People & Plants: Clavel, featuring Lehn and Siska

We are beyond excited to launch our new blog series: People & Plants.

We begin by featuring Lehn and Siska of Clavel, as this space is near and dear to our hearts. The owner, Lane Harlan, has been a wonderful supporter of B.Willow over the years, and has expanded Clavel’s flora collection with a variety of our plants. From 5 foot tall cacti to spider plants, it has been a dream to help her incorporate the natural world into her restaurant. Lane has had several plants in Clavel from the start- a nod to her love of greenery and her understanding of the impact that it brings to the indoors. We love watching her space grow, as she continues to push and evolve the aesthetic that so many of Clavel’s guests know and appreciate.

A large part of our mission is to provide you with sensorial experiences that one typically only finds outdoors. We need it for several reasons, but stress reduction and a sense of calming are things that most of us can relate to. What we love so much about Clavel is the multi-sensorial experience that you’re provided with through sights, tastes, smells and sounds. Not only are you engaged visually through Lane’s keen attention to texture, color and form, but you’re treated to some of the most delicious food and drinks that Baltimore has to offer. These types of sensorial experiences are rejuvenating. We hope you enjoy learning about Lane’s intentions through plants, and may your next visit to Clavel include a moment or two to take in the ambiance a little deeper than before.

1. How do plants help you achieve your aesthetic vision for Clavel?

“Plants evoke the feeling of being in an open air courtyard overgrown with greenery in Mexico. At Chef Carlos’ family compound in Culiacán, there are plants thriving everywhere.”

2. What sources of inspiration have guided your integration of plants in Clavel?

“Traveling through Mexico.”

3. Why are plants important to your space?

“They bring color and life to our minimalist design. In our main dining room the walls are painted white in order to showcase trailing greens and our friend’s ceramics.”

4. What type of effect do you hope that the plants have on your staff and customers?

“We hope they will make people feel a sense of calm. Our plants are ever-changing and it has been a joy for the staff to watch them co-exist.”

Thank you: Lane, Lehn & Siska

What Inspired B.Willow

Hi! My name is Liz Vayda, creator & owner of B.Willow. First and foremost, thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this. It means a lot to me! The last 5 years of my life have been a whirlwind, but I’m finally at a point that I can focus more on writing- something that I have been intending to do more of, but haven’t really had the energy or focus to do.  The inspiration behind B.Willow is a subject matter that I think about mostly all the time, and is something that I feel very passionate about educating people on. I’m looking forward to using this blog as a way to express myself through writing, and to hopefully be a source of information and inspiration to others. I’m so beyond grateful for the growth that B.Willow has experienced since I began this project in 2014, especially as I imagine all of the plants we’ve sold in people’s homes, or the joy we’ve sparked by tending to them. Connecting with people over plants feels so genuine and carnal. It feels good to share this love with so many people, and to know that our shop is a source of inspiration and education, for everyone. We see such a diversity of people, which makes me so incredibly happy. Inclusivity and accessibility are just as important to me as selling healthy plants.

I’ve had the chance to speak about our larger mission on multiple occasions, whether at the start of a workshop or while chatting to a customer about plants and life.  But...I often feel discouraged that our overall mission isn’t necessarily something that every customer leaves with an awareness of. In some ways it’s communicated to them indirectly through the experience that we create.  Our intentions don’t necessarily require words to be felt or experienced. So...I get that no matter what, we’re providing more than just plants, and people do recognize that.

When I started B.Willow in 2014, I had one goal in mind: to inspire others to contemplate their level of connection to the natural world, and to teach them why such a connection matters so much. Everything we do is very much linked to this underlying mission. During my undergraduate years at Earlham College, I spent 5 months abroad in New Zealand studying Environmental Science, philosophizing about nature, studying sustainability, and having immersive experiences with indigenous Maoris. A large focus of our class discussions was pondering the role of "nature" in our lives. We were asked questions like, “what is nature?” “What does it mean that we are inherently part of nature, and that our evolution is inextricably linked to the ‘more than human world’?” “How is our current lifestyle problematic, when one considers the separation that most of humanity experiences from the outdoors?” In short, we are nature. Nature is not the “other.” Humans are not superior to anything else that exists on planet Earth. We are part of a larger whole that we have co-evolved with for millions of years.

