Watering a houseplant may seem like a simple and rather insignificant act. But nurturing, spending time with, and caring for our little green housemates can do wonders for our mental health. So it comes as no surprise to learn that sales of houseplants positively bloomed during lockdown. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) reported an impressive one million web visits to its gardening advice pages during the first nine days of lockdown, while online plant shop Patch recorded a sales increase of a whopping 500%.
A longtime advocate of the myriad benefits of plants, interior stylist Sabine Antonia launched The Wild London, a plant retailer and consultancy at London City Island last year. The Wild was born from the effects of lockdown and our desire to reconnect with nature. Sabine started by restyling coffee shops with abandoned former office plants before launching a pop-up shop at London City Island. Now a permanent site, Sabine has become the Island’s resident green-fingered expert, and her stylish retail and consultancy spot has been hugely popular with locals and visitors alike. Sabine has ambitious plans for The Wild London, with weekly workshops and monthly collaborations with like-minded independent businesses, for example freelance hairdresser Tomboy Barber, and a current pop-up with sustainable marketplace Seekd.
‘I have always included plants in my work as I noticed the instant effect they have on a customer’s connection to a property, space, environment or even product,’ Sabine explains. ‘And during the first lockdown, I noticed that people were longing to transform their home into a green, tranquil space.’
Sabine’s initial pop-up at London City Island was a ‘by appointment’ consultancy service, and she found the demand for her plants and expertise ‘overwhelming, in a positive way’.
It goes without saying that Sabine is incredibly knowledgeable about plants, but she is also passionate about the many ways they can benefit our lives. With a keen interest in feng shui and experience in interior design, she is also uniquely equipped to teach others how to style their plants and advise on where they should live in the home, which is the subject of her July workshops.
‘It’s the basic time we give our green roommates that brings us closer to them,’ she says. ‘I want people to succeed on their journey of becoming urban gardeners.’
Sabine Antonia selects five popular houseplants, with tips on how to take care of them
‘I wish for my customers to succeed no matter what stage they are at in working with plants. There isn’t necessarily a level of difficulty in working with plants, more like a level of confidence. I want to eliminate the fear we often have when approaching the care of plants, so I selected some that are more easygoing.’
“I want people to succeed on their journey of becoming urban gardeners.”
SABINE ANTONIA, FOUNDER OF THE WILD LONDON
Ficus Benghalensis Audrey
‘Ficus Audrey is the national sacred tree of India and also known as the Banyan tree. Maybe it’s the fact that the Buddha was said to meditate beneath the Banyan tree, the Ficus Audrey has a grounding and very peaceful vibe. Personally, I adore the Ficus Audrey and pick it in a heartbeat over its less tolerant cousin, the Fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus Lyrata). I feel Audrey has a more humble but equally striking appearance to the Lyrata and the fuzzy leaves add a very unique texture when styling with plants. As with all listed plants, the Ficus Audrey filters airborne toxins from the surrounding atmosphere.’
This plant is quite easygoing, it likes to dry out a little bit in-between watering and doesn’t like to sit in wet soil. Watering once a week is normally absolutely fine. It likes indirect light so an east-facing apartment would be great. I think it goes very well with light wood flooring and bright rooms. The height of the plant depends on the pot and if you want to grow your plant into a tree you have to separate the stems, take the leaves off, and guide it – but it takes a few years!’
Ficus Benghalensis Audrey
‘Any member of this family creates a ‘wow’ factor, but prayer plants can sometimes be a bit finicky. That’s why I want to showcase the Insignis, as when starting out with the Calatheas, the Insignis are relatively easy. They get the ‘prayer plant’ name from the fact that at night they close up, meaning they stretch up like a prayer. The top leaf looks like silk and Insignis – as with so many Calatheas – showcase their vibrant burgundy ‘under’ leaf colour. During the day the leaves relax down and a completely contrasting pattern and colour emerges.’
Calatheas are known for their air-purifying qualities. They thrive in moist conditions and do well in filtered indirect light. They like to be in a corner or away from the window and like to be misted and to have the soil slightly moist. Calatheas are good for small spaces as they’re upright – they look great on sideboards or tables.’
“There isn’t necessarily a level of difficulty in working with plants, more like a level of confidence.”
‘Also known as the Umbrella tree, this plant is the number one plant used in China in feng shui. It is said the plant attracts wealth but, more importantly, the leaves capture positive energy and bring joy to any space.’
