Behind a cheery greenhouse window inside Main Street’s Ellis Building, I am getting my hands dirty. Taking from a large planter of Dutch Treat potting soil, I gingerly prepare the new home of a pin-striped Calathea ornata, a little fearful of what I’m about to do next. This is my first time re-potting a plant, and I don’t want to hurt it.
Luckily, in this endeavour I’m not alone.
“Indoor plants, like people, get really stressed out,” explains Britt Wainwright, a trained horticulturist and the effervescent guide to today’s class: Indoor Plant Care 101. “It’s totally unnatural to bring plants indoors, so it can be traumatic for them,” she adds. “It’s all about caring for them in a way that’s mimicking their natural environment.”
From the fundamentals of water and light (what is too much or too little?) to eliminating pests, Wainwright lays down the basics behind happy, thriving indoor plants next to her business partner Courtney Ewan. The two women make up the Vancouver-based Foliosa, a local enterprise that specializes in styling and vitalizing greenery for living spaces, offices, and special events.
A graduate of the horticulture program at the University of British Columbia, Wainwright started Foliosa in January 2016 as a side venture. After working with the City of Vancouver and urban farming project Victory Gardens, she also hustled in the restaurant industry and noticed that a lot of plants were dying from insufficient care and had to be frequently replaced. Wainwright’s very first client would be none other than Ewan, a former operations manager for Matchstick Coffee who went on to join her at Foliosa in 2017. “I feel that’s when things spun out of control,” recalls Wainwright. “People would come into Matchstick and they’re like, ‘Wow, the plants are so nice in here. Who’s doing them?’ And then we started doing everyone’s plants.”
For frequent patrons of Tacofino, Di Beppe, and Ask For Luigi, Foliosa’s captivating, leafy installations will be a familiar sight. In addition to the ongoing maintenance (and if required, replacement) of foliage, Foliosa also offers rental of its mature plants for special occasions. “It’s nice to offer people something that’s less wasteful than a full textbook floral installation,” says Ewan of their recent wedding projects.
Still, what truly makes Foliosa special is a passion for education, as seen in its workshops. Initially organized through the East Van Culture Society (which also met inside the Ellis Building), Wainwright’s popular plant care class became a fixture next to embroidery, macramé, and other maker-focused activities. Since then, Foliosa has continued to facilitate workshops on its own with the addition of winter wreath-making sessions inside its current studio, and even a special series on succulent care hosted at elementary schools around the city.
But the most popular workshop remains Indoor Plant Care 101, and with good reason. Not only do participants get to take home a potted plant of their own, they also have the opportunity to get some of their most vexing plant-related questions answered. How do I revive a plant with dry, hydrophobic soil? What ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium is best in fertilizer? How do I propagate a plant? “That’s my favourite part,” Wainwright says, “being able to answer all those burning questions.”
Returning to my task, I boldly take the Calathea by its stem and twist the plant free. To my amazement, it doesn’t fall apart in my hands. Trimming off the excess soil, I feel a rush of curiosity as I examine the roots and realize that I am closer to nature than before.