to the surprise of many! Currently, I hang out in the bustling city of Toronto with my feline best friend, Odin, and an uber supportive life partner. I work, live and grow in a home
studio.

Can you share a little bit about your art?
Sure, my art has developed from being highly ornate to now a body of work that appreciates the simpler forms of people, objects, and places. Hilariously, unlike my personal life, which is buttered in neutrals, my art is colourful, bathed in saturated primaries and overlayed with the colours inbetween. I’m an optimistic person with a dark sense of humour and I like to think my work radiates some of that, particularly with my personal series. To get to the nitty gritty, I’m primarily an editorial illustrator that draws for publications globally. But I also do work in advertising and have a few influencer
campaigns under my belt (I love social media!).

What’s a secret skill you have?
I have an incredible ability to forget birthdays.

What’s the best present you’ve given or received?
You know, I have to say when my friend Justine (@patternsandportraits) gifted me with my very first plants, which were two succulents I couldn’t even tell you the name of. I killed one overnight by suffocating it bare-root in a bag (yup…) and the other rotted. I give huge thanks to Justine and my other friend Elaine for really planting the seed with this whole plant obsession. If it wasn’t for that gift and a huge stubbornness to redeem myself, I probably wouldn’t be as big of a plant nerd. Thanks Justine!

If your space was on fire, what’s the first thing you’d grab to save?
My cat Odin, of course!! I have a thing where I don’t put a lot of value in physical objects so everything can burn, and so long as my loved ones are safe, that’s all I need. But alright, if I had to pick something physical, I’d grab my hard drive because it’s the lifeline to my work and an archive of a lot of priceless photos.

What’s on your to-do list today?
Work out. I’ve been really into fitness this year (after years of failed attempts) and valuing self care. Not only is being a freelance illustrator mentally straining, but it physically chips away at your body from hours of drawing at a table. So every day I’ll either go for a walk, jog, or pump some iron.

What is your favorite plant and why?
Strelitzia nicolai (Giant White Bird of Paradise) because it’s one of my oldest surviving tropicals. It was with me when I was a budding plant enthusiast not knowing what it wanted and stuck by when I became better versed with plants. Thankfully, like a trooper, it survived our move and grows bigger (it’s over 6ft tall!) and even prouder. The giant paddles for foliage strelitzia have are no short of majestic. It transcends me into a different world and I’ll often just sit and stare at it while having my morning coffee.
Do you have a “green thumb”? Not naturally, no. People are always surprised when I say I’m a former plant murderer because my mom had a beautiful garden, and I show my love for plants like we’ve been best friends since grade school. But, it just goes to show that anyone can learn the language of plants and appreciate nature, even if it’s not woven within their DNA.

Any plant care tips you can share?
Shower your plants one a month. Much less often for dessert plants of course, but your tropicals, like your garden plants, appreciate some “rain” even if it’s not actually from the outdoors. It helps clear dust, flush out the soil, and keeps pests at bay. Good circulation and adequate light is key afterwards though! To properly dry out the soil.

What tops your houseplant wish list?
I’d love a variegated monstera deliciosa but I’m much more of a plant opportunist, so I gather plants I like when I see them and seldom “hunt” for them. I have enough plants as is!

When did you start illustrating?
I started freelance illustrating full-time in 2013 but I was drawing since I was a kid. I went to art school at OCAD University here in Toronto, and graduated in 2012 with a bachelors. After working at a concept shop/gallery on Queen West or about a year, I decided to dive into freelancing full-time. I started off doing layout design as a graphic designer, but lost interest in it so I finally pushed to just do art 100% of the time. And here I am today!

Do you have a favorite illustration or project?
Recently, it’s the Acqua di Parma influencer campaign I did where I visualized all the scents in their Blu Mediterraneo collection. This collection was inspired by natural botanical ingredients and I just couldn’t imagine a more perfect project to mesh my love of plants and art. You’ll see the sketches for this project pinned on my wall as a momento. They were also kind enough to send me all the perfumes, so you can catch me swimming in the scent of citrus fruit or figs almost everyday.

What inspires you?
Nature, long conversations with friends, my cat.

Any words of advice for those looking to do their passion full-time?
No risk, no reward. You can be strategic in finding a way to freelance full-time but don’t lay plans that are too concrete (because this is a profession that’s fluid) and don’t let it paralyze you. Sometimes, jumping in and learning to swim is the best way. One thing I also really want to stress is, when your passion becomes your job, the dynamics of this relationship shifts. I have classmates from art school that realize that they don’t actually want a career that involves drawing 24/7. They want to be strategic thinkers, or creative in another way. Look at the core ability of what you’re passionate about and be open minded in what skills that can be applied to and maybe that’s a 9-5 job, maybe not. Disregard the topical idealism certain freelance professions have because that shiny coating wears out quickly after a few years.

Thank you so much, Jeannie! Following Jeannie on Instagram: @jeanniephan and @studioplants

P.S. More women share their plant passion, including an artist and a jewelry designer

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#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, How-to, Interview, Plant Care

Creating an Herb Garden in Your Kitchen – by Katie Kuchta

October 4, 2017

We’re thrilled to feature a guest post by our friend, Katie Kuchta, on creating an herb garden right in your own kitchen.  Katie came to appreciate nature’s beauty through her plein air painting and finds passion in designing gardens and outdoor living spaces. In her spare time, she enjoys practicing Tai Chi on a nearby beach and taking meditative walks through forests. 

