Flora! Flora! Flora!

The millennial houseplant fixation has morphed into a full-blown frenzy since the early months of the pandemic. Here’s a look at the city’s doting plant parents and the shops that supply them

The Collectors

These local connoisseurs’ overindulgent spaces are drowning in greenery

Dorrington Reid

A 32-year-old senior merchandising manager for Old Navy who lives in the Church-Wellesley Village

“I’ve always loved plants, but my obsession started after I relocated to Vancouver seven years ago. I was inspired by all the lush nature around me and wanted to bring it indoors. When I moved back to Toronto two years ago, I kept up the hobby—plants really do change the way you live. I’ve become a more nurturing person. I’m also a minimalist, which sounds crazy to people who know how many plants I have. But my 500-square-foot condo is really clean and simple, and without the plants it would be an empty white shell. I like to layer plants with different foliage and colours together, and I love how vining plants look trailing over a simple shelf.”

How many plants do you have?
“Around 150. I’m not a helicopter plant parent. I let them do their thing.”

Advice on keeping a plant alive:
“Do your research to understand the plant’s needs and make sure you have the right situation to grow the plant.”

Personal favourite:
“Calathea orbifolia. I saw a photo on Instagram six years ago but couldn’t find it anywhere. I eventually found one four years later at a convenience store.”

Omar Ahmed and Matt Benfield

Content creators, 28 and 26 respectively, who live near Queen West

Omar: “I’m from Manchester in the U.K. and Matt is from North Carolina, but we met while we were both living in Berlin in 2017. We came to Canada three years ago for better career opportunities. When we moved into a tiny shoebox at Queen and Dufferin, we bought five plants and were hooked. In May 2019, when we moved again to a new light-filled corner unit in the same neighbourhood, we were inspired by bohemian and mid-century design, and really cranked it up to 11. Now, we live in a mini-jungle in the middle of the city. The view from our windows is mainly concrete, so it’s nice to see some nature inside. All the greenery makes us happy, and it feels like a true oasis.”

How many plants do you have?
Matt: “Sixty to 70. I love routines, so I find spending a few hours every week on the plants relaxing.”

Advice on keeping a plant alive:
Matt: “Start slowly. It’s easy to bring home 10 plants, but that’s like having 10 babies, all of whom have different needs.”

Personal favourite:
Omar: “The pothos. It had four leaves when we bought it three years ago, and now it loops all the way around our living room mirror.”

Judy Lynch

A 54-year-old retiree and former travel marketer who lives in the Beaches

“I moved into my current Beaches home in 2018 with my husband and sons. I started collecting plants four years ago but ramped up after the move because we finally had great light for the first time. I’m also a nature-lover, and enjoy being able to bring some of that liveliness inside. I created this really lush plant shelf in my living room about two years ago, and since it faces a west window, the dappled light is especially beautiful in the afternoons. One of my sons is away at university and the other moved into his own place in September, so I’m a recent empty-nester and it’s nice to have something to take care of.”

How many plants do you have?
“Around 100. I gave my son a few when he moved out so he could start his own collection.”

Advice on keeping a plant alive:
“Don’t overwater it and don’t freak out if you see a bit of brown.”

Personal favourite:
“My bird of paradise. It’s humongous. I love watching people’s reactions when they walk into the kitchen and realize I am totally plant-crazy.”

 


The Plant Guru

Darryl Cheng was an engineer and business analyst who got hooked on houseplants. In 2019, he published The New Plant Parent, which landed on Amazon’s bestseller list and launched a career change. We asked him about the root of the frenzy, rookie mistakes and how to be a better plant parent

You have more than half a million followers on Instagram. As a doting plant parent, what do you think is behind the houseplant frenzy?
I’ve coined something called the ABCs of houseplant appreciation: A is for aesthetics, because you can’t deny plants are beautiful to look at. B is for biological fascination. And C is for companionship, because you develop a real relationship with plants you’ve had for a long time. I’m not one of those people who name their plants, though.

Local plant stores have reported surging sales since the pandemic started. Do you think plants are therapeutic, like puppies?
It’s natural to want to make yourself an indoor garden, especially when you’re spending more time than ever inside. Plants make your space conducive to growth. They create a deep-rooted connection to a place that is healthy and full of life, where we can survive well.

So how does an engineer become a houseplant expert?
I bought a bunch of plants to help my mom decorate her home in 2014 and, being an engineer, I decided to research how to take care of them. I started Houseplant Journal as a Tumblr blog, where I would post photos of my plants and document their growth. I was still working full time at a software agency until last year, when my team got laid off. I’d just written my book and thought it was a sign that I should pursue this houseplant thing full time. Now, I earn my living between a mix of book sales, online courses, speaking engagements and brand partnerships.

What’s the biggest mistake new plant parents make?
There are two. One is putting a plant wherever you think it will look nice instead of where you think it will grow. And the second is thinking that plants follow a strict watering schedule. They don’t.

You talk in your book about setting realistic expectations. Elaborate please?
One of the most common questions I see on social media is concern about yellow leaves. In nature, leaves die all the time. How long did you expect the leaf to last?

 


The Purveyors

Newcomers and plant veterans alike frequent these shops for the latest in specialty goods and gardening accessories

Dynasty Plant shop

Michael Leach, a film and television production designer, opened Dynasty in 2013 as a passion project. A few years later, once the store began to amass a cult following among the ficus-obsessed Queen West crowd, he turned it into a full-time gig, offering goods from indie growers that change weekly. During the pandemic, Dynasty launched online sales and experienced a massive surge, so they opened the Dupont location in November. 1086½ Queen St. W., 1250 Dupont St., no phone, dynastyplantshop.com

Stamen and Pistil Botanicals

In 2016, after being laid off from a hospital admin position, Karen Newstead began experimenting with elaborate terrariums at home. Since they were impossible to ship, she opened up a storefront at College and Lansdowne and has since upsized to this Bloor West location. Newstead makes shopping easy by grouping species by their sunlight needs, alongside palo santo incense and crystals. “I want to offer things that give your home a positive essence during these times,” she says. 1562 Bloor St. W., 647-351-9099, stamenandpistil1.com

Design Department

Meredyth Hilton and her husband, Brad, have been in the landscaping business for more than three decades. Two years ago, they decided to add a brick-and-mortar storefront to their operation. When lockdown rules allow, they do consultations in the chic back studio while selling easy-to-care-for plants and succulents and accessories up front. Since the pandemic, they’ve had a lot of new customers who are staying at home and buying more houseplants for their home offices. 558 Mount Pleasant Rd., 416-488-2179, designdepartmentinc.ca

Wilbe Bloomin

Wilbe Bloomin has been selling flowers and houseplants in Kensington Market for the past 15 years. Now, with online sales skyrocketing and in-store browsing complicated by Covid, manager Darius Armstrong keeps the bestsellers—string of hearts and calatheas—by the window for easy perusing. Every order is paired with customized care cards made in-house, which contain detailed instructions on how to pamper your plants. 160 Baldwin St., 416-597-6222, wilbebloomin.ca