London’s leading plant emporium
- Words by Alicja McCarthy
As one of the earliest pioneers of indoor gardening in London, in less than two years Conservatory Archives has become one of London’s most favourite indoor plant spaces. Going beyond retail, Conservatory Archives are now seen as indoor plant visionaries. With a varied client list that includes retailers, designers, hotels and larger corporates they are facilitating businesses and individuals to embrace more greenery in indoor environments. By working closely with their clients and collaborators, the impact, and therefore the benefits of indoor gardening goes beyond simply buying plants. We chatted to co-founder, sometimes known as the ‘plant lady’, Jin Ahn about her marvellous shop and plant specialist service.
Why is it that you specialise specifically in indoor gardening?
I think it’s because of my background; I was born and raised in Seoul, the most crowded city in the world. We don’t really have outdoor gardens at home. We live in apartment blocks that are 30 or 40 storey’s high, with balconies, but they’re not really ‘outdoor’ spaces. My mum has always been really into indoor gardening, she loves succulents, and our apartment was full of them. I studied horticulture in England, which focused on the outdoors. You don’t really get taught ‘indoor’ gardening. I know how to ‘garden’ outside, but feel much more comfortable with interior spaces. I like to see plants in buildings, surrounded by furniture and other things.
How important are green spaces to city dwellers?
I don’t think people realise how many green spaces we have in London. I think the city is quite crowded and polluted, and sometimes people aren’t very friendly in general. The green spaces connect us with the buildings and other people in a city. When you see a green space it makes you more positive. I think it’s a mental thing.
Your client list is incredibly varied – in-store installation for the recently opened Lulu Lemon on Regent Street, specially-commissioned window installation for COS Stores and Hay Design, showrooms at M&S and foyer spaces at Hiscox’s – why do you think these businesses want greenery in their environments?
These businesses and brands have always had plants in their spaces. I work with young interior designers, architects and event professionals who have specific aesthetics in mind. Any indoor plant company or florist can bring in flowers or plants, but we can install and maintain them properly. We can also deal with the much larger or unusual varieties of plants, which are now popular.
Who would you really like to work with and why?
I actually have a wish list! And two from my list recently contacted me. We will be working with The Ace Hotel in London, supplying and maintaining plants for the entire building. It’s going to be a challenge because we don’t have employees; it’s just my partner and me but we’re really looking forward to it.
For last year’s London Design Week 2016, you were invited to curate plants for Asif Khan’s Forests’ projects – three plant-filled pavilions in London’s Shoreditch to raise awareness of ‘third-spaces’ in urban environments. How did that come about?
Asif is actually a neighbour of ours. When I visited his studio for the first time, he went through things that inspired him to create the whole project. He gave me a brief with his vision but the amazing thing was that he gave complete creative freedom. Of course he and the project manager Sara explained the more technical elements of the drawings and how each pavilion would be used by the public and MINI (the client). Asif suggested several roles for us – not just plant design, installation and maintenance but also supplying thousands of plants for the project. For example, for ‘Relax Space’, visitors would enter from underneath and climb in. All I could think about was the view above so came up with an idea of creating a ‘green fall’. It was more of a task getting the right plants (in massive lengths) to be planted inside the ceiling of the 4m structure which could survive under strong sunlight and without water – well worth it though!
Tell us about some of the growers you work with.
I work with Dutch growers, some from Denmark and also Belgium. When researching our concept I found out that most of the British suppliers of plants sourced then from these countries so I decided to go direct. Because I know all of the Latin names of the plants I want, I just order them and they can be in our shop in two days. If you want to trade properly you need to know what you are talking about. Sometimes we travel in our van to specialist rare plant growers and collectors in Europe, which is where we source unusual cacti.
Could we city dwellers be doing more to promote, increase, and enable green environments?
I think everyone is embracing growing in some way. It’s not a trend any more. It’s just something we do quite generally; we buy plants or flowers like we would a t-shirt.
Can you recommend a few varieties of plants that you would recommend to plant lovers but also plant killers?
There are too many possibilities! I think people should just pop into the shop. I try to change the varieties all the time. We are very lucky because we sell pretty fast, which gives me the opportunity to have new plants in again and again. I love having my own shop to show off all the varieties out there, but also because I get to meet new people. All my clients have been to my shop, and they get inspired in the space. It’s a tiny shop but I can show my clients the scale of different plants in situ. Scale is quite impactful. My clients are quite bold; they want a plant that is a key feature, which can be as important as a piece of furniture.