Photo via online

Transitioning into the fall weather has its ups and downs. Frequenting lawn care on the weekends to prepare for a lush yard in the springtime and the dwindling sadness of cleaning out your garden bed. Gardening doesn’t have to end there!

You can do one of two things or both– utilize your freshly cleaned out garden bed for quick growing vegetables or bring the gardening indoors. Lettuce is easy to grow and with some varieties can keep the cold where the winters are mild. If you prefer to bring the garden indoors instead of bearing the chill to exercise your green-thumb, try growing something similar and rewarding like fresh herbs.

Fresh herbs will add zest to the most ordinary of meals. Dried herbs are good enough, but there is no comparison to the vibrant scent and flavor of fresh herbs. Besides, when have you ever been satisfied with “good enough” in your culinary artistry?

There are no fresher herbs than those that you grow at home, let alone in your own kitchen. Not only is it easy to establish and maintain your indoor herb garden, but it’s also an extremely satisfying way of exercising your green thumb year-round. Here are some tips on bringing the outside in by creating an herb garden right in your kitchen!

Let there be light

Photo via online

Of course you want your herb garden in the kitchen where you can reach over and snip the fresh herbs as you cook, but if there is not enough light in the kitchen, an herb garden in any other room works just as well.

Herbs need as much natural light as possible—at least four to five hours of sun a day. Four seasons rooms and rooms with a skylight or larger windows work best. Windows with south or southwest sunlight exposure is ideal, but windows facing the east or west work fine as well.

None of those in your home? Purchase grow lights and position them so that they light the area over your herbs for four to six hours a day. No matter how your herbs receive light, remember to turn them regularly for even exposure and growth.

Keep the herbs comfy

Photo via online

Indoor herbs prefer the same temperatures that most people do— around 65 to 70 degrees F. If you’re comfortable, they probably are too. At night, the temperature near a window may drop to 55 or 60, most herbs are okay with that, just don’t let foliage touch the cold glass. It will turn brown and the plant can die from thermal shock.

Herbs find it difficult to deal with dry air, whether it’s from air conditioning or heating. They’ll appreciate a weekly shower with lukewarm water. Put the pots in the sink, spray them gently but thoroughly and let them drip dry.

Pot and Plant

Photo credit: dogeared (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Now that you’ve found the right spot, select the pots. You may automatically head for clay pots, but they dry out quickly, a real problem in dry climates or when the heater is on in the winter. Stick with glazed or plastic pots. They are better for your herbs, in particular– the glazed pots are so beautifully made that they add another dimension to your home’s décor. Be sure that the pots have drainage holes.

Use a fast-draining potting mix with perlite or vermiculite rather than garden soil to keep the soil loose and aerated. You will need good drainage and protection for your window sill or table top. Place the potted plants on a saucer, liner, or drain pan to catch the drainage.

Photo credit: online

Herbs to start with
When taking care of herbs indoors, it’s best to start with established plants rather than seeds. You’ll have herbs months sooner.

  • Basil: “Genovese” for classic aroma and flavor or “Siam Queen” for a more exotic spicy flavor.
  • Chervil: Also known as French parsley, with delicate overtones of anise.
  • Chives: “Grolau” has a delicate onion flavor and loves growing by a window.
  • Cilantro: Also known as Chinese parsley, with a distinctive flavorful blend of parsley, sage, and citrus.
  • Dill: Grows best indoors. “Fernleaf” dill is an ideal compact variety.
  • Marjoram: This Mediterranean native is related to oregano, but the flavor is sweeter and more delicate.
  • Mint: Peppermint, spearmint or “English” mint—all are good choices. Each needs its own pot. They can get aggressive with other herbs.

Once your herbs are planted, they aren’t particularly demanding. The most important thing to do is to snip or prune back your herbs, once a week on average. Keeping them pruned will make them sturdier and more productive.

Thanks for the tips, Katie! Now you can exercise your green-thumb in the cooler months and enjoy your own farm-to-table herbs year-round. How amazing is that? Do you have any tips when it comes to growing herbs indoors? Comment below! 

P.S Check out more plant care tips and tricks HERE

 

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#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Houseplant Tastemakers, How-to, Interview

Stressed? Plants are The Answer – by Carrie Ingoglia

September 28, 2017

We are thrilled to feature a guest post by Carrie Ingoglia on why incorporating plants and meditation into your life is important.

If you’ve been feeling any stress lately, you’re not alone. There’s a lot going on in the world of ours.

Maybe you’re constantly running through your to-do list. You feel impatient or frustrated. You have trouble sleeping or digesting. Or maybe you get stuck endlessly scrolling through your social feeds (This morning I went to look up the weather, and 20 minutes went by while I checked Twitter and Instagram. Meanwhile, I totally forgot to look at the weather.)

No matter how stress manifests for you, nature offers a biological antidote that we often forget.

