B. Willow: Strong Roots

Story by Jen Cooper, Photos by Dave Cooper

We’ve noticed a new trend. A quick scroll through Instagram and you’ll see an explosion of greeny goodness in homes around the globe. While houseplants have always graced the pages of slick, highly art-directed interior design mags—a perfectly placed fiddle leaf fig here, a single philodendron leaf in a vase there—we’ve really enjoyed seeing our green friends sprout up in places it looks like people actually live.

Frankly, we’re digging the breath of fresh air.

Liz Vayda, plant woman extraordinaire with a penchant for realness, recently opened up a shop in the historically blue-collar neighborhood of Remington in Baltimore City. Since the 70s, retail in the area had been pretty sparse (read: there was a 711 on the corner and not much else), but with a new development eye focused on community, it’s proving to be fertile ground to put down roots.

We caught up with Vayda to talk about new life—both the resurgence of houseplant worship and what’s happening in her city of Baltimore.

What’s up with the plant love? How’d that start?
I grew up on a nine-acre, wooded property in Hampstead, MD. I was lucky to be able to safely roam around the woods and experience nature on a daily basis.

My mom has always been an avid gardener, so I definitely grew up being surrounded by plants. But it wasn’t until college when I studied abroad in New Zeland that I really started getting into them.

I had grown up surrounded by nature, but it took traveling halfway across the world to recognize nature’s impact on my life. I had an “a-ha” moment during that trip. I realized that I hadn’t really recognized the connection to nature that I had as a child had faded throughout my adolescence and college years.

Technology was a big reason for that. I got the internet during middle school and became obsessed! So instead of playing outside, I was in chatrooms and instant messaging.

In college, I thought about my relationship with nature—what it meant to me, why humans need nature, and how it benefits us to be surrounded by it as much as possible.

After college, my goal was to find a way to help people reconnect with nature, but in a way that would manifest itself on a frequent, daily basis. Since we spend so much time in front of screens and indoors, having more plants inside seemed like the easiest solution.

My obsession with indoor plants grew. Now, I have an extreme love.

Quick! You have to flee some imaginary catastrophe and you can only take one plant with you. Who do you choose?
Such a hard question! People ask me what my favorite plant is all the time and honestly, I don’t have a favorite! All of them fascinate me. But, if I had to choose, I guess I’d pick something that grows fast and can replicate quickly. That way I’d be able to make more and more plants out of it. So I’d probably choose a philodendron brasil. You can propagate them from stem cuttings, and they tolerate low-bright indirect light, meaning they’re hard to kill.


Your space is stunning! Okay, so that isn’t really a question. It’s fangirl statement I needed to make. Ahem.
Thank you!

How did the brick-and-mortar shop come to be? You started off doing popups, right?
I did. I started selling my plants at a shop called Trohv in early spring, 2014. That experience opened the door to multiple opportunities. In 2015, I partnered up with various bars, restaurants, museums and shops and did an average of about five workshops a month.

The shop came about through a conversation with Seawall Development, who is now my landlord. They approached me about a property they had available and asked if I was interested in opening a shop. Long story short, I said yes.

I’m incredibly thankful for their faith in my business. I still can’t believe it’s a real thing. Probably because everything seems like it’s happened very quickly!

What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a small business owner?
Biggest challenge is unsurprising—making time for myself and handling fatigue. I have a hard time turning my brain off and detaching from what I’m doing work-wise.

What’s the response been like to the new brick-and-mortar?
The response has been great! My goal was to create an approachable space with options for every style, preference, and budget. The reaction from the community has been very positive. I want it to be a place that people see value in; a place where everyone feels welcome and where they can find something meaningful. The neighbors have been very kind, which is really nice.

Any guiding philosophy when it comes to business?
I think it really helps to engage with the community as much as possible. There are so many ways to work with other people. You also have to accept that mistakes will happen. Mistakes teach you how you can improve your business to make it better and better. Finding something you can be truly passionate about also helps with the motivation factor!

How about life?
Life is good! Other than being quite fatigued, I am very happy. The shop still doesn’t feel real. I’m still finding a balance between work and home life, but I know it will happen over time. I’m 100 percent OK with working as hard as I can right now to achieve my goals.



B Willow
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