WATER & LIGHT (W&L): HOW DID YOU GET INTO PLANTS?
Alicia(A): My parents and grandmother have always gardened, so I grew up around plants. But the D.C. housing market is super expensive, and for many years I lived in English basement apartments that didn’t get enough light for plants. I didn’t get into plants until I moved into a first-floor apartment with big, deep window sills. And I was like, ‘Well, I gotta fill these window sills.’ I started with a single orchid and things quickly spiraled from there.
Cielo(C): I'm a reformed plant killer. I've always loved plants but wasn't very good at taking care of them. I have one ZZ plant that I've had for years and was the only thing I could keep alive (because it's virtually indestructible). Alicia gets all the credit for showing me how to be a good plant parent and now that I can keep them alive, I love them even more.
W&L: DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN YOU GOT YOUR FIRST PLANT AND WHAT PLANT IT WAS?
A: My freshman year roommate and I had shared custody of a plant in college. We called it “Mr. Plant”, and I think it might have been a fittonia (not that we had any idea at the time). I took it home over the summer, and my mom ended up keeping it alive because I never remembered to water it.
C: In college, someone gave me a cutting of a philodendron or a pothos (I, too, would not have known what it was at the time) that I rooted in water and then potted in soil. I kept it alive for my last two years of college and later gave it to my mom.
W&L: WHERE DO YOU GET MOST OF YOUR PLANTS?
A: I shop a lot online these days, though Trader Joe’s plants are a definite weakness. (You can’t beat those prices!) I’ve had good luck with Seattle Orchid, Orchid Web, and Logees for more unusual plants, and Etsy for cuttings and baby succulents.
C: From Alicia. I adopt a lot of the samples from our workshops. The two plants I’ve had the longest are actually from Ikea.
W&L: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PLANT SHOPS TO VISIT?
A: D.C. has some really lovely local plant shops. We love the warm, jungalow vibes at REWILD. And we love that we get to teach workshops there! And of course Little Leaf shop is a lush, Instagrammer’s dream.
W&L: HOW MANY PLANTS DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR COLLECTION?
A: This number is always shifting, as my home also doubles as storage space for our small business. My personal collection is probably somewhere around 50 plants, but I’m a little afraid to count because I don’t want my husband to get completely freaked out.
C: Around 40 when you count the ones my boyfriend brought with him when we moved in together.
W&L: WHAT ARE THE RAREST PLANTS THAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR COLLECTION?
A: I don’t generally collect rare plants because I’m nervous about killing something really expensive. That said, I do have two Medinilla Magnificas which are fairly hard to find around here. As soon as I saw one, I knew I had to have it.
C: I feel the same way about rare plants. If Alicia is nervous about them, I think I’m not reformed enough to handle one either. My rarest plant is a pansy (miltoniopsis) orchid that I got at the local orchid show.
W&L: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PLANTS?
A: I’m a sucker for bright colors, patterns, or weird shapes. Orchids are my first love, particularly the zygopetalums. I’ve also recently become enamored with begonias and want anything with polka dotted or pink leaves. I find carnivorous plants fascinating, but I don’t have the lighting conditions in my home to grow them.
C: I’m originally from the desert, and back home there are succulents everywhere. I really love cacti and yuccas, especially when they flower. I also love anything with colorful leaves, like calatheas or tradescantia zebrina. I like succulents in weird or unusual shapes -- the weirder, the better.
W&L: WHAT DO YOU LIKE THE MOST ABOUT BEING A PLANT PERSON?
A: We both love that plants can be such a platform for creativity and experimentation. Oh, and that non-plant people basically think you’re a wizard for keeping a plant alive.
W&L: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU HAVE WITH PLANTS?
A: I find growing houseplants in the winter is especially challenging, since the light is weaker and it’s so dry. I just added another humidifier and a ModSprout grow bar this year, but it’s still a struggle to keep those leaves from browning.
C: I agree that winter is really hard. I also don’t have a lot of ideal light in my apartment (at any time of the year), so I have to be creative about plant placement and using grow lights. I’m still learning and reforming, so I have to remind myself to look at the plants and make sure they don’t need to be watered.
W&L: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR PLANT SPECIALTY?
A: Our company, Rock Paper Plant, specializes in mounted and felted plants. There are lots of plants you can grow mounted aside from staghorn ferns. We’re forever on a quest to find another epiphyte that we can get to grow on a cork mount. And because we’re always inspired by the shapes in nature, we also create sculptures of plants with wool using a technique called needle-felting.
W&L: WHAT ARE YOUR TOP 3 PLANT CARE TIPS?
2. Use all your senses -- pay attention to how your plant looks and feels when it’s thirsty. This will teach you when to water, rather than trying to rely on a schedule that might not work for your plants.
3. Don’t beat yourself up if you end up killing your plant - that’s actually how you learn. Gardening is all about trial and error.