We’re built to respond to the seasons and the natural environment —being close to nature helps us go with the flow. But because our daily lives are often so far removed from the natural world, it’s easy to feel disconnected. Luckily, you don’t have to immerse yourself in bioluminescent pools or spend hours forest bathing to get the positive effects of nature.

WHAT DOES STRESS DO?

When we are stressed, our bodies react by turning on our “fight or flight” response. This is a chemical response that makes our hearts beat faster, our breathing get faster and more shallow, and our digestion slow, redirecting energy to the big muscles of the body so we can run away or stand our ground against the tiger that’s chasing us through the forest.

The problem is, our body doesn’t know the difference between a very real threat from an animal of prey and a message on social media that makes us angry or defensive. It reacts with the same stress response to a tiger or a tweet. And being in a constant state of fight or flight is exhausting and can lead to all sorts of ailments big and small.

JUST BREATHE

The good news is, the stress response has a built-in counter balance. We can reverse the whole thing, and we can do it just by breathing. Becoming aware of your breath has a way of getting us out of our heads and into our bodies. Deep breathing is known to slow the heart rate and helps bring us down from fight or flight.

Our breath and our bodies are our instant connection back to the present moment. By paying attention to that, we can more easily come back down to earth — no matter where we are.

HERE’S WHERE THE PLANTS COME IN

Adding natural elements to our daily lives can help us feel more connected and less stressed out.

It’s no surprise that a hike helps calm us down. Or that gardening can be used as a kind of meditation. In fact, according to Psychology Today, several scientific studies have shown the presence of houseplants has been found to be lower blood pressure, increase focus, and lower anxiety in schools, at work, and even in hospitals. (Learn more about the benefits of indoor plants here.) 

Plants help keep us grounded when we’re all up in our heads.

THREE WAYS TO REDUCE STRESS:
  • Take three deep breaths.

This one is easy and you can do it anywhere. But it may take some practice. Wherever you are, pause. Sit or stand with your feet planted on the ground and let your spine be long. Breathe in through your nose to the count of three. Then breathe out through your nose to the count of five. Do this three or more times and see how you feel.

  • Go for a walk outside.

Even if you’re not in the woods or on the beach, just being outside can help make us feel more connected. If you’re at work, try going for a walk around the block without your phone. Stand on the corner waiting for the bus without checking your email. Spot a little dandelion sprouting through the cracks in the sidewalk. Just be outside.

  • Do a guided plant meditation.

Spend some quality time with whatever plants you have around you, whether it’s a big Fiddle Leaf Fig or a tiny succulent. Luckily, you’ve got a guided meditation right here to help start you on you’re way.

 

Thank you so much, Carrie! Have you ever meditated (and do you have plants around you when you do it)? What else would you add? 

PS Carrie is a yoga teacher and the writer + producer of the podcast, Yoga For the Revolution

PPS Find our plant picks that will purify air while you meditate HERE!

 

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#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Interview, Plant History

Travel Within Your Home With These 7 Houseplants

August 17, 2017

Why settle for a souvenir when you could have a living memento of your travels?

Plants bring colors to life, they grow with your care, they originate from fascinating places…

We teamed up with HomeToGo to suggest 7 unique houseplants you can use to create vacation vibes in your home. From the tropical Myanmar jungle to the refreshingly high altitude of the Himalayas, these plants will make your home a travel expedition!

P.S. Find HomeToGo’s interview with our plant expert extraordinaire Christopher Satch HERE.

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#PlantPorn, #PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Behind The Scenes, Houseplant Tastemakers, How-to, Interview

Having Pets AND Plants

June 22, 2017

We interviewed a few of our team members that are parents to both pets *and* plants for their top tips about keeping the peace in a jungle-like apartment… 

FullSizeRender

Above is Tweeks, one of our Marketing Director Erin’s cats, sharing her favorite sill with a few potted plants! 

MEET ANGELA, PLANT SPECIALIST

NAME: Angela Muriel

PETS: I have 5 cats living in my apartment. I got involved doing some TNR (trap, neuter, return) volunteer work in my Crown Heights neighborhood and in the process found an abandoned litter of kittens. I was able to get a few adopted but a couple still remain in my care so they are now a part of my crew.

Cisco _ Helios (Angela)

PLANTS: I currently have a Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata), a Grape Ivy (Cissus rhombifolia) and several terrariums. I always keep a flat of grass for all the kitties to enjoy and to provide them with some nature.

TIPS: Cats will find their way into just about anything and are incredible climbers. My large plants are in hanging baskets out of their reach and of course the terrariums are enclosed in glass so they can’t get to those (ha ha!). I am able to enjoy a huge variety of plants in the terrariums, as well as create a whole environment in miniature form.

Sally on grass (Angela)

I have reviewed many poisonous plant lists and quite frankly if one were to adhere closely to them your choices would be really limited (find all our non-toxic plants here). One thing to keep in mind is that with many plants the animal would have to ingest a substantial amount to become ill. It is most important to observe the behaviour of your pet in regards to your plants. Many pets will simply ignore the greenery, where as others may be attracted to certain leaves or growth habits. That said, there are certain plants that can be fatal if eaten i.e. Sago Palm (not a “true palm” but a Cycad which are a primitive group), some plants from the Euphorbia family which produce a milky sap when cut, a few Aroids especially the Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia) and any bulb plants such as Lilies, Hyacinth, Daffodil, Amaryllis, etc.