Before having these discussions, I had never really considered how connected (or disconnected) I was to the "more than human" world. I hadn’t really thought about myself as a species, with a brain and body crafted by thousands upon thousands of years of coevolution with other species and life forms.  Growing up, I was lucky enough to live on 9 acres in northern Maryland, 2 of which were wooded, with horses next door, giant boulders to climb on and fields to run through. My senses were constantly engaged, in ways that I would never fully appreciate until my trip to New Zealand in 2008. I realized how my use of technology (beginning in middle school, when we first got the Internet) had effectively stolen my attention away from the effortless sense of awe and wonder that I had for the outdoors as a child. I can recall a marked switch in my brain. The lure of the outdoors was quickly replaced by computer games and instant messaging. These instant forms of gratification (for an insecure middle school-aged brain) was too much to compete with. I would still go outside, but I was much more enthralled by the internet. I think the only thing that helped me maintain some sort of mental balance was the fact that I had 3 siblings to share one dial up computer with, so I inevitably lost my turn throughout the day.

A large part of starting B.Willow was not to sell plants, but to make societal changes regarding our disconnection from nature. I wanted to find a way to approach the subject of how the majority of humans are sensorially engaging less and less with the “more than human” world (i.e., anything that is NOT human or human made…looking at mountains, feeling the wind, hearing birds singing, swimming, etc). Today’s typical human sensorial experience is increasingly more human-derived. Staring at screens all day sums this up. Engaging with the natural world is linked directly with our evolution and how we learned to cope with the difficulties of everyday life. We obviously weren’t studying it at a time when we were totally immersed in the outdoors/when nature probably had the most sensorial impact on us (as hunter/gatherers, for example, when some might argue that life was much more difficult on a daily basis than it is now in the 1st world). Humans (biologically) haven’t really evolved much more beyond our hunter/gatherer ancestors. Our capacity to learn was similar to our capacity now, we’ve just created tool after tool to keep expanding on our understandings of the world around us.  So… if our not-so-distant ancestors were a product of our co-evolution with the outdoors, what makes us think that we might have different needs (when it comes to maintaining mental health)? Why does this matter? What is the big deal with getting outside and having these experiences? There’s a lot to unpack there, but here are a few reasons:

  • When we turn our devices off and we get outside (or we tend to our houseplants), we are allowing something psychologists call “effortless fascination” to occur. We are on one hand in awe/seriously impressed by what we see when we climb a mountain and look out at a beautiful vista. On the other hand, studies have shown that these moments of awe don’t rob our brains of energy like our cell phones do when we stare at them. These moments are effortless.

  • When you allow these effortless moments of awe and wonder to occur, we experience numerous benefits:

    • We're happier (more serotonin produced)

    • We can focus and concentrate better

    • Cortisol (aka stress hormone) is reduced

    • We physically heal faster from illness

    • We’re less aggressive and irritable

The underlying factor enabling these mental and physical benefits is the reduction of directed attention that nature gives us. We spend so much time staring at screens, with our attention constantly distracted and monopolized, in ways that exhaust us. We don't often allow our minds to rest. Being outdoors gives us limitless moments to engage our senses, and allows our attention to be captivated by a sense of effortless fascination and awe. Nature makes us feel good, because we are inherently part of it, and it offers something that we cannot provide ourselves.

I’m looking forward to sharing more on this subject. Feel free to email me with any questions or ideas at Liz@bwillow.com!

Plant of the Month: Zamioculcas zamiifolia

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Zamioculcas zamiifolia or ZZ plant as most of us know it, is the sole species of the genus Zamioculcas. It is a tropical plant native to eastern Africa (from Kenya to South Africa) commonly found growing in rocky areas and sometimes even in stone. They can grow upwards of two and a half feet tall, with glossy dark evergreen leaflets covering their thick, succulent stalks. Although ZZs live in areas that experience a dry season and are drought tolerant, they are not desert plants and therefore do not thrive in extended periods of dryness. The secret to their ability to handle drought can be found in their succulent leaves, which have an unusually high water content of over 91%. This ability, combined with being able to withstand low light, has made them one of the most popular houseplants of the last twenty years. ZZs are also one of the top plants that NASA suggests using for air purification in the home.

