Houseplants are not a trend, but they are. You may already have heart-shaped ivy leaves dangling on your bookshelf or tiny prickly leaves on your desk. But, now that we live our lives increasingly indoors, we seem to be even more eager to bring the outdoors indoors. “I feel there is actually a perspective of healing that comes with connecting with nature,” says interior designer Natasha Mubambwa of TashDesigns, who recently designed a vertical garden wall for her brother’s restaurant, Mama Africa. “Especially for someone like me from Africa, where 90 percent of the time it’s always outdoors, always in the garden…it actually gives a sense of home.”
There is a term for incorporating nature into our built environments, and fortunately, it is not “plant dad”. Biophilic design is the practice of connecting with nature within human-built spaces. If we spend 99 percent of our time in the period of human history evolving and adapting to the natural world, it stands to reason that nature is intrinsically linked to our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
“Bio design, in my opinion, is not a style — it’s a concept,” says Kayla Brown, Director of Bold Workshop Architecture. “It’s just a practice of connecting people with nature within our built environment and communities.” Bold worked with Sturgess Architecture (where Browne was also a senior assistant) on the design of Orchard Restaurant, the Beltline hotspot made Insta famous for its floor-to-ceiling foliage. Orchard isn’t the only drinking and dining establishment in the vibrant city. The myriad pots hanging from the ceiling of Ten Foot Henry have long been a design feature of the vegetarian restaurant. The newly opened Maven 17th Avenue restaurant takes things a step further with an in-house location for the Plant it Modern store. The plants displayed in the restaurant space are available for purchase.
Over the past couple of years, boutique stores have sprung up all over the city, with owner-occupiers who can ask questions about plants that best suit your lifestyle and home, offer advice on breeding or preventative health, and help you raise your personal collection with rare and hard-to-find exotics.
“With houseplants, they live, but in a different way and in a different way,” says Dee Alausa, owner of Soil & Soul Calgary. “They need care. They need moisture. They need love. And they will produce different things for you, depending on how you treat them.”
Most tropics (plants native to the tropics) are so low maintenance that beginners have a good chance of not killing them. According to Jesse Gleeson, owner and operator of The Sunday Shop, many of the tropics have adapted to thrive indoors, making them very popular among apartment dwellers. With an average of 2,396 hours of sunlight per year in Calgary, it’s no surprise that Gleeson holds an abundant supply. Soil & Soul’s Alausa recommends eye-catching alocasias and monsteras, whose massive foliage makes them the focal point of any room. Native to East Africa, ZZ plants are drought tolerant—suitable for Calgary’s dry climate—and come in different sizes.
However, not all tropics are so easy. Gleeson, a person who can monitor humidity levels and air flow in their homes, says that fiddle-leaf figs, a pretty tropical one that will grow as high as a room’s ceiling allows, require seasoned green thumbs, which can lead to bacterial infection. This doesn’t mean owners of high-maintenance tropical regions should be deterred from bringing them home. As Alousa says, “You just have to follow the rules of your plants and you’re good. It’s pretty straightforward.”
When deciding where to place plants in your home, you need to consider that if you follow the “rules,” the plant will not be the same size it was when you bought it. Gleeson suggests playing with heights by thinking horizontally and vertically. Pairing taller and shorter plants next to shorter plants creates dimension, maximizes your space, and prevents common problems such as leaves casting shadows on each other from light sources, or allowing pests to move between them. Placing a plant in a “forever home” can also be a standout look. “I never, ever rotate my plants,” Gleeson says. “A lot of people do it because they want it plump all the way – I totally get that – but I especially love when a plant looks like it’s been growing somewhere for 20 years. I think it gives it a lot of character.”
In his 600-square-foot apartment, the eight-foot-tall Gleeson rubber tree takes a sharp 90-degree turn toward the window from the corner it always lives in. The rubber tree is one of many plants featured on Gleeson’s Instagram hobby account, PlantFilledApartment. What also stands out in the green sea is the dripping of the white earthenware pots. Most of the wares on sale at The Sunday Shop are in keeping with Gleeson’s favorite aesthetic—chic and devoid of frills, in muted earth tones (or white or black) with matte finishes. “Utensils are a sensitive topic,” says Gleeson. “What I think people will like, and what I like, may be very different. In my opinion, if you get a vase that is completely ‘existing’, you’re stealing the contrast of the plant, right? So, when you have a simple white pot, or something like that, And then you have this bright green plant, that’s a really good contrast.”
At Maven, plants hang from the ceiling in bamboo pots or grow from painted ceramic pots on shelves against orange, yellow, and green walls. “It’s always been interesting to me how fresh we feel when we’re outdoors in nature, around trees and water, but as humans, we built a world out of metal and plastic,” says Maven owner Percilla Goucher. “I think people are looking to bring comfort to their surroundings through organic materials: wicker, concrete, water features, pottery, lots of plants—it instantly makes the place feel alive and alive.”
Factory boutique news report
Where to find gorgeous foliage in Calgary
Big Sky Planet Company
1312B, 9th Ave. SE (inside Ninth and Brick), big-sky-plant-co.square.site, bigskyplantco
408 8 Ave NE, 403-614-6687, thebotanistcalgary.com, thebotanistcalgary
1327 9 Ave. SE, 403-585-4226, plantshop.ca, plantshopyyc
1006 17 Ave. SW (inside Maven), 403-457-7898, maven_yyc
5, 2501 Elith Street. SE, 403-463-8042, plantplantshop.ca, plantplantyyc
1918 9 Ave. SE, 587-392-3486, plantsie.com, myplantsie
Soil and Soul YYC
1016 Macleod Tr. SE, soilandoulyyc
Eau Claire Market, 403-918-3078, sproutcalgary.ca, sproutcalgary
1314 1 St. SW, 587-578-3929, thesundayshop.ca, sundayshopcalgary