Never assume that an animal will instinctively “know” which plant is “good” or “bad” and this isn’t any measure of their intelligence. Our pets are domesticated animals and so much of nature is just not in their realm of experience. A good pet owner will just have to practice keen observation.

 

MEET PEGGY, SHOP MANAGER

NAME: Peggy Lu

PETS: I have a 2-year-old French Bulldog, Olivia, and a 10-month-old cat, Mia, who my husband rescued off the street.

Peggy's dog-2

PLANTS: I cohabit with probably 40ish plants now. Most of them are air-purifying plants – Fern, Snake plant, ZZ plant, Pothos, Ivy, Philodendron, Spider plant, terrarium plants, and many cacti and succulents – that I bought since I started working at The Sill. Yes, I am that girl who wants to put her plants to work: providing fresh oxygen.

Peggy's cat-2

TIPS: My dog, Olivia, could not care less about plants, the one I had trouble with was my kitty, Mia. She is only a baby – she has so much energy in her. She bites and swaps my plants ALL THE TIME. It used to bother me a lot; however, I realized she only does it out of boredom or when she is in a playful mood. I’ve learned some tips that hopefully will help your pet and your plants live in harmony:

1. Buy cat grass. Bonus: you’ve got another plant!
2. Don’t discipline your pet when they’ve chew/attacked you plants. Especially cats will react to negative and positive reinforcement the same. Trust me, they will do it while you sleep. I pretend to not see it while Mia is at it now, and quietly clean up after her while she is not looking.
3. Try a citrus spray! Dogs and cats do not like anything that is in citrus family. Bonus: your home will not only will look nice with plants, but it will smell amazing too!
4. Play with them! Enjoy one-on-one time and tire them out. A happy and tired dog/cat will leave things alone.
5. Live with it. I’ve learned to live with imperfect foliages. Overall, It is your pet’s home too!
6. Do your research before buying a plant – both for the health of the plant and your lovely companions at home.

Peggy's cat-1

 

MEET CATHERINE, OPERATIONS + PLANT SPECIALIST

NAME: Catherine Cummings

PETS: I recently adopted a kitten from the Somerset County Shelter in NJ to grow my little family! Her name’s Lana after the character on Archer. She’s non-stop energy and endlessly curious.

PLANTS: My house is filled with plants of all kinds, including hanging pothos and philodendrons, cacti, succulents, ferns, etc. I’ve completely lost track of how many I have at this point, but they cover every available surface…

TIPS: I keep most plants up out of her reach on shelves mounted on the walls. The plants that take over the windows I always make sure are safe for pets, such as haworthia succulents and bromeliads. She’s never shown any interest in chewing any of them – and I make sure she has plenty to keep her busy while I’m gone by leaving out boxes and new things for her to explore. Luckily she’s more interested in trying to catch my fish than chewing on the plants!

 

MEET SARINA, PLANT MAINTENANCE

NAME: Sarina Perez

PETS: My chubster, Gideon. I adopted him after a former roommate found a box of kittens in the dumpster three years ago. Back home, we have a dog named Cash who lives in my mom’s country garden on the outskirts of San Antonio.

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 4.12.13 PM

PLANTS: I have around 30 houseplants, but unfortunately only one window in my LES apartment’s living room. My bedroom is actually subterranean. Thankfully through my time working at The Sill I’ve found there are so many types of plants that can tolerate moderate to low-light situations. I have a lot of philodendron and pothos variations, snake plants, a few broadleaf ferns, and palms.

Being a Texas native – I really miss all the cacti that line the streets, so I cram what I can into the biggest spots on my window. I love large plants, so I have a nice big rubber tree (Ficus elastica), Philodendron vellum, and Monstera deliciosa right by the window. My mom has everything from a prickly pear cactus over 7ft tall, to ivy, to begonias, to elephant ears, to palm trees. Cash pulls some weeds every now and then – but he also loves to nap amongst them.

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 4.12.04 PM

TIPS: Gideon loves hiding behind the large ones and jumping out to scare me. Also has been known to nap under the wide leaves of my monstera, which I totally understand. Sometimes when he is mad at me though he will dig the soil of the larger plants. I’ve found that if I put a few large rocks on top of the soil, he won’t do it again. If you’re thinking about getting a cat – I would keep small plants off the edges of your shelves and tables, since they’re bound to knock a few over. If you notice your pet going around a certain plant, try surrounding it with a few potted cacti…

 

MEET JENNA, SHOPKEEPER + PLANT MAINTENANCE

NAME: Jenna Kohl

PETS: I have two Siberian cats named Munch and Finn. I adopted them from the Meow Parlour a few blocks away from The Sill shop. My boyfriend named them after detectives on Law and Order SVU.

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PLANTS: I have over one hundred plants the last time I counted; they are everywhere. Luckily, my apartment has space to fill, so it doesn’t look overwhelming – i.e., there is still room for more plants. I have snakes and aglaonema in a hall with low light. Then scattered everywhere else are monstera, ponytail palm, pilea peperomioides, calathea, aralia, a lot of pothos and philodendron, fiddle leaf fig tree, peperomia, fern, and the list goes on.

