Have a bad track record with keeping green things alive but love the idea of creating your own leafy retreat?
We've got just the thing for you!
Baltimore shop owner, Liz Vayda of B.Willow shares her expertise when it comes to caring for greenery no matter your experience, history with plants or commitment level.
First of all, what is a green thumb? And is it a skill that can be acquired or more
something that is just inherent? Serious question :)
A “green thumb” is technically having the natural ability to care for plants, although we
think it’s certainly a skill that can be acquired. I think it’s definitely helpful to have
engaged with nature or plants in some way as you grow up, but it’s something that can
be learned and improved upon throughout adulthood as well.
What’s a common misconception or misunderstanding a lot of people make when it
comes to caring for plants?
People often don’t take into consideration their plants lighting needs. They often think
succulents and cacti are easy to care for, impossible-to-kill plants, which they are, as
long as they’re getting the proper 6+ hours of direct, bright sun a day. They’re desert
plants, and need to be treated as such. Caring for plants is much simpler once you
consider their natural environment, and try to mimic that in your home.
What is the most common mistake you think people make when first diving into plant
They look for plants that will match their interiors, without thinking about the care their
plants will need. A large bird of paradise might look great in the corner of someone’s
home, but it should ideally be in front of a sunny window, getting indirect light for most of
What do you think is the most important rule of thumb for beginners to keep in mind
when purchasing plants?
Realistically considering how often they’ll be able to care for their plants. We always ask
how much light a customer has in their home, how often they think they’ll be able to
water their plants, etc. as soon as they come in. Picking a plant purely for aesthetic
reasons can get you into trouble. There are beautiful plants for everyone’s needs, and
our goal is to match the perfect plant to each customer.
What are some other benefits of having house plants?
Put simply, plants make people happy. There have been many studies that prove having
small elements of nature indoors, that people engage with at least on a weekly basis,
can have a positive effect on their mood. They’re also great air purifiers!
And are there indoor/outdoor plants that could survive our brutal winters? Is there
anything different about caring for plants through the seasons?
Almost all indoor plants can survive through winter if given the proper care. Tropicals,
cacti, and succulents, which is what we carry, will all go through dormant periods over
the winter. Their watering needs lessen, as they’re getting less sun on shorter winter
days, and they can require a little more attention than they will in growing months
(Spring/Summer). Tropicals will need to be misted as often as can be remembered, or
placed near a humidifier to continue thriving. Heating systems often dry out the air.
Plants should also be moved away from drafty windows or doors, since most tropicals do
not tolerate temperatures of below 60*.
What are some first steps for beginners, do you recommend classes? Online research?
We offer a variety of classes; Succulent Building, Cacti Building, Terrarium Making, etc.
as well as a class called Intro to Botany. I’d recommend these classes for anyone
starting out, since the price is all inclusive and the workshop leader goes through
everything you’ll need to know to grow the healthy, happy plants that attendees work
with at the workshop. We try to go over specific care for each plant the customer buys,
but also give them care cards with the species name written on them as a takeaway. It’s
always a good idea to look up the species of your plant before making any big mistakes.
What type of plants (or plant categories i.e. perennials, annuals, etc) should beginners
focus on and why?
It really depends on their living space. If they have a window sill that gets direct, bright
light for most of the day, succulents and cacti are great options since they require much
less watering. If they have windows that offer indirect, ambient light, tropicals are often
their best bet. That being said, all these categories have hundreds of species within
them, which can all vary in terms of care.
What is the typical (or bare minimum) regimen for taking care of your plants, what
amount of maintenance is reasonable for someone to expect?
You have to be able to check your plants at least one a week, and always keep an eye
out for strange behavior. Most plants will let you know if something is wrong if you’re
paying close enough attention. It’s also very encouraging to check on your plants and see that they’re doing well, knowing that you are helping it grow. I think that often helps
people check on their plants more, to see if there’s new growth or developments, as it’s
always fun to see a new leaf sprout through the soil.
Does space really make a difference? Is having plants in a house better than having
them in an apartment and having them in an apartment, better than having them in a
studio? Are there other benefits besides aesthetics?
Plants are happy where there is light, and if they’re getting the appropriate amount of
water. Keeping in mind that tropicals often like humid environments and cacti and
succulents like dry spaces will help you in picking the right plant. Ferns and other tropical
plants often love bathrooms since they offer a higher humidity than any other room in the
house. As far as benefits other than aesthetics, I think it depends on the person. Anyone
can learn to take care of plants, and I think once they learn what their plant needs it
allows for a mutually beneficial relationship. If your plant is happy, your happiness often
is also a result.
Can plants provide benefits to your overall health?
Plants are an excellent all-natural way to clean and filter the air in your home.
Sansevieria, or snake plants, are some of the easiest plants to care for and are the
named the number one air purifying species of indoor plants by NASA.
If you have pets, are there certain plants to avoid?
There are certainly plants you don’t want your pets getting into. Any species of lily is
deadly toxic to cats. It really varies depending on the species, but the ASPCA is a great
resource, as they have almost every houseplant’s toxicity listed on their website.
Why the recent obsession with succulents? Everywhere you turn there are succulents!
Have they always been popular or are they just super trendy right now?
Plants as a whole are having a moment right now. They were huge in the 1970’s, and
they’re definitely making a comeback. Anyone who lives in a city knows how difficult it
can be to interact with nature on a daily basis, and naturally people crave that
interaction. Succulents are so popular because they come in a variety of colors, shapes,
and textures, but for the most part they’re easy to care for. They thrive on neglect, but
are still impressive to guests.
Also, why do you think that boutique, specialty plant shops like B.Willow and Little Leaf
in DC are so popular right now?
Nurseries have been around forever, but they’re not often in the middle of cities and hard
to reach if you don’t have a car. Baltimore has some great nurseries just outside of the
city, which are reachable through public transportation, but if you’re looking for
somewhere easy to get to and within walking distance, it’s easier to stay in the city. I
think B. Willow has been successful because we try to offer plants at all price points,
from $3-$300. We have something for everyone, and also try to support other small
businesses and makers. We carry over 30 vendors in the shop, who make everything
from tinctures to fertilizer to fine art.
What do you see for the future of B.Willow?
Incorporating florals into the shop, establishing a space for growing our own plants.
What kind of events or entertainment do you offer? What do you have coming up?
We do offer events! We have a monthly social hour with Baltimore Whiskey Co., which
has temporarily been put on hold as they move locations. We have weekly workshops,
some of which repeat monthly. We also have workshops with a lot of our vendors in the
shop (Hey Thanks! Herbal Co., Priya Means Love, Kelly Laughlin’s Paper Goods, etc.)
which always draws a new crowd and are always fun and educational. Liz is also the
founder of the Greater Goods Market, which is now monthly at R. House right down the
street. It’s been awarded 2017’s Best Local Craft Market by Baltimore Magazine, and
continues to grow and support local makers and small business.
What have been some of your most popular items in the store this year? Are they
seasonal or evergreen? And why do you think they’ve been popular?
Any plant you see in an interior design catalogue is bound to be popular in the shop as
well. Fiddle leaf figs, any type of palm, Bird of Paradise, hanging Pothos or
Philodendrons, and Sansevieria are some of our most popular plants.