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These Lush Houseplants Are Your New, Low-Maintenance BFFs

Solabee sells the cheapest therapy in town: plants.

By Kelly Clarke January 29, 2019 Published in the February 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Solabee co-owner Alea Joy at the shop's NoPo outpost

Image: Michael Novak

Locals may head to Solabee, a chic flower and houseplant shop with outposts in North and Northwest Portland, for a leafy new living room accessory. But a visit can quickly morph to impromptu therapy session, as staffers dig into a buyer’s daily life to match which green friend will best turn your home into a calming, oxygen-rich oasis ... and, be honest, survive your level of negligence. “What we do is a tenet of wellness. There’s joy in caring for something and seeing a relationship grow,” says shop co-owner Alea Joy, a.k.a. Portland’s unofficial plant therapist. “It’s just a really healthy hobby.”

Image: Michael Novak

BIG TALKER Never remember to water your plants? Adopt a wide, speckle-leafed silk pothos (1). “It’s pretty good with neglect,” Joy says. “It can tolerate almost any light condition, and [its leaves] roll up like a little tongue if you forget to water it.” (Psst: anything in the peace lily family is rather forgiving as well.)

DIE-HARD High light, low light, and stress—bring it, says the mahogany rubber tree (2). The glossy, pert plant is the one Joy has had the longest in her own life: “Through every move, every life transition, all of my sad times, all of my happy times, it’s still just going along. It’s solid,” she says. “It’s the one my ex-boyfriend tried to steal.”

SPIKE LIFE “When I’m feeling down I’m really drawn to the two-inch cactus babies (3),” Joy says. “Each one has its own personality, and each is its own little world—this guy is so fuzzy and cute, that one has a flower behind its ear. And they each cost the same as a candy bar.” If you’re in the market for a massive sculptural statement, try anything from the euphorbia cactus family (4). Just go easy on the H20. “The no. 1 killer of cacti in the Pacific Northwest is rot,” Joy warns, from overwatering.

DARK ARTS Basement dwellers, don’t despair: sansevieria don’t just survive in dim light, they keep growing. Try the starfish sansevieria (5), with its chunky spikes or a wavelength-patterned moonlight varietal. For more lurkers, look to the deceptively lush-looking ZZ plant, which Joy calls the “tortoise of the plant world”: slow, intentional, with very few needs.

SO HOT RIGHT NOW Hardy, trailing philodendrons (pictured in top image, above Joy’s head) are having an Instagram-fueled moment, especially the tropical family’s big, Swiss cheese–leafed monstera (6) varietal. But don’t bother dropping cash on one if you’re just gonna stick baby in a corner. “That’s the worst place for your plant. Move your couch and put your giant plant in the middle of the window,” says Joy. “Most large plants need more light. Light is their food. The difference between a corner and a window is like ‘Eat salad all day!’ or ‘Here’s a steak.’”

POT RIGHT One of the biggest rookie mistakes, according to Joy? Trapping a plant in a pot with no drainage—it breeds rot. (Solabee will repot your new and existing houseplants for a small fee.) But Joy doesn’t worry too much about the occasional owner-fail, either. “Plants don’t care about dying as much as we do. Compost them, come back, and try again.”

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