TIPS: If you’ve got a furry nibbler like mine are, the ASPCA has lists of toxic plants that are worth looking at, and The Sill has a special pet-friendly, i.e. non-toxic, collection page. All my toxic plants live either on high shelves, kitchen cabinets, plant stands, or a wardrobe. My cats aren’t great jumpers so they don’t even attempt to get them. The accessible plants are all pet friendly; if they chew on one I don’t have to worry. I also deter them with wheatgrass which is good for their digestion.

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MEET RACHEL, DESIGNER + ACCOUNT MANAGER

NAME: Rachel Lyons

PETS: Peloton Seelyons

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PLANTS: My Brooklyn apartment houses a few Monstera deliciosa, Pothos, Bird of Paradise, Agave, Schefflera, Prickly Pear Cactus, Fiddle Leaf Fig, Calathea, Xerographica, Boston Fern, Orchids, Snake Plants, Jade, and much much more…

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 4.28.53 PM

TIPS: My 1.5 year old barn kitty rescue rarely tries to eat any of the plants. He was raised with them from a tiny kitten, so for Pelo it’s more about using the greenery to get my attention – by rustling leaves, teetering terra cotta, or snapping branches in the early morning hours to say ‘feed me now’. Sometimes he’ll chew my aloe, which is toxic, but he never swallows it or shows signs of distress. Don’t let feline friends ruin the bliss of having houseplant friends. Put up shelving, get creative and wall-mount your greens. Or have one sacrificial non-toxic plant that takes the pouncing each day so that the others can flourish safely.

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MEET ROBYN, DESIGNER + ACCOUNT MANAGER

NAME: Robyn Moore

PETS: My dog Disco!

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PLANTS: Succulents, Cacti, a Snake Plant, an Avocado Tree (yes…!), an Aglaonema, and assorted Ferns

TIPS: I keep all my plans up high (countertops, planter stands, shelves, etc.) so Disco is less likely to be distracted by them. I have friends who have had issues with their dogs eating more toxic items – like bad foods, or garbage – but plants have never been an issue. Dogs are smarter than cats (sorry…) and will leave it alone once they realize it doesn’t taste good or make them feel good! It’s important to pay attention to your dog’s behavior. Most often, the warning signs of consumption are clear and rarely fatal. But it’s always best to just avoid any occurrence – if your dog is prone to chewing, stay away from plants with a latex-like sap (pencil cactus, rubber plant, ZZ).

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P.S. Shop our team’s favorite pet-friendly houseplants.

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Behind The Scenes, Interview, Plant Care, Plant History

Interview: Lena Struwe

June 14, 2017

Dr. Lena Struwe (Credit: Susanne Ruemmele)

We interviewed Dr. Lena Struwe, an accomplished professor at Rutgers University, as well as the Director of the Chrysler Herbarium at Rutgers University, a leading herbarium in the world for the preservation of important plant taxa samples and records!

Dr. Struwe is the mentor of our resident Plant Scientist here at The Sill, Christopher Satch. Her research involves the order, Gentianlaes, which encompases a few plant families that are extremely economically important – including Rubiaceae (the coffee family), Gentianaceae (the gentian family), Apocynaceae (the dogbane family), and more. These plant families contain countless plants that we use on a daily basis – oleander, coffee, and periwinkle, just to name a few. With this in mind, we asked what she could share with us about what plants have taught her…

Gentiana verna CC BY-SA 3.0, Michael Gasperl (Migas)

What inspired you to choose Gentians to study?

When I started out in grad school my advisor had a grant to work on this group of plants, so I actually didn’t choose gentians. But I quickly fell in love with this family and have worked on them for over 25 years now.

What about Gentians makes them special?

They have a long history of being used by humans as medicinal plants around the world, and they also are incredibly gorgeous. Their flowers come in all colors, even black, and there are gentians on every continent and in every kind of habitat (except on top of glaciers and in the driest deserts).

Are there any easy ways to grow Gentians?

No, gentians are generally rather hard to grow. Some are suitable for rock gardens, but most live in symbioses with fungi and are very specific of what kind of soils they want. Some species in the Gentiana genus are probably the easiest for people in the temperate zones.

Are there any indoor Gentians for the houseplant lover?

Prairie gentians (Eustoma) are sometimes sold as a potted plant, but this species is not long-lived and they often get root rot. The same species is often found at florists as well and is a beloved cut flower.  Gentians are best grown outdoors. 

Eustoma grandiflorum Andrew Dunn, CC BY-SA 2.0

What inspired you to do taxonomy studies?

I have always loved plants, since I was very young. In third grade our teacher made us do a class herbarium and an inventory of a little forest plot, and I loved to explore and figure out what was growing and flowering there. I come from an outdoorsy family that sailed, canoed, hiked, picked mushrooms, etc., and cool plants are everywhere so it never got boring. When I went to college I had planned to do environmental studies, but ended up in botany classes and with an undergraduate part-time job in the herbarium, and the rest is history. The idea to explore the unknown when it comes to biodiversity, which is really what taxonomy is about, is something that fascinates me every day.

