Houseplants aren’t a trend, but they are trending. You might already have the heart-shaped, ivy leaves of a pothos tumbling down your bookshelf or a small, spiky succulent on your desk. But, after increasingly living our lives indoors, it seems like we’re yearning even more to bring the outdoors in. “I feel like there is actually a healing perspective that comes with connecting with nature,” says interior decorator Natasha Mupambwa of TashDesigns, who recently designed a vertical garden wall for her brother’s restaurant, Mama Africa. “Especially for someone like me who is from Africa, where 90 per cent of the time is always outdoors, always in the garden … it actually gives a sense of home.”
There’s a term for incorporating nature into our built environments and, fortunately, it’s not “plant daddy.” Biophilic design is the practice of connecting to nature within our human-built spaces. If in the span of human history, we’ve spent 99 per cent of our time evolving and adapting to the natural world, then it makes sense that nature is intrinsically tied to our mental, emotional and physical well-being.
“Biophilic design, in my opinion, isn’t a style — it’s a concept,” says Kayla Browne, principal at Bold Workshop Architecture. “It’s just the practice of connecting people and nature within our built environment and communities.” Bold worked with Sturgess Architecture (where Browne is also a senior associate) on the design of Orchard Restaurant, the Beltline hot spot that has become Insta-famous for its floor-to-ceiling foliage. Orchard isn’t the only drinking and dining establishment in town with biophilic tendencies, though. Myriad pots hanging from the ceiling of Ten Foot Henry have long been a defining design feature of the veg-forward restaurant. Newly opened 17th Avenue eatery Maven takes things a step further with an in-house location of the shop Plant it Modern. Plants displayed in the restaurant space are available for purchase.
Over the past two years, boutique plant shops have sprouted up across the city, with owner-proprietors who can field questions on which plants are suited to your lifestyle and home, give advice on propagation or preventative health, and help you level up your personal collection with hard-to-find rares and exotics.
“With houseplants, they’re living, but in such a different way, in such a different manner,” says Dee Alausa, owner of Soil & Soul Calgary. “They need care. They need humidity. They need love. And they’ll produce different things for you, depending on how you treat them.”
Most tropicals (plants native to tropical regions) 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 tropicals have adapted to thriving indoors, making them very popular for apartment dwellers. With an average of 2,396 hours of sunlight annually in Calgary, it’s no surprise that Gleeson carries an abundant stock. Soil & Soul’s Alausa recommends eye-catching alocasias and monsteras, whose massive leaves make them a focal point of any room. ZZ plants, native to East Africa, are drought-tolerant — fitting for Calgary’s dry climate — and come in a variety of sizes.
Not all tropicals are so easy, though. The fiddle-leaf fig, a beautiful tropical that will grow as high as a room’s ceiling will allow, requires a practiced green thumb, says Gleeson, someone who can monitor humidity and airflow levels in their homes and notice when leaves retain too much water, which can lead to bacterial infections. That’s not to say would-be owners of higher maintenance tropicals should be deterred from bringing them home. As Alausa 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 have to consider that if you do “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, statement plants next to shorter ones creates dimension, maximizes your space and prevents common issues like leaves overshadowing each other from light sources, or allowing pests to travel between them. Positioning a plant in a “forever home” can be a signature look, as well. “I pretty much never rotate my plants, ever,” Gleeson says. “Lots of people do because they want it to be full all the way around — I totally get that — but I particularly love when a plant looks like it has been growing somewhere for 20 years. I think it gives it a lot of character.”
In his 600-square-foot apartment, Gleeson’s eight-foot-tall rubber tree takes a sharp 90-degree turn towards the window from the corner where it has always lived. The rubber tree is one of many plants featured on Gleeson’s hobby Instagram account, @PlantFilledApartment. What also stands out in the sea of green is a dotting of white, ceramic pots. Most of the pots for sale at The Sunday Shop are in line with Gleeson’s preferred aesthetic — sleek, devoid of ornamental patterns, in muted, earthy tones (or white or black) with matte finishes. “Pots are a touchy subject,” says Gleeson. “What I think people will love, and what I love, might be completely different. In my opinion, if you get a pot that’s totally ‘out there,’ you’re kind of robbing 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, it’s a really good contrast.”
At Maven, plants hang from the ceiling in rattan bowls or grow from painted ceramic pots on shelves against orange, yellow and green walls. “It has always been interesting to me how refreshed we feel when we are outdoors in nature, around trees and water, yet, as people, we built a world of metal and plastic,” says Maven owner Percilla Gutscher. “I think people are looking to bring comfort into their surroundings through organic materials: wicker, concrete, water features, pottery and a lot of plants — it instantly makes a space feel lived-in and alive.”
Plant Boutique Roundup
Where to Find Fabulous Foliage in Calgary
1006 17 Ave. S.W. (inside Maven), 403-457-7898, @maven_yyc
1016 Macleod Tr. S.E., @soilandsoulyyc