ZZs have a somewhat unusual growth pattern. Their stem is actually an underground, tuberous rhizome, capable of storing plenty of water during the dry season. What appears to be the stem is actually the entire leaf, with each “leaf” being a leaflet. During times of stress and extended dry periods ZZs tend to become deciduous, dropping their leaflets and becoming bare. As a survival method fallen leaflets can then root, essentially cloning the plant and ensuring future generations. ZZs are aroids and therefore do not produce a single flower, but rather an inflorescence made up of a spathe and spadix consisting of many tiny flowers (think of the flower on a peace lily). The spadix is made up of female flowers along the bottom portion and male flowers along the top with a section of sterile flowers in the center to help reduce the chances of self-pollination. Although no one knows for sure, it’s assumed that the ZZ is pollinated by a single species of insect.

ZZs are very easy to care for and incredibly resilient, which is one reason why they’ve become so popular as houseplants over the past 20 years. Although they’ve developed a reputation for being drought and low-light tolerant plants, it’s not advised to keep them in these conditions for extended periods of time. Your ZZ will thrive in a warm room (60-75 degrees) with bright, indirect light and regular waterings throughout the growing season (spring-fall). Allow the top few inches of soil to dry between waterings. Even though they’re tropical, a well-draining soil heavily amended with sand and perlite is best. This will allow enough air to get to the roots and prevent the plant from drowning. Being tropical, give your ZZ a mist as often as you can and wipe off its leaves to remove any dust that may build up. To fertilize, dilute a balanced liquid fertilizer to ¼-⅛ strength and add to your water. ZZs propagate very easily from their leaves, but may take several months to develop a small plant at the base. When repotting, try to keep the new pot around 1” larger than the current pot. ZZs prefer to be fairly pot bound and some growers will even wait until their pot has cracked before repotting.

RECAP

LIGHT - moderately bright, indirect but tolerant of low light

TEMP - warm, 60-75

FERTILIZER - balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to ¼-⅛ strength during warmest months

WATER - thoroughly water and allow top few inches to dry between. Water less in winter

SOIL - well draining, amend with sand and perlite

REPOT - when plant becomes extremely rootbound, every few years

Plant of the Month: Sansevieria

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Sansevieria trifasciata, also known as the snake plant, has become one of the most popular house plants in recent years due to its easy care, beauty, and varieties of cultivars coming in many shapes, sizes and colors. The genus Sansevieria includes around 70 species which are native to Africa, Madagascar, and southern Asia. Swedish botanist, Carl Peter Thunberg named the genus after Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero.

The snake plant is a stemless, evergreen perennial that spreads through its creeping rhizome (similar to bamboo), which grows in the tropics of Nigeria, east through the Congo where they can grow to over 5 feet tall, but typically remain around 2-3 feet tall when kept indoors. Known for its beautiful striped and banded foliage, the snake plant also produces fragrant, small greenish-white flowers on a long stalk which become red berries once pollinated. Not just an ornamental, S. trifasciata provides fibers which are incredibly strong and have been used for many generations to make bowstrings. Although they prefer and thrive in bright light, they’re incredibly tolerant of low light conditions, making them a perfect indoor plant for almost any space. In addition, they’re able to withstand irregular watering which is great for the inexperienced plant parent. Many people look for plants that are helpful in removing toxins from the air and snake plants are one of the best at this. The NASA Clean Air Study was conducted by NASA in 1989 and their study proved Sansevieria removed most toxins that were tested. These included benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene. It was also one of the few plants studied that will remove carbon dioxide at night.

Caring for your snake plant is relatively simple. They prefer warm, bright areas but are also tolerant of lower light. Their soil should be well-draining and can be amended with sand to help it drain more quickly. Most Sansevieria are much more tolerant of a drought then overwatering or having soggy soil so always make sure to let their soil dry out slightly between watering. When watering, make sure to never pour water directly into the center of each rosette (group of spiraling leaves) as this can most certainly rot the plant. During the winter months, water even more sparingly. Allow your plant to become root bound before repotting. Snake plants thrive with crowded roots and it  can even help induce flowering. Once you’re ready to repot, move your snake plant into a new pot 1”-2” larger. You can repot any time of the year, but spring is always best. When fertilizing, use a general purpose fertilizer diluted to half-strength once every three to four weeks. Because of its large leaves, it’s a good idea to wipe them down when watering to remove any dust that they’ve collected. Propagating snake plants is as simple as pruning off a leaf, cutting it into 3”-4” sections and pushing them into wet soil. Propagation by division is a great way to get a head start on larger plants by cutting off an entire section of the plant, rhizome included, and planting it into a new container.