Any cool recent finds or new discoveries in the taxonomic world?

The recent news of a million-years old fossil tomatillo plant is a marvelous find. (Learn more!)

Fossil Tomatillo (Credit: Peter Wilf)

I’ve noticed that a lot of houseplants hail from Araceae family. Is there anything special about that family, to your knowledge, that makes them resilient to indoor conditions?

Many of the indoor Araceae plants grow naturally either as epiphytes (on trees) or on the forest floors in tropical countries. They are used to low light conditions, and sometimes droughts. Even in a rain forest it can be dry, especially if you are an epiphyte with no deep roots in the soil, or no way to catch the water that is falling down. 

Do you have any interesting plants in your home or garden?

In our backyard is a large dawn redwood tree planted by the previous owners. It is a tree that is only found wild in a small area in China, but cultivated across the world. Scientists thought it was extinct since it only was known from fossils, but then it was found in the mid-1900s. There are similar stories of other rediscovered conifers, like ginkgo and the Wollemi pine. This is like finding a living Tyrannosaurus rex somewhere on Earth… 

Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Public Domain)

If there’s one thing you want the world to know about plants, what would that be?

If there weren’t any plants, there wouldn’t be civilization, agriculture, humans, food, spices, log cabins, hamburgers, gardens, or cupcakes. Wherever you are there are plants to explore, and they are a lot easier to look at than birds and mammals because they sit still! 

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Houseplant Tastemakers, Interview, Plant Care

Yanna Garecka, Jewelry Designer, Squidlicks

June 13, 2017

Meet our June Houseplant Tastemaker – Squidlicks jewelry designer and orchid mom Yanna Garecka! 

NAME: 
Yanna Garecka

LOCATION: 
Northern Virginia

OCCUPATION: Kitchen Manager by night. Graphic Design Student by day. Jewelry Designer in-between.

FAVORITE PLANT: Orchids!

Can you share a little bit about yourself – and your jewelry? Thanks to apples not falling far from trees – my whole life I have been fascinated both by art and nature, specifically geology and botany. I grew up with my plant-hoarding, oil-painting mother constantly reciting names of plant to me as we would pass them by. My fascination with jewelry design began as a therapeutic hobby when I was a struggling in my teenage years, which quickly lead me to selling bright and bold collage necklaces on the beta era of Etsy in 2006. These pieces usually featuring plastic toys such as squids and bugs. Over the years I have experimented with many mediums. Three years ago I feel in love with eco-resin and haven’t stopped since.

What’s a secret skill you have? 
I can make balloon animals.

What’s the best present you’ve given or received? 
My boyfriend made me candles – shaped and carved like the stones from the 5th Element (we are sci-fi nerds, one of our favorite movies). Everyone who recognizes them in our home gets very excited.

If your space was on fire, what’s the first thing you’d grab to save? 
I would grab my cats of course! Boo and Grey – jewelry is replaceable, they aren’t!

What’s on your to-do list today? Catching up on social media posts today. Tend to my cats, plants, and then go into my night job, which is running a kitchen in music venue.

What is your favorite plant and why? 
Orchids! All my life I have struggled to keep them alive and I have finally cracked the code.

Do you have a green thumb? 
Any plant care tips you can share? 
Over all you could say I have a green thumb, honestly it’s all a matter of timing your watering, and not overwatering.

What tops your houseplant wish list? The thing to top my houseplant wish list would be for Grey Kitty to stop chewing and eating all my plants so I don’t have to put them in strange cat inaccessible places. That would be great. 

What or who inspires you? The overall impression of mosses and lichens in resin remind me a lot of natural resin – amber. My family is Polish, and one thing Polish people like as much as potatoes and pickles is beautiful glowing amber. More then anything though, I love the color green. I love forests carpeted with moss and rocks living with lichens. I want to capture those elements into a piece of wearable jewelry, just like how people like to keep terrariums in their homes.

Thank you so much, Yanna! Follow Yanna & Squidlicks on Instagram here

(All photos are taken by Yanna.)

#PlantPorn, #PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Behind The Scenes, Houseplant Tastemakers, Interview, Plant Care

Darryl Cheng, @houseplantjournal

May 8, 2017

Our team has been a huge fan of the Instagram feed @houseplantjournal since we can remember, so we’re thrilled to finally feature the man behind the feed, Toronto-based Darryl Cheng, in this edition of our Tastemakers series

MEET DARRYL CHENG

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Who is Darryl Cheng? 
By day, I’m a business analyst for a tech company. In general, my job is to understand client requirements before delivering a product. By nights/weekends, I spend time with my fiancee; take care of my plants; play music (piano, vocal, guitar – I’m the music director at my church); play sports with my brother/friends; play with my niece.

What’s your ideal ‘happy place’?
A garden nursery of tropical plants.

Darryl plant hunting

What’s your favorite thing about living in Toronto?
Definitely the variety of neighborhoods. I work in the bustling downtown area but live in a peaceful, yet accessible suburb.

What T.V. show do you love to binge watch?
Star Trek Voyager

What can’t you leave your house without?
My iPod. Yes, I still use one for music.