Schefflera like a spot in bright light; they don’t like dark spaces and the variegated leaf varieties (Gold Capella) need more light than the solid green ones. The soil should dry out slightly in between watering; the Schefflera doesn’t like wet feet! I have a special liking for the Schefflera and personally feel this plant is highly under featured. It’s a very graceful and forgiving plant that, when paired up with bigger leaf plants, playfully breaks up the greenery.’
Dracaena Fragrans Compacta
‘Being so easy to maintain, Dracaena is often one of the first plants I recommend to incorporate into the home. The Dracaena is very popular here at London City Island, it always sells out. It’s quite easygoing and fits into a small space nicely. As it’s a relatively fast grower with a visual resemblance to a tree, it makes any space appear bigger and more open. In feng shui it’s used as a protector, it’s a sign of prosperity. You place it on a window or next to an entry for protection. I think it complements plants with bigger leaves, such as the Monstera.’ Dracaenas don’t like to sit in too much water. Anything that has snakelike leaves is like fine hair, the ends get dry, so it likes misting. It can be put outside on a balcony or terrace in the summer months but take it back inside come October.’
Dracaena Fragrans Compacta
‘I have such a soft spot for the Monstera, also known as the Swiss Cheese plant. Known to bring happiness to the home, this wildcard of a plant adds an organic and generous flow. From an energetic point of view, the big in-your-face leaves and airborne roots can only put a smile on our faces and remind us not to get too rigid in our ways. This plant is native to tropical forests of southern Mexico down to Peru, where its roots are used to make ropes and baskets.
Monstera is known to be one of the most effective plants for reducing air pollution. Monstera has the tendency to grow big. If it comes in a small pot and already has quite large leaves, I would re-pot it straight away. Monstera are stranglers, they climb, so they’re really hardy. In the wild they attach themselves to other trees. Big Monstera should be planted with a moss pole as that imitates nature. Water it once a week. The plant is fine with a slightly moist soil but doesn’t like to sit in water, and they like misting as well. If the leaves at the bottom go yellow it may be that it’s not getting enough light or is sitting too close to the water.’
“During lockdown, I noticed that people were longing to transform their home into a green, tranquil space.”
‘Use filtered water when you water and mist because the chlorine can burn leaves, especially on Dracaenas. The darker the spot where you put a plant, the less watering it needs because the water can’t get absorbed as easily. I touch the soil to check if it needs watering – you get to know your plants. If your leaves start yellowing, it’s normally a sign of overwatering or watering stress. If a plant is dried out too long and then you pour loads of water on it in one go, it’s not great for the plant. A really important thing I say to my customers is, if you want to succeed with plant care, take your time with watering and be consistent. If you just drown it every now and then, some of the roots get saturated and some stay completely dry. Pour the water slowly with a watering can so you can get right up to the plant and cover the whole soil, not just patches.’
‘A lot of people don’t dare cut their plants but it’s like cutting your hair; it doesn’t hurt the plant, it’s just the leaves, not the root. It really helps to beautify the plant and to give it new life. Start from the bottom as it may be too dense and doesn’t get enough light. If it’s top heavy, you need to cut the top so that it encourages growth at the bottom.’
The Wild offers workshops and events for those looking to get green fingers
‘It’s important to choose the right pot or basket for your plants and to consider how the mix in height, finish and materials can create that extra-special edge when styling with plants. A plant always grows when you re-pot it. So unless you give it a bigger home, the leaf size will stop, the roots touch the plastic and don’t have anywhere to go, so the nutrients don’t go into the height. When it comes to deciding if you should re-pot your plant, it’s based on either a feeling that the current pot is too small, or you want the plant to grow bigger. Always re-pot in the spring (between March – end of June) and never cut or repot the plant in winter unless you have to because that is when the plant is in a dormant state. You’re giving it unnecessary stress.’
‘In spring I would always say to use a houseplant fertilizer every two weeks. It’s important after winter as the plants are coming out of their hibernation, so the nutrients are used up. Spring is really where you create newness; new leaves, new shine, new abundance. Top up the soil or repot it, put some houseplant fertilizer in the soil and your plant will be happy.’
Check out @thewild.london for more information and news on upcoming workshops and events
Words by Gemma Billington
Photography and film by Buster Grey-Jung