A Journal exploring the value of plants and flowers
15-06-2016 Interview Interiors

Green advice at your fingertips

Words by Suzanna Knight

Photos by Catharina Gerritsen

You’ve been there: Inspired by friends with a new passion for houseplants, you’ve raced to the nearest garden centre to buy a backpack full of new plants. The instructions protruding from the plant pot looked easy enough. Half-sun, water twice a week, and off you go. Only to gaze at your newest green friend in despair a few weeks later, as it points a brown, accusing leaf in your direction. Suzanne van Straaten may look like an urban gardening expert now, but she too had to cultivate her green thumb through trial and error. To help others stay on the green path, Suzanne founded Sprinklr; a start-up company that provides seasonal plant boxes custom-made for small city apartments. We joined Suzanne at a farm just outside of the city to prepare some boxes and chat about the challenging but rewarding process of growing plants.

How did you come up with the idea for Sprinklr?

I was working at the 1%Club, a crowd-funding platform for social entrepreneurs. Every day I’d see new projects come across my desk with cool and innovative ideas to change the world. Quite the motivator to start something of your own! The idea for Sprinklr was born out of a personal frustration that turned out to be a common one with city dwellers my age. I was tired of going to these huge, impersonal gardening centres where the only products available are not right for small urban spaces. In a few months time the plants would go to waste, which created this insecurity; why can’t I do this? Why can’t I keep my plants alive? I felt like the generation before ours just had that knowledge innately, and my peers and I lack it somehow. That’s a problem that needed solving, and I wanted to find a solution.

When you pluck the first tomato from your tomato plant, it brings such a sense of accomplishment.
sprinklr

How do you hope to solve this problem?

Our main objective is to make the city greener, and the problem we identified is that many city folk face a lot of barriers when it comes to creating greener lives. I literally stood outside a garden centre for weeks, just asking people if they needed help and what kind of help they’d like to receive. The common response was that yes, they would love to receive support and advice on how to grow and maintain their own green space. But they didn’t want to pay for a gardener to come by; urbanites are people who value their privacy. So help from a distance, or in our case, through an app, was the perfect solution.

Also, people in cities often have smaller spaces available for their greenery, and it might feel like it’s not worth the effort for such a tiny area. But even the smallest space can use flowers and plants; Sprinklr minimises the effort by bringing the custom-chosen plants to your door and helping maintain them through advice and support. You don’t have to be the perfect gardener right from the get-go; the point is to learn gradually. That’s the whole objective of Sprinklr. When you see a tiny plant grow, or succeed in getting your grapes to grow bigger, or pluck your first tomato from your tomato plant, it brings such a sense of accomplishment and happiness. That’s the kind of feeling we’d like to express and spread with Sprinklr.

What can people expect when they sign up for Sprinklr?

We offer seasonal plant boxes that can be ordered online. The boxes are filled with plants, herbs and vegetable plants, and you can choose between an inside and an outside box. You can also specify where you’ll put the plants: Is your balcony sunny, half-sun or always in the shade? We will custom-pick the plants for you to make sure they can thrive in your specific urban setting, add some soil to the box and send the delivery people your way in an electric van. We don’t want our deliveries to cause more pollution in the city, after all. Once the box is delivered to your door, you get access to the Sprinklr app, which helps you take care of your plants with notifications like when to water them, when to harvest your first vegetables, and any reminders you might need. If one of your plants is looking a bit rough, you can send a photo through the app and we can ask our growers to identify the problem. It might be colder outside than usual, or maybe the plant needs less water or more sunlight; all things we can help you with.

It’s all in trying something even if you might fail, and doing it anyway.

So the growers are the ones providing the information?

Yes, we collect the information and choose the plants together with our growers, who are more like partners. We work with small growers who work in a toxic-free way as much as possible, and I visit them almost every week. One of our growers, Lindenhoff Open Tuin, also helps us assemble and pack the boxes. Lindenhoff is a farm just outside of Amsterdam that also functions as a social workplace. People who don’t fit into regular work environments for various reasons, like drug addiction or homelessness, can work here. It’s a beautiful group of people and fantastic organisation. Lindehoff gives these people a routine, and the respect they deserve. And it’s a great example of the regenerative power of looking after something in such a basic way, like growing a plant or a flower. It’s all in the simplicity of it, in trying something even if you might fail, and doing it anyway. That also ties into our philosophy.

We want to make urban green living become the status quo.

How do you hope to spread that philosophy in the future?

We hope to connect a lot of people to nature in their homes, create a lot of green square metres in the city, and coach people to become good at maintaining them. We would also like to connect generations through the app; it would be great to use the innate knowledge of plant keeping that older generations have to teach younger ones, and to have them work together. When we started the project, I had no idea that plants and flowers would become so popular, it’s fantastic. The city is becoming greener already, and with that, the need for help and support is also increasing. When local grocery store Albert Heijn started giving away vegetable gardens, urban farming became a huge hit. But there’s also that frustration there: I have all these free herbs but have no idea how to grow them and keep them alive. Sprinklr is here to help with that, and to coach urban green living on its way to becoming the status quo.

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