Have you always dreamt about working with plants?
I still do since I’m technically not paid to work with them. If The Sill comes to Toronto, please hire me!

Darryl in his element!

Can you explain what the House Plant Journal is and how it started? 
House Plant Journal is the result of my love for photography and house plants. The thing I love most about plants is how they grow and become a long-term friend (well, most of them). I started documenting my plant hobby on Tumblr because it was easy to use its tagging system to find my photos on a particular topic: I still frequently refer to them when I get asked questions like “how do you propagate pothos?” or “what did your monstera look like when you first got it?” I just wanted a reference to my personal experiences with house plants. I moved to Instagram to share my more artistic photos, “plant art”, and time-lapse videos. More recently, I started a blog where I hope to instill the very basics of house plant care. I’ve also started a Youtube channel but I’m having difficulty finding time to shoot and edit videos these days.

Darryl's Houseplants

Do you have any tips for aspiring plant parents that you can share?
This mostly applies to indoor tropical foliage plants:
– If you want to keep a plant alive for a few weeks: you must give it adequate light and water.
– If you want to keep a plant alive for a few months: you must aerate the soil.
– If you want to keep a plant alive for a few years: you must repot and refresh the soil.

Plant Portrait

What’s your coolest plant find?
During a trip in Hong Kong, I spent an afternoon wandering their Flower Market district – 2 blocks of plant shops! It was really cool to see all the different varieties of plants their suppliers provide. I found many cool plants but I’d say the coolest would have to be three intertwined blades of a type of snake plant I had never seen before (photo below). Unfortunately, plants are strictly controlled items and I would never have been able to bring any home to Canada.

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Your Instagram feed is so inspiring! What is your favorite post on your Instagram? 
Thanks! In fact, I should thank @thesill for twice featuring my photos! My favorite photo would have to be the ones of my plant shelf (photo below). The landing of my stairway receives so much bright indirect light from my skylight, it seemed a waste not to have some kind of shelving system just for plants. I know I’m very fortunate to have such ideal lighting for plants, which is why I share it often.

plantshelf

How many plants do you own?
I would estimate 100 to 120 if you combine my home, office, and church plants.

When did your love for plants begin?
I’ve helped my mom in the garden since I was a child but it wasn’t until we moved into our current house, which features two large skylights – that’s when I went plant-crazy indoors. I love to see new growth and flowering – signs that a plant is happy living in my home.

Time for a drink

What plant would you recommend for a person with a super busy schedule?
Sansevieria – they look good without much attention (photos below); they tolerate completely dry soil; they don’t need too much sunlight.

snakeplants_1

snakeplants_2

What is on your to-do list today?
Survey my jungle to see which plants need water or other attention. Honestly, it’s impossible for me to keep any kind of watering schedule but it’s a testament to the notion that you should be watering the plant whenever it needs and not by adhering to a schedule (great tip!). I need to queue up my next few Instagram posts. Sometimes I’ll even type out the captions beforehand – I put a lot of thought into some of them!

What is your favorite plant at the moment? 
Snake plants – I’ve been collecting different varieties as I find them.

Thank you so much Darryl!  P.S. Check out Darryl’s Instagram feed here

 

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Behind The Scenes, How-to, Interview, Plant Care

Fertilizer 101

March 29, 2017

Christopher Satch, head of plant science and education here at The Sill, gives us the 4-1-1 on fertilizer – just in time for the start of the growing season… spring!  

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The fresh smell of soil in the morning really does it for me. It really does it for your plants, too. Fertilization is one of those things that tends to get overlooked by most novices, but it can be quite important for the long-term health of your plant. Fertilizer should be thought of as vitamins for plants – not plant food (plants make their own food via light and photosynthesis). There are a few rules surrounding fertilization, and even the types of fertilizer that you should use.

Rule 1

Fertilization should follow growth, and the pace of growth. Spring is the start of the growing season. If you’re going to fertilize your plants – it’s best to do it in the springtime, when those vitamins will really come in handy. Use a slightly weaker dilution than the package recommends. Like with watering, it’s always better to under-fertilize than to over-fertilize! Do not fertilize if you’ve just repotted – new potting soil will provide enough new nutrients for your plant. (You can fertilize a month after repotting).

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Plants that grow faster should be fertilized more often than plants that grow slowly. For example, a begonia should be fertilized more regularly than a snake plant, and even more regularly than a cactus. That being said, if new growth on a plant you’ve had for a while is visibly smaller than previous growth, if the plant has been stagnant for months (not to be confused with a plant being dormant in the winter!), or if there is a clear indication of nutrient deficiency – you can fertilize your plant.

Rule 2

Plants that do more – ought to be fertilized more heavily. Fruits, veggies, and spices all need the most fertilizer because those plants are in production and fruiting regularly. For every leaf or fruit that you take from a plant, you’re also taking all the nutrients that went into that product, i.e. that leaf or fruit. It goes without saying that the plant needs the nutrients to grow the leaf or fruit in the first place. Flowering plants need a little less fertilizer than crop-producing plants. And other plants that just grow vegetatively need less.

