Located in central Bristol, Fancy Plants is a verdant space in contrast to the busy city. After a career in communications, owner Sharon trained as a florist, but her passion for living plants led her to launch the shop last year with the help of daughter’s Liv and Scarlett, husband Nigel and her two rescue dogs.
Fancy Plants offers an array of indoor plants, along with tailored advice that empowers anyone to curate their own botanical oasis. The interior is designed to let the plants shine, but with a sustainable ethos; the shelves and tables are sourced from Bristol Wood Recycling Project and dehumidifiers recycle water for the plants.
The shop has a community feel, working together with other independent businesses on the street and organising workshops with creatives in the local area.
We visited Sharon in the shop, exercising enough restraint to not buy everything in sight, but taking away even more: a newfound respect for the power of plants.
Tell us about your business and who’s involved
Fancy Plants is an independent indoor plant shop. We sell indoor plants from the very tiny to the very large and provide help and advice to our customers so that they choose the right plant for their home or office. We are always honest with our advice and recommendations; our aim is for our customers to choose plants that will be healthy and thrive for many months and years to come.
We also offer the shop as workshop space for our creative friends who teach pottery, macramé and making sustainable, kind and environmentally friendly cosmetics. We even take our shop on the road and love doing pop-ups in offices and the occasional market. Our aim is to green up the indoor city.
What inspired you to start Fancy Plants and how has it evolved since then?
I have always loved plants and had them in my home. Over the years, I have gained lots of practical knowledge regarding their care. After a long career in communications and reaching an age where people keep mentioning the ‘R’ word (Retirement!), I decided to combine my knowledge of plants and experience of running businesses and set up Fancy Plants.
I wanted to change the environment I worked in and instead of staring at walls all day, I wanted to create an oasis in the city where people could come, breathe the air, enjoy the calm and take a bit of it with them to their home or workplace. I trained as a florist, but in the end was drawn back to the living plant and my love of plants. We are a new business, so we are constantly evolving, listening to our customers and learning lots as we go.
How important is the aesthetic of your brand? What does the design say about your company?
The Fancy Plants brand is home-grown. The name was thought up by my daughter, Liv, and one of her old school friends, now a successful designer, created our identity. It represents the eclectic nature of plants, but is intended to be light and fun. It’s easy to be a bit intense and worthy about plants, but our aim is to make them accessible for everyone. We know all the Latin names and always write these on our care cards, but we recognise this can be a bit overwhelming for someone who just wants an easy to care for plant for their desk. So we try to tailor our advice rather than show off our knowledge.
What measures have you implemented within your business to make it more sustainable?
We do our best to recycle what we can in the shop. All cardboard is recycled and plastics are recycled or go back to the growers for reuse. We recycle all of the water in the shop by using dehumidifiers around our arid plants and using the water from them to water our tropical plants, such as calatheas. We also operate a free recycled pot scheme where customers wanting to re-pot plants can come in and grab a second hand plastic pot. We use degradable wooden sticks for pricing all our plants. We sell seeded greetings cards too – great for recycling. Just pop them in some compost after you have enjoyed them and wait for the wild flowers!
How important is the sourcing of local products and ingredients to you?
We support local makers though our workshops, providing them with an inexpensive and green space to teach people their craft. We would love to use more locally based indoor plant growers, but it is hard to find them in the UK – although we have sourced cacti from a local grower in Portishead and terrariums from local makers too. There is also a really great local community of independent shops on Perry Road and we all help each other.
Name two brands or businesses that you admire. What do you love about them?
Conservatory Archives in London has provided real inspiration for me. They have two lovely shops in London, which I visited before I opened. But I also wanted to make sure that what we did was right for the Bristol market. Columbia Road Flower Market in London is fantastic and I love the way they take the mystery out of plant buying and keep prices reasonable. I like to think we have taken the best of these businesses and tailored them for the Bristol audience.
Do you have any advice for people to help them become more environmentally conscious?
Our customers often have lovely stories about having plants for many years. In fact, there has been some research to show that older plants can be even better at cleaning our air. We offer advice through our Instagram page and website to anyone who needs it. Rather than throwing plants away, they can often be revived. We encourage pot recycling and will often give away cuttings to encourage people to have a go at sharing their plants. And of course, we encourage recycling water and using rainwater where possible.
What is your vision for the company over the next few years and how would you like to see it evolve?
Well, breaking news, we are planning a second shop in 2020! We want to encourage people to walk to us as much as possible and so locating a Fancy Plants in another part of the city helps people to get to us. We have lots of other exciting things planned for 2020 too, so watch this space!
All plants are oxygenating, most plants put out oxygen during the day but some, like the snake plant (Sansevieria laurentii) puts oxygen out at night so they are great to have in our bedrooms. Lots of plants are recognised to take toxins out of the air and include peace lilys, devils ivy and English ivy as well as Boston ferns.
How can you help your plants thrive when you live in a city and the air quality isn’t so great? Any advice about urban living with plants?
Plants don’t mind being in the city and aren’t particularly affected. I would recommend making sure you keep the leaves clean, this ensures that they can photosynthesise effectively. The most important thing is to make sure that they have the right amount of water and light. We always make sure to give instructions on how to look after any plants bought here. Whenever anyone comes into the shop, we try and tailor their plant to the conditions that they plan to keep it in, taking into account the size of the room and the direction the light is coming from.
I’ve accidentally overwatered my peperomia and the leaves have started to fall off – is there anything I can do?
Let it almost completely dry out before next watering. If you think it’s got root rot, gently take out some of the compost and put some dry compost around it. Peperomias are usually quite robust. Something to note, which is the case for most house plants, is that they need less watering in the winter than summer. Watering needs can vary vastly between homes depending on the temperature in the room and the way the house is facing. We recommend watering when the top two centimetres are dry, rather than watering every week.
I want a plant to brighten up my office space. Do you have any recommendations, bearing in mind my desk isn’t by a window?
It doesn’t matter, plants don’t usually need to be by a window, they just need nice natural light. I would recommend something quite simple because you may need to leave it when you go on holiday. For example, a succulent or a cacti, peace lily, snake plant, Chinese evergreen or parlor palm.
Are there any houseplants that can be propagated in winter?
I would suggest waiting until the spring. It is possible to propagate some plants in winter, such as the cheese plant, but they will thrive best in Spring when in the growth period.
Is it necessary to give your indoor plants fertiliser or is water enough?
Between May and September (when they are at their most active) you can feed them, but most plants lay dormant in the winter and so need rest from feeding.
Written by Lucy Noon for Grace & Green. Photo credit: Ali Hayes @_haze_film_
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