RECAP

LIGHT - bright, indirect but tolerant of low light

TEMP - warm, 65-80

FERTILIZER - summer, every three to four weeks, diluted by half

WATER - thoroughly water and allow to dry between. Water even less in winter

SOIL - well draining, amended w/sand

REPOT - in spring when root bound, up 1”-2”

Plant of the Month: Alocasia amazonica

As houseplants, Alocasia amazonica prefer an environment that mimics their ancestors’ home, the jungle. They love bright, indirect light and very high humidity, so keep near a very bright window and water often. A well aerated and well draining growing media, amended with peat, sphagnum, and perlite is best - their soil should be damp, not muddy.  Their leaves should be cleaned often to avoid dust build up and they can and should be misted very frequently. Artificial heating can severely dry them up so placing pebble trays full of water underneath is a great way to supplement humidity. Another easy trick, which all high-humidity plants will appreciate, is grouping your tropicals together. As one plant perspires, the water they give off will be absorbed by their neighbors.

From spring through the end of summer, fertilize every two weeks with a diluted all-purpose fertilizer. Keep your Alocasia nice and warm, as any time spent below 65 degrees will surely kill them or possibly send them into dormancy. Alocasia tend to go through a dormancy period during winter months when light is limited and temperatures drop in your home. If your plant goes dormant, you can dig up the corm and keep it in a dry place until you can provide enough heat and moisture to wake it up again.

Repotting is best done in spring, but keep in mind that these plants like to be in somewhat smaller containers so yearly repotting may not be necessary. When repotting, you can divide the rhizomes to propagate new plants. Break off smaller corms that have developed and place them in a new pot, with the top just above the soil line to keep the new growth from rotting.

Alocasia are toxic to cats and dogs, so always make sure to keep them out of reach from your pets and small children!

RECAP

LIGHT - bright, indirect light

TEMP - warm, 65-80

FERTILIZER - spring-fall, every two weeks, diluted by half

WATER - constantly moist, allow to dry slightly in winter

SOIL - well draining, amended w/peat moss & sphagnum

REPOT - every 1-2 years in spring

Ficus lyrata (Fiddle leaf fig)

The Fiddle leaf fig, Ficus lyrata, is a tropical plant native to the lowland rainforests of western Africa, from Cameroon to Sierra Leone. Though it can grow as a free-standing tree, F. lyrata is a banyan fig that typically begins its life as an epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant) after a bird or other animal helps by depositing a seed in the trunk of another tree. The fig’s roots will grow downward, reaching the ground where it can begin to take in nourishment from the soil. During this growing period, the roots will begin to envelop the trunk of the host tree, eventually strangling it. At its full potential a fiddle leaf fig can grow up to 40-50 feet tall, with leaves as long as 18” and 12” wide. The leathery leaves, resembling a lyre or violin, are the inspiration behind the latin name “lyrata” and its common name, fiddle leaf. Although they rarely flower as indoor houseplants, in nature they produce a small, inedible green fig about 1¼” in diameter.

In the home, the fiddle leaf is a slow grower which means it won’t outgrow its space for years to come and the broad leaves make it a sculptural plant that can help structure space in large rooms. Depending on your taste, you can grow it as a tree-shape plant or a bushier specimen. To promote bushiness, prune off the top section of your ficus and two new buds should begin to form within a few weeks. If a tree-shape fits your space better, prune bottom leaves and let the ficus naturally grow upward. Bright to moderate indirect light is best, and even fluorescent lighting is sufficient. You’ll want to water your ficus regularly, keeping its soil lightly moist at all times. Any good, well draining tropical potting soil will do and amending it with peat moss is ideal. Keeping your plant well fed is key to its overall health so fertilize three times a year (spring, midsummer, and fall) with a high-nitrogen foliage plant food. And finally, wipe your fig’s leaves to keep them clean and polished. It not only keeps the plant looking nice, but will also keep it as healthy as possible.

RECAP

LIGHT - bright to moderate indirect

TEMP - 60 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit

FERTILIZER - 3 times a year w/high-nitrogen foliage plant food

WATER - slightly moist at all times

SOIL - well draining potting soil amended w/peat moss

REPOT - every other year in spring, but keep plant in small pot to control size