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Rule 3

Know thy NPK values! What are NPK values? It’s the ratio of the three most-consumed macronutrients that plants need (that should be in your fertilizer) – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively. These values will usually be given on the label of the fertilizer box, for example: you’ll see 10-15-10, or a similar variation, on the label. If a value is not given, then we’d skip that fertilizer altogether and find another brand to use.

Rule 4

Know thy micronutrients! Micro-nutrients are just as important as macro-nutrients. Why micro? Because plants need less of them – even though they are just as important. Micronutrients include: calcium, magnesium, boron, iron, zinc, sulfur, nickel, manganese, copper, and molybdenum (but not necessarily in that order). Each micronutrient serves a role in plant enzymatic, cellular, and developmental functions. For example, calcium is involved in cell-wall thickening, and lack of calcium can lead to necrotic buds as well as mottled growth. You generally don’t have to worry about these for your houseplant. For your outdoor plants though, you do have to worry about these.

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Rule 5

Know the difference between organic fertilizers and chemical fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are made from some decaying organism, whether it be a fish emulsion, bat guano, or kelp – it’s coming from some other organism. Great in theory, but tough in practice, to make sure that organism naturally provides the right amount of nutrients for your plant. Chemical fertilizers are actually made from ground up minerals, which allows them to be formulated to be the correct amount of each macro and micro nutrient.

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Not convinced to go with a chemical fertilizer over an organic fertilizer? Remember that everything is a chemical of some sort – even water is technically a chemical. So, both organic and ‘chemical’ fertilizers accomplish the same job, just in different ways. Fish emulsion and chemical fertilizers deliver the same nitrates, the same potassium ions, and the same phosphates to plants. So, is one “better” than the other? Not really. Chemical fertilizers just happen to be more concentrated, and are usually more affordable. But it’s totally a personal preference.

Questions about fertilizing? Leave a comment below.

 

#PlantPorn, #PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Behind The Scenes, Interview, Plant History, Style Tips

The Orchid Show: Thailand at The New York Botanical Garden

February 23, 2017

Last Thursday we had the honor to attend The New York Botanical Garden’s press preview for their annual Orchid Show.

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The NYBG’s Orchid Show is a spring tradition for New Yorkers. Almost at the end, but not quiet yet, of a long, cold and drab New York winter – we crave the warmth and color that’s abundant inside the Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

The theme of this year’s Orchid Show was Thailand. The 15th annual show paid homage to the wealth of orchids (over 1,200 native species), acclaimed tropical gardens, renowned orchid breeding, and rich cultural history of the Southeast Asian nation.

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NYBG’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory was transformed into a classic Thai garden, complete with a sala centerpiece and hanging lanterns throughout. A sala (ศาลา) is a traditional open pavilion with a signature sweeping roofline that is used as a meeting place or space for relaxation and reflection. Found throughout Thailand, they offer visitors protection from the sun and rain.

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Trees and shrubs were pruned and trained into fanciful shapes, recalling the ancient Thai garden tradition of mai dat, and small ponds and pools were home to floating water jars filled with colorful orchids. Elephants, also symbolic of Thailand, flanked the Conservatory’s iconic reflecting pools, and traditional bamboo screens created multiple vignettes throughout the large space.

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The leading producer of cultivated orchids for over a century, Thailand is the world’s biggest exporter of native and hybrid tropical orchids. Because of the country’s hospitable climate – orchids have become almost synonymous with Thailand. Inside the Conservatory, orchid varieties that have helped Thailand earn its international reputation as a center for orchid horticulture and breeding – like Vanda, Dendrobium, and Paphiopedilum – were proudly on display.

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Dendrobium Orchids

NYBG horticulturalists assembled thousands of flowers from the Garden’s research collections, as well as from the finest growers across the country. The timing had to be perfect for the thousands of orchids used to be in bloom. It was spectacular – the Conservatory was filled with orchid varieties of every conceivable color and shape.

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The tour was led by Marc Hachadourian, Director of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections and Curator of the Orchid Collection, and Christian Primeau, NYBG’s Conservatory Manager who oversees NYBG’s extensive tropical and subtropical plant collections, and was the exhibition’s designer.

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We were lucky enough to chat with both Marc and Christian after the tour to learn more about what they hoped visitors would gain from the experience. In addition to enjoying the beautiful show, Christian hopes visitors will learn a little about Thai history and Thai gardening, and gain appreciation for Thai cultural. Marc hopes visitors will also get a glimpse into NYBG’s monumental education, research, and display efforts – The Orchid Show being a perfect example of those continuous endeavors.

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It’s worth noting that since 1990, the NYBG has been a designated ‘Plant Rescue Center’, charged with nurturing and bringing back to health orchids that have been collected illegally in the wild and seized at international borders. Marc Hachadourian along with Matthew Pace, PH.D., Assistant Curator in the Garden’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, are at the forefront of modern orchidology and conservation.

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And their top plant care tip for indoor gardeners at home? Analyze your space’s conditions – and choose your plants accordingly. With so many wonderful options to choose from, don’t base your first choice off looks alone. Find what will thrive.

The Orchid Show: Thailand at The New York Botanical Garden runs through Sunday, April 9th – and it is not to be missed!

*All Images Courtesy The New York Botanical Garden