How Insta-worthy, specialty plant boutiques found their niche in the urban jungle

If you've ever stumbled upon a lush, green oasis in the midst of urban dwelling, you know the feeling of finding the city's equivalent of a diamond in the rough. 

Owner, Liz Vayda of B.Willow, wanted to bring that same feeling to Baltimore when she opened her first brick and mortar store in March of last year. The idea was to provide a new way for people to interact with nature without having to leave their community or even their homes.

"It is sort of a sanctuary in the middle of the city. The air is cleaner, the windows offer bright sun all day, and you’re surrounding by calming green,” Vayda said. “For many, getting outdoors is often scheduled rather than habitual or daily. It's easy to find comfort in the predictability of indoor life. We wanted to provide meaningful, insightful, and beneficial ways of experiencing nature on a frequent basis."

And she's not the only one. More and more of these plant "sanctuaries" are popping up in metropolitan areas where the lack of natural outdoor greenery has compelled residents to bring the outside in.

Take Little Leaf for example, Salt & Sundry's newest sister venture. This super chic, metropolitan brainchild is the marriage of pretty paper goods and bohemian plants species, both of which are making a resurgence in retail.

Nicole Laemers, Director of Experience and Visual Merchandising at Salt & Sundry says the idea for Little Leaf stemmed from this newfound popularity. “Paper goods have always been a favorite among our Salt & Sundry shoppers. We were constantly finding beautiful new stationery lines but running out of room on our shelves,” Laemers said. “At the same time, plants were making a serious comeback, and we loved the idea of creating a shop centered around plants and paper (two of our favorite things).”

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So why the sudden popularity of these sunny, succulent-ridden shops?

There are a couple reasons, timeliness, reinvention and a commitment to a healthier, greener and more sustainable future. Oh yeah, and convenience and affordability. 

"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," Vayda said. "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."

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Much of this popularity also comes back to providing a picturesque backdrop to a generation obsessed with social media-worthiness. These shops embody current lifestyle trends which have allowed them to create a following around their social media accounts like Instagram. These accounts provide a form of grass roots marketing that extend well beyond just the physical shop location, creating micro communities made up of individuals with similar interests. And with monthly events featuring other small businesses and the ever popular, do-it-yourself (DIY) there are so many opportunities to bring communities together.

B. Willow hosts a monthly social hour with Baltimore Whiskey Co. (which is currently in the process of moving locations), weekly workshops with special features from local vendors such as Hey Thanks! Herbal Co., Priya Means Love, Kelly Laughlin’s Paper Goods and more. Owner Liz Vayda also founded the Greater Goods Market hosted at R.House (an industrial-chic food hall in a former body shop featuring 10 chef-driven counters) which was awarded 2017’s Best Local Craft Market by Baltimore Magazine, and continues to grow supporting local makers and small business.

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And with the success of their most recent propagation class, Little Leaf is also looking to host more events such as terrarium workshops and macrame classes in the upcoming months.

Another reason for their popularity is the relative ease of care for many of these cute cacti, tiny succulents and other trendy plants. Not only are they pretty to look at, they’re easy to care for and add a lot to any one space, a win-win.

“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,” said Vayda. “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.”

With the plant renaissance in full bloom, these little shops say that the community they’ve created is more than just a phase.

Nicole Laemers of Little Leaf said it best when she said:

“Plants breath life, beauty and oxygen into every space, and that never goes out of style.”